Bitterness

Steve Viars June 25, 2017 Hebrews 12
Outline

 “In short, for over a week the expedition resembled a hospital ward for the critically ill more than it did a platoon of fighting men.  Herein lies one of the great stories of American history, even though it is a tale of what didn’t happen rather than what did.  It would have been the work of a few moments only for the Nez Perce to kill the white men and take for themselves all the expedition’s goods.  Had the Indians done so, they would have come into possession of by far the biggest arsenal not just west of the Rocky Mountains but west of the Mississippi River, along with priceless kettles, axes, hatchets, beads, and other trade items in quantities greater than any of them would ever see in their lifetimes.” American History is Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

Hebrews 1:1-4 - God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.

3 reasons you should avoid bitterness at all costs

I. Avoid Bitterness because of its Power

A. What it is

Bitter - “pointed, sharp, pungent...and in a transferred sense painful, angry, relentless, embittered” (Colin Brown – Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 201).

“…designating or having a sharp, often unpleasant taste; acrid...causing or showing sorrow, discomfort, or pain; grievous” (Webster’s New World Dictionary).

Proverbs 14:10 - The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy.

B. How bitterness works

1. It begins it the heart, like a “root in the ground”

see to it---episkopew---elder or overseer

2. If unaddressed, it springs up

“short of the grace of God”

C. What it does

1. It causes trouble

a. the trouble of anger

Ephesians 4:31-32 - Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

b. the trouble of jealousy/envy

James 3:14 - But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.

James 3:15-18 - This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Acts 8:20-23 - But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

c. the trouble of sinful communication

James 3:10-11 - …from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?

Romans 3:14 - Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.

2.  It defiles many

II. Avoid Bitterness because of its Foundation

A.  Illustrated in Esau

Genesis 27:34-36 - When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” And he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.” Then he said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”

B. Illustrated in Naomi

Ruth 1:16-17 - But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”

Ruth 1:20-21 - She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. “I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty...”

Ruth 4:14-15 - Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.

III. Avoid Bitterness because of its Consequences

Hebrews 12:17 - For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

- One of my favorite books on American History is Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose…it is a biography of Meriwether Lewis...as in the expedition of Lewis and Clark...

- you may remember that Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis to assemble a team in the late 1700’s to explore the lands west of St. Louis in search of a waterway to the Pacific Ocean...

- you talk about an adventure---our country was only a couple decades old...very few if any white men had ever seen the land beyond the Mississippi...

- there were of course no maps...no way to really know what to expect except to go explore it and find out...and that’s what they did...

- their expedition went fairly well at the beginning because there was an abundance of food...

- they were taking their boats upstream, so the work was exhausting, but the hunting was so good that the men ate, according the biographer, an average of 9 pounds of meat per day...

- I have no idea how a person could do that...and perhaps there was some adventurer’s exaggeration involved...but if you like to fish or hunt, imagine being in a place where except for an occasional Indian hunting party, the land was entirely pristine...

- the point was, the work was hard but they had plenty of food...

- that was until the second winter, the winter of 1805...they were along the present border between Idaho and Montana which even today remains basically uninhabited because it so rugged and remote...

- the problem was there was no food...they had expert hunters as part of their team but there was no game in the mountains...

- finally they met a group of Indians called the Nez Perce who were ready to trade with them, but all they had was roots they had dug up from the ground and dried fish...

- the captains warned everybody about overeating, but that’s a hard command to follow when you feel like you’re starving...and they just gorged themselves...

- and then everybody, and I mean everybody, got very, very sick...

- its turns out that the roots were extremely bitter...and the biographers think that either because of such an extreme change of diet, or because of the roots themselves, or perhaps even bacteria from the dried fish...

- but for whatever reason or possibly a combination, the biographer said it this way...

- “In short, for over a week the expedition resembled a hospital ward for the critically ill more than it did a platoon of fighting men.  Herein lies one of the great stories of American history, even though it is a tale of what didn’t happen rather than what did.  It would have been the work of a few moments only for the Nez Perce to kill  the white men and take for themselves all the expedition’s goods.  Had the Indians done so, they would have come into possession of by far the biggest arsenal not just west of the Rocky Mountains but west of the Mississippi River, along with priceless kettles, axes, hatchets, beads, and other trade items in quantities greater than any of them would ever see in their lifetimes.”

- appropriately even today, that area of the country is known as the Bitterroot Mountains.

- I’ll spare you some of journal entries during the time when these men got that sick...

- suffice it is to say that it was one of those experiences that caused them to decide right then and there that they would never eat those roots again...it was one of those “death by starvation would be better than this” kind of moments...

