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Points to Ponder: Is the Root of Your Bitterness a Deception?

Points to Ponder
Is the Root of Your Bitterness a Deception?

"Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord; looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Hebrews 12:14-15)
What better way can the devil hinder one's vision of the Lord - a root of bitterness? In numerous places, particularly in Paul's letters to the churches, believers are called to work out differences, forgive each other, strive to be of one mind, and to stop reacting to each other in thoughts and words of anger and malice. But that takes work. It takes an intentional pulling back of one's self; to re-examine one's perceptions and one's interpretation of those perceptions. Do you really think the situation is exactly the way you are perceiving it? Do you have all the pertinent facts? Or is the fire of your bitter spirit burning so hot that you don't want to risk dousing it with the cold water of a piece of the truth you may have overlooked or refused to really hear?
"The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him" (Proverbs 18:17).
As they say, there are two sides to every story; however, depending on the circumstances, there actually may be more than two sides, a third angle which will really shed light on the bigger picture. Both original "sides" of the matter may actually be wrong. It's even more complicated when both sides, to some degree, are equally right. Then what do you fight about? Then who wins? Or loses? As the issue causes the various players to forget their primary purpose, both lose. Among the so-called people of God, the greatest failure is to let the fire of our bitter resolve outshine "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (II Corinthians 4:6).
Consider the conflict among the twelve tribes of Israel after they had settled in Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh requested to settle east of the Jordan; while the others settled on the west side. Talk of war against the east-side tribes arose among the west-side people because some had heard that they had built a huge altar. God had judged them severely during the wilderness wandering time when they dabbled in idolatry; when one goes adrift, the whole nation is judged. So they were ready to slap those east-side boys for blaspheming the Lord and creating division. They remembered how the idolatry of their forebearers and some of their brethren not so long before had cost the lives of thousands. So they were hot and ready to punish the east-side group.
But calmer heads prevailed. The tribes on the west side sent a delegation led by Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the priest, to meet with the east-side leaders. They went to state the offense as they had perceived it. But they didn't go to win an argument or to start a war. They brought their concern and then they listened to the response (Joshua 22:13-23). In fact, the east-side leaders agreed with the west-side's concern; if in fact they had built an altar to worship other gods, they deserved to be destroyed. But, they went on to explain, what they built was not for the purpose as the others had perceived it.
They explained that because they lived east of the Jordan, they feared that the descendants of the west-side tribes would one day assume that the east-side descendants were not part of God's people Israel. So the altar which was called "Witness" was to stand as a sign of proof that they too were Israelites (v. 34).
Once Phinehas and his delegation from the west side heard and understood the reasoning behind the actions of the east-side tribes, they "cooled their jets," so to speak.
"Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh, 'This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord. Now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.' . . . So the thing pleased the children of Israel, and the children of Israel blessed God; they spoke no more of going against them in battle, to destroy the land where the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt." (Joshua 22:31; 33).
A civil war in the family of God, Israel, was averted by the simplest and yet often most difficult thing to do. The offended went to the offender and listened.
They had formed their understanding of what they perceived the east-side tribes were doing. It looked wrong, seemed wrong, felt wrong, and if their perceptions were correct, it called for a fight. Even the east-side leaders agreed (v.22); if they were guilty of treachery against God, then the punishment was deserved. They were both right in that each was acting in their own understanding to honor God as their God. But the third side, the actual facts of the case, gave light to each side. And through open, honest conversation they came to a common understanding: the source of the contention was rooted in a self-deception fueled by misunderstanding. But in the end they could embrace each other as brethren whose Lord is the One true God. How often have we said, in essence: "I've made up my mind. Don't confuse me with the facts."?

Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, of Clear Spring, MD. These articles are also found at www.HilltopChristianFellowship.com

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