By P.J. Casebolt
There is a plant in North America which bears the name of our title. That is not the bitterroot I have in mind, but the properties are the same. And the consequences of growing or partaking of spiritual bitterroot are far greater than those in the field of botany.
“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” (Heb. 12:15).
Several years ago when I worked on the Emergency Ambulance Squad, my crew and I volunteered for the 6-12 shift on Saturday nights. On this shift we responded to several vehicle accidents, many of them involving drunken driving.
On one such call, the injured were teenagers, and people heard the news over their scanners. Several parents either called or came to the squad building to see if their teenagers were involved in the accident or among the injured. This told me that several parents had no idea just where their children were, or what they were doing.
The following scenario of people involved in the consequences of tasting spiritual bitterroot could be applied to scores of similar situations around the country, or even the world. Like with alcohol, we may become involved directly or indirectly, voluntarily or involuntarily. But the suffering is still real. I have seen this scenario repeated many times, and maybe you have too.
Some root of bitterness springs up between individuals two members of a congregation, or even members of the same family. If someone is not “looking diligently” and the root cause of the bitterness is not resolved, the root begins to grow and spreads throughout families, friends, and the whole congregation.
Brotherly love, even love between fleshly relatives, is replaced by bitter envy, strife, and malice. The preacher becomes involved (if he isn’t part of the problem already), and those who teach Bible classes. Whatever they teach in class or from the pulpit is construed by someone as “taking sides.” Elders become involved, and in the absence of elders, business meetings are convened and conducted to deal with the root of bitterness which has now involved the whole congregation. And business meetings can some-times make the problem worse instead of making it better.
If the congregation is fortunate, wisdom prevails, people repent, and not many become defiled. If the root of bitterness is not stamped out, a “split” evolves, another congregation is formed, and the effectiveness of both is compromised if not completely neutralized. Or, some of the members identify with area congregations. In either case, other congregations become involved in spite of congregational autonomy.
Now, other elders or other business meetings are forced to convene, satellite meetings with involved individuals are held, sleepless nights are spent by those who “sigh and cry” for Israel (Ezek. 9:4), and precious time is wasted which could and should have been redeemed by seeking the lost, in or out of the church, and invariably, “. . . thereby many be defiled.”
Once a root of bitterness has been planted and cultivated, it cannot be killed just by nipping the ends of the vines and branches, or by attempting to cover up the root. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). Like Samuel, someone may inherit the distasteful task of hewing this many-headed Agag to pieces simply because some rebellious, stubborn Saul did not obey the Lord (1 Sam. 15:22-33).
As suggested earlier, this scenario could be applied to literally scores, even hundreds, of geographical areas around the world. We find it in Old Testament times among God’s people, and the Holy Spirit thought it needful to warn against such roots of bitterness in the church of the first century.
The cause of such bitterness and subsequent defilement may be idolatry, corruption in the doctrine or practice of the New Testament church, or personal differences between brethren or relatives who do not have a sufficient amount of love for one another, the cause of Christ, or the truth.
Brother or sister, or a local assembly of such known as a congregation, before you plant or cultivate a root of bitterness, consider how many may be defiled by your careless actions. Once the root begins to grow and others water it, there is no painless or harmless way to reverse the damage done.
Sometimes, with reference to unwanted or cancerous growth, we speak of “nipping it in the bud.” Maybe a better proverb and practice would be to “nip it in the root.” Especially when that root produces only bitter fruit.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 13, p. 22
July 7, 1994