A thick, smoky haze has hung over East Tennessee the past few weeks as wildfires have run rampant across our beautiful mountains. Thousands of acres of land have been destroyed, roads have been closed, and tens of thousands of people have experienced respiratory problems or had to alter their lives because of the smoke. The cause of these fires has been largely attributed to arson. It is hard to imagine that most, or all, of these devastating fires, were caused by something as small as a single spark.
But powerful things come from small beginnings. That is what James says about another potent force that we use every day: our words.
“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest 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 3:5-6).
We all have experienced the power of words, both in a positive and in a negative way. You probably can remember a time when the words of someone cut you in a deep and lasting way, or set off a firestorm that grew and engulfed others until it consumed a relationship or a family or a workplace or a church. This election cycle has shown us that talk is way too plentiful and way too destructive. James is right. The tongue is a small member of our body, but it has the power to change things much larger than itself.
Consider what James says here:
- Great ships are guided by a very small rudder; even so, something as small as our tongue can lead us to safety or danger.
- Our tongue can set the course of our life, for good or for bad.
- Mankind can tame all kinds of animals and by doing so we save ourselves from harm and we use those animals to our own good.
- If any person can tame their tongue, they are perfect (a complete person with mature moral character).
- Control of everything in my life begins with controlling the words that I speak.
It is no coincidence that this section about the use of words is in the context of wisdom (see the latter part of James 3). Learning to use our words right is one of the paths of wisdom. This truth is echoed in the wisdom literature of scripture, especially in the book of Proverbs; this book is crammed full of truths about the tongue able to change our lives if we will listen to them:
Prov. 12:18 There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Prov. 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those
who love it will eat its fruits.
Brothers and sisters, this one adjustment can change the entire course of our lives. If we can tame our tongue, we can bring immense blessing into our own lives and the lives of others.