Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Poison of Bitterness

The cartoons that many of us grew up watching always depicted poison or danger as a skull and cross bones, meaning that there is death around the corner. For many of us we could put a skull and cross bones over our hearts or at least in certain corners of our hearts because there is a poison that we a drunk or are drinking that is slowly harming us and can lead to spiritual death at least in the sense of our effectiveness for Christ.

There is a very clear picture of how the poison of bitterness infected and affected a man in the life of King Saul. He was a man head and shoulders above all others. He had been chosen by the people and has God’s anointing on him. He had everything; power, prestige even the applause of man and yet scripture shows us that he died a bitter man. It seems the seeds of this bitterness were planted early on in Saul’s life and he never plucked the ugly plant up at the roots.

Bitterness is a very unhealthy response for any of us. It poisons the heart and mind affecting us emotionally and spiritually. In 1 Samuel 13:1-14 we enter into battle scene that shows us that there were actual two battles going on, one with the Israelites and the Philistines, the other between Saul and the beginnings of the bitterness that would plague him the rest of his life. Saul was not supposed to go into battle until the prophet Samuel arrived and offered the burnt sacrifices to God. But because Saul’s men were afraid of the enemy and Saul was afraid of losing his men, Saul took matters into his own hands. He didn’t see the importance of obeying God’s prescribed way of doing things. God saw this as a foolish act of rebellion that would have an effect on Saul’s kingdom and all of his descendants. There is no record of repentance from Saul, instead there is an act of independence in numbering his men. The seed of bitterness had been planted and the first sprout was Saul leaning to his own understanding, instead of acknowledging the need of God’s help!

Later in 1 Samuel 15, we see Saul again faced with war this time with the Amalekites. Once again we see Saul failing to completely obey God when he chose to spare Agag the King of the Amalekites. It would seem as we read this account that Saul’s pride got the best of him and that led to further independence and disobedience. The result of this experience is that not only will he loose his kingdom, but because he rejected the Word of the Lord, he lost the fellowship and counsel of a godly man (1 Sam. 15:10-11, 26). These two incidents in the life of Saul were where the seeds of bitterness were planted and were where they began to sprout.

As we follow Saul’s life we see the bitterness grow. Because the seeds of bitterness had already been planted because of his own disobedience, independence and lack of repentance, Saul could not rejoice with those that rejoiced. When David defeated Goliath and the people gave David greater praise than Saul, another sprout of bitterness sprang up in Saul’s heart. As the anger toward David grew it affected Saul’s thinking. Bitterness causes us to think lop sided, Saul started to build a case against David in his own mind, thinking that David wanted to take over his kingdom. Bitterness affects our thinking to the point where we always think the worst of the person we’re bitter against. Once our thinking is affected fear sets in which led Saul to plot against David and even attacking Him. We might not go as far as to throw a spear at the person we are bitter against, but we begin to throw insults attacking their character in the eyes of others. As this bitterness continues to in-twine itself around Saul’s heart and feeling causing him to totally reject David altogether. If we allow bitterness to grow we get to this same place that Saul arrived at where we can’t even stand to be around the person who is the object of our bitterness! Saul’s feelings against David grew so strong that he dreaded being around David and even sought ways to eliminate David from his life altogether.

While we may not go as far as Saul did, bitterness can have just as strong hold on us as it did King Saul. Paul would remind us in Philippians 4:6-9 of how to have victory over such bitterness. He said, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

This is the key to weeding out the bitterness. We must not let this poison spread like it did in the life of Saul. The Spirit of God encourages us to, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 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” (Eph. 4:29-32). Don’t let the poison of an unforgiving heart spread allowing bitterness to take root! Pull it up by its roots by repenting and turning it over to God. Anything else to to be like Saul and act in independence and disobedience!

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