Chapter 1 - OVERCOMING OFFENCE.
We can't be free and happy if we harbour grudges. We must learn to put them away. Collect coins and stamps, by all means, but don't collect grudges!
There are 2 ways to live.
One is shown by Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. Once a friend reminded her of a cruel thing done to her, saying 'don't you remember it?'
'No', she replied: 'I distinctly remember forgetting it!'
The other is illustrated by the man who said to a friend:
'I hate having an argument with my wife-she gets HISTORICAL'
The friend said: 'You mean HYSTERICAL don't you?'
'No HISTORICAL-she reminds me of all my sins!'
We've all been offended from time-to-time
by something someone said, did or didn't do, even by a look. Often they didn't mean to offend but because we were having a bad week we were easily offended.
We all have the opportunity to be offended at times.
Often the offence is not due to their sin but because we have misjudged them -from ignorance of the true situation or our own sin. People were offended at Jesus and today many wrongly blame God. A foolish offence to have, is to listen to a critical person and pick up his offence, causing you to be bitter against one who did nothing against you, just hearing one side without giving him a chance to defend himself
Luke 17:1,2 - Jesus said: 'It's impossible that no offences should come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than he should offend one of these little ones.'
Offences will come but woe to him through whom they come.
Do your best not to offend but treat people with gentleness and love.
Woe to you, if you cause a child or a young Christian to stumble.
Knowing how to deal with offence is very important - offence is one of satan's best baits to trap us in an emotional and spiritual prison.
Holding onto an offence is a killer of our spiritual life and peace.
HEBREWS 12:15 is good preventative medicine. It reveals how bitterness will grow in us if we let it. We will see how to recognise any root of bitterness in us and what it will do to us. When we realise this we'll be quick to remove it in it's early stages. The more it grows the more damage is done and the harder it is to remove.
'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.'
'Looking Diligently' = 'episkopos'- to look over, to OVERSEE. This tells us we have a serious responsibility to watch over the condition of our own heart (thought-life) We often blame our bad attitudes, unforgiveness and bitterness on others-that it's their fault that we are the way we are.
But whatever happens to us, we're responsible for letting an offence take root in us. We can let it fester or let it pass us by. If it takes root it's because we allowed it to. If not, it was because we refused to allow it to have a place in us. We can't control what others say or do, but we can control what happens inside us. We are the OVERSEER of our own souls so God holds us responsible for what happens inside us. It's our response to what happens to us that makes all the difference to the kind of person we become. The Bible says: 'As a man thinks so he is.'
OUR HEART is a Garden (see the Parable of the Sower)
We are the gardeners that oversee it. Like Adam weíve been given a garden to tend and guard (Gen 2:15). The quality of our life depends on what we allow to grow in our heart. People will answer to God for how theyíve treated us, but we will answer for our inward responses to what they've done to us. If someone is sowing bad SEEDS in our garden (behaviour or gossip designed to cause us to be offended) - God will deal with them.
But if we let that bad seed fester and grow unchecked into bad attitudes -God will deal with us.
If an offence has already found a place in us (the seed has put down a root-system) now we have a root of bitterness and we are responsible to uproot it. Let God deal with them (Romans 12:19-21). We must continue to forgive and walk in love. In fact while we take it upon ourselves to punish them in our heart we are blocking God from dealing with them and even reinforcing their behaviour by our Bitter-Root Judgement of them. Rather than looking at (nursing and rehearsing) what others did, 'look diligently' at your own garden.
Are you allowing bitter, unforgiving, resentful plants to grow that take up room in your heart and sour your attitudes in life? Don't let these attitudes fester and get worse on the inside. Don't let a judgmental spirit take root in you. The longer you let it go, the harder it will be to uproot and remove (like tree roots). Lay the axe to the root before it starts destroying your relationship with that person. It is by the Grace of God that we are able to do this.
'Lest any man fail (fall short) of the GRACE of God.'
