The Tongue on Fire


James 3:5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. 
 How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.


Reading through this passage we have been reminded that just a small bridle can turn a great horse. The tiny rudder is what makes a ship go in the right direction. Now, we turn to the subject of the tongue. Obviously the tongue itself can do nothing, but it is the thoughts of the whole which are then driven by the words which are spoken. The small tongue expresses what is in the heart and once that tongue is on fire, the sparks can fly and suddenly we discover a forest fire of such magnitude that it can take an army to bring it under control. 

Humans have many skills and have been able to tame wild animals but sadly, seem to be unable to tame our own tongues. Even good holiness folks have their moments when they wish that they could take something back. Sin often begins with a word, and that word doesn’t even need to be spoken, it could be spoken silently, under our breath, or it can be brought to life on a keyboard. But it’s that small word that grows and develops into an idea and when uttered can bring chaos. 

Sadly, we spend time blessing and cursing with the same mouth, or with the same fingers. We praise God, and then we criticize our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are a people who are restored in the image of God, then we must recognize that this criticism of a sister or brother is actually cursing Christ. What a dangerous fire, indeed.


What a challenge to those of us trying to follow Christ. How easy it is to become caught up in gossip and heated discussions on social media. We respond from our hearts and not our heads and the next thing you know we just may have started a fire that could rage out of control. 

The solution seems to be found in Christ. We are to be engaged in spiritual disciplines that bring about formation in our lives. Every Christ follower should be on a journey in which they are being transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. First and foremost our responsibility is to stand before God and ask to be examined. Before we set our tongue loose on anyone else, we must be certain that we are where we should be in our spiritual journey. 

Next, I would suggest taking a deep breath and allowing some time to pass before responding. I remember the early days of e-mail and the misunderstandings that began to occur. People didn’t really know how to communicate via this new medium and far too many people began to read between the lines, making assumptions about others. Then, there was the person who forgot the caps-lock and you thought for sure that they were screaming at you. You were ready to fire back an e-mail in all-caps when you realized it was probably just a mistake! In our household, we learned to take at least a day before responding to, what may have been perceived to have been, a difficult e-mail. Sometimes we may have written a draft response, but if we waited twenty-four hours, we usually trashed the draft, and something altogether different and much more edifying emerged. Now, in the day of social media, we must discipline ourselves to not have an instant response. 

Smokey Bear reminds us “only you can prevent forest fires.” God’s people can prevent wildfires of damaging gossip and ugly words. The solution is to focus on Jesus and allow the transforming work of the Holy Spirit to rain down on us, every single day. 


Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you.  Amen. 


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