Loving by Avoiding Bitterness

Steve Viars June 19, 2016 Hebrews 12:15

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2 Kings 4:38 - Put on the large pot and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.

2 Kings 4:39 - Then one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, for they did not know what they were.

2 Kings 4:40 - So they poured it out for the men to eat. And as they were eating of the stew, they cried out and said, “O man of God, there is death in the pot.” And they were unable to eat.

1 Corinthians 5:6 - …a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?

4 principles to help us rid our lives, our relationships, and our church of any destructive trace of bitterness

I.  Understand the Definition

A.  In our English language

  • designating or having a sharp, often unpleasant taste, acrid...
  • causing or showing sorrow, discomfort, or pain; grievous...
  • characterized by strong feelings of hatred, resentment, or cynicism

B.  In the biblical languages

Old Testament mar, mara – being poisonous, or deadly... injurious, or hurtful... being fierce, like a bear that has been robbed of its cubs

NT pikria /pikros – animosity, anger, harshness… deep disappointment, deep resentment

C.  From the near context

1.  It involves coming short of the grace of God – v. 15

2.  It often involves a lack of peace with people – v. 14

Pursue peace with all men.

3.  It often is a sign of spiritual immaturity – v. 14

Pursue peace with all men and the sanctification without which, no one will see the Lord.

4.  It may include weariness because of living in a hostile world – v. 3

Hebrews 12:3 - ...consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

5.  It may involve a wrong response to God’s corrective discipline in your life – vv. 4-11

D. Relationship to the family

Colossians 3:18-21 - Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

II. Recognize the Significance of Bitterness in Other Places in Scripture

A.  Sometimes bitterness results from the refusal to handle anger properly by focusing on one’s own sin

Genesis 27:34 - 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!”

Genesis 27:41a - So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him...

Genesis 27:41b - …and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 

B. Bitterness is often connected to jealousy

27:41a - …he bore a grudge.

C. Bitterness is often a breeding ground for other sins

27:41b - …then I will kill my brother Jacob.

Exodus 1:14 - …and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them.

D. Bitterness often occurs in the context of the sinful treatment of others

III. Be on the Lookout for Bitterness

“see to it”

episkepeo – overseer

Acts 8:23 - For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.

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.

1.  Am I bitter because somebody sinned against me, and I should have confronted him or her but I never have?

2.  Am I bitter because I’ve found sanctuary in focusing on someone else’s sin instead of facing my own?

3.  Am I bitter because I have perfectionistic standards for the people in my life and I am therefore easily disappointed?

4.  Am I bitter because I expected God to do something and He chose not to?

5.  Am I bitter because a particular decision did not go my way?

6.  Do I find myself generally evaluating or discussing situations in a negative light?

7.  Are there also evidences of anger, cynicism, suspicion, or harshness with others in my life?

8.  Am I willing to ask others to help me evaluate myself in this area?

IV. Be Convinced of the Danger of Bitterness

A.  It springs up.

B.  It causes trouble.

C.  It will defile many.

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In the Old Testament one of the fascinating periods of history occurred during the lives of Elijah and Elisha, two powerful prophets whose ministries often stood in contrast to the ungodly kings who reigned in Israel at the time. If you have ever studied their lives in First and Second Kings you know scripture contains all sorts of amazing stories of their exploits. Like, for example, the day in Second Kings, four, when Elijah came to Gilgal during the time of a famine, and he's talking to the sons of the prophets, kind of like our seminary, and he tells one of the servants, "Put on the large pot and boil stew for the sons of the prophets."

In other words, cook dinner. Cook dinner. A pretty straightforward request, huh? Until we read this next, then one went into the field to gather herbs, and he found a wild vine, of course he did, and he gathered from it, his lap full of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, for they didn't know what they were. You might want to subtitle that, and that is why we don't let the men cook. My apologies to all the male chefs out there, but before you send me a card, an email about that, look at what happened next. They poured it out for the men to eat, and as they were eating of the stew they cried out and said, "Oh, man of God, that there's death in the pot." That's the ultimate bad restaurant review right there.