- we won’t do this either this morning...but I imagine if we went around the room this morning, many could probably relate some “let me tell you about the time I was really sick” kind of stories...

- now, here’s the point...

- it really is a very easy transition from that concept to a person’s spiritual life...

- it is possible to have something inside of you that if unaddressed, could result in you being very, very sick spiritually...

- in fact, the Bible even speaks about it as a root that can grow up in your heart...

- if you have that in your past...if you have it in your life today…it can put you on your back spiritually as fast and as hard as the adventurers with Lewis and Clark...

- and here’s the especially haunting news...

- we have an adversary who had no intention of being as kind and gracious as the Nez Perce Indians...give him an opportunity, either as an individual, or worse an organization, and he’ll steal all the resources you have and render you helpless and vulnerable and ineffective for the rest of your days...

- and if you say, PV...isn’t that a bit of adventurers’ exaggeration also?...actually, that is exactly what the Scripture says about the problem of bitterness...

- with that in mind, let me invite you to open your Bible this morning to Hebrews chapter 12...

- page 176 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you...

- this summer we’re in a series entitled Handling Problems in a Christ-Cantered Way…as part of our theme this year of In Christ Alone…

- this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation which was all about how salvation in by grace alone, through faith, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone…

- and this summer we’re studying some of the practical areas of the Christian life this set of doctrines affects and informs…

- in other words – if we really believe that about our Lord…His sufficiency…that’s He’s all we need…what does that look like on Tuesday?...at the workplace…on your back deck…at the ballfield…in the business meeting…at the mall?...

- so far we’ve looked at issues like anger, and pride, and worry…

- this morning we’re thinking about Overcoming Bitterness in the Power of Our Savior…

- and the book of Hebrews is an ideal place to do that for 2 reasons…

- in this chapter, we have one of the most extended discussions of bitterness of anyplace in the Word of God…

- and secondly, the book of Hebrews is all about the superiority of Jesus Christ – written to Jewish men and women who had placed their faith and trust in Christ…or who had at least become part of the Christian community socially…but now as the newness is wearing off…and the pressure is building…some were thinking of deserting Christ and returned to OT worship in the temple…

- that’s why the book begins with these classic words… Hebrews 1:1–4 - God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.

- it’s because of truths like that…that we joyfully live --- In Christ Alone…and also that we can have hope in Overcoming Bitterness in the Power of Our Savior…

- read Hebrews 12:4-17.

- this morning we’re talking about Overcoming Bitterness in the Power of Our Savior…

- and I’d like to suggest to you that in this passage, we can find Three reasons you should avoid bitterness at all costs.

I.  Avoid Bitterness because of its Power.

- it would be hard to imagine the writer coming up with a stronger warning than the one he gives in this text...”don’t mess with bitterness” is the essential message here...if you’ve got any of it in your heart...be sure to deal with it right away...

- now, let’s break this down a little bit...the power of bitterness is understood when we think about what it is, and how it works, and what it does...these verses give us information on all of these points...

A.  What it is.

- The Dictionary of New Testament Theology tells us that this word in the original language, pikros, means:

- Bitter - “pointed, sharp, pungent...and in a transferred sense painful, angry, relentless, embittered” (Colin Brown – Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 201).

- the same is true of the OT counterpart...marah...

- the English dictionary uses similar concepts...”designating or having a sharp, often unpleasant taste; acrid...causing or showing sorrow, discomfort, or pain; grievous” (Webster’s New World Dictionary).

- I think all of know when something tastes bitter...

- and more importantly, all of know—if we are paying attention to what is going inside, all of us know what it means to feel bitter...and to be bitter...

- in fact the book of Proverbs emphasizes how personal and individual this is when it says,

- Proverbs 14:10 - The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy.

- we could even talk about the definition in more detail if we wanted, but for most of us we would say, that alone is enough to remind me of bitterness’s power...just thinking about what it’s like to be bitter...but the passage has more...it also tells us about...

B.  How bitterness works.

1.  It begins it the heart, like a “root in the ground”.

- the phrase “root of bitterness” is very instructive if we’ll allow it to be...

- you don’t wake up and say...I’m going to be bitter today....

- I think I’ll cook up a big batch of bitterness from scratch...

- you don’t make this in the microwave...this one is done in the crock pot of your heart...

- it’s rixa pikria – a root of bitterness, the same word you’d use to describe any root of a plant, or initial source of something...

- and please notice this also---the writer says at the beginning of verse 15 – see to it that this doesn’t happen...

- see to it---episkopew---elder or overseer...it’s a word that is often used in the NT to describe pastors...

