The Root of Bitterness

(5 Day Study)
by, Rocky Fleming


After years of wrestling with my own struggle and watching other people, I have come to see how the Root Of Bitterness becomes a destructive force in people. It is a spiritual cancer, and left unattended will destroy a life that will reproduce after itself. This insidious root begins in our life hidden from the view of others until it begins to make itself known with our words, our perspective, our actions, and finally, our personality. When it makes its way to this place, the root of bitterness then defines our life. Bitterness is what people think of when our name comes to mind. It is the characteristic they speak of in describing us, for this bitterness has somehow taken over our life. To say it is destructive is an understatement at best. For this reason, the Apostle Paul was emphatic with his warning that we read below, as he told believers to watch out and not allow this evil spirit to become attached to their life. He said this bitterness would trouble and eventually corrupt them.

“Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” Hebrews 12:15 (NLT)

It becomes an essential battle that God’s man must win if it invades our life, for the stakes are great for us personally and for those we influence. Bitterness will reproduce, and we could very well be the source of it for someone we love. Do you want this bitterness to be reproduced from you to that person or persons? If you do not want them to adopt your perspective and your future, it must stop with you now. The good news is that it can be stopped. But it will take some doing on your part, which is my topic for the week. Hopefully this poisonous root will be well on its way to being rooted out of your life by the time this week is over.

I asked if you want your loved one to share your future? Let me explain. The life of someone who maintains the root of bitterness in his or her life has a very bleak future. This person is eventually described as a bitter old man or woman. Know anyone like that? I did. I do now. I watched a godly woman tormented in her old age by memories of people who had hurt her sixty years before. These people who had hurt her had been dead for decades, and yet her unforgiveness and bitterness was still alive, and it was now the most prominent feature in her life. She knew better, for she loved God’s word and loved Jesus. But she failed to connect Jesus’ instructions to forgive those who had offended her with her need to keep a root of bitterness from forming in her life because of that unforgiveness.

I mentioned how this root of bitterness is reproduced? I watched this godly woman’s beloved daughter take up this same root because of offenses against her, and in her old age this bitterness now personifies her to the point that even her family avoids her. Now this root is being reproduced to the third generation as her daughter is showing the same signs of bitterness creeping into her life. Where does it stop? Someone has to get so sick of the way Satan in hurting and breaking relationships with bitterness that he or she says, “IT STOPS WITH ME NOW!!” Can it stop with you now if the root of bitterness is in your life? This week we are going to do some major damage to this root of bitterness and help you get it out of your life. But you’ve got to do your part with its eradication, by declaring that it stops with you…now. Do we have a deal?


The Root of Bitterness does not come naturally.  It is like an infectious disease that is introduced to a healthy body, such as a viral or bacterial infection.  It had a host, a culprit, an aggressor to infect us.  This culprit is likely a person or event that contaminates us with some kind of disappointment or hurt.  The offense may or may not be intentional, for people hurt us, anger us, disappoint us, betray us, lie to us, slander us, scheme against us, and in doing so, infect us with their own root of bitterness.  

They may not intend to do this.  You may not intend to do it.  But that is where it begins, and it happens to everyone sometime in our life.  We cannot be exempted from this infection.  I wish it weren’t so, for I would want all of my loved ones to avoid this pain and serious challenge in their life.  I would want most of all that I do not inflict these hurts, but I have done so and I likely will again without realizing it, for we are all flawed creatures who wound and who are wounded.  It is not the fact of if it will happen, for it is going to happen to us.  

Rather, it is what we do with it when it happens that is critical, for you see a healthy body will fight to reject any infection that comes into it as a natural defense.  It might take us down for a few days, but in the end a healthy body wins out.  But not when an infection incubates and grows stronger because there is no resistance in a body that is weak or malnourished.  It is the same when the poisonous root of bitterness takes root and then our life becomes entangled by it.  This is when damage is making its way to the surface of our life and infecting others.  This is when intensive care is required to keep it from infecting others and spreading the disease.  It becomes a priority.

It is said that bitterness is unforgiveness that has fermented.  This likely is caused because someone has emotionally taken something from us and we cannot get it back.  We want revenge, but we either cannot extract it or we will not do so and it then burns within us.  We seethe within and unforgiveness incubates into bitterness.  It grows bigger and we become more justified by how we feel.  This continues to be fuel to a poisonous, noxious flame within us and our life is corrupted by the bitterness.

There is a reason that Forgive, Forgiven, Forgiveness and Forgiving is mentioned up to 150 times in the Bible.  It is the effort of God to forgive us our sins against Him, and it is the effort of Jesus’ disciple to do the same with people who have sinned against us.  It requires effort.  We do not have to feel like it or want to do it.    

