(Please read Hebrews 12:14-17, NIV.)
Amidst all the material preparations for Christmas, the most important thing is to prepare relationally by dealing with the bitterness that too often separates us from one another and with God. The Spirit gave me this message at this time to assist in this ministry of reconciliation.
Don’t let bitterness take root – it will cause you to miss the blessing (14+15).
God’s people are to be characterized by PEACE. This command also appears in Romans 12:18. IF IT IS POSSIBLE, AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, LIVE AT PEACE WITH EVERYONE. Regarding peace, there are three attitudes people have:
- Peace-breakers undermine the unity of the church by being hard-hearted, abrasive, selfish, insensitive, or are characterized by other ways cause offense. They suffer bitterness and don’t care about inflicting it on others.
- Peace-fakers focus on avoiding conflict and taking responsibility. They may not make a situation worse, but their procrastination and/or falsehood don’t make it better. Their goal is to avoid responsibility for the bitterness they feel or inflict.
- Peacemakers choose to obey God and follow Jesus’ example by loving one another. They are willing to sacrifice and do the hard work of forgiveness that is necessary to make peace a reality.
In order to head off excuse-makers, Paul allows no exceptions to this command. He wrote, MAKE EVERY EFFORT; this requires real attempts at peacemaking; nothing fake or superficial will do. It must be genuine and sacrificial. And he added, WITH ALL MEN, which means that we are not allowed to pick and choose who is “worthy” of our efforts or just work with family and friends. Those folks who are hard to love or otherwise “more trouble than they’re worth” deserve an honest effort.
God’s people are to be characterized by HOLINESS. Like true peace, genuine holiness is made known both inwardly (attitudes and priorities) and outwardly (our words and deeds). Holiness is to be like God, to be set apart from worldly things to pursue Him as our path to joy.
This requires Christians to be counter-cultural in a positive, redemptive sense. There are at least two reasons for this. One, if there’s no moral difference between churched and non-churched, we are not living a holy life. We’re not behaving like set-apart people. Two, if we are so alike the world around us, we become invisible in the midst of our culture, and we forfeit our opportunity to witness.
Paul points out two things that disrupt peace and holiness in our life.
The first is missing the GRACE OF GOD (v. 15). God offers grace to all people. But most will exercise their free will to reject it: that’s how one can MISS the grace of God.
2 Corinthians 6:1 = AS GOD’S FELLOW WORKERS WE URGE YOU NOT TO RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN.
Galatians 5:4 = YOU WHO ARE TRYING TO BE JUSTIFIED BY LAW HAVE BEEN ALIENATED FROM CHRIST; YOU HAVE FALLEN AWAY FROM GRACE.
The second is allowing a BITTER ROOT to grow (v. 15). This image refers to attitudes that we allow to remain in ourselves & in our congregation that cause bitterness and division: grudges. Paul did not invent this term; it was originally revealed to Moses who wrote in Dueteronomy 29:18 = MAKE SURE THERE IS NO MAN OR WOMAN, CLAN OR TRIBE AMONG YOU TODAY WHOSE HEART TURNS AWAY FROM THE LORD OUR GOD TO GO AND WORSHIP T GODS OF THOSE NATIONS; MAKE SURE THERE IS NO ROOT AMONG YOU THAT PRODUCES SUCH BITTER POISON. In MTW 7:17, Jesus used a similar word picture; He said a bad tree produces bad fruit; an ungodly spirit will lead to ungodly acts.
Count the relational cost of bitterness and refuse to pay it! The cost of bitterness is too high and yet it happens too often. Individuals stricken with it must be encouraged to forgive and reconcile.
It messes up our relationship with God. This is what God meant when Paul wrote, WITHOUT HOLINESS NO ONE WILL SEE GOD. In this life, it means that God can be perceived only by faith & the power of the Holy Spirit. After this life, a person will only SEE GOD if they have God’s gracious gift of holiness in them; not by personal achievement, but by grace. Bitterness is one of many kinds of sin. It causes estrangement between us and God that can only be cured by confession, repentance, and forgiveness.
The Bible warns us that we will be forgiven as we forgive others AND that we will be judged by the same standards we judge others. What this tells us is that our human relationships do NOT exist apart from our relationship with God. They are two sides of the same coin.
Bitterness also messes up our relationships with each other. This is what God meant when Paul wrote, CAUSE TROUBLE AND DEFILE MANY.
It’s no stretch to understand what CAUSE TROUBLE means. Each of us can recount at least one circumstance where relationships were lost for a lifetime because bitterness set people against one another, where grudges were held for years.
To DEFILE means to cause another to sin. Bitterness is a sin that spreads like a contagious disease. What complicates it is that the parties involved are often too self-righteous or proud to admit their own guilt & seek restoration.
Don’t be like Esau, a basket case of bitterness (16-17).
Immorality & godlessness are linked to bitterness in the sense that every sin creates an attitude that makes a human life a more fertile field for sin. Esau is a negative example; one to be avoided.
Esau is an example of this effect immorality. Jewish traditions and legends make Esau into even more of a villain than the Bible does, but it’s enough for our part to observe that bitterness and regret over his lost birthright dogged his steps and created a place for other sins to spring up.
Esau is a biblical example of godlessness because he placed so little value on his place as Isaac’s firstborn and rightful heir that he sold his birthright to his brother for a bowl of hot stew. (See Genesis 25:29-34). Later, when he understood he’d lost it, no amount of regret could restore it. (See Genesis 27:1-40, especially v. 35).
The opposite of godliness is worldliness, and Esau’s actions are a fine example of worldliness. He was chosen to be the firstborn, heir of all the promises God made to Abraham and Isaac, and he traded that away for a lunch! Ruled by his stomach!
Paul wrote about Esau-like people in Philippians 3:19 = THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION, THEIR GOD IS THEIR STOMACH, AND THEIR GLORY IS THEIR SHAME. THEIR MIND IS ON EARTHLY THINGS.
God did not have a neutral attitude about Esau, as you can guess from the following verse: “I HAVE LOVED YOU,” SAYS THE LORD. “BUT YOU ASK, ‘HOW HAVE YOU LOVED US?’ WAS NOT ESAU JACOB’S BROTHER?” THE LORD SAYS. “YET I HAVE LOVED JACOB, BUT ESAU HAVE I HATED, AND I HAVE TURNED HIS MOUNTAINS INTO A WASTELAND AND LEFT HIS INHERITANCE TO THE DESERT JACKALS.” (Malachi 1:2-3)