So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” James 3:5
In James’ letter to the Christian Jews dispersed abroad, his references to the tongue (James 3:1-18) are quite a warning. He calls the tongue a fire, then goes on to say our tongues can be “the very world of iniquity,” --not exactly a walk into the world of positive thinking.
Sometimes we need warnings. They capture our attention (“Watch out!”), they caution us (“If you touch that, it will burn you.”) and they help us re-think our future decisions (“If you keep doing this, your health risks only increase”).
James probably realized his brothers and sisters needed a warning, but even in the warning he shows a way out. At the end of his missive on the tongue, he asks, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”
As I was reading these verses one morning, I sensed the Lord moving me to write a quick text of encouragement to a friend. He would be on a stage that evening, attempting to move people’s hearts to reconsider their views regarding Jesus—in a sense, he would be evangelizing in a debate setting.
Usually I let these promptings wait until I’m done reading, but this time, I snagged my phone to jot out a text immediately.
When pulling up my text feature however, I already had a text from a friend 2,407 miles away. This friend—a pastor I met at a speaking engagement more than a year earlier—was getting in touch to say I and my family were on his mind. He was praying for us.
Sure, it was “just a text.” But it was a tremendous encouragement. And it was coming at just after 6 AM his time. We shared a couple of texts as we built up each other, which gave me the words for a quick word of hope and help for the friend who was in the Carolinas for his speaking engagement.
Going back to James’ letter, I realized the tongue can certainly be a fire. It can burn down relationships, damage our ability to advance the faith, and wreck the hearts of people we may not even know.
But, as James says (James 3:4), just like ships “are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires,” the tongue directs our lives. A friend in Oregon used his tongue (through something as innocuous as a text message) to direct not only his, but my life as well. And his text gave me an extra push to encourage another—who would be speaking to several hundred people that evening.
As I plopped my phone back down to get back to my buddy James, it hit me: Yes, the tongue is a fire. But not all fires are bad.
Some fires clear out bad stuff (scrub brush, etc.) so trees can flourish without fear of further fires. Other fires keep us warm and cozy.
Yes, a fire can be threatening. We don’t want our tongues starting those fires.
But our tongues can also burn away the dead brush in another’s life. And they can be a source of warmth for another when the world out there can be so cold.
Each day, we use our tongues to direct our lives—and those of others. In the process, we start fires. The question is, “Which kind?”
by Kirk Walden
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