I’ve noticed that some people get upset over certain words. I’m not talking about coarse vocabulary or cuss words, but words that trigger an emotional kind of anger. These words can be political, religious or cultural. Recently, a radio talk show host told people to leave churches where leaders were using the words, “Social Justice.” Jesus would have been in trouble in that kind of church.
This morning I was reading in Acts where the Apostle Paul had returned to the city of Jerusalem and went into the Temple. Some Jews from Asia were in Jerusalem and saw Paul in the Temple. They got upset and wanted to run him out of town. As a result of this incident the entire city was up in arms. Paul was dragged before the local authorities and questioned about his activities. Paul began to explain himself to his accusers. Everything was fine while Paul described how he helped in the prosecution and murder of Christians. In the text the following words were uttered by Paul and then the entire atmosphere of the city changed:
21 “But the Lord said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!’” 22 The crowd listened until Paul said that word. Then they all began to shout, “Away with such a fellow! He isn’t fit to live!” 23 They yelled, threw off their coats, and tossed handfuls of dust into the air.”
In verse 22 the phrase, “The crowd listened until Paul said that word”, jumped out at me. The word that started all the problems was the word, “Gentiles.” The Jews did not like Gentiles and for them to think the Gentiles would be included in the plan of God was unthinkable and anyone who thought Gentiles were loved by God should be run out of town. It seems a lot hasn’t changed in 2,000 years.
We all have a “that word” in our vocabulary. These are the words that send us into religious orbit. When we hear “that word” we distance ourselves from the people who either use “that word” or hang around people associated with “that word.”
In Paul’s day, some of the Jews weren’t getting the message that God was out to save the world. He loved Jews and all the other races called Gentiles. When Paul used the word “Gentile” they lost it and said this would be their beachhead on truth. These Jews from Asia sat down on their theological haunches and refused to move beyond “that word.” In the meantime, God was expanding the Gospel into the Gentile world and these people were going miss it.
Our culture, and sometimes the Church, is filled with a “that word” mentality and this can cripple what God wants to do in His people. Here are some words that might fall under a “that word” definition; Democrat, Republican, Gay, Straight, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Reformed, Feminist, Southern, Left-Coast and anything else you could imagine.
One has to be careful that this “that word” issue doesn’t do to us what it did to those Jews who freaked out over the word “Gentile.” Our point of resistance can become a barrier that keeps us from seeing that God is working in the very people you and I would distance ourselves from because they fall under a group heading defined by “that word.”