How Do We Run With Endurance + What is a Root of Bitterness, and Why is it Dangerous? #326

Happy Tuesday, friends! Today we are going to tackle three questions, so there is no time for a silly introduction or a mildly amusing anecdote. Alas  Today’s Bible readings continue with a cavalcade of hard to pronounce Hebrew names like Meshillemith, Bakbakkar and Ebiasaph as we read 1 Chronicles 9-10, Amos 6, the second part of Luke 1 and Hebrews 12, our focus chapter.

Let’s start with a bitter root, or a root of bitterness – Hebrews warns us about allowing a root of bitterness to come up in the midst of the people of God:

Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and defiling many

Hebrews 12:14

14 Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord. 15 Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and defiling many. 16 And make sure that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for a single meal. 

For years I assumed that the writer of Hebrews was warning against unforgiveness and the kind of bitterness that comes from holding grudges, and that sort of thing. In context, you can see that the verse before does reference pursuing peace with people, so it might be an easy thing to conclude, except that I don’t actually think that is the thing being warned about here. Instead, I’m pretty sure this passage is a reference back to Deuteronomy 29:

16 “Indeed, you know how we lived in the land of Egypt and passed through the nations where you traveled. 17 You saw their abhorrent images and idols made of wood, stone, silver, and gold, which were among them. 18 Be sure there is no man, woman, clan, or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations. Be sure there is no root among you bearing poisonous and bitter fruit. 19 When someone hears the words of this oath, he may consider himself exempt, thinking, ‘I will have peace even though I follow my own stubborn heart.’ This will lead to the destruction of the well-watered land as well as the dry land. 

Deuteronomy 29:16-19

Note here that Moses is warning about a bitter and poisonous root, and in the context, this seems to refer to a person who is an idolator – one who pursues other gods – and it is this kind of behavior that is infectious and will lead to God judging the land. It would seem that the writer of Hebrews is warning about this, and thus this warning is tied more into the command to pursue holiness, rather than the command to pursue peace. I note here that bitterness and unforgiveness is also to be avoided like poison, but this passage is more warning us about the dangers of pursuing idols and other Gods.

2020 has been a hard year, and this almost goes without saying. Considering that the book of Hebrews appears to be written to a community of Christians who are undergoing strong persecution, and perhaps even thinking about giving up - I find this letter to be so incredibly appropriate in so many places to help encourage and spur us on given the difficulties of our present time. The beginning of Hebrews 12 might just be one of the most encouraging short sections of the Bible too, so let's read it in whole, and listen for how we can run hard races, metaphorically, with great endurance.

How do we run the race of 2020 (and 2021, etc…) with endurance? The answer is profoundly simple: Fix our eyes on Jesus. The Greek word there is one of my favorite Greek words, and one of those we don’t seem to have an exact equivalent in English. This is the only place in the Bible it is used, and the word is ἀφοράω aphoráō, – it seems to mean to look away from one thing and look at another thing. Sort of an intense looking at that second thing. 

“Fix your eyes on Jesus.” sounds like one of those religious phrases that you might see on an inspirational plaque in a southern woman’s kitchen – or maybe a phrase in a Christian greeting card. The question is, of course – HOW IN THE WORLD DO WE DO THAT? I think it is a fair question. The longer I pastor, the more I want to move away from simply teaching religious aphorisms or short phrases with meaning that people sagely nod at, but nobody really knows what they mean. When we read that we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the right response is something like, “Yes, but how?” And I think the answer is really quite simple: We fix our eyes on jesus daily in the Word of God, reading His teachings and other parts of the Bible that expand on His teachings. And then, throughout the day, we metaphorically fix our mind’s eye (and ear!) on those teachings – thinking about how Jesus lived His life, how He suffered and died for us, how He promised eternal life to all who believe in Him by faith, and how He promised to come again with His reward. We need to keep this good news in front of us day by day by day. Mulling over the teachings of Jesus in our mind and reminding ourselves of the good news.

I may have mentioned this before, but it is worth considering again. When I need great encouragement, one of the ways that I fix my eyes on Jesus is by thinking through the meaning and implications of Hebrews 7:25, “24 But because he remains forever, he holds his priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them.” Jesus is praying for His people. I can’t see Him by natural eyesight, but I can see this by faith, and I believe, and am comforted, and that, I believe, is how we fix our eyes on Jesus. Can we fix our eyes on Jesus and see by faith that which we can’t see by sight? Absolutely, and Paul prays exactly this for us in Ephesians 1:

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength.

Ephesians 1:18

So, friends – may the eyes of your heart be enlightened today so that you may know the hope of Jesus and so that you may fix those eyes, by faith (and not sight) on Him.



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