When reading the bible over the course of many years, we expect to be occasionally pierced by the words of Scripture. When God’s truth pierces us, we are to respond. Some, like a child getting her first shots at the doctor’s office, squirm and pull away from the syringe filled with the medicine they need. Others, not enjoying the pain at all, will endure the prick of the needle and receive the medicine, knowing that they need it to do its work inside of them. Coming across a familiar passage of Scripture this morning, I found myself at the crossroads of a decision: turn the page and move on to something with a little less sting, or tarry there for a bit, letting the truth of what I was reading pierce me a little, so that its medicine could be injected into my life anew. Here are the verses which found me this morning:
“How great a forest is 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
Be careful – these words are not describing someone else. These words are written about you. They are written about me. These words come from the Great Physician’s book on spiritual health. That sting you feel is from the needle on the syringe in His merciful hand. He wants to inoculate us from a sickness in our mouths.
Words are being thrown about these days at a volume I have never witnessed before. Social media, for me, is mostly a one-way forum of communication. Please forgive me but I use social media as a virtual pulpit, not as a forum for two-way dialogue. I say/write/post as much as I feel is beneficial, and I almost never read the posts of others unless I know that the one posting is offering up something to help us in our journeys with Jesus. That’s right, I just don’t spend time reading the incessant drivel that clogs up social media. Most of it is completely without substance, and some of it actually serves to sour the soul. If that were not my approach to social media prior to this calendar year, it certainly would have become that during the election season here in America. The piles of verbal manure being shoveled out about politics is overwhelming. People are venting, stirring up intentional strife, alienating those who dare to disagree and, quite frankly, sacrificing relationships with people upon the altar of their own political views. It is not that I don’t believe that we should have an opinion, or even express that opinion in a constructive manner. But that is not what is happening. We have somehow fabricated brass knuckles that are tailored to fit our tongues. It’s a slugfest. What is more alarming to me is that so much of it is coming from those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord, even daring to forge His signature of affirmation on their personal slant. This discouraging dialogue is debilitating, defiant and destructive.
It’s also boring.
How should we apply the words above from the Book of James? Here is one way to respond to the pin-prick of what is written there: stop lighting fires. Cease and desist from your own verbal arson. I mean, James is pretty clear: we have the potential to be so careless with our words that the result is that we ignite Hell’s fires with what we have said (maybe it is no coincidence that a struck match immediately smells like sulfur). Truthfully, I am not always the most intuitive man in the room, but I can deduce a few things from James chapter three – my mouth can be used for something delightful or something destructive. I can speak with the enlightening fire of Heaven or the scorching fire of Hell. Every time I speak, who stands up and shouts,“Amen!”– holy angels or fallen ones? We are certainly entitled to formulate opinions on any issue. But we may not have permission to communicate that opinion. God may actually want you to hold your tongue from time to time. He is omnipotent and omnipresent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that He is committed to using that strength and presence to douse the flames that we light with our words. Sometimes, God will just let things burn – flaming things that you or I ignited with our thoughtless words. People get hurt. Relationships crash and burn. Regret ascends to the throne. And, by the way, haven’t we all boldly declared things with fire and fury, only to change our minds shortly after we opened our mouths?
So here is my counsel to myself and to you:
Keep it to yourself.
Assume that fewer people actually care what you have to say.
Talk to God about it all that you can, and do so often without fear of being ignored or misunderstood by Him.
On social media, divorce your typing fingers from your inflamed tongue. They should have never been married.
Then…use that beautiful mouth and the vocabulary God has given you to praise Him, to bless others, to speak appropriate truth in abundant love, and to pray with all your might that you do not spend another day as a verbal arsonist.
Your world will be a better place.