Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. 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; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.
(New American Standard Version, 1995)
Okay, so who are you secretly, or maybe not so secretly, angry with? Who are you mad at? Who, when you think of them, stirs up negative connotations and feelings within your heart? How has this effecting your life and your relationships with that person; or, for that matter, even with others?
So, I’ve been reading about the 3 R’s as presented by Klimmer and Associates, (2012). And, according to them, and I’m tending to agree, the 3 R’s—Resentment, Resistance, and Revenge—represent one of the most self-destructive paradigms imaginable. And yet, we all seem to fall prey to it to one degree or another. And for virtually all our lives, we are being shaped and molded by this negative energy being directed toward us whether we are always aware of it, or not. Sometimes it’s very subtle; but at other times not so much!
It begins when something happens that hurts us in some way; or at least, we perceive that we’ve been hurt, or that we’ve been slighted, or cheated, or disrespected in some way. But it often goes even deeper than that. Sometimes we feel like our personal values are being compromised. Perhaps someone has behaved in a manner that offends our sense of what is right; and yet, it doesn’t seem to us as if that person has duly acknowledged their misbehavior, or that they’ve repented of it, or that they’ve paid the price, or suffered the consequences we think they deserve. It feels almost as if we’re being asked to simply accept and go along with someone else’s inappropriate behavior as if we are simply letting them get away with it. This offends our sense of justice. This builds resentment within us!
At other times, it’s not really THAT at all. It’s not so much that someone has done something inherently wrong; rather, it’s more like someone has made a decision that impacts us in some way—physically, emotionally, or even financially—without even taking our feelings, or our personal interests into consideration. Sometimes people make good decisions for themselves, but their decisions, and their resulting course of action, is not so good for us. Their decisions seem to work against our goals and our agenda—what we’re hoping to achieve. So, we feel the imposition of being inconvenienced; we feel the frustration of being taken for granted; we feel like, perhaps, more is being expected of us than we ever agreed to; we feel “put out!”
Sometimes it’s a matter of conflicting interests—we feel like we’re being pushed into positions of responsibility that we’ve not agreed to and we’re not prepared for; or we feel like we’re being denied opportunities that we’ve been hoping for and that we feel like we are more than ready and prepared for. Sometimes it’s just a matter of conflicting personalities. You know how some people are attracted to one another; well, some people are exactly the opposite, aren’t they? We all know this. There are people in this world whose personality just rubs us wrong—we just have a really hard time connecting with them. I think it takes a lot of grace, wisdom, and spiritual maturity to get along with and learn to appreciate people with whom we have a serious personality conflict. I’m not saying I’m there yet.
At any rate, when we’re feeling used, or abused, or slighted, or disrespected, or imposed upon in some way it is super easy for “resentment” to get a toehold in our hearts. So, the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us here in Chapter 12 that God expects His children to, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Wait? What? Pursue peace… with ALL men??? hummmmm…
I think this passage of scripture is telling me to “grow up” spiritually. To get over myself enough that I can get along with pretty much anybody and everybody. In a similar passage of scripture, the Apostle Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).
Notice Paul said, “if possible”… perhaps it’s not always possible because the other party simply will not meet you in the middle. They will not compromise anything in order to be at peace with you. But, if possible, so far as it depends on YOU and ME, we need to do our best to be at peace with all men. When you really think about it, that does not sound like a particularly easy commandment to keep. But the Hebrew writer tells us that this is part of our “sanctification”—that is: our surrender, our submission, our obedience to the will of God. It is a part of what it means to be set apart for God, to look and be different from all the rest of the world around us, to be identified as belonging to God. And that sanctification is essential to our salvation because the Hebrew writer says here that without it, apart from that sanctification, “no one will see the Lord”—wow!
Why is that do you think? Why must we be “sanctified—set apart—and made separate or distinct from everyone else in the world living all around us? Why must our lives look so different from theirs?
I remember the Apostle John admonishing us with these words: “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning” and, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (I John 3:7-10). So, I guess it comes down to, “whose child am I, anyway?” or “to whom do I really want to belong, after all?” On a spiritual level, I’m going to look a lot like my father figure. So, I must decide for myself just which father I want to look like?
The Hebrew writer continues to elaborate on this thought by saying: “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).
