Summary: These sayings picture the harm done by those who deliberately use their tongues or words to damage the reputations of others. The contentious spark strife and thus disrupt the peace of the community, fellowship or assembly.
IN CRITICAL CONDITION
According to the Associated Press, on a windy day in March  a father and his son came to Valley Forge National Historical Park, where George Washington stationed the revolutionary Army during the difficult winter of 1777-1778. The father and son had something much less historic in mind;: they wanted to launch a model rocket. At first they tried using electric ignition wires to light the fuse, but to no avail. So they tried lighting the fuse with a common sparkler, the kind seen on the Fourth of July.
That's when the trouble began. Sparks ignited a grass fire, and the winds quickly spread the blaze, burning a field where Revolutionary War soldiers had trained, and coming within a half mile of George Washington's headquarters. Thirty units from twelve fire departments fought the blaze for an hour before bringing it under control, and in the end over thirty acres were charred. The man with the sparkler was charged with destruction of government property and use of fireworks.
Like that sparkler, the tongue never seems as dangerous as it really is. So it is with the talebearer or the gossip whose contentious words kindle up strife. These sayings picture the harm done by those who deliberately use their tongues or words to damage the reputations of others (CIT). They spark strife and thus disrupt the peace of the community, fellowship or assembly.
I. THE FIRE OF CONTENTIOUS SPEECH, 20-22.
II. THE MALICE OF DECEITFUL SPEECH, 23-25.
III. THE RESULTS OF DECEITFUL SPEECH, 26-28.
Fire and strife relate verses 20 & 21. Verse 20 promises that a quarrel dies down without talk just like a fire eventually goes out without wood. "For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down."
Kindled fire is an appropriate image for quarrel and strife. When a fire finishes burning through the material it feeds on, it goes out. Similarly, when gossip reaches the ear of someone who will not repeat it, it dies. It that simple. Strife, a quarrel or contention dies down without gossip (11:13; 16:28; 18:8; 20:19; 26:22). Talking about every little irritation or piece of gossip only keeps the fires of anger going. Refusing to discuss them cuts the fuel line and makes the fires die out.
[To extinguish a fire, you must remove one of the essential elements needed for combustion. For example, eliminating what is fueling the blaze is a method often employed in fighting an forest fire. A controlled backfire is started from a cleared line ahead of the advancing flames. When the two fires meet, no timber is left to burn.]
The Bible promises us that for lack of wood "the fire goes out." This refers to extinguishing something much more devastating than the combustion of physical elements. It's the fire of an irresponsible tongue where the resentment and pain that burns in the heart is used to seared others with its heat. What deep and lasting wounds the tongue can inflict on others! Families and friendships have been disrupted and individuals hurt for life because of the effects of backbiting and slander.
When does strife cease (Hebrew sh tag)? When people stop talking. [Just as the storm calmed when the sea men tossed Jonah overboard (1:11–12).] Just like fire can't burn where there is no wood, so strife can't continue where there are no talebearers. When gossip comes to you, refuse to listen. If gossip found no takers, it would just burn out in its place of origin.
How necessary it is for God's people to eliminate from their conversation all incendiary words. This would prevent many of the fires that ruin relationships.
How many fires have swept the land and left an ugly scar!
But of the blazing flames that burn, the tongue's the worst by far. [Sper]
Does someone continually irritate you? Decide not to complain about the person, and see if your irritation dies from lack of fuel. By yielding our tongue to the Lord Jesus, who alone can control it, we can put out the harmful fires of slander and gossip. It's better to bite your tongue, than to have a biting tongue.
Verse 21 reveals that it is the contentious who add fuel to the fire. "Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife."
Removing fuel or talebearing kills a fire or quarrel. Conversely continuing to quarrel contributes to kindle [lit. heat up) strife just as charcoal and wood build up a fire. Charcoal or black coal is used to nourish hot embers and wood is used to sustain a fire and a contentious person's words serve the purpose of kindling up strife. [The word kindle [ tarr] signifies hot and the tense [pilpel] indicates to make hotter.]