God's Spirit will warn us to deal with bitterness before it becomes deeply rooted. He speaks to us to forgive and let offences go before they put down roots. His GRACE is there to help us forgive and set us free from any prison of offence we're in. The Grace of God is His FORGIVENESS through Jesus. To live in God's GRACE is to receive His forgiveness and to freely forgive because He has forgiven us of so much!
If we keep focusing on the offence we'll fail to receive God's Grace to forgive, which also means we will fail to receive God's forgiveness for our sins. If we don't avail ourselves of God's grace to forgive we'll end up being controlled by unforgiveness, and be locked into a lonely emotional prison.
'ANY MAN' tells us that all Christians must heed the warning of this verse.
'Lest any root of bitterness.'
The result of not forgiving is that you develop a 'root of bitterness.'
This refers to the seed putting down roots that have gone down deep and are firmly embedded. You know when you have a root of bitterness when you become firmly fixed in your negative attitude and feeling toward them. Now you always believe the worst of them.
You look for them to fail and be punished. They can't do anything right. You hope they will fail. You are upset if God blesses them. Subconsciously you are trying to punish them-but you are only destroying your own life and happiness! You have now formed a BITTER-ROOT JUDGEMENT in your heart.
'Any ROOT' tells us that we must not allow any such root to grow in us. They are all dangerous.
'Root of bitterness springing up trouble you.'
'Bitterness' here means an inward attitude, so bitter that it produces a scowl on your face. You are so inwardly infected that you become outwardly affected in appearance and disposition. The inner bitterness can't stay hidden-once the roots are down, the next stage is that it must spring up above ground, like a plant becoming visible. When you see it peeking through the soil, it means there's a seed down there producing this new life! We see it on your face and the lack of peace in your life.
This also tells us that bitterness doesn't overwhelm us all at once, but grows bit by bit.
First you might have enjoyed nursing the hurts and feelings of superiority,
and imagining bad things happening to them. But as it grows, it has a life of it's own, it SPRINGS UP and TROUBLES (harasses and annoys) you,
paralysing your spiritual and emotional life. It's now showing above the surface (it can no longer be hidden). It bothers and upsets you. You are constantly pestered and stalked with negative thoughts. It demands more of your thought-life as it grows, as a tree uses up more and more of the soil and it's resources. It becomes a big drain and weight on your life. A root of bitterness will sap the life out of you, making you less productive. You can't relax because you're consumed by the bitterness. It keeps you upset much of the time. It's even more annoying when you hear the person is unaffected by your struggle and is going on happily.
'and thereby MANY BE DEFILED.'
If you still take no action, the bitter-root will keep growing until it becomes a large tree that bears BITTER FRUIT for everyone that eats it. Jesus said to 'test a tree by its fruit - 'a good tree bears good fruit, an evil tree evil fruit' (Matthew 7:17). If there is evil (sour, poisoned) fruit (critical, unkind words coming from your heart) then they've come from an evil root of bitterness.
This is the final stage of growth:
Now the bitterness is expressed in words and actions that are unkind, sour, sarcastic, scornful, cynical, mocking, wounding, contemptuous and hurtful.
If someone mentions the person-it sets off an avalanche of criticism.
You run them down constantly, giving others a one-sided version, the result of bitter meditation, which removes all goodness from the person. You've nothing good to say about them and you want others to eat your fruit (hear your negative words) so that their opinions of this person will be soured. After a temporary satisfaction in running them down to others (to punish them by hurting their reputation) the prison walls of bitterness close in even more.
Now, the tree isn't just using up your ground (thought life) but it's producing sour fruit that defiles others.
Now it is serious (especially to the Lord) for you're passing on your offence to others, causing them to be offended and have a root of bitterness also.
