Vol. 8, No. 5
~ Page 12 ~
"An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on
his lips like a burning fire"(Proverbs 16:27).
The figures are staggering:
At least 3,300+ homes, 30 businesses, and 700 other structures were charred.
Financial analysts estimate losses to exceed $2 billion.
Thus far, 22 people have perished including one fire fighter, while dozens have been injured.
Over 100,000 people were displaced; thousands were without electricity.
At one time roughly 15,600 firefighters were on the scene trying to control the conflagration.
More than $9 million was spent each day in firefighting efforts. Services included 1,900 fire engines, 203 water trucks, 43 air tankers and 105 helicopters.
Some 800,000 acres of land were scorched. The effort stretched over 180 miles in six counties.
The destructive force of these fires is difficult to grasp. Even those who have witnessed the actual loss of life and property find it hard to articulate the magnitude and enormity of the devastation. Entire forests and towns have literally been engulfed in flames. In many instances, little is left but glowing embers and white ash.
Just think. A single match--barely three-quarters of an inch in length. A thin piece of rigid paper with a small dab of white phosphorus on the end. But watch what happens when that tiny entity is ignited. Notice how that miniscule spark grows into a flicker, and then into a yellow flare. Then consider the ravages of those eleven fires in the Golden State. Remember the toll in terms of human life. Ponder the scale, if you can, of the damage wrought on citizens across California. Then remember...
The tongue is capable of this kind of ruin and more! The Bible says, "...See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell"(James 3:5b-6). With all of that blackened landscape "burned" into our consciousness by the news media, it's impossible to miss the James' point. Despite it's relative size, an uncontrolled tongue can wreak unimaginable havoc in our lives.
Imagine how many relational ties have been severed because of tactless speech (Proverbs 25:20). Imagine how many friendships have ended as the result of gossip (Proverbs 11:13; 16:28; 18: 8; 20:19; 26:22; Ecclesiastes 10:20; 1 Timothy 5:13). Imagine how many marriages have been "seared" by hot-tempered and inflammatory language (Psalm 37:8; Proverbs 14:17; 27:4; 22:24-25; Ecclesiastes 7:9). Imagine how many congregations of God's people have split because of lies uttered under the veil of envy (Jeremiah 5:1-3; 30-31; 9:1-9; Hosea 11:12; 12:1; cf. Proverbs 12:22; 16:16-19; Psalm 5:6; Micah 6:13; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9-10). Imagine how many sound preachers and elders have lost their influence due to false rumor and slander (Exodus 20:16; Ezekiel 22:9; James 4:11-12; cf. Proverbs 21:28; Jeremiah 6:28; 9:4; Ezekiel 22:4; Psalm 101:5).1 Imagine how many new converts have been led from the faith by deceitful and fallacious talk (Psalm 12:1-3; Romans 16:17-18; Ephesians 5:6; Galatians 6:7-10). Imagine how many young women have sacrificed their virginity on the altar of empty flattery (Proverbs 26:28; 29:5; cf. Psalm 12:3-5). Imagine how many once-valuable leaders in the kingdom have been brought low because of arrogant boasting (Luke 18:9-14; 1 John 2:16; 1 Corinthians 3:1-4; 13:4; Philippians 2:2-3; James 4:13-17; Revelation 18:11, 15, 19). Imagine how many Christian teens have invalidated their example by foolish and course jesting (Ephesians 5:4). Imagine how many tender hearts have been crushed by mockery and ridicule (Proverbs 14:31; 17:5; cf. 1 Samuel 1:7; Genesis. 21:1; Job 30; Psalm 35:21; 40:15; 2 Kings 2:23; Jeremiah 20:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:2).
Yes, "the tongue is a fire." Dear Christian, each of us needs to pause and reflect on the harm our tongue can inflict during a simple conversation.2 Our words are powerful (Proverbs 18:21)--they can help (Proverbs 12:18), or they can consume. "Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife"(Proverbs 26:20-21; cf. Matthew 12:34-37).
Let me close with an admonition from that esteemed theologian, Smokey Bear, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires." "Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile" (Psalm 34:12-13; cf. 1 Peter 3:10).
1 Ancient rabbis taught that slander is capable of killing three people in one thrust: the slanderer, the person who listens to and accepts such, and the innocent victim whose reputation is irreparably damaged in the public eye.
2 Timothy D. Hall. "Firestarters," HEM-Lines. Oct. 30, '03, Vol. 7, No. 17.