Quarter Four Lesson Nine

26 Sep Quarter Four Lesson Nine

Graciousness of Speech

Greetings friend,

We have discussed in previous lessons the need for humility and patience when seeking to minister the gospel to others, and that we grow in these qualities by looking to Jesus and seeing and meditating on the gospel. In this lesson, we will discuss another important quality that must be in our lives if we are to be fruitful in ministry which is sweetness or graciousness.

Paul wrote in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Certainly we should be conscientious of our communications at all times, but especially when we are ministering in the name of Jesus.

There is, however, a very destructive issue that can come into the heart and life of anyone at any time that will prevent a gracious response. If this undesirable quality is present, numerous people will be spiritually poisoned and deeply and negatively affected by the person with this certain quality. What quality are we referring to here? Let us look to Hebrews 12 now and see:

“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)

Question 1. What quality is it that defiles many people?

Bitterness is a quality that, if nourished and allowed to grow, will completely shut off our ministry to others. If we are drawing from the poisonous well of bitterness ourselves we will only have poisonous water to distribute to others. This will defile them, make them dirty. Bitterness will hinder and eventually halt our ability to minister.

In this lesson we want to look at what bitterness is, where it comes from, and how we get rid of it so that we might grow in graciousness and be fruitful in ministry.

Question 2. What is bitterness? How would you define it?

Bitterness is anger turned inward. It is a seething discontent, a constant enemy that whispers in our ear that we’ve been mistreated. Bitterness makes us sour, poisoned in our thinking, unable to enjoy or appreciate any of the blessing in our lives, or any of the people God has given to us. Bitterness defiles us, and all those with whom we come in contact.

Bitterness is easy to spot in someone else, but maybe not so easy to see in ourselves. In the book of Acts, we can read about a man by the name of Simon who was a sorcerer who tried to pay for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter had this to say to him:

“Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.23 “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.” Acts 8:22-23 (NASB)

Question 3. What did Peter see in Simon the sorcerer? Have you ever seen bitterness in someone? If yes, explain why you thought the person was bitter.

The stark reality is that not only was Simon the sorcerer full of bitterness, but bitterness is actually the condition of all people by birth. Notice Paul’s statement here (as he quotes Psalm 10:7):

“All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”  “The venom of asps is under their lips.”  “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”  Romans 3:12-14 (ESV)

We are all born with a mouth full of curses and bitterness, but what is the origin of this bitterness, this internal anger and seething rage? Let’s return to the passage from Hebrews 12 and also consider a related passage from Deuteronomy to uncover the answer to this question.

“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)

 “You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. 17 And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. 18 Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, 19 one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ Deuteronomy 29: 16-19 ESV

Question 4. According to the above passages, what is the cause of bitterness?

It is clear that we come short of grace when our hearts “turn away from the Lord our God” and this is when we begin to have problems. In the passage in Deuteronomy 29, the thing that follows turning away from the Lord is serving other gods—idolatry. Today we might appropriately understand that when our hearts turn away from God, we could become enslaved to drugs, alcohol, sports, pornography, gambling, excessive working, impurity of all kinds, overeating, and a thousand other “idols” of the heart. It is then that bitterness comes in and defiles us to our very core. Sin and idolatry cause bitterness.

The root cause of bitterness is a heart that turns away from the Lord. When we turn away from the Lord we are open and exposed to the work of the enemy luring us into one of his traps, where sin and bitterness can wrap themselves around our hearts and choke the spiritual life right out of us.

Bitterness is a sneaky little poison too. Sometimes the beginning of it can be obvious such as when we have habitual sin in our lives, but other times the poison filters in slowly prompted by hardships, trials, unwanted circumstances, a lack of hearing gospel preaching, strife in relationships, and so forth. But whatever opens the door to bitterness, we must acknowledge that the root cause of it is that our hearts have turned away from the Lord. The fix then is to turn back to the Lord in repentance.

For instance, if we are bitter about our circumstances in life, such as our working conditions, discontentment with our spouse or children, unhappiness about our home or possessions, etc., the problem is our hearts have turned from the Lord. We have determined in our hearts that God has done us wrong. He hasn’t provided for us in the way we think He should. As a result, we have become bitter and if left unchecked our bitterness will defile many other people: our family, our friends, our co-workers, as well as other acquaintances.

How did it happen? How did we get to this terrible defiling place of bitterness and anger? We took our eyes off Jesus. We stopped seeing God’s goodness to us in the gospel, and His care for us in our lives. We failed to thank Him for every good and perfect gift that comes down from the Father of lights. We doubted His love, His goodness, His gifts, His promises, His working in our lives. We fell short of the grace of God and a root of bitterness sprang up in our hearts.

Another example of the subtly of bitterness is when it sneaks in because someone sins against us, and we do not forgive them. This is likely the most common avenue the devil uses to get a bitter foothold in our lives: when we refuse to forgive others their sins against us, and we dwell on their sin against us. We go over the details in our minds repeatedly, thinking on the sin committed against us, maybe even discussing it with other people and all the while the root of bitterness is growing and taking over our heart pushing aside the grace of God. Situations like this can be so consuming that we not only lose sleep but we also lose our joy and our peace. Eventually, bitterness will dominate our lives and will then begin to defile many other people. All because our hearts turned away from the Lord, and we did not forgive the ones who sinned against us as we ourselves have been forgiven by God.

