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By James Merritt

Hebrews 12:14-15



1. Of all the human emotions, the one that I personally and

actually fear the most is bitterness. Bitterness is an

emotional cancer that will eat you up from the inside out. It

is a blight that will contaminate you. It is a burden that will

crush you. It is a blaze that will cook you in its own juice.

2. Otto Von Bismarck was the Chancellor of Germany during the

first World War. Toward the end of his life he got mired down

in the quick sand of bitterness, and never got out. He carried

the bile of bitterness into his grave.

3. One morning he got up out of bed and proudly announced to

his household, "I have spent the whole night hating." The

burden of bitterness eventually crushed his health. He had to

grow a beard to hide the twitching muscles of his face.

Jaundice, gastric ulcers, gallstones and shingles racked his

body. When he was offered a small fortune to publish his

memoirs he began to write with a reckless disregard for truth,

using his pen to spill out the poisonous venom of hatred and

bitterness on men and women who had long been dead. Expressing

his bitterness became the very thing he lived for, and the very

thing that killed him. He died embittered, cynical, lonely,

miserable and self-consumed.1

4. Many who are hearing this message are slaves in bondage to

the master of bitterness. Some of you are bitter toward God

because of a tragedy that happened in your life for which you

blame Him. Some of you are bitter toward others, such as a boss

who unjustly fired you; a spouse who left you for someone else;

a business partner who skipped out and left you holding the bag.

5. Some of you are bitter toward parents, perhaps because you

were physically abused, or sexually abused. Some of you are

bitter toward a dad who never spent any time with you.

6. Many people get bitter toward the church and toward

ministers of the gospel because of a bad experience that they

had. They are bitter because somebody hurt their feelings.

They are bitter because something did not go exactly to please


7. Bitterness is the result of feeling that someone has done us

wrong. I would define bitterness this way: Bitterness is

harbored hurt hidden in the heart. At the root of all conflict,

whether it be a church fight, or a world war, is bitterness. In

my estimation there is not a more dangerous emotion than the

emotion of bitterness.

8. Bitterness is like a malignant tumor that will ultimately

turn a healthy body into a cold corpse if it is not removed, and

the sooner the better.

I. The Deep Root Of Bitterness

1. "Looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the

grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause

trouble, and by this many become defiled." (v.15) Bitterness is

described as a root. A root is something that is beneath the

surface, invisible to the eye, but none the less real. It is a

deep root because even though it is not far from the surface, it

stretches deep into the soil. Likewise the root of bitterness,

though never far from the surface of one's lips, reaches deep

into the soil of one's heart.

2. The root of bitterness takes very little soil, needs

very little cultivation, is very quick to grow, but very

difficult to remove. It is so easy to plant the seed of

bitterness, but so difficult to weed it out.

3. We get bitter for basically one of three reasons.

First of all, because of what is done to us. Secondly, because

of what is said about us. Thirdly, because of what is taken

from us. It is amazing how Jesus dealt with all three of these

problems in the Sermon on the Mount.

4. Concerning what is said about us, Jesus said, "Blessed

are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of

evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be

exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so

they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt.

5:11-12) If somebody has ever said anything that was wrong

about you, congratulations, you are in great company. They did

the same thing to the prophets. They did the same thing to

Jesus. They're going to do the same thing to you.

5. Then concerning the wrong that is done to us, Jesus

said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a

tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil

person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the

other to him also." (Matt. 5:38-39) What Jesus was saying here

was, it is not what happens to you that is important, but how

you react to it that really counts with God.

6. Then concerning what is taken from us, Jesus said in

Matt. 5:40, "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your

tunic, let him have your cloak also." The principle that Jesus

was trying to lay down was this: IT IS BETTER TO BE WRONGED,

THAN IT IS TO DO WRONG. When someone does you wrong - and they

will sooner or later - you have one of two choices: you can get

bitter, or you can get better. Incidentally, those are the only

two choices that you have, and you will make one choice or the


II. The Destructive Fruit of Bitterness

1. We are expressly warned in v.15 that if a root of

bitterness does spring up, it "causes trouble." A bitter root

always bring forth bitter fruit. This root is no different.

There is no passion of the human heart that promises so much and

pays so little as bitterness.

A. It Saturates The Mind

1. As the root of bitterness grows, you will find

that it takes up more and more of the soil of your heart. It is

like a plant, we are familiar with here in the deep south,

called kudzu. Kudzu is a vine-like plant that grows like

wildfire and takes over everything it can. Likewise, bitterness

will consume you and absorb you like a magnet. You will find

that your mind is drawn again and again to that person toward

whom you are bitter.

2. Years ago a brilliant doctor by the name of S.

I. McMillen, wrote a best-selling book entitled None of These

Diseases. In that book Dr. McMillen points out how destructive

emotions, such as bitterness, can consume a man both physically

and mentally. Concerning bitterness, Dr. McMillen said:

"The moment I start hating a man

I become his slave. I can't enjoy my

work anymore because he even controls

my thoughts. My resentments produce

too many stress hormones in my body and

I become fatigued after only a few hours

of work...The man I hate hounds me where-

ever I go. I can't escape his tyrannical

grasp on my mind...