If you go by a restaurant and everybody is crying out, "There's death in the pot," you might want to back out and slowly head over to McDonald's or something. In the very next verse scripture tells us that Elijah threw in some meal, and God then miraculously and graciously protected them from what appears to have been a poisonous substance that had been inadvertently added to the stew. Of course, the overall message is the power of those living for God like Elijah and Elisha and how the Lord would use them even in just a minor event like that, in contrast to the many of Israel's leaders who were disobeying the Lord and his commands and therefore were powerless. That's the main point.

The story also illustrates another very important Biblical truth. Just a little bit of something bad can have a ruinous effect. Isn't that right? Just a little bit of something bad can have a ruinous effect, like Paul told the Corinthians, just a little bit of leaven, just a little bit of leaven levels the entire lump of dough. This morning we're going to continue our study of loving the world under your roof, and we're thinking about a characteristic that's, well, it's not in your stew pot. It's not in your bread loaf, but it might be in your house. It might be at your dinner table. It may have ridden with you in your car to the church house this morning. It might be sitting in your pew. It may even be in your heart or the heart of somebody in your family.

The scripture compares it to a root that could spring up and defile many. We're talking about the issue of bitterness and God would want us to understand the significant danger of allowing this sin to be present along with a sufficient cure to rid us of this threat forever. With that in mind please open your Bible now to Hebrews chapter twelve. Hebrews, chapter twelve, that's on page a hundred and seventy-six of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you if you need it this morning. Hebrews chapter twelve or page a hundred and seventy-six of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you.

I really appreciate the great work that the [inaudible 00:04:06] did at Faith East last week and that Pastor Green and some others did at Faith West. Just if you're trying to stay on top of the schedule, that's going to flip next Sunday. The [inaudible 00:04:19] will be talking about loving your spouse live at Faith West next Sunday, and Pastor Green will be interviewing three couples live next Sunday at Faith East about loving your children. I hope you're enjoying the variety of this particular schedule this summer even if it's a bit challenging just to stay on top of. Who is going to be where? That's where it is and it's all available on our website if you need some backstop for that.

Our privilege and responsibility this morning for both of our campuses is to think about being loving enough to avoid bitterness, loving by avoiding bitterness. If there is poison in the pot, if there is leaven in the loaf, let's figure out how to identify it and get it out, huh? Yeah. Absolutely. With the help and the enablement of our redeemer. Let's start in Hebrews chapter twelve and follow the argument that is building to the discussion of bitterness. Hebrews 12:3, "For consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself so that you will not grow weary and lose heart," because if you don't do that you will be bitter.

You've not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in the striving against sin, and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons. My son, don't regard lightly the discipline of the Lord or you'll be bitter, nor faint when you are reproved by him, for those whom the Lord loves he disciplines. Hang on to that for a mine, and he scourges every son whom he receives. It's for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom his son does not discipline, but if you're without discipline of which all have become partakers, then your illegitimate children, and not sons.

Furthermore we had earthly fathers to discipline us. I hope you did or else my job is harder, and we respected them. Shall we not much more rather be subject to the father of spirits and live, for they disciplined us for a short time as seemed to best to them. He disciplines us for our good so that we may share his holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful. True that, huh? But sorrowful, yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness, therefore strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Listen to this, pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. Now, here's our key text, see to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no root of bitterness, there it is, springing up causes trouble and by it many are defiled starting with those under your roof. That there be no immoral, here's an interesting Old Testament, no immoral or a godless person like Esau, what? Who sold his own birthright for a single meal, for you know that even afterwards when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected for he found, wow, listen to this, he found no place for repentance though he sought it with tears.

We're talking this morning about living by avoiding bitterness, and from these verses let's look for four principles to help us rid our lives and rid our relationships, and, yes, rid our church of any destructive trace of bitterness. It starts right here by understanding the definition, and what does God's word mean when it raises this topic?

I.  Understand the Definition

What is it that we are being warned against in this passage? Even in our English language we know some of what the word means even there, designating or having a sharp or unpleasant taste, acrid, or causing or showing sorrow or discomfort, pain, grievous, or here characterized by strong feelings of hatred or resentment or cynicism, whichever one of those words or phrases especially captures it for you.

