When I was a kid we had an oak tree growing in our front yard. Over the course of the 17 years we lived in that house the tree went from a small sapling to a mighty giant, dropping acorns everywhere. To think that it all began with a single acorn—a simple seed!
As big as that tree was, you can be sure that a massive, but unseen root system had developed in order to water and nourish the visible growth. All that could be seen above the ground was made possible by the root.
Remember Hebrews 12:14-15? “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled.” (NET)
“Pursue peace with everyone.” Wow! We aren’t given much of an option to stay mad! But what’s especially challenging is that a bitter root is not referred to as an it, but rather as a him (or her). And this is where it all gets really ugly!
Through the years I have encountered entire families that were dysfunctional and convoluted—primarily as a direct result of one person’s bitterness. In some of those situations it all began with a single seed—one cruel or unkind action that brought an unjust source of pain.
I know of a father who held bitterness toward another relative due to a cruel deed that led to his own father’s death. More than once he was given the opportunity to forgive and more than once he refused to let go of his bitterness. Through the years his children and his grandchildren paid a steep price in the form of toxic relationships–not to mention other issues.
I wish I could say that a bitter root refers only to cynical atheists, but unfortunately I’ve seen professing Christians defiled as well–and we’re not just talking about the rare, isolated person. Far too many Christian families continue to experience the long-lasting effects of the deadly poison of bitterness! In many cases it begins with just one seed. The bitterness of just one person due to just one experience can be toxic to entire families for generations to come.
Whether it be a natural family or a church family, we cannot allow even a single seed of bitterness to grow unchallenged in our midst. The potential damage is far too great—not to mention the fact that a refusal to forgive others casts a horribly poor reflection on our professed love for Christ.
Is all of this intended to be a scare tactic? No, just a reality check. Humans have an amazing tendency toward self-deception and we’re all masters at justifying practically any type of action or inaction. Unfortunately it’s to our own harm as well as to the detriment of others. When it comes to bitterness, a little honesty goes a long way. It takes only a single seed to defile many. If we have even an ounce of concern for those we love, we won’t hesitate to forgive those we don’t.