Leviticus 19:1-20:27, 24:22; Amos 9:7-15; Exodus 19:5-6; Matthew 12:33-37; John 4:7-14; Acts 15:1-32; Titus 2:11-14; James 3:1-18; 1 Peter 1:13-17
Let me tell you about a well that produces both fresh and bitter water.
My difficult year in Iraq in 2008 was made bearable by the best boss I ever had. This Army colonel led by example and took care of his people, often by denying himself and carrying heavier burdens. I wonder if he did that because of the burdens of his own troubled life. He did well enough shielding those from us, but the pain of his heart presented itself in unexpected ways, such as in his speech. I believe that’s why he was the most profane man I’ve ever met. If the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart, then what came from his revealed a heart bruised, abused, and corrupted
Yet he was still the best boss I ever had, and not beyond redemption. I could not talk with him directly about the salvation offered freely through the Messiah (after all, “Jesus Christ” was his favorite exclamation, but not as an Evangelical might say the Name). I could, however, quietly go about my days honoring my Redeemer by living as best I could according to His standards of social conduct. Apparently, that had more of an impact than I thought. One day, as my boss was talking with some other officers, he turned toward me and said, “Look at Al, here. I don’t think I’ve heard him cuss once since I’ve been here.”
It’s true; he hadn’t. One of those standards I have cultivated since childhood is not merely avoiding profanity, but using words that uplift the hearer. I can’t take credit for that; my Redeemer brought this to my attention through the pastor of our church. One Sunday, he preached from James 3, the passage where Yeshua’s brother urges God’s people to keep watch over their tongues so that we don’t speak blessing and cursing from the same mouth, like a well that produces both fresh and bitter water. That’s when, at the age of 11, I began to watch the words of my mouth. It wasn’t an outward show of pretend holiness, but the sincere expression of a child of God who took His Creator seriously, and desired to have his heart transformed as our Redeemer promises. How far that transformation has progressed is something I leave for others to answer. All I can say is it’s been my motivation for a lifetime.
Those who profess allegiance to Messiah Yeshua should be aware that we’re called to be set apart from the rest of the world. That’s what Israel is supposed to be, the holy people chosen out of all the peoples on the earth to be God’s own possession. That means the Jewish people, who are the visible remnant of Israel, and the greatest evidence that our Creator God exists and is willing and able to fulfill His promises. It also means we from the nations whose claim to be part of God’s set-apart nation is that we have attached ourselves to Israel’s Messiah-King.
It’s so much more difficult for us to legitimize that claim because too often we don’t understand the responsibility we incur as subjects of our Israelite King. Yet His apostles assert that claim on our behalf, and to back up their assertion they use the same language God used when He made His marriage proposal to Israel at Mount Sinai. He said at that time that if our Hebrew ancestors would listen closely to His voice and keep His covenant, then they would be His own treasure, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). That’s the same language Paul uses to describe us (Titus 2:11-14).
Which gets to another apostolic exhortation authored by James. At the great Council of Jerusalem, called to discuss what to do about the multitude of Gentiles coming to faith in Yeshua, James came up with the solution:
Therefore, I judge not to trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God—but to write to them to abstain from the contamination of idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what is strangled, and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has had in every city those who proclaim him, since he is read in all the synagogues every Shabbat.
Acts 15:19-21 TLV
This specifies the minimum standard for fellowship with the community of saints, and the prescription for how these new community members can learn the way of holiness. James takes these requirements straight from the heart of the Torah, which specifies that there is to be one standard in Israel for both the native-born and the stranger.
This is the same James who says to guard our tongues and make sure we speak blessing instead of cursing. This is more than just polite speech; this is how we keep from fouling the well of living water placed in us by our Messiah-King.
Albert J. McCarn
BYNA Executive Director