The man I hate may be many miles

from my bedroom; but more cruel than any

slave driver he whips my thoughts into

such a frenzy that my innerspring mattress

becomes a rack of torture. The lowliest

of the serfs can sleep, but not I. I

really must acknowledge the fact that I am

a slave to every man on whom I pour the

viles of my wrath." 2

3. Bitterness can make you like the lady who went

to see a doctor for an examination. She felt terrible. The

doctor got very serious and said, "Madam, I hate to tell you

this, but you have rabies." She got out her notebook and

started making a list. He said, "What are you doing, making out

your will?" She said, "No, I'm making a list of people I'm

going to bite."

B. It Saddens The Spirit

1. Bitterness is a depressant. If you will look

closely you will find there are no happy bitter people.

Criticism, cynicism, negativism, pessimism are the marks of a

bitter person. Bitterness will depress you and sadden you and

even get you to the point where you cannot even function


2. Edwin Markham was a great poet, who having

reached the age of retirement, found out that his banker had

defrauded him out of a great sum of money. Instead of retiring

to a life of ease, he thought he had earned, he was penniless

and broke.

3. He became so bitter he could no longer even

write poetry. The candle of joy had been blown out in his heart

by the blaze of bitterness. He became so obsessed with wanting

to do this man harm, that all he could do was think about it,

and brewed over it. He was obsessed with what this man had done

to him and with how he could get even with this fellow.

4. One day, in a depressed funk, he was sitting at

his desk just doodling, drawing circles on his paper, thinking

about this banker who had stolen all of his money, and he said

that the Holy Spirit spoke to him and said, "Markham, if you do

not deal with this thing, it is going to ruin you. You cannot

afford the price you are paying. You must forgive that man."

That great poet said, "Lord, I will forgive him, and I do freely

forgive him."

5. At that exact moment Markham said he could feel

the root of bitterness being pulled out. He could feel the

river of joy begin to flow back in his heart, and when he did,

he said his mind was unshackled, his pen was loosened, and he

then sat down and wrote perhaps his most famous poem entitled,


He drew a circle that shut me out -

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;

But Love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in.3

Bitterness will dam up the joy-juices that God intends to flow

through your heart, mind, soul, and body until it is broken and

shattered by the hammer of forgiveness.

C. It Sickens The Body

1. The human body was not created to nurse

bitterness and to carry grudges. Dr. McMillen, in this same

book, enumerated over fifty diseases, ranging from ulcers to

high blood pressure, that can be caused by an emotion such as


2. Now I am not trying to imply that every sick

person is bitter, nor that every bitter person is sick. But

every bitter person, who remains bitter, will ultimately have

his physical health affected.

3. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was preaching one

Sunday up in New Jersey. After the service a woman came by to

see him, a younger woman, well dressed and attractive. She said

to him, "I always itch. I have an itch I cannot get rid of, and

it itches the worst when I go to church. Can you help me?"

4. Well after talking further with her, Dr. Peale

called her personal physician. The doctor told him that he

could find nothing physically or organically wrong with this

lady and had concluded that she had some kind of a neurosis or

an obsession that he described as a "inner mental eczema, a

scratching on the inside that to her seemed to be on the skin."

5. Then the physician told Dr. Peale that he knew

that she and her only sister had had a falling out years ago,

and that there was a great deal of bitterness involved in her

life, and that could be the cause of the problem.

6. When Dr. Peale confronted this woman about her

sister, she broke down and admitted they had had a falling out

years ago over a dispute concerning the disposition of the

proceeds from their deceased father's estate. A minor

disagreement blew up into a major argument. They had a

tremendous falling out and this woman had made up her mind never

to speak to her sister again. It was at that exact moment that

the itching started.

7. Dr. Peale, first of all, had her to confess her

sin of bitterness to God, and ask God to take the bitterness and

the hate away. Then he had her call her sister and ask her

sister to forgive her. When she hung up the phone the lady

looked at Dr. Peale and said, "That is amazing. I do not itch

any longer." She never itched again.4

8. Let me tell you something I have learned about

bitterness. The bitter person hurts no one more than he hurts

himself. Bitterness does a great deal more damage to the vessel

in which it is stored than the object on which it is poured.

9. Bitterness will poison your worship. You cannot

pray with confidence. You cannot praise with joy. You cannot

preach with power if you are bitter toward someone else.

l0. Bitterness will paralyze your work. You cannot

serve God when the bile of bitterness is flowing through your


11. It will pollute your witness. It will taint

your testimony. It will seal the lips of a soul-winner.

III. The Defeating Pursuit Of Bitterness

1. Remember that a root is something that is underground.

If you want to get rid of it you have to go after it. You have

to find it. You have to dig it up. You have to get rid of it.

