The Bitter Root Of Revenge
In the Bible, we encounter the strange phenomenon referred to as "a root of bitterness" (Hebrews 12:15) - a threat the Bible tells us to be wary of. The New Testament admonition that we are to guard against this disease of the heart should be taken seriously, for the text flatly tells us that it is through this malady that "many be defiled."
This condition would have to be considered but one of the many "fiery darts" aimed at our hearts that the scriptures so sternly caution us to defend against. At the same time, another weapon the enemy has in his arsenal is the desire for revenge. In fact, one of the most commonly quoted reproofs among believers is that oft repeated verse "vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19).
Because Satan is the source of the evil that emanates throughout this corrupt age, we would certainly expect that during the spiritual warfare that Christians see on a regular basis, he will occasionally combine his weapons of assault. Thus we find the ungodly desire for vengeance is commonly coupled with the bitterness of spirit that grows from such a root of iniquity. In its most extreme form, this hideous hybrid of unrighteousness can blossom into a full-blown obsession.
The prophets teach us that at the end of the age, "the transgressors [will] come to the full" (Daniel 8:233) - a powerful indicator that such desolate conditions will become more and more intense as the last day approaches. As one that is in the spiritual trenches of the battle for the hearts and minds of this "adulterous and sinful generation" (Mark 8:38), I have personally seen this phenomena destroy more than one professed believer in JESUS CHRIST.
The setting for such tragic conflict can be found at your place of work, your home, fellowship circle, or a variety of other locales. Friends, family, and even spouses can become the opponents that slide into this treacherous cycle that can destroy your spirit, your mind, and even your body.
A few anecdotal accounts might help to clarify how to counter such tactics that are launched at the last day's Christian. Some years back, my wife and I closely observed a stomach churning battle with a divorcing Christian couple that were friends of ours as they fought over an expensive piece of property. Although the terms of the split had specified an equal distribution of assets, upon disposal of the property the woman had somehow worked it out that the final split should be 60-40 - with her unfortunate former husband being relegated to the minority position.
Even though the equal arrangement had been clearly spelled out, the offender had moved into the realm of irrationality with this grossly unfair expectation, and even though they were already divorced, she hired an ungodly attorney that was verbally abusive to her former husband. Using extensive profanity, this lawyer described in graphic detail how he would destroy the man in a threatened legal proceeding. The fact that his client was a "Christian" made the situation all the more egregious. This gross injustice infuriated the man, and he planned to firmly resist them in court. Since the husband was my friend, I observed first hand how the conflict turned him towards what the Bible calls "vexation of spirit" (Ecclesiastes 4:6).
As I observed this sad situation, I remember I had great difficulty in reconciling how our friend could claim to be a Christian and still have her representative employ such tactics. Indeed, both parties had taken on a horribly vindictive spirit over the matter, but after weeks of stewing over the inequity of the situation, the husband finally came to see that the LORD was softly saying to him that he should simply let go and "agree with thine adversary" (Matthew 5:25) and He would deal with the offenders.
My friend finally came to the realization that their power in this conflict only existed because he was resisting them, and he just conceded the matter. In short order, I saw God provide a peace of mind that I still vividly recall. Revealingly, some years later I learned the female offender had become financially ruined.
As I remembered this situation, the passage about agreeing with "thine adversary" opened up another layer of understanding. While the Lord's statement seems to be telling us that it's wise to agree "quickly" in order to avoid the unpleasant consequences ("lest...the officer cast thee into prison"), He also tells us this tactical retreat is so that "thou mayest be delivered from him" (Luke 12:58). I've come to see that the deliverance that is in view is largely of a spiritual nature, for this is precisely the type of setting where that root of bitterness can grow.
Although I've encountered this dynamic repeatedly, and have tried to put into practice the prescribed scriptural course of action, it's much more difficult when you're the one that is being assailed. Indeed, I have jumped 'into the pit' with several opponents I've accumulated over the course of many years in public ministry, but I have learned that this type of conflict represent a potentially huge spiritual pitfall.
In this regard, a personal example is in order. At Christian Media, a former radio host at our ministry has been waging a nasty campaign of hatred against everyone at our ministry. Although he professes to be a Christian ministry figure, under the guise of "exposing" me as being a "false prophet," he has been harassing us through vile broadcast statements, anonymous internet communications, hostile messages on our voice mail, and broadly slanderous activity. This has been going on for well over a year.
His identity is not relevant to the present study (he is identified in a profile on this site), but what he has become is. Although this person (and his recently divorced female associate) apparently truly believes that we are somehow to blame for his lack of ministry viability, the simple fact is the conflict has poisoned their spirits to such a degree that most observers can't stand to even listen to them. After publishing at least 20 different essays attacking me, it's obvious this individual has become obsessed with taking revenge on our ministry.
