So, here’s the deal…I have a huge tree in my backyard that has been around for several decades. It’s near 100 feet tall and it’s beautiful. But there’s a problem: the root system is so expansive that there are huge roots above the ground, roots that are well over a foot in diameter. These roots can be observed making their way toward the house and even under the back of the house. You see, these roots are seeking out water and in so doing are progressing to undermine the integrity of the foundation. Recently, when the flooring was up, I could see cracks marking their way 10, 20, 30 feet into my house.
So, you got it, that got me to thinking about roots and theology, and the one verse that came to mind was Hebrews 12:15, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.” The writer of Hebrews is exhorting his audience to guard against those things which will seek to undermine the integrity of the foundation, the fellowship of the church. For the record I do believe that a “root” is anything which produces bitter fruit; it could be wickedness, pride, heresy, worldliness, rebellion, gossip, slander or harboring of sin of any nature; it is much broader than ill-will toward others but it does include ill-will and unforgiveness.
Roots begin very small as they forage their nascent paths. Slow, yet constant, seeking to feed their desire. After time they become formidable instruments which can move or lift massive loads causing major damage, yet they were once “harmless” little shoots. Left unchecked they require great amounts of attention, energy and often pain to extract them.
Do you see the parallel? The caution in Hebrews is to not let any bitterness take root in the body for the simple reason that it will adversely affect the health of the entire body. The reason being is that the root will grow and aggressively spread where it is not welcomed. It will affect, and infect many in its course of destruction. It is interesting that in the Hebrews verse, the idea of receiving God’s abundant grace is somehow tied to the action of protecting the body from bitterness.
Hebrews tells us to not even allow the smallest root to survive; we as Christians are to cut it off immediately. Still, as I look around the church, I see massive roots of bitterness often protruding above ground in their zeal to destabilize the foundation. “I just cannot forgive him for what he has done!” “She’s a hypocrite!” “They hurt me!” “We will just go worship elsewhere!” “We will just worship at home” What?! The body defiled! And consequently deprived of some measure of grace. Simply because we all want grace when it comes to us; we just have difficulty yielding it to others.
When we embrace that root of bitterness we nurture it, even protect it. Allow it to feed. To grow. To suffocate. To Destabilize. When we are unwilling to forgive, when we stand arrogantly, resentfully as the sole exhibitors and standard of Christian maturity, we have polluted the entire body of Christ. For. Which. We. Will. Be. Accountable! When we foster anything that undermines the integrity of relational peace, holiness, unity or the purity of doctrine we set our hands to defiling the bride of Christ.
Maybe it’s time to take a look around your “house,” do some horticultural evaluation on the root systems. Are you harboring resentment of any kind? Are you part of the problem? Are you connected to the vine and exhibiting the spiritual fruit of Galatians 5, or fruit of the bitter kind? Better fruit or bitter fruit? Seems obvious but the root of bitterness bears bitter fruit.
Pick up the phone. Drive across town. Move across the sanctuary. Walk across the house. Double or triple check your theology. Do what you need to do to deal with that root of bitterness.
Give grace where needed, God gave it to you.
“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).