I think we all know what it's like to be around a person who is bitter. Right? Dare I say it this early in the discussion, we all know what it is like when we're being bitter ourselves. All that is enhanced when you think about this word in the Biblical languages. The word in the Old Testament that is translated bitter often comes from the Hebrew root, mar or marah, and what's helpful to understand here is that in the Old Testament the idea is not just something that is unpleasant, but now we're talking about something that has poisoned us, that is deadly or injurious, harmful. There's even the idea of being fierce like a bear that's been robbed of its own cubs. There's bitter and then there's bitter with a capital B, huh?

You're not letting any of that under your roof are you? The New Testament word if often pikria meaning animosity or anger or harshness, a deep disappointment, a deep resentment. Just like eating something bitter leaves a bad taste in your mouth, this is the kind of event or experience that leaves a bad taste in your soul because of the way you responded. We can also develop our understanding by thinking about the verses right around this concept. What do we see in the flow of thought, the argument of this particular text? It involves coming short of the grace of God. Just think for a minute about that.

Living in such a way that you are coming short of the grace of God. Now a good question to ask of verse fifteen would be is this referring to a person who is a believer in Christ or not, and if you've studied the Book of Hebrews before, you know that there are many places especially the warning passages where you have to ask that very question. Here I think that it's speaking primarily of an unbeliever and the point is it's possible for a person to not genuinely know Christ, and what will keep him from admitting his sin and placing his faith and trust in Christ alone for his salvation is the bitterness of his own heart and in that sense he ultimately, eternally has fallen short of the grace of God.

There's plenty for a believer to learn here. Even though that's probably the emphasis of that text, there's plenty for a believer to learn about the process of bitterness, because it's equally possible for a believer in Jesus Christ in a particular situation to respond in a way that generates bitterness, and in that particular area of his or her life, in that event, in that period of time, he or she, do you hear it, they've come short of the grace of God. You can either run to the throne of grace or you can fall in the pit of bitterness. Which have you done recently?

What also is in the neighborhood of this text? It often involves a lack of peace with people. Pursue peace with all men the writer says. One of the ways you can diagnose the likely presence of bitterness is to watch the way that individual relates to others, and if there's a trail of broken and estranged relationships, that is the lack of Biblical peace with others. Mark it down, bitterness is probably not far behind. Why? Because that person is having difficulty. Bitter people, they cannot evaluate situations correctly. Do you understand that? They're invariably viewing present conversations and present decisions and present events through the lens of a bitter heart, and there is this incessant turmoil in their relationship with others.

It might appreciate to be about a particular issue. In fact they might even have convinced themselves, "No. It's about this thing." No. It's really about a bitter heart that becomes the lens through which everything is evaluated and there is no peace with other people. I don't want this to become overly negative. It doesn't need to. Plow it the other way. Remember the poison in the pot story from the Old Testament where God miraculously intervened. Part of the lesson for the original recipients of the Book of Hebrews who were being, understand the context, were being attempted to desert Christ and his church because of the pressures that they were facing and living for him, and going back to the temple.

The argument for them was the gospel is powerful enough and Jesus is sufficient enough to sustain you with joy and delight even in the most trying of circumstances. That's why you can place your faith in him, and you can continue to find your delight in him even when it's hard so that in turn you can pursue peace with others in a loving and compassionate way. You don't have to live a bitter life. That's the point of that. I can't say enough about how thankful we are for the teenagers in our church who have been serving all week by organizing vacation Bible schools in three of the most economically challenged areas of our town, so they have been working in the [Vinton 00:14:36] neighborhoods this week, and at Point West this week, and in Lower Lincoln this week.

The whole strategy was initiated by them to take vacation Bible school to some of these neighborhoods and build as many compassionate relationships as they possibly could with children in these neighborhoods, and then in turn this coming week, invite those young people to come out to Faith East where we'll have our, shall we say, big VBS this coming week, and what I love about that, and you ought to love that by the way, and what we love about that is that it was initiated by the teens themselves. What I'm saying right now is think about pursue peace with all men and don't be bitter. Think about that. Think about that picture. I love that picture right there.

