Note: Devotion taken from sermon notes from 8.17.16 message at CRBC on Hebrews 12:12-17.
Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
There is as strong “horizontal” emphasis in this passage which begins in v. 14 with the command: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness….”. This reaches a resounding conclusion in v. 15b, which warns, “lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you.” What a powerful image! We can envision a root reaching its tentacles deep into the heart. It is a bitter, a foul, a distasteful root. But what is the root of bitterness?
It might be seen as personal bitterness. It is the holding of a grudge. It is unresolved anger. It is hanging on to a grievance. It is having a sour and bitter and diseased heart. This, however, may reflect a modern psychology-influenced type of interpretation.
The older interpreters saw the “root of bitterness” somewhat differently. Matthew Poole described it as embracing doctrinal and practical error: “The Apostle intending hereby the hindering the springing up and growing of errors, heresies, or immoralities, as profaneness, filthiness, etc., which are apt to infect churches and, as they spread, to molest, trouble, and disturb them, and to keep them from pursuing holiness….”
Owen likewise sees it as referring to the concealing of a heart “inclined unto apostasy.” It is hidden “for a season, like a root it the earth.” Those who harbor this root gradually have it discovered in several ways: “Commonly they begin the discovery of themselves in the neglect of church assemblies and duties” thence “they proceed to perverse disputing, and contentions against the truth” and “so go on to manifest themselves.” He adds: “this root will not always lie covered, this evil heart will manifest itself” (Owen, Hebrews, Vol. 7, p. 292).
The inspired author closes with this sad truth: “thereby many be defiled.” Sadly, a root of bitterness growing in one person’s heart most often does damage to others.
May we guard against nurturing or hiding a root of bitterness in our hearts, whether it be a grudge against a brother or neighbor, or a doctrinal or practical error.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
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