Each year in the state of California firefighters are on edge as the last days of summer transition toward fall. This is one of the warmest times of year in the Golden State, made so by the frequent occurrence of what they call “Santa Ana winds”. These are hot winds that blow in from the desert, driving down the humidity and creating an environment that is perfect for wildfires. These wildfires often begin in rugged areas of the foothills and quickly spread, often burning thousands of acres before they are contained.
Some of these fires are started by lightning strikes, or a traffic accident in which a vehicle catches fire, but many erupt from incredibly small points of ignition. Sometimes a campfire that has been left smoldering will trigger a wildfire. Other times a blaze will begin from something as small as a cigarette being thrown from a passing car. The point is that it doesn’t take a large source to create an inferno that causes a massive amount of destruction.
This phenomenon is a living example of the warning James gave regarding the use of our tongue. In Jas. 3:1-12 the Lord’s brother spoke of the dangers associated with our speech. He began by warning that not many should become teachers because they will receive stricter judgment. This warning has to do with the content of what one teaches. If one’s teaching leads others astray, he will pay dearly in eternity for having done so.
Much of the rest of James’ warning has to do with the kinds of things we may say to each other that create discord and conflict. In Jas. 3:5-6 he said, “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.”
Many of us grew up hearing and saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” As much as we might like to believe this saying, the unvarnished truth is that words do hurt. They often hurt far worse, and for much longer, than any physical injury. Families and friendships have been irrevocably torn apart because of things that people have said to or about each other. In such cases, James’ words are literally proven to be true. The small fire of a hurtful statement results in a forest fire of destruction in that relationship.
None of us appreciates having hurtful things said to us or about us. When this happens we carry the hurt with us for a long time. Sometimes, in spite of our most noble desires or intentions, we never get over it. Yet, how often are we guilty of doing the same thing to another? The hurt we feel when we are on the receiving end of such comments should remind us to be more careful when we speak.
This is where the simplest principles of Christian living should apply. In Mt. 7:12 Jesus said, “In everything, therefore, treat people in the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” In Col. 3:17 Paul said, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” To speak or act in the name of the Lord Jesus means to do those things in a way that is consistent with everything He taught. Saying hurtful things to others neither treats them as we would like to be treated, nor is it consistent with the Lord’s will.
If we live according to these principles, we will honor our Lord in everything we say and do, and our souls will be secure. If we live by these principles, we will keep our tongues in check, and we will not be guilty of starting any forest fires among our family, friends, and acquaintances. Surely, we can all agree that living like this will make for a much better world.