Bitter young people don't love like this. That's the point. When you don't allow the poison of bitterness in the pot, the stew that can be served is absolutely delicious and a delight to everybody who partakes. I'm very thankful for pastor Johnny, very thankful for all of the tremendous youth workers, but we also recognize there are a lot of great moms and great dads who are doing everything possible to avoid bitterness in their homes and their hearts, and the product of that, you have young people who are pursuing peace with all men regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of their economic background. Why? Why? Because they don't have bitterness springing up and defiling many.

Back to the negative side of the equation in this passage. Bitterness is often a sign of spiritual immaturity. Pursue peace with all men and the sanctification, there it is, the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. Now here it is. Here it is. For the person who is honestly willing to evaluate his or her heart on this issue. Are you? If you trace your way backwards you will often find this, that God allowed something unpleasant in your life or someone unpleasant in your life. It was a test by him. It was an opportunity for spiritual growth. It was a sanctification hurdle. That's what it was.

If you responded poorly in anger or jealously or resentment or revenge, at that point you stopped growing spiritually and started developing a root of bitterness, and when and where growth stops, bitterness starts. They cannot mutually coexist. It's often a sign of spiritual immaturity. It also may include weariness because of living in a hostile world. "Say, have you seen the news recently?" A little bit. Consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself, speaking of our savior. When we stop acknowledging and appreciating God's sovereignty in our lives, think about that for a minute.

The fact that he's our rightful king. He has the right to bring anything or anyone into our lives that he desires. He's the one who is in charge. When we stop acknowledging and appreciating that truth, we are ripe for the development of bitterness. You become weary. May involve a wrong response to God's corrective discipline in your life. You read it as we were going through the text, a major theme, how one of the evidences that a person has God as his father is chastisement and discipline. Thank you Lord for that news. If we really want to grow and we want to serve the Lord and accomplish his purposes then we have to understand, often that comes in the crucible of trial and challenge and difficulty.

When that happens it's not evidence that God has deserted us. It's evidence that God loves us as sons, and he has a plan and a purpose for all he allows to happen. It's one thing for us to say that in the air conditioned auditorium of a church, huh? It's something else to live that out in the rough and tumble of everyday life. Listen, now, too many people aren't just bitter at circumstances or bitter at people, they're even bitter at, dare I say it, they're bitter at God himself. That's why we're told in verse six, don't regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him.

Now, let's bring this around to the specific study this summer. What is the relationship of bitterness to the family? Here you go, here's one of the most seminal texts in the New Testament about the Christian family where we read "wives be subject to your husbands." We still believe that, by the way, around here. Because I do need to tell you we're going to continue to emphasize what the word of God h- ... If we're going to talk about the family, we're going to talk about all the word of God says about the family. All God's people happy about that? Because I wasn't planning on changing that anytime soon and you wouldn't want me to.

Could you smile at me because you love me? Thank you very much. Wives be subject to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and what? And do not be embittered against them. Fascinating. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children so that they will not lose heart. Isn't it amazing that of the thousands of issues that God could have raised with husbands in this passage, he singles out the issue of not being bitter? How does that process occur?

How is a cultivation of a father's, husband's bitterness or anybody's? How does the process look? Often it starts with establishing unreasonable expectations. You hear that? Instead of finding joy and satisfaction in the gospel where a man honestly believes that Christ is all he needs. Christ is all he needs. A man establishes perfectionistic expectations for his wife or his children, which will invariably lead to disappointments and a lack of thankfulness for all that is right, and then you add in the criticism and the negativity, and the complaining, and the always looking at the situation through the worst possible lens, you let that strew, marinade long enough, and you've just made a big old batch of bitterness.

I need to love you enough this morning to tell you there's poison in the pot. There's leaven in the dough. I would just ask you this morning, are you a bitter husband? Are you a bitter wife? Are you a bitter son? Are you a bitter daughter? Are you willing to consider this morning that the ultimate problem is not the failure of the other person; the ultimate problem is bitterness in your own heart? Let's push this a little bit further. Recognize the significance of bitterness in other places in the scripture.

II. Recognize the Significance of Bitterness in Other Places in Scripture

What about the broader context of the word of God? We can't cover all that the scripture says. I know many of you would like me to, but we can't cover it all.