('Woe to you!'- Luke 17:2). The result of your bitter fruit (poisoned words of critical gossip) is that many be DEFILED (spotted, stained)
It's like ruining a new white carpet by spilling tomato-juice on it. When you've finished pouring out your unforgiveness you've soured their opinion. Speaking bad of others stains the attitudes of those who listen. They are defiled by what you dumped on them. Parents talking about people and leaders in church can easily defile their children with a negative attitude to church and then they wonder why they don't continue in church when they grow up. You infect others with your bitterness. At this point you become a Double-Agent! You pretend to be an agent for God's Kingdom, but actually are busy working for satan, 'the accuser of the brethren', who needs people's tongues to work through.
So, if we don't 'look diligently' and take hold of God's Grace to root out offences when they are just SEEDS, then they will put down ROOTS in us. Then this ROOT OF BITTERNESS will SPRING UP and TROUBLE us. It will take up more and more of our thoughts, and grow above ground where others can see it. Finally it becomes a full grown TREE that brings forth BITTER FRUIT that POISONS many who come into contact with us and are foolish enough to eat of our fruit (who hear and receive our words). Everyone around you will either be defiled or they will avoid you because of your bitterness -they expect something negative from you.
Bitterness will grow to destroy your life, your blessings, your relationships and imprison you, as well as damaging others.
So far we have seen the results of allowing bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness in our heart.
Jesus said in Luke17:1: 'It is impossible but that offences will come.'
The word 'offence' is from the Greek word 'skandalos', where we get the word 'scandal'. It refers to something that causes you to trip, fall or stumble. What you saw or heard that person do, so surprised and upset you,
that you almost lost your footing and put you in danger of falling into sin yourself. We have all experienced this kind if disappointment and we all have the opportunities to be offended. But we must not allow bitterness to take root in us. We must be constantly on guard to combat offence and refuse to allow it and place in our hearts and minds. To get free from it, we have to hate it, and what it's doing to us (to our character, life, fruitfulness and relationships). The only way out is FORGIVENESS and a REFUSAL to hold bitter feelings toward anyone.
MOTIVATIONS for us to find freedom from bitter unforgiveness.
(1) REMEMBER your own sins and your need for forgiveness.
What goes around, comes around! Perhaps you did something similar to someone else, and you are now reaping what you sowed! (Galatians 6:7). Realising this, helps us to forgive others and repent for past sins. Think of the mercy we've received- how can I return judgement on someone who made the same mistake for which I received mercy? We are all prone to mistakes and inconsistencies, so we should not be quick to jump on others when they slip up -often it's just an honest mistake (Psalm 103:14). You don't know everything in their life. Perhaps if you had their situation and background you'd do worse. Look how much God has forgiven you! You may have reasons to harbour ill-feelings but Christians have no excuses to hold onto ill feelings. God's grace is available to set you free from the offence and to forgive.
'Receive one another as Christ also received us (with unconditional love and forgiveness, even though we fail and don't deserve it)" (Rom 15:7) So that's how we should also treat one others. We've hurt the Lord, but He's never turned from us - He still loves us and works with us.
(2) You will miss out on many BLESSINGS. God can't forgive or release blessing upon you, if you don't forgive others (Matt 6:15). You only hurt yourself by holding onto unforgiveness. Also, if we don't forgive we get twisted by the knocks of life and become an unattractive person.
(3)The Judgement Seat of Christ. You will receive a judgement without mercy if you show no mercy. (Matthew7:1,2; James2:13)
(4) Sickness. A bitter soul leads to a sick body. Even on a natural level, it has been shown that when we have bad attitudes the brain releases harmful chemicals into the body.
(5) BITTER-ROOT JUDGEMENTS will rebound on you!
When we have a bitter-root we make a fixed judgement upon a person.
There is a spiritual LAW that this judgement will return on us:
'Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.' (Gal 6:7)
'Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.' (Matthew 7:1-2).
If we judge others in an area of life (especially parents and authority figures) then similar problems will come upon us in that same area. (Eph 6:1-3). Moreover, people will tend to judge and be offended at us.
Even worse, when we judge someone, it sets forces in motion that activate the same thing in our own flesh. We gradually become like the one we are judging, and become guilty of the same thing:
'You are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgement, for in that you judge another,you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.' (Romans 2:1).
