War of Words, Part 1
Bible Reading: James 3:1-12
James 3:5, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”
Though definitely not the largest of Oregon forest fires, the Eagle Creek fire of September 2017 will be long remembered for the widespread devastation and distress it caused. It was first reported on September 2nd. By the morning of the next day, it had grown to 3000 acres and had trapped 153 hikers, forcing them to spend the night in the woods. On September 5th, it hopped across the wide Columbia River and started a fire on the Washington side. The community of Cascade Locks was evacuated, with 283 structures and 15 businesses being threatened by the fire. The fire also threatened historical structures in the Columbia River gorge, including the iconic and much-visited Multnomah Falls Lodge. Nearby salmon hatcheries were forced to move or release early hundreds of thousands of fish. The main east-west thoroughfare in the region, Interstate 84, was shut down for days, and maritime traffic on the Columbia River was shut down for 20 miles. In a month, the fire had consumed some 50,000 acres. The popular hiking trails in that area are shutdown indefinitely.
How did it begin? Witnesses reported seeing a group of teenagers lighting fireworks and throwing them into the Eagle Creek Canyon. Oregon State Police later got cell phone video footage that showed a 15-year-old boy throwing the smoking firecracker that had started the fire. Do you suppose that teen could have imagined the extent of destruction that would be caused by that foolhardy stunt? That’s the imagery James uses in his indictment of the human tongue— “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! (James 3:5).”
There is something very wrong with our tongues. The indictment of the tongue in James chapter 3 is unequivocal and universal. The tongue is small, but powerful. It is set on fire by hell itself. We can tame big animals, but the tongue is untamable. Though able to bless God, it is ready and all-too willing to curse those made in His image. There is plenty of empirical evidence to prove the Bible’s assertion regarding the tongue’s evil proclivities — in marriages, families, churches, communities and across our country—a “forest fire” of sorts is raging even now. Untamable tongues set fires. They cause misery and destruction.
The problem with the human tongue goes back a long way. We read of it in Genesis chapter 3. The Devil deceived Eve and she succumbed to temptation. Then Adam too. That fateful day unleashed a sin contagion. The effect on Adam and Eve became immediately obvious. God confronted Adam. His response? “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). Eve blamed the serpent. Deception, accusations, and blame-shifting—and a host of other tongue troubles—are all rooted in that day, and in all of us, in Adam (Romans 5:12).
God’s indictment on sinful humanity in Romans 3:11-18 focuses especially on the destructive nature of our tongues. Romans 3:13-18, “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and Misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” God’s indictment was consistent to Isaiah’s own self appraisal when God unveiled the glory of His holiness to him. Isaiah witnessed the angels doing what they were created to do—worshipping God in His awesome holiness. His assessment? “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). Any honest, Spirit-led appraisal will work to bring any of us to a similar conclusion.
The taming of a tongue cannot happen apart from God’s intervention. The good news is that Jesus is not just able to save us, but to work a change in us that will transform both our lives and our lips. Hurtful words are common fare in this sin-cursed world. How precious then are the words of those who are Spirit-led to speak truth in love, building up instead of tearing down!
Take my voice and let me sing always, only for my King
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from Thee