There are a couple of points that could help us round out our definition here. The first place that the English word bitter is found in the Bible is Genesis 27. That's the story of Esau and his father Isaac, and that becomes much more significant because Esau was actually mentioned in the text we just read in Hebrews, right? Hebrews 12:16 talks about Esau, and I understand some will be new to studying the Bible and we're so glad that you're here. I mean that. We're so glad that you're here, so here's the short version of the Esau story. Esau was the eldest son of a man named Isaac who also had a younger son named, remember? Jacob.

As the eldest son, Esau was due a special spiritual blessing from the father. He possessed the birthright. Esau didn't care about spiritual things like having a relationship with the God of his father or receiving spiritual blessing, and couple that with his brother who was a ruthless deceiver. They were quite a pair of the Bible, huh? Wow. The Bible tells us Esau was out hunting and he became very hungry, and Jacob, his younger brother, had made some stew, and when Esau came in ... I'm talking a lot about stew this morning, have you noticed that? [inaudible 00:24:03]. Hadn't had stew in a long time.

Jacob made some stew, and when Esau came in and asked for some, Jacob said, "Well, sure, if you ... " What? If you sell me your birthright, and Esau agreed. No question that Jacob the younger brother was wrong and deceptive, right? No question about that, but the verses that we read in Hebrews help us understand that Esau was wrong too. In fact we read he was a godless and immoral man because he agreed to such a deal, and afterwards he had to decide, now this is really important logically, he had to decide am I going to focus on my sin of despising a relationship with God and now using this energy that comes from the anger inside of me to repent myself, and to come to God in faith myself, or am I going to focus on the deceptive sin of my brother and allow this anger to smolder inside of me and turn into bitterness.

Regrettably he did the latter which tells us sometimes bitterness results from the refusal to handle anger properly by focusing on your own sin. The interesting thing in the Old Testament is we don't actually learn for sure that that's what's going on until the next chapter which is also the next time Jacob tricks Esau by receiving the blessing due Esau at the time of their father's death, and when Esau realizes what happens, the Bible says, "When Esau heard the words of his father he cried out with," what? "With an exceedingly great and bitter cry." That's the first time in the Bible the English word bitter is used, by Esau, now a bitter man.

You might say, "Well, how do we know for sure that what caused Esau was focusing on his brother's sin?" It's because of what we read in the very next verse, so Esau bore a grudge against Jacob. You say that's bad. Read the next half of the verse, "And Esau said to himself, 'The days of mourning for my father are near, then I'm going to kill my brother.'" What do we learn from that? This: bitterness is often connected to jealously. You might want to add James 3:14 next to this particular part of the conversation. This is so important if you have bitter jealously and selfish ambition in your heart.

Listen. Listen. Jealously and envy, they're cousins of bitterness. I'm certain that I will be speaking to people here who are bitter, and the fact of the matter is what started was you became jealous of what somebody else had or envious of someone else, wanting what they had, and you may have twisted that in your mind of yours in all sorts of ways justifying your bitterness in all sorts of fashions, but the truth from the word of God on that matter is, your bitterness started when you became jealous of somebody else. When you became envious of somebody else. Bitterness is often a breeding ground for other sins; "Then I'll kill my brother." Sounds a lot like Cain and Abel, doesn't it?

There's nothing new under the son. Now, one more important use from the Old Testament. Do you remember in the early part of the book of Exodus where the Egyptians enslave God's people and they did everything they could to make their lives miserable, right? Here's what the scripture says about that, it's Exodus 1:14, and the Egyptians made the Jews lives bitter, there it is, with hard labor and mortar and bricks, and all kinds of labor in the fields. All their labors which they rigorously imposed on them, and I realize you might say, "Well, it may be true that some people are bitter, but look at the evil treatment of others."

The Bible doesn't whitewash that fact. God doesn't excuse bitterness, but nor does he ignore the clear truth that living in a sin cursed world is a difficult thing, but you could say it like this, bitterness often occurs in the context of the sinful treatment of others. You might say, "Well, pastor, do you understand how hard it is for me at work? Do you understand how disappointing my spouse has been? Do you know how bad these kids are?" Listen, does that mean you have to become bitter? That's my question for you this morning; does that mean you have to become bitter?

