“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” (Hebrews 12:15).
Bitterness is always bad. There are good lessons to be learned from suffering, but bitterness is not a learning process – it’s a dead effect.
Water that moves in a stream may purify itself, but bitterness is stagnant backwater of life. It is stilled only by the sludge of its own pollution. Bitterness is withdrawal. It is soured on the bottle and generally carries a terminal potion of self-righteousness.
The writer of the book of Hebrews, rightly speaks of the roots of bitterness. It is selfishness gone to seed. The roots generally deepen through the years. The center or tap-root is generally found in an “unforgiving spirit”. It is wrong for the believer, for a bitter heart and unforgiving spirit denies the grace and providence of God. The apostle Paul wrote, “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Bitterness seeks its own way and denies God.
Consider the case of Joseph. Born of a favorite wife and mother; given a coat of many colors and dreamed strange visions about the future that favored him over his family. He was hated by his brothers and they mocked him, calling him “The Dreamer”. They plotted against him and made plans to kill him. The older brother intervened and they compromised and sold him into bondage. In Egypt, he was purchased by the house of Potiphar who was a captain of the guards in Pharaoh’s army. Due to his diligence and honesty, he was soon promoted as a slave and eventually was made “second in command under his master Potiphar.
Potiphar’s wife desired him and tried to seduce him day by day. He refused all of her advances, and in retaliation, she lied about Joseph and he was cast into prison. Even there, his life seems to rise above circumstances. He was made trustee. Through a series of interpretations of dreams, he was elevated next to Pharaoh himself. None of this could be rightly understood without the grace and providence of God. Joseph, the one who waited was true to his God and stood firm by his own convictions.
Kenny Rogers wrote a song about an old gambler. When I first heard the chorus, I saw Joseph, not as a gambler, but as a faithful servant of Jehovah. As you sing the chorus, think of Joseph and his life.
“You gotta know when to hold (on),
Know when to fold up (wait);
Know when to walk away
and know when to run, (He ran from her)
You never count your money,
sitting at the table,
There’s be time enough for counting,
When the dealing’s done.”
After Joseph was appointed ruler, a famine hit worldwide. The house of Jacob back in Canaan were without food – starving. The brothers came to Egypt seeking grain. After a series of tests, “Joseph could not refrain himself, and he made himself known unto his brethren.” The Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard his wailing and weeping and the beauty of forgiveness with his brothers. And Joseph said, “Does my father yet live?” And his brethren could not answer him for they were troubled at his presence. And Joseph called his brothers near and said, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. Therefore be not angry or grieved with yourselves, that you sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve your lives, and a prosperity in the earth. Now it was not you that sent me here, but God, and he has made me a father to Pharaoh and Lord and ruler of all his house”(Genesis 45:1-8).
When Father Jacob died, the brothers thought Joseph would seek his vengeance upon them. They were sore afraid. They sent messengers to Joseph pleading for mercy. Was bitterness in the heart of Joseph? I say just the opposite. Hear what he said to his own brethren. “And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, behold, we are thy servants. And Joseph said unto them; fear not, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you thought evil against me, but God meant it for my good, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:18-20).
Now sing it with Joseph and with the old gambler. “You gotta know when to hold, know when to fold up; know when to walk away and know when to run. You never count your money (life) sitting at the table, there’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done.”
Life is based upon faith in God, that the wrongs that are done against a believer, will be made right and eventually work out for good. Holding. Folding, walking, and running are only meaningful to those who are willing to wait. Wait for God. Wait for the answer. Wait for deliverance – But above all things, “Thy will be done and” WAIT!!
Even Jacob had to wait until God called the children of Israel out of Egypt, to bring his bones with them to the promise land. Ah, the promise land waits the believer.