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
My Grandfather Miller lived on a large parcel of land that was located just outside Tulsa. Right in the middle of his land was a small lake that the local people called “Dead Man’s Lake,” because a dead body had been found at the bottom of the lake many years earlier.
The water in that little lake was muddy red and terribly dirty because the entire lake bed was comprised of red clay. I can remember fishing with my grandfather on the banks of that lake, thinking with great distaste that we were actually going to eat the catfish we pulled out of that filthy water!
That little lake was fed by a notorious little river in Oklahoma called Bird Creek. Not only was Bird Creek known for being muddy, but it was also well-known for the oversized water moccasins that would slither over the branches and debris floating in its waters. This little river was so close to my grandfather’s property that my family would cross over a Bird Creek bridge every time we drove to his house.
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Nearly every spring during the Oklahoma tornado season, the waters of Bird Creek would rise during heavy rains. It would rise and rise until, finally, those filthy, stinking waters would spill out of the banks of the river and inundate the entire local area. Of course, whenever the waters of Bird Creek rose, they would also rush into Dead Man’s Lake on my grandfather’s property. The grimy waters would then flood out of the banks of that little lake and literally slime my grandfather’s entire property with gunk and goo.
As a boy, I thought it was fun when my grandfather’s property got flooded because it meant we had to get in our own boat, pull the motor, and ride across highways covered with water in order to reach Grandfather Miller’s house. He and his wife would be standing on the porch, waiting and waving, as we pulled up to the house in our boat.
But when the waters finally receded, the fun was over. Now it was time to clean up the stinking mess left by the flood. Everything in sight was slimed with filth by those rising waters. Believe me, the mess left by a flood was always pretty nasty!
I always think of those messy floods of my boyhood when I read Hebrews 12:15, which says, “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.” Earlier we looked at one part of this verse (see September 4), but today I want to take you further so you can see what eventually happens if a person doesn’t surrender his hurts and grievances to the Lord.
As noted earlier, the words “trouble you” in this verse are from the Greek word enochleo, which means to trouble, to harass, or to annoy. It refers to something inside that bothers and upsets you so much that you are constantly pestered by thoughts about it.
The word enochleo pictures a person who is continually troubled, harassed, and annoyed by thoughts of how someone else wronged him. The offended person is now so troubled that he is almost emotionally immobilized. Instead of moving on in life, he gets stuck in the muck of that experience, where he wallows day after day in the memories of what happened to him. If that person doesn’t quickly get a grip on himself, he will eventually fulfill the next part of the verse, which says, “…lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and many be defiled.”
The word “defiled” is the Greek word miaini. It means to spill, to spot, or to stain. Here is what Hebrews 12:15 is telling us: If you are inwardly upset with someone and don’t get rid of those raw emotions, it won’t be too long until you open your mouth and begin to verbalize those ugly inward emotions. As Jesus said, “…Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34).
According to Jesus, what you are full of is exactly what you will talk about! If you’re filled with joy, then joy will come out of your mouth. But if you’re filled with bitterness, anger, disappointment, frustration, or rage, then eventually those attitudes are going to show up in the words you speak! Like a rising river, what is inside you — if not corrected by the Spirit of God — will eventually flood out of the banks of your soul and spill out of your mouth, adversely affecting everyone around you.
This is what happens when we fail to deal with our hearts and instead allow wrong attitudes to fester inside us. Eventually we will begin to “run at the mouth” and say bad things about someone else, which has a devastating effect on those who hear us. As our negative attitudes rage out of control, our words taint, spot, soil, and ruin the way our listeners perceive the person we are speaking of. Thus, by permitting our mouths to be the spout for the mess that festers inside us, we end up sliming other people with our own stinking attitudes and destructive words.
Let me give you an example of how one person’s root of bitterness can result in many being defiled. Suppose a father who has always loved his church becomes offended by something that happened in the church. Rather than go to the Lord, release the offense, and forgive, this father goes home and fumes about what happened. The longer he fumes about it, the more angry he becomes. As his anger grows, he starts venting and talking about how upset he is with that church!
Prior to this, this father’s children loved their church. But day after day, they listen to their father rage about how bad the pastor is, how badly their father has been treated, and so on. The father doesn’t realize it, but his words are having a profoundly negative effect on his children. Soon the children begin to feel what their father feels. They see what he sees and believe what he believes. Although no one in the church has ever wronged any of these children, it isn’t long before they are carrying the same bitter feelings toward the church that their father carries.
In this case, the children have been tainted, stained, and spotted by a father who should have gone to the Cross and allowed the Spirit of God to liberate him from those bitter emotions. Instead, he opened his mouth and dumped his bitterness on his family. Now he’s not the only one who has an attitude problem; he has imparted his bad attitude to his children as well. And the truth is, if his children have a negative attitude toward the church when they grow up, much of the blame will be laid at that father’s feet because he didn’t keep his mouth shut and act more mature.
What a pity to dump all your negative garbage on your friends and loved ones, defiling them with a spiritual problem that may hound them for years. How much better it would be for you to go to the Cross and deal with it rather than open the spout and let a flood of filth and slime defile those around you!
It may seem hard to keep your mouth shut and to go to the Lord when you’re dealing with a difficult attitude challenge. But it is much easier to take this route than to spew a lot of garbage that you’ll later have to clean up! So I urge you today to let the Holy Spirit help you overcome your inward struggles. As you do, you will keep yourself free of bitterness and make sure others around you are not defiled by ugly words that you are tempted to speak!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, please help me refrain from speaking words today that will negatively affect other people. I am so sorry for the times I’ve “run at the mouth” and said things I shouldn’t have said. I realize how wrong this is and how I’ve stained other people’s opinions because I didn’t control my mouth and emotions. I am turning to You for help, and I’m asking You to help me control my tongue as I deal with these issues that have festered inside me. Holy Spirit, please help me to overcome the flesh and to allow You to have Your way in me!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I carefully monitor the condition of my heart and regulate what comes out of my mouth. Because my words are seasoned with grace, those who are near me today will be positively impacted. I speak words of kindness, and I refrain from speaking ugly words that I would later regret. My heart is clean toward others, and my mouth speaks only words that build up and edify those who are listening.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Have you ever been guilty of “running at the mouth” — saying ugly things that negatively affected the people who were listening to you? Did you leave your listeners in better shape because of what you said, or did you “slime” them with your bad attitude?
2. Can you think of an example of parents who ruined their children’s opinion of a pastor or church because the parents refused to keep their mouths shut and to control their tongues?
3. Is the Holy Spirit speaking to you today about certain attitudes in you that need to change? If so, what are those attitudes? Who are the individuals in your life whom you need to forgive?