Looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness (poison) springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. (Hebrews 12:14-15)
We are called to be diligent in detecting and resisting a root system of bitterness in our hearts. We must intentionally ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts because we do not naturally detect the often unperceived root system of bitterness beneath the surface. A root of bitterness can grow under the surface long before it’s detected. Much like a cancer in the body, even a small amount of bitterness can soon become deadly if not addressed. The Word teaches that bitterness “causes trouble” emotionally, physically, relationally and spiritually by putting a block up between us and the Lord, and causing the heart to disconnect from the vibrancy of the Holy Spirit. Bitterness is often passed on to others and has the potential to “defile many.” At best, when fruits of bitterness surface in our heart, we will experience some degree of emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual turmoil. At worst, when left unresolved, bitterness can cause us to “fall short” of God’s grace by keeping us from experiencing the full power of it on our hearts.
For certain men have crept in unnoticed…ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness…11 Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. (Jude 4, 11)
Abel worked with the herds, and Cain with crops. Cain’s mistake was that he sought to worship the Lord on his own terms instead of God’s. God’s justice required the shedding of blood to gain forgiveness of sins but Cain disregarded God’s requirement. Therefore, God rejected Cain’s offering and form of worship, yet He accepted Abel because Abel was a true worshipper and obeyed God. Cain’s wrong, bitter response to God and Abel caused him to become bitter and sad. When God told Cain about his unacceptable sacrifice, instead of repenting with humility, he grew defensive and angry. The root system of bitterness was working in him. If you cannot handle correction then you cannot handle praise. Instead of spending time praying about the correction and seeking the truth in it, we often waste precious time trying to justify our actions.
Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. (Gen. 4:5)
The root system of bitterness is founded on the belief of not getting what we deserve. People fall into bitterness usually because they feel either overlooked, not understood or mistreated related to money, honor or abuse (physically, emotionally, etc.). Of course, we do not really want from God what we deserve. Gratitude towards the Lord is the foundational attitude necessary in overcoming bitterness. It is the height of injustice to receive God’s free mercy for our sin without extending it to others. God sought to help Cain avoid the root of bitterness and it’s disastrous result in his life (v. 6-7). In a pastoral way, God asked Cain two questions then spoke four principles to him. Cain was the first man in history to wrestle with a root of bitterness. God was speaking to all His people through history in recording this pastoral conversation with Cain.
6 So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Gen. 4:6-7)
God asked Cain two questions, “Why are you angry? Why are you sad?” Then He gave him four principles to work through based on how he answered the two questions.
- Principle 1: If you do well, will you not be accepted? If Cain made righteous choices then he was assured of gaining a new start in God with favor and blessing. Because of God’s mercy, it is never too late to start again.
- Principle 2: If you do not do well, sin lies at the door. If yielded to the root of bitterness there will be negative consequences. To live with bitterness is to live with a toxic heart which dulls our spirit.
- Principle 3: Sin’s desire is for you. Satan wants our weaknesses to escalate to wickedness. Satan adds a demonic energy to our weakness so that we act-it-out and, in doing so, give him more access to our lives.
- Principle 4: You are responsible to rule over it (sin). This means it’s possible to rule over and overcome bitterness.
Also notice that Cain talked with Abel, instead of God, in the midst of his turmoil. He did not consider the consequences of that action. If we will take our complaints and offenses to the Lord, He will help us respond with a right heart. Instead, when we take our complaints and offenses to others in the heat of the moment it can escalate a situation from anger to full-blown rage.
21 You have heard…, “You shall not murder”…22 I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother…shall be in danger of the judgment…25 Agree with your adversary quickly…lest your adversary deliver you to the judge…and you are thrown into prison…26 You will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. (Mt. 5:21-26)
Jesus connected anger to the spirit of murder. When we choose to stay angry we are in danger of the judgment because anger has a domino effect in our emotions. As it grows it leads us to greater acts of sin, typically jealousy which was the very sin that killed Jesus. The first sin was anger, that opened a door to jealousy, and the two demons together killed Jesus. This can manifest in murder of our brethren’s reputation and stature (accusation), or in actual physical harm.
The best way to refuse the way of Cain/bitterness is to operate in the opposite spirit. This is possible by loving those we are in an adversarial relationship with in a practical way. This includes three specific activities: blessing them, doing good to them, and praying for them.
Our heart is not safe if we only avoid evil without doing good by acting in the opposite spirit. Loving our adversaries is not an option but is a necessity that brings our heart issues to the surface. If we neglect to do this, then we will live with a “residue of bitterness.” Beloved, let us not be content with any measure of bitterness in our hearts. Let us purpose to refuse the way of Cain and overcome bitterness. Only then will all men know we are His disciples–by our love for one another (John 13:35).