A raging fire in your mouth

Church bulletin:

The fire started mid-morning in paddocks around Holsworthy. Fuelled by strong winds it made its way east towards Menai and north towards the Georges River. By early evening numerous houses were under threat. There was further concern that it might jump the river which meant the national park at the back of our house could be affected. We started receiving text messages from Emergency Services around 7:30pm telling us to prepare to leave. It was an anxious wait but in the end evacuation wasn’t necessary and other than the smell of smoke we were not troubled by it. Thankfully the fire was contained within 48 hours and no lives or homes were lost.

James draws a parallel between speech and bush fires. James 3:5-6, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell”

Sinful speech can tend to fall into a category which Jerry Bridges calls “respectable”. Of course he doesn’t mean that any sin is acceptable, just that we are prone to down play certain sins because we don’t see them as serious as others. Clearly the Bible doesn’t take this approach – “the tongue is set on fire by hell”. In what ways can the tongue be likened to a bush fire?

• It is insatiable in appetite – people like to speak; they like to be heard; they like the sound of their own voice. Once a fire starts it is driven by an all-consuming appetite; once the tongue starts to wag it doesn’t like to stop. For some people it is the one muscle which refuses to take a rest.

• It is hard to contain – James says that the person who controls the tongue is perfect – meaning they have arrived at a place of maturity in self-control. Bush fires don’t give in easily; they must be conquered – hence the need for fire “fighters.” We need God’s grace in order to successfully subdue the tongue.

• It is destructive – untold damage can be done to those on the receiving end. Fire destroys everything in its path and it moves quickly. People have been deeply hurt by gossip, lies, slander and mockery etc. Relationships are quickly destroyed; trust broken; reputations damaged; God dishonoured.

Is sinful speech really a big deal? Christ says, “For every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.” It is a big deal to God, and a big deal to those wounded by it. May we take our use of words seriously and by God’s grace seek to honour Him and others with them.