Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | September 25, 2019

Unclean Lips

(3 Minute Read)

Did you ever get your mouth washed out with soap as a child? If so, you probably still remember what soap tastes like!

That was once a popular and quite effective treatment by mothers for “unclean lips” when youngsters used bad language. They were often surprised by how bad soap tasted since it smelled so good.

“Unclean lips” is actually a Biblical phrase. It’s a phrase the Old Testament prophet Isaiah used.

In the year King Uzziah of Judah died (about 740 BC per Edwin Thiele‘s chronology of the Hebrew kings), Isaiah saw the Lord God. His immediate response was to cry out these words:
“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
(Isaiah 6:5)


Here’s a catchy mnemonic rhyme to help you remember the situation:

Uzziah died,
Isaiah cried
in 740 BC:
“Unclean lips are the ruin of me!”

I found it especially interesting that the sin Isaiah confessed and the reason he gave for being “ruined” upon seeing the Lord was “unclean lips,” something that many people would consider relatively minor.

Isaiah did not specifically mention any sins prohibited by the Ten Commandments, although violations of the Third Commandment (taking God’s name in vain) and the Ninth Commandment (lying) would be examples of “unclean lips.” Why did Isaiah confess to this particular thing, “unclean lips,” when in the presence of God and not something more specific or more grievous?

Moreover, Isaiah identified “unclean lips” as a characteristic problem of his people. Isaiah’s “unclean lips” generation was not unusual. We have the same difficulty with clean speech today. Recently at a restaurant we could not avoid hearing the most foul language from the booth directly behind us.

Think of what you hear on TV and in movies, what you read in books and magazines and newspapers, what you hear in the workplace and the marketplace and at sports events. “Unclean lips” is characteristic of our day just as it was for Isaiah 2700 years ago.

Isaiah’s perspective was that the words of one’s mouth reflect the inner person and are therefore significant. This is what Jesus also taught:
But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. (Matthew 15:18)
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45)

Thus, according to Jesus, “unclean lips” is indicative of an “unclean heart.” In the presence of the holiness of God, Isaiah recognized the sinfulness of his own heart and confessed it through acknowledging the specific sins of his “unclean lips.”

Adam probably did NOT exclaim,
“Oh my God!”
when he stepped on thorns & thistles.

What does “unclean lips” mean? What comprises impure speech? Examples of “unclean lips” include taking God’s name in vain, cursing, lying, telling smutty stories and jokes, and reviling people.

The Apostle Paul urged believers to use clean speech in his letters to the believers at Ephesus and Colossae:
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
(Ephesians 5:29)
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
(Colossians 4:6)

James urged control of one’s tongue as well:
So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
(James 3:5-10)

Some day each of us will have to give account on Judgment Day for even our careless words (Matthew 12:36). May we be wise, discerning, and judicious in the use of our tongues. May we be known as people of clean lips.

Questions to Ponder

1. To avoid disrespecting God’s name, what word or phrase will you have ready to use instead when you need to exclaim over something?
2. What single-sentence prayer can you formulate to help you grow toward clean lips?
(Hint: see Psalm 19:14)

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

For Christ and His Kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria. Alere Flammam Veritatis.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday September 25, 2019 A.D.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.”. (Matthew 7:24)

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