In the early church, there was a lot of rejection and relational conflict going on as believers began to transition into the newly forming sub-culture we now know as Christianity. Ethnic and familiar allegiances were taking second place to a new found devotion to the person of Christ and to the local church. This was especially true of the church in Rome. At that time, the climate in the Roman community of believers was often marked by discord and strife and therefore proved to be a fertile breeding ground for the delving out of many overly harsh judgments. Those who not so long ago were considered friends and family, now were viewed as opposing factions. In the midst of all the mud slinging, Paul challenges the young church to “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom 11:22)
If we’re honest, most of us are much more in touch with God’s sternness (some translations “severity”) than we are his kindness. Of course there are many reasons why we might have this kind of imbalanced perspective, but none more suspect than the abundance of legalistic doctrine that has been allowed to freely flow from so many of our pulpits. And to make matters worse, we’ve unknowingly heaped condemnation on ourselves and others for not adhering to all the dogmatic BS we’ve been subjected to. As a result, many of us have been led to believe that God is somehow fundamentally disappointed in us. This is just plain sad. What we believe about the nature of our Heavenly Father will drastically affect the quality of our life. If we believe that God is usually mad at us, or that our performance is always falling short of what’s expected, then it will be tough for us to enjoy even the best parts of our life. On the other hand, when we are hanging on to the revelation that God’s unconditional love and acceptance is based solely on our relationship to his Son, then even our difficulties can be seen to have redeeming eternal purpose.
Receiving and relying on the grace of God is both simple and profoundly necessary. Considering the kindness of God begins with a decision to believe that he is gracious and kind by nature, and not the divine drill sargent that we’ve been led to believe. Of course, like any good father he has to be stern with his children at times. He will never wink at our disobedience as if it were cute. But this is precisely why we must “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Heb 12:15) Can you see the principle here? If we somehow “miss” God’s grace, then we will become bitter… toward him, others, and even ourselves. Have you ever felt that God was just waiting for you to fail so that he could smack you back into line? Trust me on this my friend, maybe your earthly father gave you that impression, or maybe some other authority figure in your life operated that way, but that is not the way God is! Malice is just not a part of his make-up.
When we struggle with bitterness, it is because we need a deeper revelation of God’s love for us. If we receive his grace, then we have it to give to ourselves and others. If we often feel like he’s angry at us, or disappointed in us, then we’ll just as readily pass that negative emotion on to those around us. If we allow a “bitter root to grow up” within us, it will invariably “cause trouble” for us and in turn “defile many.” Again, we’re only able to give what we’ve already received. But that blade cuts both ways. When we begin to truly rely on the kindness and grace of the Lord, then we’ll have an abundance of it to give away.
Let’s face it, our flesh is always going to be prone to weakness. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (Ro 7:18) But keep in mind that all that human frailty is there by design. If you’re spending much time wrestling with feelings of anger, or you know someone who can’t seem to get over their bitterness, it’s time to apply some grace. Receive the Father’s forgiveness and then release that forgiveness in every possible direction. Whether we’re feeling the shame of someone else’s unrighteous judgment, or we’re the one passing it out, the application of this truth is the same. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Why? Because we all need it desperately. No exceptions. “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (Jas 2:13)
Lord, you know we need help with this one. Please grant us a deeper revelation of how much you love us. Forgive us for our harsh judgments toward ourselves and others. Forgive us for believing that you’re mad and disappointed with us. You are a loving Heavenly Father and want nothing more than to bless us and to grant us favor in all that we do. You are good and kind and so faithful to us. Thank you for being such a great Dad. We love you.