We might feel justified by our anger because someone stole an emotional part of us and by not granting forgiveness, in some way, we get even with him or her.  But in seeing it this way instead of obeying Jesus with granting forgiveness, we nurture this unforgiveness into bitterness, and it is this condition that will hurt us more than any person can.  It is not worth it and it will lead to a bitter fruit that many will reproduce because of our influence.

To eradicate a root of bitterness, we need to identify the source that started it and begin the process of forgiveness at this point.  Then the root starves and it eventually dries up.  There is some clean-up that we will address.  But, we must start at the root before we can deal with the fruit of bitterness.  More tomorrow about that fruit.


I wish I could grow and reap the vegetables from a garden.  But I cannot.  I’ve tried, several times, and the only things I can grow are weeds.  I’ve got some kind of anti-vegetables thing going on in me that just doesn’t get it done, except those weeds I mentioned.  I am real good with those things.  I’m a real natural, for all I have to do is let my garden plot do what it does naturally.  Those weeds just grow and grow.  I have a point about the root of bitterness.  It, too, is an unwelcome guest in our life.  It has to be battled against so that a life will be free from it.

On the flip side of my horticultural failure is our former Operations Coordinator, Becky Elliott, who is a Master Gardener.  She and husband Tony are really handy with their garden.  They produce massive amounts of great vegetables.  I know from experience and observation that their work begins with the soil, before it gets to the harvest.  The soil is broken up, fed, cultivated and then planted.  Then the plants are nurtured.  The result is juicy, sweet tomatoes and corn, along with many other delicious fruits and vegetables.  Now here’s my point:

Jesus spoke of a similar dynamic with the fruit that comes from our abiding relationship with Him.  He also used the metaphor, “good soil”, to describe the abiding relationship with Him.  The harvest of good, tasty fruit is produced in an unhindered fellowship with Him.  It is birthed naturally.  Like an organic plant that He illustrated, a fruit from our healthy relationship with Him is produced and this fruit then reproduces.  It is the process that Jesus formed, and it is called the Body of Christ.  

For the last 2,000 years, we have seen a naturally reproducing, organic process formed from the few people who became Jesus’ disciples in its first year of formation, and then they taught others what He had taught them.  He taught strongly about forgiveness.  Why so?  It is because the reproduction of bad fruit will also occur if we have a wrong relationship with Christ, and unforgiveness will do this.  It will bear the fruit of bitterness.  This fruit ranges from anger to outrage, from self-pity to self-centeredness, to many other kinds of expressions of the root of bitterness.  These are examples of the fruit of bitterness.

Like good fruit, the fruit of bitterness will also reproduce after itself.  It is a natural occurrence, just like those weeds in my garden that I spoke of.  Left unchecked, the weeds in your life will become your life, and since weeds are good for nothing, your life will become the same.  To eradicate these weeds in your life, you must begin with the soil to get rid of the seeds and to also make it healthy.  The process begins way before the good fruit shows.  It becomes a prioritized effort to root out the deep-rooted weeds of bitterness.  

When someone is trying to root out the root of bitterness in his or her life, the soil of their life must be improved.  This is where the nutrition of God’s word and obedience to His instructions attack the root of bitterness.  We begin to see bitterness as Jesus does.  It is an enemy.  There is nothing good that can come from it.  Its fruit is more bitterness in the lives around us as we become the seeding source for this poisonous plant.

Sometimes I am conflicted if obedience or understanding comes first.  Although it would be good to understand why God wants us to forgive others as He has us, and His feeding on His Word helps us understand His heart and our need, I guess I fall on the side that obedience, even though we do not know why, is our first step.  Therefore, if you want to eradicate this root of bitterness and its fruit from your life, it begins with identifying the source, forgiving this person, and then preparing your life for the good fruit that follows.  More on that tomorrow.


When the battle against the root of bitterness is seriously waged in our life, there will be a joy and freedom in our life that is eventually found.  We will be set free from a burden that grips us and robs us of so many things that God wants to give us.  A root of bitterness destroys our spiritual health and studies show that it also destroys our mental and physical health, not to mention interpersonal relationships.  Because of this newfound joy and freedom, it will be real easy to become centered on those new benefits to our own life.  But there is work still to be done.  

