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A man with unclean lips

The word “hell” keeps popping up in my reading these days. No, I’m not talking about my daily study of Scripture. I’m talking about the newsfeeds on my smartphone. These days, authors seem to think it shows great intelligence to throw prepositional phrases like “What in the h—-!” into otherwise innocuous articles on ice fishing or sugar-cookie recipes.

Even the headlines of articles may contain words that blushing editors used to mask with strange, code-like rendering: “*!%#.” Not anymore. Had I used such words as a child, I would have savored a bar of Lifebuoy soap lodged firmly in my mouth during a monthlong time-out!

Today we dwell among a people with unclean lips, who toss obscenities around as if hurling verbal hand grenades is the only way to gain a reader’s attention or perhaps even garner respect for how cutting-edge the writer has dared to be!

You and I are not immune to such language. A quick check of Facebook reveals cringeworthy examples of believers who—perhaps to blend in with everyone else—toss words around that make a mother weep and sadden our heavenly Father (Colossians 3:8).

Ah, but it’s easy to train the scope of my law-sights on the unclean lips of others. It’s quite another thing to admit, “I am a man with unclean lips.” Maybe my lips are not unclean because of profanity-laced tirades, but they are unclean, nevertheless. Unclean because of a late-night phone call when someone just needed me to listen and care. Instead I spoke too soon. I said too much. My speech wasn’t seasoned with the salt of Scripture (Colossians 4:6). I ignored the divine advice given by James, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

“I am a man with unclean lips.” Isaiah confessed when he saw “the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted,” flanked by his seraphim honor-guard (Isaiah 6:1,2). The seraph’s shout, “Holy, holy, holy,” shook not only the foundations of heaven, but the prophet as well! “I am doomed!” Isaiah cried. “I am ruined, because I am a man with unclean lips, and I dwell among a people with unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Armies!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Isaiah knew what we must know. The consequences of unclean lips go much further than a bar of Lifebuoy soap. As Jesus himself observed, unclean lips reflect a septic condition deep down in the soul (Mark 7:20-23). Therefore no one with unclean lips—not me, not you, not the prophet himself—dare stand in the presence of the One who is “holy, holy, holy.” All we unclean sinners deserve is hell.

In his vision, Isaiah’s dread was stilled by a seraph who took a glowing coal from the altar, touched the prophet’s mouth, and said, “Look, this has touched your lips, so your guilt is taken away, and your sin is forgiven” (Isaiah 6:7). But what shall be done with our dread and guilt? We have the center cross on Calvary’s Hill!

Look to Christ’s cross whenever your unclean lips trouble you. Find comfort in knowing “the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

The Scripture references used in this article are from the Evangelical Heritage Version.

Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 107, Number 03
Issue: March 2020

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