- and the idea is, just like pastors are supposed to watch over the church, believers are to watch over their hearts...

- be diligent about this....don’t allow that root to even begin to develop in your heart...

- you might want to ask yourself---when’s the last time you even asked yourself...am I bitter about anything?...is it possible that that particular response that doesn’t please God and is hindering my accomplishing the mission God has given me could be tied to bitterness?

- could my indifference to the things of God be rooted in bitterness...

- but it doesn’t stop there...verse 15 tells us...

2.  If unaddressed, it springs up.

- it grows into other things...it tangles up the rest of the garden...you can almost hear the fruit of the Spirit being tangled and choked by this growing plant of bitterness...

- many times the sequence goes something like this...

- you establish very high expectations...other people in your life ought to do this...they ought to be like this...or even God ought to do this...he ought to give me that...but unreasonably high expectations...

- followed invariably by disappointment...

- your spouse doesn’t measure up...your friend doesn’t measure up...your reality doesn’t measure up...”I didn’t think it would be like this”...”I didn’t want it to be like this”...those are the potential birth pangs of bitterness...

- and that is the critical point at which we can either turn to God and say...but you’re my king, and everything doesn’t have to be my way today...

- I trust you even when it’s hard...I’ll cling to you even when it hurts....

- I’ll find my joy In Christ Alone even when I’m not receiving what I think I need

- I’ll obey your Word even when I can’t see the outcome...

- and you might say, but responding to hurt and disappointment like that is hard...that’s right...which is why God tells us repeatedly in His Word that He stands ready with grace to help in our time of need...

- and there is actually the potential of increased joy, and increased effectiveness if we will enter into the fellowship of His sufferings...

- but if we choose not to respond that way...and turn away from Him, and away from His resources, and His purpose, and His plan...bitterness begins to spring up...

- described in this passage as coming “short of the grace of God.”

- the choice is clear...we either respond to disappointment and trial by turning to God’s grace or we nurse our hurts, or magnify our hurts, and review our hurts in that slow but ever growing batch of bitterness...

- what happens if you allow that to linger?...

C.  What it does.

- would it be fair to say that this passage suggests that if you allow your past and allow your heart to be affected by bitterness, a lot of bad things can occur?....like what?

1.  It causes trouble.

- would anybody here dispute that idea?...most of us could talk about how bitterness messed up a conversation, or messed up a relationship, or messed up a decision...

- [if time, develop – it's amazing how frequently the words “because of bitterness” could be appended to end of many sentences that started with the words “why didn’t that go right?”...why didn’t that vacation go right, because of bitterness, why didn’t that family reunion go right, because of bitterness...]

- one of the ways the Bible emphasizes that is by the troubling sins bitterness is often associated with...

a. the trouble of anger.

- Ephesians 4:31-32 - Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

b. the trouble of jealousy/envy.

- James 3:14 - But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.

- some might be listening to this today and respond with...I don’t have any bitterness...are you sure about that?

- what about being bitter that somebody else has something you don’t have?

- they have more stuff then me...

- they have a better job than me...

- they have cuter kids than me...

- they get better grades then me...

- many times the root of bitterness springs up in the form of disappointment that somebody else possesses something you wish you had...it’s bitterness...

- by the way, that text goes on to say... James 3:15-18 - This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

- that very issue comes up in an interesting place in the Scripture---do you remember in the book of Acts when the apostles came across a man named Simon the sorcerer...he saw the apostles performing miracles so he tried to buy the ability from them...”you’re able to do something in ministry that I’m not...I want it...how much will it cost me?”...and Peter’s response is fascinating...

- Acts 8:20-23 - But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

- no wonder the writer of Hebrews said that when the root of bitterness springs up it causes trouble!

c. the trouble of sinful communication.

- James 3:10-11 - from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?

- Romans 3:14 – Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.

- the reason some of us struggle with our tongue is because it’s connected to bitterness in our hearts...and all the rules and principles of communication in the world are not going to change that...bitterness causes trouble...and even worse...

2.  It defiles many.

- you can imagine these well-meaning Indians trying to help Lewis and Clark passing out these roots that are just going to make them deathly sick...it defiled many...

- some churches have been rendered practically useless in terms of accomplishing anything productive for God...you know why?...because the root of bitterness was allowing to grow up...

- some slight, some hurt, some disappointment, some disagreement...

- probably seemed small at the time [most roots do, you know]...

- but because the person wasn’t diligent, and his acquaintances weren’t diligent, and the church body wasn’t diligent...

- pretty soon everybody was defiled...

- now, I hope every one of us would say...this is serious...

- I hope every one of us is asking...are there ways that I have allowed bitterness to build up in my past?....