Are you, this is a key question theologically, are you a passive victim? You just sit, are you a dog? That's what I'm asking. Are you a dog? You sit on your haunches scratching your belly of disappointment with your hind leg of bitterness. Is that what you are c-, or is it time for all of us to stand up like a man, like a woman who has been made in the image of God, and therefore are not passive victims. We are active worshipers. The way that we respond to the disappointments of our lives reveals the identity of our functional God. It is an act of worship. It was yesterday, it is today, and it's going to be tomorrow. Whether or not we're running to the throne of grace or falling into the pit of bitterness.

I realize you might say, "You know, Pastor Viars, you have this tendency of ruining my holidays. It's amazing. It's just amazing how often [it's 00:29:59] so depressing I'm going to jump off the gym roof." This is where we can now make a decidedly positive shift. In case you thought, "Is that ever coming?" We could, because think about where I was a moment ago. The book of Exodus, where does that lead? It leads eventually to the celebration of the Passover. Remember that? The Passover meal. Yes. The Israelites lives had become bitter because of the harsh treatment of the Egyptians but then God called Moses to show himself to the pharaoh to demonstrate the power of God, to order the pharaoh to let his people go.

When the pharaoh hardened his heart, the people under his care, the Egyptians, had to suffer the loss of their first born, the terrible tenth plague, but God's children were spared that judgment if they would what? If they would sacrifice a perfect lamb and place the blood of that spotless lamb over the doorposts of their homes. That night God instituted a feast known as the Passover. That meal was to include what kind of herbs? Bitter herbs to remind them of the harsh, abusive treatment they had received at the hands of the Egyptians, but friends, was that the centerpiece of the meal?

Were the bitter herbs the centerpiece of the meal? Of course not. Then what was? It was the lamb whose shed blood signified the possibility of sin being forgiven and his people being blessed, and so the message of the scripture is, yes, we live in a hostile world; yes, we live in a sin cursed world, and in these end times that's getting nothing but worse, but because of the work of the perfect lamb of God, we do not have to go through life bitter. God stands ready to replace the poison of bitterness with the life giving power of joy.

Take all of that back to our key passage. The writer of Hebrews is telling us to be on the lookout for bitterness.

III. Be on the Lookout for Bitterness

The text says, "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God." You hear that? See to it that no root of bitterness springs up. I want to ask you, lock onto that phrase for a minute, see to it. It's the Greek word episkepeo. Pastor, shepherd, bishop comes from that word. Overseer. The idea is we're all to be on the lookout for any traces of bitterness. In whom, be on the lookout where? If you say it it'll sound better. In ourselves first of all. This isn't simply an academic Bible study exercise. We're going through all of this this morning to ask the question is there any sense in which this could be true of you.

What about deep disappointment? What about resentment? What about animosity and anger and hatred or cynicism? Now, I love you. You getting ready to be especially loved? Because the temptation when a sweet, dear pastor asks a question like that, on the part of many of God's people, is to run to, "Well, here's all the ways that's not true." Here's a very important principle. Bitter people are not generally universally bitter. Sometimes they are. God bless them. Sometimes they are, but generally speaking bitter people are not universally bitter. Here's what that means. There may be a lot of people with whom and to whom they're thankful and joyful and gracious, but commingled with that is a particular event or a particular decision or a particular person with whom if the truth was known, they are harboring bitterness. It's in there. It's in there somewhere.

It's like this, you ever had this happen where you open the refrigerated door and something is not, it just ain't smelling so good. You know what I mean? It's not the entire refrigerator, so what do you do? You start peeling the tops of off the Tupperware. Is it there? Is it there? Is it there? Is it there? You do that, right? I know men do. Right, get your nose I there to figure out what's going on. It's not that. It's not that. It's not that. Ah, it's that. I'm asking you, are you courageous enough to go on a similar hunt in your own heart?

As hard as that is, I mean let's be honest with the argument of this text. We also have to do that with one another. There ought to be times when we ought to at least ask another person whether there is possibly bitterness that they have never really handled, and it's clouding. Be on the lookout, see to it that no one. It's not just a matter of evaluating myself. It's also a matter of helping our brothers and sisters evaluate it. Is it possible that there's bitterness that's never been handled and it's clouding your life and your judgment and your relationships?

