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Extinguishing the Fire of Destructive Speech

It’s amazing how a small thing can become a big thing.

A small spark can cause a huge fire. An invisible virus can make thousands sick. A slight turn of the rudder can take a ship off course. A dash of the wrong spice can ruin a recipe. And the tongue, though small, can destroy with just a word.

That’s what James teaches in James 3, “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! 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” (vv.5- 6).

The Power of the Tongue

The tongue, though small, can be a mighty weapon. It can weaken, wound, and break a relationship. Unlike a real weapon, it lies hidden and strikes just when the victim least expects it. After repeated jabs over the course of time, a person is left defenseless and weak.

Much of the book of Proverbs talks about the power of the tongue (over a hundred times!). “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21).

What are some of the ways the tongue harms and pierces another person? If you were to read through the book of Proverbs, you’d find references to ways the tongue wounds, including:

  • Put downs, name calling, harsh talk
  • Lies
  • Flattery
  • Words spoken in anger
  • Sarcasm
  • Profanity
  • Course and inappropriate joking
  • Gossip and slander
  • Boasting about oneself
  • Rash speech

Extinguishing the Fire of Destructive SpeechA Wise Tongue

In the Bible, the tongue can be used for wisdom or for folly. Many of the Proverbs contrast a wise tongue and a destructive tongue. The question is, how does one gain wisdom and use the tongue for good? How do we use our words for healing and to bring life rather than death to our relationships?

Proverbs 2:6 tells us the source of wisdom: “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Wisdom is not something we can self-manufacture; it comes from the One who is wisdom himself. God’s wisdom is found in his written word for us to read, learn from, and dwell on. It teaches us our inherent folly, our need for wisdom, and what God did to provide it for us.

In fact, God’s word shows that Christ is wisdom in the flesh (Colossians 2:3). He became wisdom for us, perfectly obeying God in all things. Our Savior always spoke with wisdom. He used his words for good, to heal, and to give life. He spoke with compassion and love and truth. Through faith in his life, death, and resurrection on our behalf, all of his perfect words are ours. God looks at us and doesn’t see our put-downs, sarcastic remarks, and angry responses; he sees Jesus. What grace!

There’s even more grace: God doesn’t leave us as we are; rather, he changes and transforms us through his Spirit to become wise speakers who use our tongues for good. The more we learn of God through his written word, the more the Spirit uses God’s words to convict us of sin. The Spirit then strengthens us to repent and turn from destructive speech. He teaches us to listen more and talk less. He gives us opportunities to practice wise speech. At times, he even helps us to “bite our tongues” if necessary. In all these ways and more, God extinguishes our flaming tongues. Slowly but surely, we find that the more we dwell on the wisdom of God’s word, the more his words give shape to our words, and the more his wisdom becomes our wisdom.

It’s true, the tongue is small but mighty. Yet God’s grace is even greater. May he transform the words we speak to bring life in all our relationships.

How about you? Have you ever wounded someone with your words? God has wisdom and grace for you today!


Christina Fox

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