- is there any situation about which I’m bitter....is there any person with whom I’m bitter?...

- if you’d say “yes”...or “maybe”...there’s some significant help for us here...because it’s not just understanding the power of this...it’s also...

II. Avoid Bitterness because of its Foundation.

- please tell me, who is used as the illustration of bitterness?...if you want to see what bitterness looks like with clothes on, who does the writer point to?

A.  Illustrated in Esau.

- do you remember the story in the book of Genesis about Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah...

- Esau was born first, and therefore had possession of the birthright...the honor of being the firstborn and all the privileges and honor that went with that...especially the covenant God had made with the descendants of Abraham...

- but Esau was a godless man...a profane man...and one day he was out hunting and came back famished...and Jacob had cooked some stew and Esau wanted it...

- so Jacob the trickster said, I’ll give you the stew if you give me the birthright...

- and Esau made the deal...

- then when it came time for the blessing to be given at the time of Jacob’s death...he was actually going to give it to Esau, even though the Lord had told Rebekah when the boys were born that the older would serve the younger...and even though Esau had sold the birthright...[yes, this was one messed up family]...

- so Jacob and his mom tricked Isaac on his deathbed...and was given the blessing...

- and when Esau came in, the Bible tells us...

- Genesis 27:34-36 - When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” And he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.” Then he said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”

- that’s an interesting spin on the story, isn’t it...he took away my blessing?...that’s not exactly the way it went though bitterness often has a very selective memory...

- the writer of Hebrews gets it right when it says...Esau was just a profane man...a spiritually dead man...he sold his own birthright, the possibility of being blessed in a special way by God...for a single meal...

- and here’s the point---the foundation of bitterness is unbelief.

- failing to see God’s hand in the trial...

- failing to think about how God can use the disappointment, the hurt, the pain for his glory and your good...

- that’s true of another character in the Old Testament...in fact [get this], she actually asked people to start calling here bitter...using the Hebrew word for bitter, Marah...

- do you remember her real name?

B. Illustrated in Naomi.

- her story is recorded in the book of Ruth...

- and she did have a difficult life....her husband died and she was left a widow...

- interesting, her husband’s name meant “My God is King”...every time she called his name she had reason to be reminded that her God was king...but saying that and trusting in it when life hurts are two different things...

- then her two sons died, and she was left with her two daughters’ in law, one of who was Ruth...

- she tried to send her two daughters’ in law away...but Ruth wouldn’t go...

- Ruth said, Ruth 1:16-17 - But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”

- God was providing a person through whom he would bless Naomi...but her bitterness prevented her from recognizing God’s blessing...

- in fact, when they returned to Bethlehem, the women asked “Is this Naomi?” [bitterness can age you quickly...]...she responded...

- Ruth 1:20-21 - She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. “I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty...”

- what does that say about God’s provision of Ruth...the one who became the means through which God gave Naomi food, and protection, and ultimately even a redeemer...in fact this book ends with Ruth and her new husband Boaz have a baby boy...and the women of the city say to Naomi...

Ruth 4:14-15 - Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.

- I’m not in any suggesting that Naomi had an easy existence...but she didn’t have to let that make her bitter...

- but she did...because she fell into the trap of unbelief....

- the principle is, the more our hearts are filled with faith in general…and in particular the belief that Christ is all we need…the less likely they will be to be filled with bitterness...

- and please think about all that can be accomplished in us individually and as a church if we overcome bitterness in the power of our Savior…

1. think about it in the workplace – people whose bosses know they are thankful for their jobs…and they show up every day on time ready to work hard in submission to their God-given authority…that will make an impact in this culture…

2. think about local church service and ministry

- thank VBS workers – when you’re not stewing in bitterness, you have bandwidth for joyful service…

- community picnic today…

3. what about the impact to missions

- mention children from the orphanage in the DR who are coming…

- quick report on Haiti…

III. Avoid Bitterness because of its Consequences.

- verse 17 might be one of the most haunting in all the Bible...

- Hebrews 12:17 - For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

- please think about those words, no place for repentance....

- you say, how could that ever happen?

- a lot of ways...

- sometimes the choices we make in bitterness are ones that can’t be reversed later...

- cf. Esau – in his bitterness he went out and purposely sought a wife of the Canaanites because he knew that’s the opposite of what his father would have wanted...

- often it’s because bitterness has a spiritually dulling effect, so you wouldn’t want to repent...

- every day you put off dealing with bitterness...what that other person did grows...and what you failed to do shrinks...in your mind...

- bitterness is the great justifier, and the longer it lingers, the more potent it gets...

 

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video