First of all, we might ask, what does he mean by coming “short of the grace of God?” Is it really possible to come short, or to not attain, not reach and receive God’s grace by our own actions or inaction? Doesn’t this pretty much run contrary to much of what we’re hearing in modern denominational Christianity these days? I mean, the very thought that receiving God’s grace might actually depend upon us, as individuals, and what we ourselves choose to do or not do?
Well, I’m reminded of a passage of scripture from the book of Jude wherein he warns us, saying, “certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). There are people calling themselves Christians who turn God’s grace in “licentiousness”—a license to sin. There thinking is, “well, I can pretty much think, talk, and act however I want to and it doesn’t really matter because God’s grace has me covered.” The Apostle Paul also addressed this mindset when He said, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1). So, one sure fire way to “come short of the grace of God” would be to turn that grace into a license to sin and simply refuse to pursue “the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
But then, the Hebrew writer immediately ties that coming “short of grace of God” to our interpersonal relationships one with another. He describes a “root of bitterness” springing up, causing trouble, and defiling many. There’s that 1st “R”—RESENTMENT—that we mentioned earlier: that negative energy that boils up within us, and fumes, and stews, and simmers, until it finds an outlet. And, as this verse indicates, it can be contagious. What starts out as resentment in one person’s heart can spread and result in “many being defiled” by bitterness.
And right on the heels of that bitterness, that resentment, comes the 2nd “R”—RESISTENCE—actually, a curious demonstration of “pride.” When we’ve been hurt, when we’ve been slighted, when we feel like our interests have been ignored, when we’ve been taken for granted, when it appears to us that we’re being asked to compromise our sense of justice or our value system in some way, we begin to resist. We put up walls. We put up barriers. We distance ourselves from others. We become noncommunicative. We make little or no effort to compromise or work together with others. Instead, we begin to challenge others, we begin to challenge group expectations and goals, we challenge the status quo. Our attitude becomes non-cooperative. Teamwork goes out the window. We become “resistant” to others and hard to get along with. People begin to realize that they can no longer really count on us; so they begin to lower their expectations of us and whatever personal esteem for us they may have had begins to evaporate.
In our church fellowship or other social groups, including work, our participation drops off and we lose interest. In our personal relationships we withdraw and become quiet and sullen. In our marriage we may withhold intimacy from our spouse. You know what’s kind of interesting, we can even begin to display physical illness—stomachache, headache, muscle ache, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, and a whole plethora of physiological symptoms—as part of the growing psychological “resistance” brewing within us.
And then, if we continue to allow that “resentment,” and resulting “resistance,” to fester within us… if we ignore Bible teaching and allow that “root of bitterness” to flourish and grow; well, we eventually find a way to strike out, or strike back, at what we perceive to be hurting us.
So, what does the 3rd “R”—REVENGE—look like? Sometimes it takes the form of a complete withdrawal from someone—the refusal to even acknowledge them as having any importance or place in your life whatsoever. We call this “icing” someone, or “ghosting someone. We get our revenge and “put them in their place” by seeking to make it obvious that we no longer want them in our life. We won’t even talk to them unless we absolutely have to—and, even then, we find little ways to make sure they know we don’t like them or having to deal with them, and that we have little or no respect for them whatsoever. Have you ever been “iced?” Sadly, we see this very often in dysfunctional families where there’s “bad blood” between family members, or where one family member has “disowned” another family member or maybe even their whole family, and they no longer want anything to do with them.
But sometimes revenge takes the form of actually working to try to harm someone in some way—socially, emotionally, or even physically. Whenever their name comes up, we point out their faults and what we don’t like about them. We may even spread gossip and rumors about them in a subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, effort to impugn them, or harm their reputation. We may even interfere with their agenda and their goals and work against them to foil their efforts. If possible, we may even try to ruin their relationships by turning others against them; or we may try to use our position or our influence to get them demoted, or fired, or excluded, or severed from fellowship. Sometimes, in marriages, “revenge” is taken out by one partner or the other, or both, by allowing themselves to get involved with someone else and having an affair. Divorce is often an act of revenge.
Revenge destroys reputations. Revenge destroys companies. Revenge destroys churches. Revenge destroys homes and marriages. Revenge shatters relationships and scatters families to the wind. Revenge breaks hearts, makes people physically ill, causes people to hurt people, and even takes lives. No wonder the Apostle Paul says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
Here’s what I need to remember when it comes to the “Three R’s”—Resentment, Resistance, Revenge—God, if He needs to, knows exactly how to defend me. So, I need to let HIM do that. He loves me, just as much as He loves you and “ALL” other parties involved in the conflict. He knows what needs to happen and He is capable of making things right.
