Maybe you also have been taught that the root of bitterness refers to bitterness towards others when we refuse to forgive, but is this what God intends to teach us from His Word? God teaches us about the root of bitterness within His Holy Word the Bible in three separate passages. As we study what God says in His word about this subject we can be instructed in the correct way to rightly divide the Word of truth. This is important because there are those with dishonorable motives who will wrest a verse out of context of the surrounding verses and then disregard God’s revelation regarding the verse throughout His Word in order to twist the verse to either teach or support false doctrine. I want to quote the New Testament verses regarding this subject, look at those verses in their immediate context and then go to the Old Testament to shed further light on the exact meaning of the phrase “root of bitterness”. The bitter root, sadly, is alive and well within the evangelical church.
In Hebrews chapter twelve we are taught by God that one of the disastrous results of a bitter root springing is that many can be defiled. The genesis of a root of bitterness is falling short of the grace of God.
12 Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. 14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 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; 16 lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. 17 For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. Hebrews 12:12-17
In the context of the surrounding verses from Hebrews chapter twelve the reason why the root of bitterness springs up is because of ungodliness. Those who cause the bitter root to take hold make no effort to avoid and reject sin and do not actively pursue peace with all people and nor do they pursue holiness. Their “godless” living causes many to reject the grace that is offered to all through Jesus Christ. These promoters of the bitter root love sexual sin and profiteering from the “gospel”. They, like Esau, exchange the glory of knowing Christ for the empty profits of the world that satisfy their fleshly appetites. Many individuals are either discouraged or dissuaded from believing the gospel of Jesus Christ because of the hypocrisy of those who lay claim to the name of Jesus Christ while living ungodly and corrupt lives. The bitter root that springs up from such godless hypocritical behavior not only causes defilement by leading many away from Christ Jesus our Lord, but also leads to the defilement of those who imitate their wicked behavior. Wicked workers within the visible church have caused a bitter root to spring up which has and is defiling many.
We can gain greater insight into the meaning of this bitterness in the life of one who professed to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ all the while desiring the world’s acclaim. In Acts chapter eight God reveals to us how this wickedness works out in the life of a false professor.
8 And there was great joy in that city. 9 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done. 14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” 24 Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.” Acts 8:8-24
First, notice the contrast between those who received the gospel with joy as they heard the glorious gospel and saw the miraculous works performed by Philip,with the response of Simon the Sorcerer. He lost his vaulted position with the people, and even though he believed and was baptized he was “following Christ” for the wrong reasons. This is borne out by Simon wanting to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit so that anyone who he laid his hands on would receive the Holy Spirit. He wanted to be esteemed and praised by men again. This passage from God’s Word reveals to us what is at the heart of the root of bitterness; it is the desire for acclaim and esteem from others. This is the trap of fearing man rather than fearing God.
From the passage found in Deuteronomy chapter twenty-nine God declares His judgment against those who bear the bitter root of departing from the living God to serve false ways and false gods. The clarity of God’s word about the bitter root directs us to make sure we follow His ways declared for us in His Word and to turn away from the rottenness of man’s ways and false gods.
10 “All of you stand today before the Lord your God: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones and your wives—also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water—12 that you may enter into covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath, which the Lord your God makes with you today, 13 that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 14 I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, 15 but with him who stands here with us today before the Lord our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today 16 (for you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt and that we came through the nations which you passed by, 17 and you saw their abominations and their idols which were among them—wood and stone and silver and gold); 18 so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood; 19 and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart’—as though the drunkard could be included with the sober. 20 The Lord would not spare him; for then the anger of the Lord and His jealousy would burn against that man, and every curse that is written in the book would settle on him, and the Lord would blot out his name from under heaven.” Deuteronomy 29:10-20
This bitter root of following man’s ways, man’s gods, and departing from the living God has entered wholesale into the visible church. Apostasy has been extant from the beginning. We should not be discouraged or disquieted from our faith in the living God because of the state of the “church” around us. We can be used by God to stand firm for His truth and encourage others who love Him to do the same. We can also warn our fellow believers about those who have an appearance of godliness, but instead bear the bitter root of ungodliness and following man’s ways. We must warn others and expose those who are false so we can protect our brethren from their deceitful ways, so they will not come under God’s judgment. In the Nature of Sin, I exposed those who have slyly embraced the bitter root of ecumenism within the evangelical church. I want to further expose their hypocrisy so that we can be warned to stay true to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Sadly many are deceived by their hypocrisy and error.
The bitter root of ungodliness destroyed the lives of innocent children in the Sovereign Grace Ministries (SMG) who were sexually and physically abused by those who should have been their trusted protectors and leaders. The leadership within SMG, which was started and led by C. J. Mahaney, did nothing to protect the children and bring the perpetrators to justice; instead they covered up the crime and allowed it to continue for the sake of reputation and finances. This unfettered abuse continued unabated from 1982 to 2012. Those hurt and destroyed by this abuse sought help, guidance and counsel from the SMG leadership who instead deceived them and instructed them to stay away from the authorities and to just trust their counsel. And so the abuse continued unrestricted for years.
Now let me ask you a question, were you aware of this gross abuse and wickedness that took place within the Sovereign Grace Ministries, an evangelical ministry? If you knew, did you learn about this grievous evil from the leadership within the evangelical church? I ask these questions because a visible evangelical organization gave Mahaney their support after an internal SMG investigation gave him a clean bill of health. It was The Gospel Coalition that rallied around Mahaney, a member of the organization. The Gospel Coalition was started in 2007 by Tim Keller and Don Carson, and notable evangelicals John Piper, Al Mohler, Josh Harris, Mark Driscoll, Wayne Grudem, and Ligon Ducan, along with C. J. Mahaney were members of The Gospel Coalition. These men should have directed him to go to the authorities and turn in the evil perpetrators. But just like the Catholic church, money and reputation were of paramount concern rather than the well-being of helpless children. This bitter root has defiled many and brought the gospel of Jesus Christ into disrepute. Watch out who you esteem and consider as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. It just may be the one you approve is perpetrating evil within the visible church. We must be diligent to be careful in all things, exalt our Lord Jesus Christ and pursue peace with all men and holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)
1 But there were false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 2 Peter 2:1-2
The above link contains disturbing material, please don’t read if you are of a very tender heart.