The root of bitterness


Have you ever had bitterness rule your heart? A few years ago, I battled with entrenched bitterness towards a brother in the faith. We disagreed fundamentally on a biblical doctrinal issue. It wasn’t my first time to share divergent views with anyone in the faith. However I had no idea that this particular one would sting so badly.

We were in one fortnight Bible Study that I had started about four years ago, and we had a Whatsapp group. Since we hailed from different backgrounds, we held certain divergent views on certain doctrines. In the group we have a Calvinist and we have an Armenian. We have pre-tribbers, post-tribbers and mid-tribbers! We have those who grew up in a Catholic church , some in an Anglican church, some Pentecostal and some Baptist. However, despite all these differences that would make some people cringe (for no mature reason), the group is united.  The beauty of the group is that everyone holds a solid belief in the fundamentals of the faith: salvation by grace through faith alone, the inerrancy of scripture, the sole mediator-ship of Christ to God, the absolute fall nature of man, the absolute holiness of God etc. The members are followers of Christ first before they are Pentecostals, mid-tribbers and whatnot. One would hardly notice the differences unless you’ve been with the group for about a year. The disagreements were civil and respectful and often ended with a truce to research more, read more or simply agree to disagree. Once, I remember, did the disagreement become uncivil. I lost my cool and we had an emotional toe to toe online with my brother in question, whom I shall call Adam (not his real name). Granted, ours was not the only intellectual brawl. There were other discussions in the whatsapp group with the other members that had their share of heat. But life went on. We’d meet on Thursdays as a group for coffee and catch up on life and study the word of God together. If there was any offended brother, we were always quick to apologise and restore friendship. The group grew more friendly as we continued until a storm hit.

I received a phone call from Adam on a particular weekday morning.  I failed to pick it up since I was in the middle of a project at the office. Unbeknownst to me, Adam had reached the boiling point as far as our doctrinal disagreements were concerned. I missed the call and what followed bamboozled me. An insult came through via text message. I read it in disbelief and thought it had to be a joke. He sent a series of more insults and derogatory abuses via text message. He called me all manner of nasty names and accused me of being a deceiver doing the work of free masons and devil worshippers. I imagined that someone had stolen his phone and was using it maliciously to tarnish his name. The messages kept coming in. My phone could not stop buzzing.

Shortly, another member of our bible study called me. I picked up. He informed me that the brother in question had just called him and told him to stay away from my poisonous doctrine and to also be aware that that I was sleeping with his girlfriend. My shock kept scaling new heights. I told my friend of the messages Adam sent me and he admitted that he had said the very things about me to him via phone; he was just too scared to let me know. I was livid! My anger hardly subsided before another member of our study sent me a text message that he had received from my new enemy. The text message said that i was sleeping with his girlfriend as well. Adam finished the message by saying that I had been sleeping with his own girlfriend too and that he had proof. When my friend asked him for the proof, he was insulted by Adam and he hang up. I was at wits end! I wanted to march up to his house and square it off, verbally or physically, whichever would do worse damage. My friends asked me to not respond but to pray instead. And that is what I did. However I could not pray past a minute. Frustration and hurt welled up within me. I cried to the LORD that day and prayed Psalms of vindication. But my heart wanted something else; it wanted to call him and insult him back. I wanted to take the case to the police in grounds of hate speech and defamation. I wanted to call my lawyer. But my friends asked me to be still and wait on God.

The matter was not over. Adam went ahead and wrote a public post on Facebook calling me a devil worshipper and a Freemason. He then claimed that my blood brother, Philip, could prove all that he was claiming was true. Philip, who was online, saw the post and was quick to disagree publicly that none of what was being said about me was true. I was called by several people asking me what had transpired between Adam and I. To my own surprise, I could find no warranted reason, and that made me angrier. Then his mother called me. She pleaded that I ignore everything her son had written and said because he was unwell. I wanted to hear none of it. I wanted to see her son suffer for what he was doing to me. I was bitter and I wanted vengeance. The LORD taught me some very important things in that season of bitterness. The lessons he taught me are guided from Hebrews 12:15. I pray you will examine your heart and learn as well:

