Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bitter Waters Made Sweet

I recently read of a woman who was a very bitter woman. She was bit by a raccoon that had rabies. She went to the doctor, who ran test and sure enough she had rabies. She took out a notebook and began to write down names. The doctor asked if she was making a will. She replied, No I am making a list of all the people I am going to bite! 

Bitterness can be a very real thing in many of our lives. It is one of the greatest problems in the church today. It is very destructive and can destroy our testimony for Christ and damage our relations with others.

What is bitterness? The dictionary describes bitterness as having a sharp, pungent taste or smell; something causing pain or unhappiness. It is the feeling of hurt, resentment anger and even hate. It can be directed toward other people and even God.

In Hebrews 12:1 we are told to lay aside every weight that so easily ensnares us. I believe that bitterness is one of those weights. Later in that chapter we read, “Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:15). I think this instruction is very significant. Look at the verse again. Looking carefully, this comes from the same root word which Peter uses in 1 Peter 5:2 as oversee the flock. This emphasizes a shepherd need among the flock of God. 

I have called bitterness a weight, but in our verse it is called a root. How does this root take hold in our hearts? Before there can be a root there has to be a seed. The seed is planted and the plant begins to grow. It is usually planted by some experience in my life and me harboring and holding onto something that someone did to me. The bitterness mentioned in Hebrews is connected to turning away from God. This is actual mentioned back in Deuteronomy 29:17-19. But according to Romans 3:14 it is characteristic of an unbeliever. So when we hold bitterness in, we are actually behaving like the unsaved and that is why Ephesians 4:31-32 exhorts us to, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Sometimes our bitterness is because of our own disobedience as in Ruth 1:20. There we see that Naomi became bitter because of what she went through when she and her husband did not trust God to provide for them. Naomi was overwhelmed with bitterness and even wanted to change her name to Mara which means bitterness.

But often bitterness comes because we do not forgive one another. We are instructed time and time to forgive, but bitterness is allowed to spring up when I choose not to forgive. Bitterness thinks I have a right to be bitter, but that denies the truth that “I have been crucified with Christ, it is not I who lives but Christ in me.” Bitterness remembers details of the hurt. It is like drinking poison and hoping someone else dies.

Bitterness will:

Devastate you spiritually. Bitterness will rob you of your enjoyment of your relationship and fellowship with God. It causes a loss of contentment in our lives. We must learn the lesson of Acts 8:22-23, bitterness is a tool of Satan.

Destroy you physically. It robs you of your peace of mind which could lead to depression. It is often the cause of stress, high-blood pressure, ulcers, lack of sleep, and a sarcastic, hurting tongue. Bitterness can cause us to become critical and negative. It has been said that, “Not every sick person is bitter, but every bitter person is sick.”

Discourage you emotionally. It can be the cause of an emotional roller coaster ride.

Divide friends and affect fellowship with the local assembly. Going back to Hebrews 12:15 the verse says, “lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble” This word trouble means “to crowd upon” It has an effect on others.

Defiles those we come into contact with. Our verse goes onto say, “lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” 1 Corinthians 5:6 reminds us that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Bitterness is contagious, that is why Paul exhorts us “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

Deprive you of a blessing and being a blessing to others. We must remember that bitterness is not based on what somebody did to you it is the result of what you have done with the offense. Look at James 3:13-14, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.”

There are three ways we can deal with bitterness. First we can keep it inside and it will eat away at us like a cancer. Secondly, we can let it out and make others around us miserable. Thirdly we can dig it up! I read that after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Federal artillery fire. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss. After a brief silence, Lee said, "Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it." Bitterness has to be pulled up by the roots not just cut down! I read somewhere that a dandelion can have roots that go 10 feet deep. So how do we dig up bitterness?

I would like to suggest six things from 1 John 1:8-10 and end with an illustration from Scripture. First, recognize your bitterness. Second, realize that it is your problem, not the person who offended you. Third, regard it as sin. Fourthly, repent of it and receive forgiveness. Lastly, rejoice in your advocate.

We see this pictured for us in Exodus 15:22-27. The children of Israel had been delivered from their bondage and had been traveling for three days. Back in Exodus 3:18 and 8:27 we read that they were to go three days and sacrifice to the Lord. But their circumstances drove all thought of sacrifice from their minds. How often it is that we gather to worship but our hearts soon become occupied with the worries of life. We see here that bitterness causes them to complain against Moses. But bitterness cannot satisfy our thirst and complaining does not change things either. We can learn that bitter experiences can be a test (v25), for our teaching (v26), and temporary (v27). 

Bitterness was overwhelming them and Moses cried out. This is the first step, to cry out to the Lord when the hurt is so deep! I find it very instructive what Moses is told to do next in order to turn the bitter water into sweet. The LORD showed Moses a tree. There is no evidence that this tree had any special properties in it that turned the bitter water sweet as some have taught. But for me the application is clear, Moses was to cast it into the water it became sweet. Only when we come to the tree of Calvary, the cross can our bitterness be removed. It is there at the cross where I learn that I died with Christ, that my old man was crucified, that it is not I that lives but Christ in me (Rom. 6:6. Gal. 2:20). It is there at the cross where the battle against bitterness is won! We must recognize the victory of Calvary and it is there that we find healing from the bitterness that plagues us.

But notice they don’t stay there, they move on to Elim, which means “mighty ones.” If we are going to be a mighty one for Christ, we must move on and enjoy the provisions the Lord has for us, the refreshing water of His word and the shade of His care! We must move on realizing the truth of Colossians 3:1-4, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. 

This is the place of rest the Lord has for us. The enemy wants to keep us bitter, but the Lord wants us to enjoy the blessings of our life in Christ, which will it be bitterness or blessing?

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