Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Non-series Sermons . Uprooting unforgiveness God's way

. Uprooting unforgiveness God's way



It was soon after the 31st of January 1984 that I learn a tremendous spiritual lesson that I will never forget. Wendy and I were married for just over 6 weeks and we moved into the house where I grew up as a teenager, and now we enjoyed it as a married couple. Over the years I was responsible alongside my dad to mow the lawn on a weekly basis during the summer rainfall periods. So we always had this short green lawn.

However, on the 31st of January something happened that changed my view of gardening. It all came about due to a cyclone. South Africa was hit by cyclone Domonia, which was one of the most severe cyclones to hit South Africa ever. It claimed 214 human lives, and poured more than 700 mm of rain into South Africa of which most seemed to fall on us in a matter of 4 days.

The net result as you could guess besides the washing away of bridges, railway lines and roads in our area was the sudden growth spurt of a little plants called weeds. These just shot up all over our property. The joy was that you could just bend down and pull them out by hand, as the ground was so soft and wet. However, something I discovered was that some of these weeds that suddenly shot up seemingly from nowhere had an underground root structure up to 9 inches in size. They looked like carrots. Now why was this? It is because over the years we just mowed them down and got rid of what was visible on the surface, but we did not get rid of that which was underground and it just grew and grew. Well at least a major storm helped us to do what we should have done over the years.

So what was the spiritual lesson I learnt? This reminded me of what we read in the Word of God in Hebrews 12:15 (ESV) which says: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;”

The Hebrew writer tells us here that when there is a root underground, whatever this root is, it can suddenly spring up and bear fruit, and the fruit will correspond with the type of root. Now generally we tend to think that this bitterness is simply things like anger, grudges etc. We often talk about a bitter person, or someone who is bitter and twisted.  Now, while it can include that, I do not believe this is what the Hebrew writer has in mind, it is more than that. We need to ask ourselves where this idea comes from. The origin of this statement by the Hebrew writer goes all the way back to Deuteronomy 29:18 (ESV) “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,”

So in Deuteronomy it does not simply mean festering anger, but anything underground that will above ground produce that which is poisonous and foul tasting. Now what is interesting is that the root itself might not be bitter, but that which it produces above the surface is what is bitter and poisonous. This root may be festering anger, it may be unforgiveness, it may be racism, hatred or it may be anything else. In Deuteronomy the starting point is a turning away from the Lord to serve foreign gods. I believe in Hebrews it is a turning away from the Lord and cherishing as an idol in your heart that which is opposite to the will of God for your life. We can cherish sin as idols, we can cherish belongings as idols, we can cherish money as idols and if any of these it causes you to dishonour God, the fruit that it is going to bear is deadly and bitter, and it can destroy us. We can also cherish things like pity, self-hatred or even things like anger and unforgiveness, and unforgiveness is the one I want to touch on shortly today.

Now before I actually speak to you this morning about unforgiveness, there is another issue I want to highlight from Deuteronomy 29 and that is the very next verse which is verse 19 which will help us to understand this whole issue in context. It says: “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.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.”

One of the sad things with any idol that we hold dear to our heart, is that we think we are in control, we are safe, and that we can harbour our underground root just one more day, instead of dealing with it and taking it out. We tend to think that the root will stay right there, dormant, ineffective and that nobody will see any evidence of it, but then the cyclone comes, and the fruit is revealed and it is bitter and poisonous. How many areas of our own lives do we not tend to say: “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” The Word of God is clear. Do not rest on your laurels, do not base your life on false security, and do not think that your idols will sustain you, when you open your eyes, it suddenly bears fruit and you are swept away.

This kind of presumption is what the book of Hebrews deals with repeatedly—professing Christians who think they are secure because of some past spiritual experience or some present association with some Christian people, and yet there are roots in their lives that they are not dealing with. The aim of Hebrews is to cure Christians of presumption, and to cultivate earnest perseverance in faith and holiness. At least four times it warns that we must not neglect our great salvation but be vigilant to fight the fight of faith every day lest we become hardened and fall away and prove that we had no share in Christ (2:3; 3:12-14; 6:4-7; 10:23-29). I know some Christians who cannot look me in the face, Christians who harbour some kind of root of bitterness against me, however you want to define it, and they are not dealing with their issues, and yet they think they are safe, and do not realise just how foul and deadly the fruit that it bears is, and yet instead of dealing with it they find their security in the crowd that they are part of and live in this false presumption that they are somehow safe.

So to get back to Hebrews 12:15 (ESV) that says: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;…”, I believe the Hebrew writer is simply saying that we must not treat holiness lightly or to presume upon more grace. So a ‘root of bitterness’ is to act presumptuously and treats God’s grace as an automatic thing that does not require a life of vigilance in the fight of faith and the pursuit of holiness. And today, I firmly believe that unforgiveness is one of these roots of bitterness that many people actually cherish to their own detriment and that the fruit it will suddenly produce is deadly and destructive not only to themselves but to all those around them.

So let’s stand still this morning, and learn just about one area of our lives, just one example where we need to deal with a root of bitterness and that is in the area of forgiveness. I stand amazed at the amount of Christians in the world, who actually cherish the root of unforgiveness, and sadly this is one of those things that on fruit level is one of the most destructive and deadly forces in churches today. So what can we say about forgiveness?

Have you ever heard these words? “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”? It is maybe some of the most memorable words to come from the cross of Calvary. For it is in those words that our grace is locked up. Just think about it for a moment. The one who has least sinned and was most sinned against, forgave at the most difficult time of His life.