A lady, who had been badly treated in her youth and was bitter. When she came to the Lord, God's grace was abundantly upon her to forgive and be healed, but each time something happened and she stepped back into bitterness. Although still in church, she is dominated by bitterness and prejudges everyone of being hard-hearted, unloving, and critical. She sits alone and rejects anyone who reaches out to her. Judging others of being hard-hearted, unloving, negative, and condemning has caused her to become hard herself. She has become exactly what she has been judging others of being! So, when we judge someone in anger and bitterness, we're either guilty of the same sin already, or we start becoming like that person and ultimately more so! In other words it will cause us to become a hypocrite (a person who by judging and pointing the finger at others is claiming to be morally superior but is himself committing the same sin in his heart).
In Luke 17:3-6 Jesus teaches us how to handle offences.
'Take heed to yourselves (Hebrews 13:8- 'looking diligently') if your brother sins against you'. Jesus tells us to be careful how we respond lest we also get into sin (unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment). ONLY BY FORGIVING can we AVOID SINNING (Matthew 6:14, 18:35)
'If your brother sins against you, rebuke him and if he repents forgive him.'(v3). This doesn't mean you shouldn't forgive if he doesn't repent - other scriptures teach unconditional forgiveness (Jesus on the cross; Ephesians 4:32). We should never harbour ill-will toward anyone.
Jesus said to love your enemies and bless those who've used you.
In most situations we forgive and pray for them and let it go: 'Love covers a multitude of sins.' If it's hard to forgive, go to the cross and see how much you have been forgiven and ask the Holy-Spirit to help you.
Sometimes, however, for their sake we have to go to them to show them their sin. But first we have to forgive them and remove the log of bitter-judgement from your eye before trying to removing the speck (sin) from his eye, otherwise we'll just make things worse and do harm. (Matthew 7:1-5). If we confront him from the wrong motive (wanting to punish, vent anger, make them suffer) it will come over as a personal attack:
'You always do this, you're a terrible ______, you fool !'
This will just put their back up, harden them and spoil your relationship with them. If we've forgiven and go to them in genuine love genuinely to help them then we'll be able to help. When we say: 'I say this in love', it better be true, for using the phrase as a spiritual cover for dumping our judgement on them, is being hypocritical. If we're just getting even -that's the sin of hatred and revenge. The Lord corrects us in love. He does it in a way we know He loves us and is not attacking WHO we are but is correcting a specific attitude or action.
Deal with the issue, don't judge them.
For example: 'When you said/did ___ it made me feel like _____.'
It shouldn't be in the spirit of one standing over them as a judge but of one helping him out of a trap:
'Brethren, if a man is caught in any trespass ('in a trap'),
you who are spiritual, restore such a one, in a spirit of gentleness,
considering yourself lest you also be tempted.' (Galatians 6:1).
In other words to help him we must be sure that we are in a humble, gentle, spiritual state (under the control of the Spirit). If we are carnal (still angry and bitter with him) we will fail to restore him but will make things worse and hurt the relationship.
Our main challenge in the face of another's sin is to immediately forgive, and then if necessary talk to them about it (not go complaining to others) If we don't forgive, it will fester and build on the inside as a bitter-root, which comes out in personal attacks against the person, if not to his face, then in going around gossiping and speaking evil about him, spreading strife and defiling others. This is just a subtle form of revenge that doesn't help the original problem but makes it worse.
'And if he sins against you 7 times in a day, and 7 times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent'- you shall forgive him' (v4)
Clearly this person is not repentant, but Jesus says we should keep on forgiving! Repeated and ongoing sin or disagreement is the hardest and it often leads to bitterness. But, keep forgiving as God forgives you! Hasn't He forgiven you many times? Hasn't He forgiven you for doing the same thing again and again? If you have received this kind of mercy, isn't it right that you should give this kind of mercy to others?
So what is the extra forgiveness we give when a person repents?