2. Everyday our bodies cleanse themselves of harmful

toxins through the processes of waste elimination. If these

toxins were allowed to accumulate, they would cause us to sicken

and they would eventually kill us. If we want to remain

mentally healthy we must get rid of toxins that come to the

mind, and that come to the heart. Acts 8:23 speaks of the

"poison of bitterness." It, too, is a poison that, if allowed

to accumulate, will ultimately kill you spiritually, mentally,

emotionally, if not physically. So how do you uproot and root

out the root of bitterness?

A. Forget The Problem

1. Whatever caused the problem that brought

bitterness into your life, must be put behind you. Ephesians

4:31 says, "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil

speaking be put away from you, with all malice." The word "put

away" means to dispose of, to discard, to get rid of.

2. If you are going to remove bitterness from

your life, the first thing you have got to do is get this "get

even" feeling out of your heart. You've got to bury that

problem in an unmarked grave. It was Benjamin Franklin who

said, "Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging one

makes you even with him; forgetting it sets you above him."

3. The story is told that General Robert E. Lee

visited a lady in Virginia after the Civil War. She was

consumed with bitterness and hatred toward the Union. When he

asked her why, she took him out in the front yard and showed him

the scared remains of a very valuable prize tree, one that was

hundreds of years old.

4. During a raid on her home, all of the limbs

had been shot off by the Union Army. They had carved their

initials on that tree and totally defaced its beauty.

5. She said, "General Lee, what do you think I

ought to do about that?" He said, "My dear madam, I think you

ought to cut it down and forget it." That was great advice.

You see, it is not enough just to remove the root, you've got to

cut down the tree. You've got to forget the problem.

B. Forgive The Person

1. If you don't, we are told in v.15 you will

"fall short of the grace of God." Now that does not mean that

you lose your salvation. But it means rather that you are not

living out your life according to the grace of God that is

within you. You are falling short of God's grace-goal for your

life. You see, that is what grace is all about, forgiving

others who have done you wrong.

2. Now you may be thinking to yourself, "I just

don't know if I can forgive this person or not." Well you can

if you have been to Calvary.

3. After Ephesians 4:31 comes 4:32, "And be kind

to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as

God in Christ also forgave you." That is the key. You've got

to forgive others even as God has forgiven you. I don't care

how dirty you have been done, no one has ever been treated

dirtier than the Lord Jesus. "Good Friday" was not so "good" to

Him. But even as He was dying on that cross for your sins and

mine, He said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they


4. If you cannot find forgiveness in your heart

for that person toward whom you are bitter, I suggest that you

go back to the foot of the cross and hang around for awhile.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, "Let us go to Calvary to learn how

we may be forgiven, and then let us linger there to learn how to


5. You must forgive that person who has wronged

you. You must forgive him freely. That is, whether he asks for

it or not. You must forgive him fully. You can't just cut your

bitterness in half. You've got to forgive that person

completely and then you've got to forgive that person finally.

That is, you must forgive that person once and for all.

6. Too many times, instead of totally forgiving a

person, our prayer is something like this one:

May those who love us, love us;

And those who don't love us

May God turn their hearts;

And if He doesn't turn their hearts,

May He turn their ankles,

So we'll know them by their limping.

7. That kind of attitude will never remedy the

problem of bitterness. It will only intensify it and make it


C. Forsake The Practice

1. It is not enough just to forgive and forget.

Verse 14 reminds us, "Pursue peace with all men, and holiness,

without which no one will see the Lord." The word pursue means

"to go after in an aggressive fashion." We are to actively

pursue peace. That is, we are to take the initiative to end the

war, pull down defenses, rebuild the bridges, and restore the


2. If you do not have joy, happiness, peace,

contentment and satisfaction because of what someone has done to

you, it is not because they took those things away from you.

You gave them away.

3. I cannot control what happens to me. But I

can control what happens in me. I cannot control how you act

toward me. But I can control how I react toward you.

4. Perhaps you need to make this poem your


From pettiness and that desire

Which goads one to retaliate;

With patience, I would quench the fire

Of vengeance, ere it be too late.

And in defeat may I cast out

The moods of envy and despair,

And from my heart, Lord, I would route

all bitterness. This is my prayer.6

5. Jesus died to deliver you from the sin of

bitterness in this life. But He was raised from the grave to

deliver you from the sting of bitterness in the life to come.

6. Hell is a bitter place filled with bitter

people. People who are bitter because they listened to the

wrong voice. People who are bitter because they ran with the

wrong crowd. People who are bitter because they made the wrong

decision. People who are bitter because they served the wrong


7. The greatest bitterness a person can ever know

is the bitterness of being in hell, yet knowing you could have

been in heaven if you had simply and sincerely confessed Jesus

Christ as Lord and believed in your heart that God raised Him

from the dead. That is what Easter is all about.

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