Hebrews 12:15 says: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled “ (ESV)

Lesson One: Bitterness blurs the grace of God

If you read Hebrews 12:15, it tells us that bitterness springs up when we fail to grasp God’s grace. You cannot remain bitter at someone without thinking of yourself better than them. When you are bitter you often imagine, “How dare they do that!” or “How could they do that to me?” If you really analyse those thoughts, what we are really saying is “I am way better than that; I could never do what they did.” We remain bitter because we deem the offender’s mistake to be so grand and unfathomable. Otherwise if it were small, we’d gloriously ignore and forget it. But since we deem the offence to be at a global level, we dwell on it and give it the attention that Isis and Hurricane Katrina deserve. The problem with that is we focus on our offended hearts and our victim-hood and we forget God’s offended heart and our villainy. When Jesus hang on the cross, he forgave the mistakes and forewent the bitterness when he said “Father forgive (insert your name here), for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus gave the benefit of doubt for your sins so that you would be saved. In all honesty, when I was hurt by my friend I felt like praying, “Father strike them, for they know exactly what they are doing!” But God allows us to see that we deserve to be on that cross and have no ground to hold bitterness in our hearts. If we can be forgiven on the cross, it is only morally acceptable to forgive any and every kind of offence towards us. When we forget how much God ought to be angry with us but he loved us instead, we become bitter with those who have wronged us. I remained bitter at my friend for months because I shifted my focus from the cross and onto myself. When the LORD showed me that I had no right to vengeance through his shed blood for me, I realised that the more hurt you are, the more glorious the cross will become to you. The more bitter you are, the more wonderful you will realise grace is. Hurt and persecution is punishment to the world but a blessing in disguise to the believer.

Lesson Two: Roots are harder to deal with as time goes

The Bible says that bitterness is a root, and roots are harder to deal with as time goes.

Hebrews 12:15 “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled “ (ESV)

Roots of a week old tree have no power over the upward pull of my hand. But roots of a five-year-old tree are troublesome. They have entrenched themselves in the soil and have grown thick and strong. The root of bitterness in our hearts must be uprooted quickly before they grow thick and strong. The problem with uprooting a grown tree is that it damages the land. A set bitter root will damage our hearts if we delay to deal with it. I realised that the more I postponed dealing with the bitterness towards Adam, the harder it was to confront it. There are days it was even hard to sleep because I seethed in bitterness from this hurt. The world says time will heal. The Bible says time will cement the hurt in your heart if you don’t forgive when the root is a seedling. One reason I took too long to uproot my bitterness when I was offended by Adam is that I wanted him to earn my forgiveness. What I did not know is that forgiveness that has to be earned is not forgiveness at all. The bonafide signature of forgiveness is unmerited pardon. Forgiveness cannot be earned by begging sympathetic cries of the offender, appeasing gifts or placating pleas to consider letting the hurt go. Why? Because forgiveness may be free but it is priceless. Forgiveness that has to be gained is unforgiveness at best. It has its roots in the soil of pride and is enriched in the manure of hurt. The trick isn’t necessarily to swallow one’s pride but rather to vomit it out and have it out of your system. To forgive is to give up the right to get even. Forgive without conditions otherwise your hurt and pride will thicken and strengthen the root of bitterness.

Lesson three: Bitterness is dealt with through confession to a fellowship 

Hebrews 12:15 “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled “ (ESV)

