“…That no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…” ~Hebrews 12:15b
“…So that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood.” ~Deuteronomy 29:18
“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.” ~Deuteronomy 4:9
“Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.” ~Proverbs 4:23
The Ponderosa Pine is a towering and majestic tree that is prevalent in the mountainous regions of western North America. When Sarah and I were on our honeymoon in Colorado, we saw many of these beautiful trees. What we didn’t know (until we found out from our guide on a horseback ride) was that the Ponderosa Pine doesn’t like company; there is something in the root system or such that poisons other species of tree that attempt to grow near the it.
Our passage today (the first one listed above) reminds me of the Ponderosa Pine. Sure, the illustration breaks down eventually, but the reality of the situation mentioned in Hebrews 12:15 is that we are to be on guard against any poisonous root that would seek to grow up in the Church (and therefore, also in us). In a similar way to how the poison from the Ponderosa leads to the death of those trees seeking to grow around it, so the poison of bitterness (which is wickedness) in a person will defile those around him.
The main thrust related to bitterness seems to be an allusion to the second passage listed above. That passage is found in the middle of a section that is a very serious warning from the LORD to His people regarding the dangers and consequences of turning away from Him. “A root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood” is not referring to a dangerous weed or plant that might grow in our garden or field, but to a person or attitude that might grow within the people of God that would lead to their being polluted and defiled by sin. Such a root must be eradicated immediately and guarded against in the first place if the Body of Christ is to remain pure, holy, and true. [The Greek word that is translated “causes trouble” in our main passage carries with it the understanding that it figuratively represents the man who corrupts the faith, piety, character, of the Christian church.]
How do we guard against such a poisonous root and/or deal with it when it arises? Take a peek at the last two passages listed above… Guarding against and eradicating the root of bitterness begins with you and I individually; we must keep (guard, watch over, etc.) our hearts by remembering the LORD and feeding our hearts on Him and His Word. We must constantly remember and remind ourselves (and each other, our children, those we are discipling, etc.) of the truth and not allow our feet to wander from His way. This is life…and death; it doesn’t get any more serious than this. Keep your heart with diligence, watch out for the root of bitterness, and continually be refreshed and empowered by the LORD God.
One last thing to mention is related to the reality that the Aspen is another tree that is prevalent (and beautiful) out west. Our guide told us that the Aspen survives alongside the Ponderosa (and in general); the tree’s vitality seems to be due to two things: 1. The Aspen is resistant to the poison of the Ponderosa; it is immune to it. 2. The Aspen is the largest living organism in the world, having a root system that has been found to be interconnected for up to a square mile! How this relates to our passage today is hopefully somewhat apparent: 1. If we are abiding in Christ, we are connected to the Vine and equipped with His grace, mercy, and peace. Nothing need ever conquer us, including the temptation to sin and the seduction of the poisonous root that seeks to destroy us. 2. We are blessed to be a part of the Church, the largest living (truly living!) spiritual organism in the world! When we walk with Him, we can walk with each other, pray for each other, encourage each other, hold each other accountable, etc.
Thank You, Father, for Your good design, grace, and faithfulness! Help us to lay ahold of that for which Christ has laid ahold of us and help us to keep our eyes (and hearts) on Him!