On the other hand, I’m NOT God. I’m not always wise enough to see the end from the beginning; especially when I get all caught up in the emotions of the moment and start feeling resentful. Of course, I always feel like I’m the one in the right, don’t we all? I’m the innocent one! I’m the victim here whose rights are being trampled, right? RIGHT??? Ummmmm… well, maybe not? So, when will I ever grow beyond this goofy pride and self-righteous indignation that causes me to go off half-cocked looking for justice; thinking that I’m going “set things straight” while not realizing that “I” am my own biggest problem?
The Hebrew writer closes these thoughts with an illustration from the Old Testament. Do you remember the story of Jacob and Esau and how Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew. You can read about that, if you wish in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 25. The Hebrews writers point in using this story as an illustration is simply that some things are really, really hard to repent of. In fact, somethings cannot be fully repented of. That is, things cannot always be “made right” or go back to the way they were before. Esau, in the heat of the moment, made a really bad decision. He went after what he thought would satisfy him, physically, in that moment—a bowl of savory stew—even though he knew that he was giving up something unbelievably more precious—his birthright as the firstborn son, along with the prestige, power, and benefits, including the lion’s share of his father’s inheritance. that went with it. And, though it broke his heart when he contemplated what he had done and all that he had lost, still, he could not change what he had done.
There are some actions that cannot be undone. If you or I, in order to satisfy our own ego, or even our own sense of justice, end up hurting someone, both you or I, and they, may carry the scars of our “revenge” for the rest of our lives. We are walking in the steps of Esau.
Do you remember the story of Cain and Able? As the story goes, both brothers brought their sacrifices to the Lord and “…the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So, Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:4-7). God expected Cain to get control of himself, to “master” his emotions and the sin that was crouching as his door. Of course, we know that Cain failed to heed God’s warning. He did not master his emotions and his resentment quickly grew into full scale revenge; and Cain killed his brother Able. When we fail to master our emotions and let go of the resentment, we are walking in the steps of Cain.
So, the Bible says, don’t go there; just don’t go there! We’ve got to start by dealing with the “resentment” in our hearts that we sometimes feel toward others. We’ve got to acknowledge it. We’ve got to see it for what it is. It is evil and it is destructive. And God, Who makes His grace abundant to me and to you, has NOT given us permission embrace that kind of evil or to turn His grace into a license to be mean, and selfish, and hurtful toward others. We’ve got to talk it out, pray it out, work it out, get counseling if necessary, but DO whatever is necessary to resolve it; and LET IT GO before it becomes something destructive! For the authentic disciple of Christ, that means learning to do what Jesus told us to do when He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16;24)… and remembering that the Bible says that love “does not seek its own, is not provoked, and does not take into account a wrong suffered” (I Corinthians 13:5).
I don’t want to be identified with Esau or with Cain, do you? And, if we can find the security we need in our personal relationship with the Lord, and in His love for us, then I know we will be able to find the strength and the will to demonstrate God’s love toward one another as well.
Oh Lord God, my heavenly Father, holy and reverend be Your name. I thank You and I praise You for allowing me to be numbered among Your children. By Your grace, You’ve forgiven me, and continue to forgive me, of all my sin and shortcomings. My trust, my faith, my every hope is in My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Your only begotten Son, and in Your divine gift of love poured out through Him and His sacrificial life and death on the cross. May my faith be a living faith, an active faith, a faith that is always in hot pursuit of that sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. May my love be an obedient love that submits and surrenders completely at the foot of the cross. May my countenance, my characters, my heart reflect Your love and identify me as one of Your own—a new covenant child of God. And, Lord God, may every person that I come into contact with from this day forward be drawn closer to You, and to eternal life with You, as a result of any engagement You permit them to have with me. Oh Lord, use me to Your glory and to the furtherance of the ministry of Christ and the advancement of the work of God among men; and never to the detriment, physically or spiritually, of another. By my Savior’s permission and authority I humbly submit this prayer request to You…
Klemmer and Associates. (2012). The 3 R’s. Retrieved from: http://blog.klemmer.com/the-3rs-how-do-you-respond-to-resentment/
Copyright © 2023 Philip R. Stroud
All rights reserved