If you read Hebrews 12:15 it also tells us “See to it”. Paul is addressing believers to respond to fellow believers. I believe “seeing to it” means that we should be sensitive to people’s hurts in the church. When you see a believer hurt, stop them! Find out what’s wrong and pray with them. Even if they don’t open up, offer prayer. This kind of encouragement will help kill the root of bitterness. I deduce that if I am bitter I need to confess it to fellow believers so that they encourage me; so that they see to it. I think this is very important because if you finish reading the Hebrews 12:15 verse you understand why the fellowship is important in dealing with bitterness. The verse says… that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (ESV). I realised that I have one heart. And if it is bitter towards just one person, it cannot relate well with other people because it is the same heart. Hebrews 12:15 says bitterness causes trouble and defiles many. The fellowship will be poisoned. A person with unresolved bitterness will hurt others (cause trouble) and spread their bitterness like the flu because it is the only heart they have. The saying is true; hurt people hurt people. You have one heart. If that one heart is bitter towards just one person, it will affect your relationships with people who have no bearing to your bitterness. Even worse, that same heart cannot worship God if soaked in bitterness. Our hearts cannot compartmentalize sin. One sin that is not dealt with affects the entire heart. I confessed my bitterness to my wife and to my Bible study members. If I did not, it would ruin my marriage and the Bible study because of my pride. They prayed with me and encouraged me with their own past histories of bitterness. That plus the focus on the cross eventually uprooted the root of bitterness.

In my personal walk with Christ, I find that the ultimate antidote to any sin, and in our case bitterness, is to get closer to God. The closer you get to God, the more sinful you realize you are and thus the more forgiven you realize you are. And the more forgiven you realize you are, the more moved you become by the sacrifice on the cross. Getting closer to God is like a black spot approaching the filament of a bright white bulb. The closer it gets to the white light of the filament, the darker it seems. Even a semi-white spot looks impure in contrast to pure white. The closer you get to God, the more you realize how dark your heart really is and how badly you need his grace. No good works, giving to charity or praying can wash away that darkness and make you white before the filament. Getting close to God cannot make you feel better about yourself; if anything, it makes you humble in the light of His Holiness and Majesty. Bitterness does the opposite; it trumps others and elevates self. If I feel morally superior, spiritually greater, theologically sounder than those around me, I only reveal that my dark heart has moved away from the white filament; I have become proud and I need to go back to the light to be humbled. A proud heart insists on maintaining its bitterness. Jesus said in Matthew 6:15 “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (NIV) A bitter proud heart may point out a Pharisee, only forgetting that they may be a bigger Pharisee. In this lifetime, if we confess our need for the Saviour, Christ Jesus and the need to be saved from the blackness of our sinful bitter hearts, He gives us a white coat of righteousness to cover our black hearts and take away our bitterness. And on that day when we shall see Him return, our black hearts shall be thoroughly sanctified to match the white filament, not by our efforts, not by our morals, not by our good deeds but by his Grace and Mercy alone.

Hebrews 12:15 “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled “ (ESV)



Ernest is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband, and a father. He has been married to Waturi since September 2012. They have three children- Thandiwe, Ivanna, and Theo. He is also the author of four books. The Wamboyes are passionate to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly taught and understood in our post-modern world. They are champions of biblical discipleship and furthering the Kingdom of God by transforming one person at a time. They are the founders of The Relationship Centre Ltd (TRC), an organisation that aims to promote biblical family values in contemporary urban communities.

Discussion19 Comments

  1. I love the way your articles are relatable. Surely the spirit is working through such that whenever am struggling with something, I get answers. Thank you so much for that insightful article, its everything I needed. Blessings.

  2. I have been soo bitter for a long time and your article has really made me think if it’s even been worth it! That root is soo deep but by Gods grace it’ll come out. Thank you for being open and honest

  3. patience Nthale

    As I read through God really spoke to my heart about a bitterness issue I have been battling I know and the root will be off and by grace I will love because I do not too deserve all the love God has lavished me is all by grace.
    thank you for sharing.

  4. “Bitterness is a root, and roots are harder to deal with as time goes”. Wow, with every word in this article, one cannot stop for a minute to think of his/her actions when faced with such a situation. Truly prayer and deep soul searching heels. Your article is just on point and the lessons brought out are well laid. Thanks for the information

  5. such an insightful article.
    this is what i have learnt….earned forgiveness is not forgiveness at all.
    getting closer to God helps us to get rid of that bitterness.
    hurt people hurt people.

    thank you very much for sharing.

  6. Such a great and timely article I have to release the bitterness in me and be close to God with his Grace I don’t deserve to be forgiven if I can’t forgive

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