Every year, California seems to be plagued by raging wildfires. December 2017 seems to have been a particularly terrifying time for so many. There have been 25 wildfires reported in southern California with over 200,000 people evacuated, almost 300,000 acres burned, not to mention the loss of homes, precious memories and disruptions to lives and work. The fire didn’t discriminate between the poor or the rich and famous. Fires can start with just a small spark and cause massive destruction. And James in chapter 3 makes the analogy of the tongue that causes wildfires as well.
James 3:5b-6 “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself on fire by hell.”
The tongue, our words, indeed can be and is used for destruction. In our modern world we can even push the envelope from the words we speak with our mouths to the words we post on Facebook or in Tweets. Somehow with the new ways of communication on social media it makes it so much easier to set raging “wildfires.”
But whether we speak the words or write them down, our words can and do cause raging wildfires. At times, our words might even be clouded with “innocence,” yet set a fire. We have all been on the receiving end of a fire caused by someone saying something either carelessly or perhaps said with malice. And let’s be honest we have all been, at one time or another, the one to set the fire.
James says the tongue is a “world of evil” in our bodies and that it will corrupt our whole selves. But not just ourselves but it corrupts and hurts others. The tongue is just a small, very small part compared to the rest of our bodies, but it isn’t uncontrollable.
How often have we heard (or even said ourselves), “I didn’t mean to say that.” Yes, you did. “I thought it was true.” Gossip is a sin. “I wasn’t thinking.” There is always time to think before we speak.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we have Jesus living in us and we are in Him. For those who don’t have Jesus we can say that they can’t help it, they don’t know any better. But for us, we have no excuse and are held to a higher standard. James calls us out on this very important issue. We CAN stop before we set the fire that will either hurt or destroy relationships, marriages, reputations, friendships. We can ask the Lord in a split second, is this something that should be said? If there is even the slightest doubt that what we are about to say will set a spark or a wildfire that will be out of control, we can keep it to ourselves.
We can and should honor the Lord with ALL our words. But there will be times when we will fail but even then, we have the ability to use our tongues once again and ask for forgiveness and in so doing honor the Lord. We can also use the experience to learn from and do things differently the next time.
So, the next time before you open your mouth to speak, or before you send that email or post on Facebook or send a Tweet…stop and pray. You will never regret it but may if you don’t.
Written by Mary Ann Kiernan: Mary Ann Kiernan is retired from the position of Intake Coordinator and Biblical Counselor at the Colony of Mercy. She and her husband John have been married 44 years, have two sons, two wonderful “daughters” and 6 amazing grandchildren. She is looking forward to what the Lord has instore for her in this next part of the journey.