When a person sins, even if you don't harbour bitterness, your opinion of that person and your trust in them is affected. Now, be careful that this isn't just a misunderstanding, a misinterpretation of what they said or did, from judging too quickly (always try and give the benefit of the doubt and walk in their shoes, it's too easy to believe the worst, for satan is the accuser of the brethren and is trying to feed you negative thoughts about others).
If a person shows no repentance (no change) you keep forgiving and loving (we are even to love our enemies!). The person's relationships and prospects will suffer but it's not for us to punish them. Let God be their judge - 'Vengeance is Mine says the Lord.'(Rom 12:19). Our place is to love, bless and pray for them. This is the best way to turn them around. (Rom2:4, 12:20,21).
However, even if you keep yourself pure, you'll find your relationship is naturally modified because of a loss of trust. But when they repent, you shall forgive them, and forget their sin. (Is 43:25) that is, you no longer let that sin diminish your opinion of them. We no longer remember it, that is, we no longer bring it to the forefront of our mind where it becomes a factor in how we think about them. Tell them you forgive them and let yourself be fully reconciled to them. 'As much as it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.' (Romans 12:18).
Jesus said: 'If a man sins against you 7 times in a day...you shall forgive him.'(v4)
'And the apostles (amazed!) said: 'Lord - Increase our faith' (v5)
In other words: 'Help, Lord - this is beyond our ability! We need more faith.'
So Jesus said: 'If you (and you do) have faith as a (small) mustard seed you can SAY.'
Faith comes by hearing the Word. (Romans 10:17). So they already had the faith (to forgive). They didn't need more faith, but they needed to use or exercise the faith they had. We must to put our faith into action, to release it, otherwise it is useless. Faith to forgive grows by HEARING and DOING the Word. You will get better at it as you practice forgiveness by faith. Doing the Word starts by speaking the Word. We firstly RELEASE our faith by speaking WORDS of forgiveness and speaking WORDS of faith against any root of bitterness in our heart.
If someone keeps sinning as Jesus described, then a root of bitterness can easily spring up in us. He tells us how to use our faith so that unforgiveness does not take us over: 'If you have faith as a mustard seed you can SAY unto this SYCAMORE TREE (a tree of bitterness) 'be thou plucked up by the roots be removed and be planted in the sea and it will obey you.' (v6)
The Tree of Unforgiveness or Bitterness is likened to THE SYCAMORE TREE.
*Its WOOD was used to make COFFINS in Egypt.
Bitterness will kill and bury you. It will put you in a coffin! One reason was that the wood was very durable (unforgiveness will continue unless you deal with it) Also, this tree grew in all kinds of conditions, (making it very accessible) especially in dry conditions (you find unforgiveness in all kinds of people, but especially when they are spiritually dry).
*Its ROOTS went down deep and so it was hard to kill.
If you just cut it at it's base it would grow back. You have to completely uproot it. A root of bitterness has a strong hold on you -you must apply a radical treatment. The tree grows quickly (up to 30 feet) The roots spread far and wide. If you don't deal with bitterness, it can grow quickly and take over your heart and life.
*Its FRUIT was bitter and sour, just like the fruit of unforgiveness.
It looked like a fig but was much inferior to figs in taste and sweetness
(often bitterness puts on a righteous disguise). When people bring forth fruit (words) of bitterness those who eat it are made sour. The fruit was eaten by the poor and was so bitter that you could just nibble a bit at a time (chewing on bitterness will make you and keep you poor-spiritually, emotionally and materially).
*The Sycamore can only multiply by a WASP putting it's stinger into the heart of the fruit and fertilising it. In fact when fertilised by a wasp the ripened fruit becomes very poisonous and inedible. For this reason there were dressers of Sycamore trees (Amos 7:14) who used a knife to cut the young fruit making it impossible for the wasp to fertilise the fruit. If have the fruit of unforgiveness, satan can put his stinger into it, and fertilise it with his spirit, making it deadly fruit for others (as well as ourselves -because we eat of the fruit of our own mouths) Satanically fertilised fruit now contains seeds that can grow into Sycamore trees of bitterness in other people's hearts. We must apply the cross (where Jesus was cut for our forgiveness) to our unforgiveness. Once cut by the cross we realise we have no right to yield to unforgiveness- then satan and his stingers (his poisonous thoughts and words) have no power to fertilise and poison us with his evil bitterness.