Question 5. Have you experienced times when you turned away from the Lord and experienced bitterness? If so, what was that time like?

It is interesting that in the very passage that warns us about bitterness the solution is also provided. Notice the passage again:

“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)

Question 6. What help does Hebrews 12:15 give to us to avoid bitterness?

If we “come short of the grace of God” we will inevitably turn away from the Lord and become bitter in life. The grace of God is listed first, as it is the antidote to bitterness. “See to it that you don’t miss the grace of God, that no root of bitterness grows.” God’s grace removes all the poison of sin, failed relationships, difficult circumstances, and all other things that can prompt bitterness. Grace cleanses our hearts and draws all the poison of bitterness out. What a wonderful thing God’s grace really is!

If we were to ask you where we receive grace, we know by now that you would say “at the cross.” This is right, and so we learn that the cross is what removes bitterness from our hearts and lives because at the cross we receive fresh grace from God.

Question 7. What things happened for you at the cross? How many things can you list, and what does the contemplation of them do for your heart?

There is a wonderful illustration of how the cross removes bitterness from our hearts and lives taken from the Old Testament. Let us read it together:

“Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore, it was named Marah. 24 So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them.” Exodus 15:22-25 (NASB)

Question 8. What was the condition of the Israelites as they approached the placed called “Marah”? What was the solution that the Lord provided to them?

We can imagine the thirst of the Israelites, not having had any water for three days while in the wilderness. It must have been excruciating. Science tells us that we humans can only live three to five days without water so the Israelites were likely despairing for their very lives when they came to Marah.

The name “Marah” means “bitter”, which was very fitting for this place that had bitter waters. No doubt they were hopeful when they found the water, but when they began to drink their disappointment was surely profound.

In their desperation and thirst, the Israelites cried out to the Lord and He showed them a tree. Think about that. A tree! How could a tree be the solution for the bitterness of the waters? As far as we know, no tree in history has ever had any natural properties that can make bitter water sweet.

And yet when Moses threw the tree into the water, the water became sweet. It was drinkable. It was a miracle and their lives were saved! Somehow the tree gathered all the bitterness to itself, leaving nothing but clean, refreshing water for the Israelites.

By now you know that God does not do anything haphazardly, but He carefully chooses all things for His use in displaying the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. And so here is the teaching:

Just like Moses and the Israelites were thirsting in the desert, so you have no doubt experienced spiritual thirst—that emptiness, craving, and longing and yearning that characterize the life of unbelief and sin.

Question 9. What was your time of wilderness wandering, of thirsting in the desert like? Please share here:

During our time of wandering and thirsting in the spiritual desert of unbelief and sin we cried out to God for help. And what did He show us? He showed us a tree! Notice Galatians 3:13-14:

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”– 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3:13-14 (NASB)

Jesus was hung on a tree. On the cross Jesus took the curse (separation from God) away from you and left you with the blessing (eternal life).  On that tree Jesus removed all your sin, cancelled all your debt, drove out all your fear of punishment, quenched your thirst and saved your life! On the tree, Jesus drew to Himself all your failures, mistakes, wrongs and trespasses, and all the bitterness that goes with them, to Himself. In the end, He poured out for you the sweet, refreshing water of salvation: “Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” Isaiah 12:3 (NASB)

The reality is that all of life’s bitterness is removed at the cross. In fact, even when we come to the bitter water of physical death, we will find that the cross of Jesus Christ has made those waters sweet too. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Paul instructs us: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31 (NASB). The way to do this is to visit the cross often, kneel in humility, and gaze up at your Savior who gave up His life for you. As you look into the eyes of love, your heart will melt and bitterness will be drawn out of it, and the sweetness of forgiveness and grace will replace it.

Once the bitterness has been removed, you will see your circumstances, your spouse or family, your home, even your job in a whole new light. You will be motivated to go to the one who has sinned against you (if possible), and tell them that you forgive them. Or perhaps you need to go to the one you have sinned against and tell them you’re sorry and ask if there is anything you can do to restore the relationship.

Friend, if you find yourself in the gall of bitterness today, we urge you to return to the cross of Christ to have your bitterness transformed into sweetness. Stop holding your grudge, stop dwelling on the wrongs done or what you do or don’t have, let it all go and experience the freedom from bitterness that Jesus died to give you.

In order to grow into maturity, in order to be an effective minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must not allow any bitterness to remain in our hearts whatsoever. We do not want to defile others; we want to bless them. As we meditate on God’s grace to us in the gospel, we will not only be free of bitterness but also our communications will be gracious and evidence that we have been with Jesus. May God make it so.

Question 10. Please share your thoughts about this lesson. Have you seen the cross of Jesus Christ today, and some more of the benefits that flow from it to you? What are your thoughts?

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Lesson: Quarter Four Lesson Nine

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