We must now become a voice of repentance, humility and healing to those people whom our poison has influenced by the fruit of our bitterness.  If not, the fruit of bitterness in their life, which was outsourced from our bitterness, will continue to reproduce even though we are no longer in the equation.  It is revealing in the scripture below that Jesus places a responsibility on His disciple to be proactive in our effort to right wrongs and become part of someone’s healing if we have offended that person.  We are not to wait, but to go and do so posthaste.  Read for yourself:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  Matthew 5: 23-24 (ESV)

Jesus is big on healthy relationships beginning with Him, and us with each other.  He compels us to move closer and deeper into our relationship with Him, and He shows us how a root of bitterness disrupts our fellowship with Him and hinders that journey.  For our own good and for the good of our relationship with Him, bitterness must be cast out of our life.  Then we come to understand how destructive it was by experiencing the benefits of it being gone.  But Jesus is also big on our healthy relationships with other people.  We may have found freedom for our self, but there are victims of our bitterness who have not found this.  That is why He gives us a mission to clean up our mess, for it is part of our own recovery.  If we do not humbly embrace this responsibility, we will continue to experience limitations to our own recovery, and our fruit of bitterness in that person continues on. 

I have discovered that humility and repentance are also  freedom-givers.  I think a lot of men tie their masculinity to being strong and tough.  Humility and repentance don’t sound like being strong and tough.  We get tied up in this misunderstanding.  I used to think this until I really got to know Jesus.  I came to understand by His life and what He faced while in this world that He had the whole deck stacked against Him, and He could not have faced down all the adversity that came at Him without being strong and tough.  In fact, He is the strongest and toughest Man that I have ever known, and yet He is also the most humble and kind person I know.  

He shows me that true biblical manhood is to be right with Him, to be obedient to Him no matter the cost to me, and to live my faith out.  It takes courage and self-denial to do this.  When He tells me to do something, I know that it is for my own good and for a purpose greater than I can see or know.  I know He is for me and with me, and this makes me understand that my mission to help someone else to find the freedom He has given to me is right for the other person and myself, for in this I find the freedom I need.  Will you embrace your freedom and reach out to heal a broken or wounded relationship?


“Do not quench the Spirit.”  I Thessalonians 5:19 (ESV)

I believe that when things are right with God and man, there is a holy rhythm to life.  There is a healthy connection vertically with God through His Spirit and there are healthy connections horizontally with the people in our life, thereby bringing balance to our life.  Sounds like the form of the cross doesn’t it, being both vertical and horizontal, with Christ in the center?  So it makes sense that all believers at the foot of the cross are all equal with need and hope.  The playing field is totally leveled with the truth that without Christ, we are all lost with no hope. 

 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him, – Isaiah 53:6 (NASB)  

We all have that in common.  All of us fall short of God’s glory, so He sent His Son to enable us to join His family.  All Christians have our lost-ness and salvation in common.  There is no difference, and there are no better or worse people being saved from our lost condition.  We all start out lost, no matter where our personal goodness falls.  We have that in common with each other.  I know it sounds strange, but with salvation, even though there are people that you know who are much worse than you are, both of you enter your relationship as lost and estranged from God.  This person and you had to enter your relationship with God through His grace and not His justice.  If it was His justice, no matter how good you are, you would be shut out of His kingdom, just like the serial offender you think of as worse than you.  You need God’s grace and not His justice.  You are saved by God’s grace and not the Law.  That is the essence of the Gospel. 

Why is this important that we nail this down if it pertains to our escape from bitterness?  It will reveal a major lack of application of the truth with how you understand how you are loved by Christ, and how, with His love you are to love another person.  If bitterness is to leave you, you must escape from your illusion of your good nature and your offender’s evil nature, for you are not seeing something essential to help you escape it.  

Here is why: Your bitterness is rooted in your pride.  Your pride has been hurt.  Therefore, you harbor bitterness because you think you deserve better.  This condition is rooted in self-pity and self-pity is a sign that Satan has your ear.  This self-pity causes you to want justice to be served on your adversary and you want it to be hot and heavy for you are mad and hurt.  When we are bitter, we think justice needs to be served for we have been treated unjustly.  So let’s go with that.  Do we really want justice to be served in order for bitterness to be eradicated?  Really?  Are we also ready to be given justice for our sins against Holy God instead of His grace?  Are we ready to apply the same rules to ourselves that we apply to others about justice or grace?  Kind of stings now, doesn’t it?  Good, for if it stings you are beginning to identify the truth of how far you have been pulled from the Gospel because of your root of bitterness.  

To escape the root of bitterness that has you by the throat, it needs to start with an evaluation and application of the Gospel to your life, and then obey Christ with giving forgiveness, even though it may be undeserved.  When you see how far you’ve strayed from the Gospel and with living it out toward this person or circumstance that has embittered you, you can find motivation for expelling it from your life.  When you do, this balance with God and man will return to your life and the root and fruit of bitterness will be history.  Make it history my friend.  It’s time for it to go and for you to escape its tentacles of evil.

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