More and more I stand amazed that this very attitude of Christ is one that too many Christians are not comfortable with in their own lives. They will rather harbour bitterness and unforgiveness underground than forgiveness that produces sweet fruit. We will council one another to let the same attitude be in us that was in Christ Jesus also, and that we must forgive no matter what the circumstances. But sadly this council I notice more and more is not applied to self. Too many have the attitude that any sin can be forgiven by God and by others, but not the sin against me. At this point we kick in with all kind of levels of justifying our own lack of forgiveness, with words like ‘in my context it is difficult to forgive, because the sin against me is great’, or ‘I am not Jesus, He can forgive, but I cannot’. We will claim that the attitude behind a statement like that is simply that I am not perfect, and that I am still able to sin, but statements like I just mentioned are wilful, and are actually a demonstration of pride and a lack of humility and Christlikeness, and we actually turn our unforgiveness into an idol. In short it is selective sin. Surely if one believer is entitled to use that kind of argument, then it is the prerogative of all. What state will Christianity then be in? Our churches will be packed with a bunch of unforgiving Christians all in tension with one another and no sign of Christian unity, and none of us will be able to pray ‘forgive us our transgressions as we forgive those who transgress against us.’ Actually, the world will not know that we are His disciples because there will be no love for one another. How can love reign supreme where forgiveness does not? Forgiveness is our command, judgement has never been.

In actual fact I believe that what we see today is that man has become big and God small. We pretend that there is actually a higher throne than the throne of God and that is the one I sit in. I am holy, I am all righteous, I am sovereign, I am untouchable, I am sinless and I am omniscient, because all these attributes alone can qualify me not to forgive, because then only will it be true that I can say that I will not forgive trespasses against me, because I have never trespassed against any other. Yet, He of whom Peter says that ‘no deceit ever came from His mouth’ forgave. We must remember that forgiveness does not make the other person right, but it makes me free. I love the way Corrie Ten Boom put it after facing so much persecution. She said: “Forgiveness is not an emotion... Forgiveness is an act of will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

Forgiveness is not the great Christian choice, and forgiveness also does not only kick in based on a certain rating of sin against me. The issue is not the sin against me; the issue is my heart towards the sinner. In Matthew 18 Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive. We all know the answer of Jesus so well. Jesus does not just leave Peter with the 70x7 deal, but he continuous with a parable of a man who was forgiven so much by the King. He was actually forgiven millions of Rand worth of debts in today’s terms. This same man then went and found a fellow servant who owed him app two months’ worth of wages. He went out sought this man, grabbed him and chocked him, and in spite of the man pleading for forgiveness he had no grace and had this man locked up in prison until he could repay.

You see the problem here was a lack of understanding of ‘self’. This man was willing to receive forgiveness, he actually had a great capacity for it, he possibly based on his own experience would council others to forgive, just realising how much the King forgave him. Sadly the words of the King came to him too late in Matthew 18:32-33 (ESV) as his root of bitterness suddenly bore fruit with the words of the King: 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

Let’s follow the example of Christ who loved His enemies, lived for His enemies and died for His enemies. He is the one who taught us in the context of interpersonal relationships that “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 (ESV)

There is a sad ending for the unforgiving servant of Matthew 18 that we may not ignore as Christ fully applies it to us. Matthew 18:34-35 (ESV) says: 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

So here a man with a great capacity to receive forgiveness, chose to cherish his own underground root which was an unwillingness to forgive others, and the fruit that it produced in his life was very bitter and poisonous, and he himself was jailed until he could repay his debt.

I believe forgiveness is the well from which we draw the water to wash others' feet, so let’s draw and keep on drawing, for this is the example set to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Can I ask you today? Are you cherishing unforgiveness in your heart? Is there somebody who has sinned against you that you are struggling to forgive? Are you maybe saying to yourself that you are safe in your unforgiveness, that it cannot come back and bite you, that it cannot suddenly produce fruit above ground that is poisonous and bitter? I met somebody on holiday that was telling me just how much the Word of God means to him, and how important it is to obey everything. I actually developed a lot of respect for this man, but suddenly the conversation turned and racism was spewing out of his mouth, and it was ugly and bitter and poisonous. Here was an idol in his life that he would not get rid of in spite of his stated commitment to the Word of God. Do you realise that your unforgiveness in the same way has actually become an idol, as you are regarding it as a greater value than holiness and purity in your life, and instead of cherishing holiness and purity you are actually cherishing unforgiveness?

I trust that with me you realize this morning that unforgiveness is a toxin. It poisons the heart and mind with bitterness, distorting one’s whole perspective on life. Anger, resentment, and sorrow begin to overshadow and overwhelm the unforgiving person—a kind of soul-pollution that enflames evil appetites and evil emotions.


Forgiveness however is the only antidote. Forgiveness is a healthy, wholesome, virtuous, liberating act. Forgiveness unleashes joy. It brings peace. It washes the slate clean. It sets all the highest virtues of love in motion. In a sense, forgiveness is Christianity at its highest level. But remember this morning, forgiveness is first of all an act of the will. It is not hypocrisy to will forgiveness when the emotions are screaming for vengeance. Be obedient to the Lord regardless of how you feel, and you will be amazed how liberating that is. If you refuse to harbour spite or dwell on the offense, your evil emotions will be starved and the root will die. Moreover, the Lord Himself will set your heart right. Right emotions will eventually come if you surrender to Him.

And ultimately a conscious, deliberate, wilful choice to forgive is the only thing that can free a heart from the bondage of such emotions.

So let us learn this morning, to forgive, just as Christ has forgiven us, while keeping in mind the words that were before us a few moments ago: “35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”



7 July 2013