Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.James 3:5b-6 NIV
Last week I mentioned the imagery that James uses in his letter, and I mentioned that chapter 3 had a lot of it. I was trying to write down all the images as KPaul went through them on Sunday (Faith/Works Week 7), and I could hardly keep up. One of the images James uses to describe the impact of the tongue in our lives is a forest fire. We have all seen images of forest fires on the news and been amazed at the devastation they can have. But last summer in Colorado we ended up really close to a forest fire, and I learned some things that the news doesn’t quite portray.
For one thing, forest fires create a lot of smoke. There is smoke everywhere. You can see the smoke from miles away. If you live anywhere close to the fire, everything you own is going to smell like awful smoke for months. And forest fires create havoc in lives that don’t have all of their possessions burned up. Roads are closed. Businesses struggle to survive due to lack of customers. We only spent 2 nights in this area, and I was so glad to see clear skies and breathe fresh air when we left. But there are people who can’t just up and leave.
Then there are the firefighters who fly into the fire to try to contain it and put it out. Shortly after we came home, we watched a movie, “Only the Brave,” about these men. The movie portrays an historical event of this team of fire fighters who lose their lives to a forest fire. The fire changed direction and moved so fast that they couldn’t get out. These men and women are trying to protect homes and businesses and towns. The movie has actors, but real people do this job. We saw some of them in the town of Durango. The people of the town had signs up thanking the firefighters, encouraging them in their fight.
I probably could go on about the fire, but there are a couple of things I have put together this week with James help.
First, the words we say are like a spark that starts a forest fire. Whoa! We can say words that devastate people like a fire devastates the land. And a fire has smoke. Other people can see and smell that smoke, that devastation, and it can affect their lives too. Forest fires run out of control damaging everything they touch. And our words can start that. What a picture of why it is so important to be careful what we say.
Secondly, we don’t have to start fires; we can be the firefighter. We can use our words and actions to put out fires. We can apologize and ask forgiveness. We can give forgiveness. We can treat others with love and respect. We can encourage one another, not discourage. We can share Jesus. One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 10:24-25.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV
Back when I quizzed over these verses years ago, one way we would encourage one another is to say “SPUR!” It isn’t a word we use a lot here in Indiana. When I think of a spur it is the metal thing on a cowboy’s boot that it uses to encourage his horse to move faster. When someone on the team would say that, everyone would know that this was an encouragement to do good. To love. To speak well. And the verses that lead up to these, say that because of Jesus, because of what he did for us we should:
…draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.Hebrews 10:22-23
If you have messed up with your words, if you know that you have been the spark (and haven’t we all?), don’t hang on to the guilt! Jesus has cleansed us of that, and he is faithful. Hallelujah! That’s why we should encourage one another all the more because of what Jesus has done for us.
So this week use the images from James 3 to help you remember to use your tongue wisely. As KPaul suggested, memorize Psalm 19:14: ” May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. ” Spend some time looking up all the verses in Psalms and Proverbs (and anywhere else in Scripture) that talk about our words and our tongues. The easiest way to do this is to go to a site like biblegateway.com. Type a word or phrase into the search bar and look through the verses that come up. You can change your search terms to get more specific or filter by book or testament using the tools on the right side of the screen. God has a lot to say about how we speak to one another. Write a note to someone encouraging them in their faith. Make a phone call. Send them a message. Use your tongue to put out fires today.
I pray that this week you will find forgiveness in Jesus for words you have said and hope for how your words can be used by him in the future. SPUR!