The Fiery Tongue
“Only you can prevent forest fires.” We are all familiar with this stern warning from Smokey Bear. The Forest Service created this advertising icon in the 1940’s to encourage the prevention of wildfires, since over 85% are caused by the neglect and carelessness of human beings. His famous catch phrase reminds us that we must never underestimate the destructive potential of fire. Even the smallest flame can consume an entire forest in a matter of days. As recently as 2016, thousands of acres in the Smoky Mountains went up in flames because of a fire started by two minors. To this day, wildfires continue to ravage our beautiful country, often because of unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes, and the burning of garbage and debris. The point is, you can never be too careful when it comes to fire safety in the outdoors. That’s what Smokey’s warning is all about.
“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:5b-6). Are we as familiar with this austere warning about the calamitous capability of the flame that lies caged behind our teeth? James the apostle said the tongue is like a small spark or flame that can set an entire forest ablaze. Although the tongue is small, it has the potential to burn down your life or the life of others. An ill-spoken word, a false rumor, a white lie, a crude joke, or any other sin of the tongue may bring destruction and damage that is irreparable. Your words can easily ignite a fire that will burn out of control.
How can you prevent a fire from breaking out of your mouth? (1) Think carefully about your words before you say them: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). (2) Pray for God’s help and yield to His Spirit: “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3). (3) By God’s grace, learn to use your tongue for good instead of evil: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). (4) Understand that without God’s power, you can never tame your tongue: “But no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:8a).
Let the Lord have control of your words so He may extinguish the smallest spark before it grows. Only He can prevent a fire from breaking out of your mouth.
Bible Gleanings is a weekend devotional column, written for the Murray Ledger & Times in Calloway County, Kentucky. In the event that the column is not posted online, it will be posted for reading here.
Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (Aussiedor), and Dot (beagle).