463. That’s an odd number isn’t it? That’s how many acres of forest that have been burned so far, in just four of the most recent fires, here in California, and these fires are still burning.
Fires are started everyday. Unfortunately there are always more fire- starters than fire fighters. We have all become so good at lighting fires, that we rarely even know we’re doing it until the firefighters show up at our front doors, to battle the flames.
That’s right, many of us are the cause of some real blazes. Some of us even spend years dealing with and suffering in the aftermath of those charred remains, of the very infernos we set ablaze with the strike of our own tongue.
Recently, as I was listening to a coworker, who was hurting as the result of some of these tongue-lashed fires, I began to wonder what started them and how they could be put out, because in the end, fires consume a lot of acres.
As I thought about the cause, and the people involved, I realized that each one of these soul-scorching fires were simply caused by the twist of a tongue. Many of us may know somebody who starts these fires, whether at work, or in our personal lives.
The fires I’m talking about today burn with gossip, disrespectfulness, rudeness, back-stabbing, the devouring embers of rumors, and the occasional stepping upon, as someone moves up the ladder. Though they may start out as just a little puff of smoke, once they receive fuel, oxygen and heat, they can turn into roaring fires within mere minutes.
Our states and local governments spend tens of millions of dollars each year not only to put fires out, but also to help prevent them. Now just imagine having a local fire station within your own neighborhood or at your job, where a team of fire fighters are always ready at a moments notice, to put out the seas of flames that are spewed from our tongues.
Now imagine there’s a fire prevention specialist on every street corner in the neighborhood. Imagine a fire prevention specialist standing by, in the office next to yours, and then suddenly you’re standing there with a mouth full of foam or powder. Oh if we only had these today.
But wait, this wouldn’t be anything new. Back in the old days, every house had a fire prevention specialist standing by to fill your mouth with foam or powder, or even a bar of soap, should it be needed. It was your mother. And mom may have not been there to put out an earlier fire, but she sure was there to prevent it from happening again. And let me tell you, it takes a while to get all that soap out of your mouth.
Let’s turn to the third chapter of James. Now notice here in the first verse, James starts by urging members of the church not to be consumed by a temptation to teach. Today, you’re probably familiar with the term, “too many Chiefs, not enough Indians.” Apparently, the early church suffered from the same issue.
In this small, yet important chapter, James gives us another mark of a mature believer; having the power to control one’s own tongue. Many in the early church were busy trying to get in on the ground floor, trying to attain positions of authority and respect.
James, a leader of the Jerusalem church, cautions them against this temptation.
“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgement.”
Here we see James reinforces a sentiment that the apostle Paul shared in Hebrews, when he said, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”
Though they each are addressing separate issues of teaching, it’s worth stating that they were both addressing the fundamental issue of immaturity within the church.
In an earlier chapter, James warned believers to be “quick to hear, slow to speak.” And back in the first chapter, James said, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
While sensing a calling to teach, perhaps many fail to understand not only the immense responsibility of such an endeavor, but the standard for which the teacher will ultimately be held accountable.
Understanding the enormity of this very thing himself, James feels obliged to share this insight with his fellow believers, with us. Therefore it is important to remind ourselves of the latter aspect of his warning as he says, “knowing that we will incur a stricter Judgement.”
James goes on to share a number of different illustrations to show us the importance of controlling our tongues. One of his examples is about a ship’s pilot using a very small rudder to control the ship’s direction. So though the ship may be of enormous size, it can be controlled by a very small tool.
In verse five, he says, “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.”
Just as an added reminder, I’m going to turn to Mathew for just a moment. Here in the fifteenth chapter; in verse 11, Jesus says, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”
James tells us in verse 6, “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.”
Though the tongue can become a tool, used by Satan, it is better that we be seasoned and allow God to control it, because if we don’t, Satan certainly will, and with Satan in control of our tongues, fire will spread rapidly throughout our lives, throughout our work, throughout our church.
James wants believers to enjoy wisdom form above instead of suffering the natural and demonic wisdom of this world; as he tells us, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” (3:17) “And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (3:18)
The tongue is too great a tool to let Satan have control of it. With our tongues we can praise and thank God and in the next breath defile Him by starting fires. Though it is no doubt a struggle, we must be grow to be mature believers, and check our tongues at God’s door.
If we can’t control our tongue, we must let God do it. We must pray and seek God to take control. We must let God be our own, personal fire fighter. We must not just depend on God to put out the fires we start, but we must let go and ask God to be our fire prevention.