Which is why we were reading Act 8:23 where Peter says, "I see to it that you're in the gall of bitterness." He said that to somebody else. See to it that no one allows this to happen, or as I alluded to earlier, James 3:14, "But if you have bitter jealously and selfish ambition in your heart don't be arrogant and so lie against the truth." You're probably not going to like this. Sometimes people who are followers of Jesus Christ are incredible gossips. They just are, and I do not make any distinction, and by the way there's nothing going on, so don't worry about this. I'm talking about this because last December we decided that we were going to talk about it this particular Sunday, so just relax. Just relax.

Some people are incredible gossips and I do not make any distinction, nor does the scripture, in a person who spouts gossip or the person who listens to it. Anything unclear about that? The reason you might be the person that everybody calls is because you're the person who responds unbiblically by continuing to listen to it. The most godly thing assuming we're interested in that, the most godly thing that could be done in a conversation like that, instead of listening to the ongoing gossip, would be to stop it head-on and to lovingly ask the question is it possible that you're speaking that way right now about that particular person because ultimately this really isn't about that other particular person, it's about the bitterness in your own heart? I as a loving friend want to call upon you to consider that.

You might say, "You know what? If I said that to the people who gossip to me, I'd probably get less gossip." Maybe that wouldn't be so bad. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad. Here's some possible evaluative questions. Am I bitter because somebody sinned against me and I should have confronted him or her but I never have? Maybe that's the problem. Am I bitter because I have found sanctuary in focusing on someone else's sin instead of facing my own? Am I bitter because I have perfectionistic standards for the people in my life, and I'm therefore easily disappointed? Am I bitter because I expected God to do something and he chose not to? Am I bitter because a particular decision didn't go my way?

It's amazing how people can get themselves all in a dither in a church situation. A hundred things went great. The one thing didn't, and, wow, wow, are they bitter. Do I find myself generally evaluating or discussing situations in a negative way? Are there evidences of anger and cynicism and suspicion or harshness with others in my life? Am I willing to ask others to help me evaluate myself? Here's a little homework assignment, how about asking somebody who is close to you, "Do you see any evidence of bitterness in me? Do I sound like, do I act like a bitter person?"

Ultimately to be convinced, to be convinced of the danger of all this, the text says it springs up. It springs up. The picture is of something that grows under the surface for a period of time, but if not addressed it will sprout up in an unexpected way. Parents, you know where one of the unexpected places might be that it will sprout up? Why do little leopards have spots? It's because big leopards have spots. Listen, here's a day you don't want to face, when you sit in your chair and say, "How in the world did my daughter become such a bitter person? How in the world did this son become so bitter?"

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it many be defiled. It causes trouble. It causes trouble. I wonder how many problems in marriage finds their roots in bitterness, and the text says it will, promise from God, it will defile many. What should we do at this point? I would just ask all of you do you know that you know that you know that you're on your way to heaven? Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? [Listen, don't say 00:40:17], "Well, that was a condemning sermon." It was an opportunity for us to think honestly about the condition of our heart and then run, not walk, to the throne of grace.

I would hate it if anybody who came to this church occasionally or regularly allowed bitterness to stop them from acknowledging their need and placing their faith and trust in Christ. Don't come short of the grace of God. Christian friend, how about evaluating whether there is any evidence of bitterness in your heart, and if so, confess it to God? Would you do that? He who covers his sin shall not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy. Maybe you need to bring someone [inaudible 00:41:07] [or allow 00:41:07] into your life: counseling, discipling, soul care, whatever you want to call it, in order to help you to evaluate each thought and desire in a way that would take that captive for the joy of Christ.

Now, if you overcome this, if you take steps in the right direction, everything we've talked about this morning works in reverse. I'm convinced that people who are finding their joy in Christ, who do not have unrealistic expectations with others and their family are choosing to avoid the sin of bitterness. When you're loving people under your roof like that, delightful things can happen. Let's stand together for prayer, shall we? Father in heaven, Lord, thank you that you're powerful enough to overcome marah, to overcome pikria, and, Lord, thank you for some of these stories and statements in the Bible that help us look at something that's very, very strong potentially, and, Lord, I pray that our church family, I pray I, I pray that all of us would think long and hard about what it means to not let bitterness spring up and defile many. We pray this in Christ's name, amen.

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