Recently I was talking to a friend and he was sharing with me that he wanted to have a pure heart and didn’t like the things he found himself thinking at times. He asked me if I understood where he was coming from and did I have any direction for him. I clearly identified with him.
There is a dark side to our hearts and I don’t always like what I find in mine. One of the alarm bells for me is when I find myself rejoicing in the wrong things. I know something is wrong when I am delighting in the misfortunes and adversities of others.
This red flag is a symptom of a deeper problem. If we try to just cut it off at the stem it is sure to return. To eliminate it requires that we deal with the root underneath that is causing it to grow and blossom.
The root issue is a lack of love. Rejoicing in the wrongs of others will not stop by sheer determination. They must be supplanted and replaced with the love of Christ in our heart. The Bible says that love, “rejoiceth not in iniquity”. (I Corinthians 13:6)
The word “rejoiceth” means “to be cheerful and happy”. It has the idea of being glad about something. The word “iniquity” refers to an injustice or wrong. Love is not happy when wrong is done or when people experience hurts. Love does exactly the opposite; it rejoices in what is good.
Most of us glibly read that verse and think, “I don’t have a problem with that”. After all, why would someone be so callous as to be glad at that which is wrong in another person’s life? Bitterness will do that every time if it is left untreated. Bitter people are not loving people.
It is easy to identify a bitter person by the symptoms they manifest; they are all the same. But treating these symptoms (sure consequences) of a bitter heart won’t remove the bitterness. To do that we have to get to the cause of the resentment before the effects are eliminated.
Here’s a classic verse on bitterness and the evidences that accompany it – “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)
Note that the metaphor for bitterness is a plant with a root. The root always springs up (blossoms and flowers) sooner or later on the surface. There are two evidences and they both are related: a bitter person is troubled and defiles many people.
The internal troubling includes a lack of peace and being consistently focused on the person that has hurt you. The defiling of people (“many people”) is through your words about how this individual or institution has hurt you. Your mind is obsessed with how you were wronged and if the person that did it experiences suffering, you are glad about it. This is normal, but it isn’t love.
Have you ever tried to get rid of weeds in a flower bed? You can’t just cut the tops off; the roots have to be pulled up and removed. Bitterness is not a surface issue, but the problem lurks underneath, deep in the heart and mind. It cannot be removed with behavior modification; it must be treated as an issue of the heart which includes the way you think. That’s why the Bible refers to it as the “root of bitterness”.
It is futile to simply commit yourself to stop the bitterness by thinking, “I’m going to stop being troubled and defiling other people”. Those actions are the fruit of what the root produces. Moral reformation will not help; we need internal transformation which will last.
One means God uses to help us change our thinking about people is through replacing our wrong thinking with what is right and good – “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good”. (Romans 12:21) Before wrong behavior is replaced by right behavior wrong thinking must be replaced by right thinking.
There’s a clear difference in the kind of person that loves God and people and those that do not. It has to do with their attitude toward sin, not just in their own lives, but in the lives of others. Note the contrast in the following Scriptures.
“Fools make a mock at sin…” (Proverbs 14:9)
Love “rejoiceth not in iniquity…” (I Corinthians 13:6)
It’s natural to want to see people hurt that have hurt you or those whom you love. It’s supernatural to see past your need for revenge and delighting in their pain. Yet, this is the way we are to live as it is the way God treats us.
Have you ever had someone to try and destroy you or to consistently make your life difficult? It is easy to love people that are kind to you, but only genuine love that comes from God can enable us to not rejoice when our agitators and enemies experience bad times. In the following posts I’ll delve into concrete ways that this is fleshed out in our daily lives.
“A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green”. (Francis Bacon)