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Wed, Aug 04, 1999

56 - Root of Bitterness

James 3:14 & Hebrews 12:15-16 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:1 hr 6 mins 1 sec

Root of Bitterness; James 3:14; Heb. 12:15-16

Hebrews 12:15 NASB "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God…" That means that there is a standard of God's grace, and the writer is saying that that is how you were saved by grace and you grow and mature by grace. But if we start operating on legalism and ritualism and human viewpoint then we are going to fall short of God's grace. All human viewpoint systems of religion put the emphasis on human ability, human experience, and it falls short; it doesn't come up to the standard of God's grace. "…that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled." What is a root of bitterness? Well it is going to relate somehow to a rejection of the grace of God because that is our context. The phrase is a genitive phrase and it can mean a root that consists in bitterness—that would be a subjective genitive—or it can be a root that produces bitterness. This is important because in our psychologised culture when we put on our psychological glasses which we pick up from the world's system that has given us that orientation we can come to the Scriptures and say, Oh, this is talking about some kind of bitterness inside our souls that then causes trouble, therefore we have to get rid of it. But that is not what this is talking about. So let's let the Bible define the term.

The passage in Deuteronomy chapter 29 is giving the final warning to the Jews at the end of this sermon, warning them of the consequences of failure: what happens if they violate the Mosaic law. The first seventeen verses rehearse this. Picking up the context in verse 14, the Lord says: "Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, [15] but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here today [the generations to come] [16] (for you know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed; [17] moreover, you have seen their abominations and their idols {of} wood, stone, silver, and gold, which {they had} with them);" 

Deuteronomy 29:18 NASB "so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations…" What is the subject? What is He talking about? He is talking about the fact that they are getting ready to go into a culture that is dominated by the phallic cult, it is dominated by all the fertility gods or the Canaanite religions. He us saying, You have seen all those abominations. Now there is going to be pressure upon you to compromise with the world system. The world system to the Jews at that time was exemplified in the Canaanite religion. So there was going to be continual pressure day in and day out from the culture around them to conform to that culture. So lest that should happen, and then He gives the last clause: " that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood [bitterness]." This is the Old Testament phrase, a root of bitterness.

Who is He referring to? He is not talking about some psychological root here, He is talking about somebody in your midst who caves in to idolatry and because of their compromise they start infecting the rest of the community. He is talking about a person who caves in to worldly thinking and idolatry and the Canaanite religion. That is the root, that which produces a fruit. So what we see here now is that when the writer of Hebrews picks up this phraseology and talking about a root, he is not talking about a root that is bitterness, he is talking about a root that produces bitterness. What Moses is saying in Deuteronomy 28:19 is that when you [the Jews] let somebody to compromise with idolatry this root is going to produce a fruit. It will infect those around them and then the end result is going to be divine discipline on the nation and life will be a bitter experience. You will go through adversity, suffering for discipline, and if you don't respond correctly to that test—and this is where the writer of Hebrews is picking this up—then you will develop bitterness in your soul. Remember, there are two concepts here for bitterness, the internal mental attitude sin of bitterness and the external self-induced misery o9f the bitterness of life because of what is going on inside the soul. 

Hebrews 12:16 NASB "that {there be} no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a {single} meal." That is what this idolatrous person is. They are godless, they have rejected God as the centre point of their life.

Genesis 25, the story of Jacob and Esau. God was following a principle based on divine viewpoint, not human viewpoint. Divine viewpoint said the older will serve the younger; human viewpoint said that the firstborn is the one who gets the inheritance. The firstborn was not the seed, it was the product of Abraham's liaison with Hagar the Egyptian slave who gave birth to Ishmael. The child of promise was Isaac. Ishmael was not a believer; Isaac was a believer. The line for Israel goes down through the believer, not through the unbeliever. Isaac, then, has twin sons. When Rebekah gives birth the first one out was Esau and Jacob was the second grabbing his heel. There is the statement by God while they were still in the womb: Genesis 25:23 NASB "The LORD said to her, 'Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.'" So God announces before their birth that Jacob is the one through whom the line will go. That means that the inheritance is secure and Jacob doesn't have to try and secure it through manipulative deceptive means. But he did. The inheritance is the transfer of the patriarchal priesthood and all of the spiritual responsibilities that go with it.

Genesis 25:27 NASB "When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. [28] Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. [29] When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; [30] and Esau said to Jacob, 'Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.' Therefore his name was called Edom.[31] But Jacob said, 'First sell me your birthright.' [32] Esau said, 'Behold, I am about to die; so of what {use} then is the birthright to me?' [33] And Jacob said, "First swear to me"; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. [34] Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright."

The theological point that the writer of Hebrews wants us to understand is that the reason Esau was willing to sacrifice his inheritance is because he had no orientation at all to grace, he had no inclination towards God at all, he didn't care about spiritual things, so an inheritance was irrelevant to him because it had to do with spirituality. So he is a godless person because of that. He is like the idolater who has rejected God, he doesn't want to have anything to do with God. This is like the believer who advances so far in the spiritual life and then they are willing to say, Well I just don't have time for the Word of God, I need to build my business, I need to build my golf game, I need to be at home with the family (which means they are going to sit back and watch television), and they are going to sacrifice their inheritance in the kingdom for all eternity for whatever it is, because there are things in life that they idolatrise, they raise to a level or worship. And they can be good things. The only thing that mattered with Esau was right here, right now, whatever made him happy today, and he didn't care about the future. But we understand that we have an eternal destiny, and we need to make decisions today in the light of eternity.

James is saying, James 3:14 NASB "But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and {so} lie against the truth." Then he says [15] "This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic." What is the earthly, natural and demonic wisdom of our day? It goes under the name now of postmodernism.