“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.” Hebrews 12:15 (NASB)
Every once in awhile the Lord decides to wake me up in the middle of the night for a conversation. Despite my reminders to him that there are 18 other available hours in a day, he seems to prefer to talk when I’m asleep – probably my moments of least resistance. This morning was one of those mornings when I woke to some kind of comet burning through my spirit and I absolutely had to contend with it.
“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God,” the Lord said.
“It’s in Hebrews,” said I. “It’s all tangled up with your warning about bitterness.”
“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God,” he whispered again. The Lord drew near and repeated those words over and over. After the sixth or seventh run-through, I suddenly didn’t understand the verse anymore. I thought I understood it because it’s a familiar verse to me, but somewhere in the haze of the night; I lost touch with what I always thought it meant.
God wanted to show me something new, so I crawled out of bed and groped around in the darkness for my Bible.
“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God,” I started to read and then stopped. “So, God, when did your grace become my responsibility?” I asked. “Isn’t it your job to see that people experience your grace so they don’t grow bitter…”
“Implied you,” God interrupted. “You see to it that no one comes short of my grace,” he repeated.
“Me?” It felt like God was passing the buck. Actually, he was, but he is God so that’s his prerogative.
God has delegated the display of his grace to me – to all of us who love him. Once I enter into God’s family, I not only have a new vertical relationship with God; I now have horizontal relationships with my “siblings” in the Body of Christ. My responsibility to others who are united to God is to love them, care for them, and watch out for them so that they hold onto their faith and never grow weary.
Is Hebrews 12:15 telling me that every encounter I have with my brothers and sisters needs to be set in the context of God’s grace? I think so.
“But, God, what if they act ugly?” I start to protest.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” God reminds me from Romans 12:18.
How is it possible to be at peace with everyone, especially when people are mean? By extending grace to them when they offend, criticize, hurt, ignore, belittle, or shame me. It isn’t easy, but the most uncorrupted expression of God’s grace comes in the crucible of conflict, and the most challenging crucible of all can be the relationships I have with people who share my faith.
Extending grace to others does not mean that I:
- Agree with their behavior.
- Ignore what they have done.
- Deny the impact their behavior has had on me.
- Understand what they did, or even why they did it.
- Absolve them of guilt or consequences of their behavior (that’s between them and God).
Extending grace to others does mean that I:
- Understand their humanity.
- Choose to relinquish any negative impact their offensive behavior has had on me.
- Prevent their offense from bleeding into my perspective of others and God.
- Leave the accountability for their behavior with God unless their behavior is criminal in nature and God directs me to seek earthly justice for their crime.
- Will pray for their repentance and restoration with God and with anyone else they may have harmed.
My demonstration of God’s grace in the face of human harm, injustice, or injury is the ultimate antidote for a life bent toward bitterness. Bitterness as used in this passage is not the bitterness of interpersonal relationships gone bad, although it may include them. No, the writer’s concern here is much larger and laden with eternal consequence.
To understand the writer’s use of the phrase, “root of bitterness” we need to go back to Deuteronomy 29:18 where it was first used. It described people from Israel who presumed they belonged to God because of their physical heritage even though they worshipped other gods. It says, “So that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood.” (NASB)
God wants his people (both Israel and the Church) to be clean and pure, and he wants us to be wholly devoted to him. If we claim we belong to God yet reject his holiness through our behavior, we will become that same poisonous root bearing bad fruit and infecting everyone around us. God wants there to be no place – no man, woman, family, or tribe where sin takes root and leads people away from pure devotion to faith in Christ. In Israel’s day the gods within the land of Canaan constantly pulled them away from their covenant with Jehovah God. Idolatry in our day looks different, but it is no less deadly. The hearts of God’s people are continually tempted by the alluring pleasures of the secular culture around us.
A person becomes a manifestation, then, of the “root of bitterness” when they claim to follow Christ, yet maintain a cavalier attitude toward God’s holiness. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it “cheap grace” in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. When Believers disregard personal purity and obedience to God, their poison filters down into their root system and quickly infects the Body of Christ at large. The poison of their compromise must be stopped, and it is stopped by grace.
Grace? Why not a public confrontation, excommunication, or a little lightning strike perhaps? “Here. Have a little fire, Scarecrow!” That ought to bring the wayward back into fold.
No. The way back to God runs through grace, not condemnation. Romans 2:4 echoes God’s preference for our repentance when it says, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” It is God’s kindness – his grace that draws us to repentance.
Doesn’t grace seem a little too passive when there’s been such open rebellion against God?
To be sure, church leadership has a Biblical responsibility to deal with flagrant sin within its local body and Scripture lays out the process for doing so. God will also have his say one day in an equation where a person remains steadfastly unrepentant, but I’m not God, and I’m not church leadership. I’m just a sheep running around in the pasture and my mandate is different. What does Hebrews 12:15 tell me I can do to stop another sheep from disregarding the holiness of God? See to it they don’t come short of God’s grace. The greatest asset I have to call others back to a close relationship with Christ is my own union with him, not my words of criticism, sarcasm, condemnation, or insult. My intimacy with Jesus is powerful.
Sometimes God’s continuity surprises me. Look at John 15:4-5, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him; he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (NASB)
There are two root systems in Scripture. One is the bitter, poisonous root of false security from Deuteronomy 29:18, and the other is the beautiful, grace-filled fruit that comes from the “True Vine” in John 15. That vine produces healing and the most wonderful freedom!
To the extent I am abiding in Jesus and getting my life from him, is the extent to which I will be an accurate demonstration of God’s grace. It is my responsibility to express the grace of God in the face of others’ failure. The power of grace is compelling. Most of the time words are never needed to call a wayward sheep back into fellowship when they have come face to face with the captivating grace of God.
“Implied you,” God had said this morning. “You see to it that no one comes short of my grace.”
Extending grace in the face of the heinous is never easy; for sure there is a price to pay for it. The redemption of a soul, however, is priceless, so whatever cost is incurred, will be a privilege.
© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.