So he can't use us to spread his evil. Be warned - bitterness might be toward God (blaming God) as well as toward people.
HOW TO REMOVE THE TREE OF BITTERNESS.
(1) FORGIVE and ask forgiveness.
Confess the sin of bitterness to God.
SAY: 'I forgive you from the bottom of my heart.'
(2) PRAY for them. Jesus on the cross prayed for those who hurt and persecuted him. Job's friends had upset and offended him. God told him to forgive and pray for them. This released God to heal him. Often healing flows as soon as one forgives.
(3) HATE THE BITTERNESS. Don't let bitterness fester in the heart.
'Hate what is evil but hold fast to what is good.' (Romans 12:9). It's your enemy destroying you. Come against it. Decide you'll not have it.
Just cutting off the branches, or cutting it at the stump will mean it will grow back. You have to get right down to the roots underground. You must be determined to completely uproot and remove it from your heart. You can't be half-hearted about it. It is a decision. It's your heart, so you have the responsibility and authority to reject it and cast it out.
(4) CAST IT OUT! Come against bitterness and cast it out from the roots.
How?: 'SAY unto this SYCAMORE TREE (of bitterness)-
'be thou plucked up by the roots
be removed and be planted in the sea and it will obey you.'
You have the authority in the Name of Jesus and from God's Word, to command it to go. You, not God must deal with it. Give the Command of faith. Command it to be uprooted, and completely removed from you, and Jesus said it must obey you. It is not enough to THINK it, you must SPEAK the word of authority.
When Jesus commanded us to cast mountains into the sea by the word of faith, He said: 'you will have what you SAY.' (Mark 11:23). Speak to it. Attack it with your words. As you speak the words of faith, the power of God is released against the tree and it will obey you. God will uproot it from your heart and plant it in the sea of forgetfulness. In the salty seawater the whole tree dies and is no longer seen or remembered. When you speak to it, expect it to do what you say, because God will back your words.
When Jesus cursed the Fig-Tree (Mark 11) we are told that it immediately withered from the roots, although the full manifestation of its destruction was only seen the next day. The power of God goes at once to attack and kill the (invisible, underground) roots that energise the tree, uprooting and removing it. It is just a matter of time for the full manifestation of freedom from bitterness. Once you speak the word, see that tree uprooted and removed from your heart and walk in newness of life! Jesus judged the fig-tree over it's fruit. Likewise we are to judge the tree of bitterness for it is bad fruit and pronounce and execute judgement upon it.
When the disciples asked Jesus how he did this, he told them it was by the command of faith: 'If anyone speaks to it saying: 'be thou removed and be planted in the sea' and believes in his heart that what he says shall come to pass, he shall have what he says.' (Mark 11:23)
When you do this you also PLANT a MUSTARD SEED of faith. (Matt13:31,32) from which grows the KINGDOM OF GOD (righteousness, love, joy and peace- Romans 14:17) which takes the place of that bitter Sycamore Tree in your heart.
It's your ground. You're responsible for what grows in your heart.
Only when you decide to forgive and speak to that root of bitterness,
will God's grace be released to remove it and set you free. Take the Blood, the Word,and the Name of Jesus and uproot any evil tree in your heart.
'Dear Father, I confess my sin of bitterness and unforgiveness.
I forgive____from the bottom of my heart.
I pray for _____'s blessing and forgiveness.
I speak to you tree of bitterness-
I hate you. I don't want you in my life any more.
You have no right to stay in me because I have decided to forgive.
I command you to leave me NOW!
Be uprooted and be planted in the sea of forgetfulness.
I have authority over you in Jesus Name -so you must obey!
Thank you Lord Jesus, for setting me free.'