Summary: Uncontrolled speech may reveal a devilish heart that has never been regenerated. James challenges us to review our heart by examining our speech to determined our relationship to the Master.
JAMES 3:5b, 6
THE DEVIL GOES TO CHURCH
“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.”
At 9:00 p.m., Sunday evening, October 8, 1871, the great Chicago Fire began on DeKoven street in a barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. The fire would burn for the next two days; before it was finished it would blacken three and one half square miles of the city and destroy over 17,000 buildings before it was checked by gunpowder explosions on the south line of the fire. The fire left over 100,000 people homeless and cost over 300 lives.
But, ironically, that was not the greatest inferno in the American Midwest that year. Historians tell us that on the same day that dry autumn a spark ignited a raging fire in the North Woods of Wisconsin which burned for an entire month, taking more lives than the Chicago Fire. A veritable firestorm destroyed billions of cubic yards of precious timber—all from one spark!
The tongue has that scope of inflammatory capability. James is saying that those who misuse the tongue are guilty of spiritual arson. A mere spark of an ill-spoken word can produce a firestorm that annihilates everything it touches. It is terrible enough when relationships, ministries or lives are destroyed by a thoughtless word. More terrible still is the destruction that results from deliberate injury resulting from such spiritual arson.
James, confronting early Christians, compels them to think of the impact of their words. Consequently, what he wrote to those ancient believers continues to challenge us to this day—if we listen to what he says. I invite you to join me in exploring the words written by the brother of our Lord as we think through the implications of our tongues being set on fire by hell. Let’s think together of what happens when the devil comes to church because of our words.
ONE SPARK CAN CAUSE A GREAT CATASTROPHE — “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” Paradise, California is burning today. For three weeks, the people of Paradise and Big Sur have been forced from their homes as wildfires rage, burning thousands of hectares of brush and consuming numerous houses. Lives have been disrupted, and in many instances forever changed—hope is reduced to ashes, memories are destroyed, and joy has been charred. While lightning appears to be the cause of the Big Sur fire, human carelessness appears to be the cause of the Paradise fire. We can be almost certain that relative to the damage inflicted on thousands of people, the cause was small. James marvelled at the insignificance of the cause.
James was undoubtedly familiar with wildfires that periodically raged across the Judean hills. Perhaps a lightning strike, or more probably the careless use of fire, would ignite the dry brush and grasses that covered the hills. The resulting fires would cause great sorrow for many people in that day, just as they do in this day. Thus, as we read James’ words, we can almost hear the astonishment in his voice.
Little things can create great havoc. A little mosquito can create widespread fear when it carries West Nile Virus. A small tick can create untold misery for a family if that tick carries the Borrelia spirochete. A tiny Brown Recluse spider causes great pain for anyone it bites.
It has now been almost eighteen years since I was injured in a truck crash. That crash was caused by a tiny spider. The driver of the truck in which I was riding had seen the spider and asked me if it was a tick. I replied that it was a spider and he paid no further attention to the tiny arachnid as it crawled across the roof of the cab. He was startled, however, when the creature unexpectedly dropped into his face. Distracted, he drove off the road, hitting two trees and rolling down a steep embankment. The resultant injuries have plagued me ever since.
James is not focused on the injury that may physically afflict individuals, however; he is addressing the injury that results to the cause of Christ when Christians fail to bridle the tongue. He had undoubtedly witnessed, even in that early day, the harm that an inadvertent word can cause, the spiritual misery that results from angry words spoken by professed believers, or how all progress of the Faith can be halted because one person uses the tongue as a weapon. Though the tongue is such a small member of the body, it has an almost limited capacity for evil.