At this writing, 6 different hosts on the network have been viciously criticized by him - mostly because they maintain an association with me. Still in radio "ministry," instead of seeking to develop some degree of trustworthiness in spiritual leadership, the overwhelming majority of his statements are vile and spiritually corrosive. I bear witness that I have done nothing wrong to this man, but he perceives me to be the source of all his woes. In short, he is wallowing in a wretched state of foul desolation.
What is interesting is the fact that it doesn't seem to make any difference if the desire for revenge is justified or not - as my next example will demonstrate. In this third example, the founder and leader of a well known Christian music band led his group to a record contract, several national tours, and a modicum of ministry respect. In the course of the music ministry's development, due to the high investment required to launch a national touring and recording group, the band's home church financed the production and promotion of a record that was distributed by a major record label.
Everything was going along great, then disaster struck. Citing artistic differences, group members began resigning. In a brief period of time, the entire band had quit the group leaving the leader alone. In short order, it was discovered that every member of the band had surreptitiously gotten together and formed another group without the original group founder! Furthermore, they were immediately signed to a recording contract to make a record with the label that was distributing their previous recording.
The members of the new group all left their home church and refused to honor their financial commitment for the church's original investment. To put it bluntly, they ripped off their own friends, ran off with the recording contract, and left their former leader (now unemployed) with all the debts. Their former friend and musical associate pleaded with them to at least do the right thing and take responsibility for their obligations to the church. As the star-struck group refused, the abandoned leader began to deteriorate spiritually over the treachery that was perpetrated against him.
His walk with the LORD began to backslide, and a root of bitterness set in. The musician embarked upon a campaign of criticism in Christian record industry circles as he became possessed with a hideously vindictive spirit. As his anger escalated, he started drinking; and as his situation deteriorated, he would get drunk and try to confront the band when they performed in Christian venues. At last count, he was on drugs, and no one that knows him can stand to be around him as his personality has turned so destructive that it's downright depressing to have any contact with him.
In each of the 3 true stories I've presented, the responsibility for the original offense varies. Indeed, in the latter example, the offenders were not the ones that turned bitter - it was the party that had been grossly wronged that had became spiritually deranged. Thus, we see it's not always a simple cause and effect when the bitter root of revenge takes hold. To put it another way, it's not always clear who the unjust party is in such circumstances. What is evident, is that Christians in conflict come to a treacherous crossroad wherein God has plainly warned us if we turn the wrong way, the path can become disastrous.
One can easily see that Jesus did not take such a path. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (John 1:11), yet we do not see Christ allow a root of bitterness to flourish in His holy character. It is self evident that He was hardly shy of controversy, and indeed He was downright confrontational on several occasions when a clash was justified. However, the righteous anger he exhibited when He turned over the tables of the money-changers (for example) was not an obsessive, continuous cycle. He harshly rebuked the offenders, but the event came to an end.
JESUS CHRIST taught His disciples that when they entered a city and were rejected, they were to bear witness against that city, and "shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them" (Mark 6:10). The Lord then went on to detail how in the final judgment it will go poorly for such a place. He plainly taught us that He is the one that shall avenge wrong doing against His own when he cautioned that
"whose shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about is neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6).
Christ flatly stated that "it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" (Matthew 18:8). However, just as in the parable of the wheat and the tares, it is not for the believer to appoint themselves the lifetime judge, jury, and prosecutor of those they believe have wronged them.
The process in Matthew 18 specifies that when "thy brother shall trespass against thee" we are to make a couple of attempts to reconcile the situation through private interactions. If he or she doesn't respond, we are to publicly state what has occurred. There is no warrant for a continuing "railing accusation against them before the Lord" (II Peter 2:11).
You state your case and then you move on. As the earlier examples indicate, this process is designed in such a way that sometimes the truth of the matter gets distorted through "the hidden things of darkness" (I Corinthians 4:5). In such cases, the one that has been offended may actually be the unjust one. I've certainly seen the Lord's prescribed process for confrontation manipulated by those with an agenda, but God is not mocked, and He knows how to reserve such offenders "unto the day of judgment to be punished" (II Peter 2:9).
The bottom line in this is that the intensity of the times we live in is increasing. Many are falling away from the truth - and they aren't aware that they have been ensnared through this diabolical process. The time is coming, and now is in which "the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 3:10).
If your tree has grown out of a root of bitterness, how can it possibly bear anything but bad fruit? Thus, we would do well to remember the stern warning found in Hebrews:
"...make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. 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 12:13, 15).
August 26, 2003 - James Lloyd
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