The tongue is a fire

Paul, a friend in seminary, once told of a remarkable junior high adventure.

It seems that one summer afternoon he and a friend went prowling through the attic in Paul’s house. There they found a trunk with a few mementos from his father’s career in the military — helmets, hats, uniforms, papers, hand grenades.…Yes, hand grenades. Now when a couple 14-year-old boys find a couple of hand grenades, the first question that enters their brains is something along the lines of, “I wonder….?”

Their next stop was the garage where they procured a post-hole digger. Then they went immediately to the back yard and commenced to dig. They dug the hole as deep as the post-hole digger would go, and then laid the instrument aside and contemplated the final plan. And then they acted. A quick pull of the pin, a rapid drop of the grenade into the hole, a hasty shoveling of some of the dirt back into the hole, and a hurried retreat to the other side of the garage.

exploding grenade 2They didn’t have to wait long.


The garage and house shook, windows broke, and Paul’s mom yelled: “WHAT WAS THAT???!!!”

Just how do you say, “Mom, that was a hand grenade?”

I think of that escapade every time I read James 3.

“See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity.…” (James 3:5b-6a; NASB)

It’s powerful. It’s quick and sudden. It’s explosive. It’s damaging. It’s often sent with evil and wicked intent. It’s a hand grenade. And it’s our speech.

James is picturesque in his description of the tongue: it’s a rudder that steers a large ship; it’s a fire; it’s sin that defiles our entire body (life); it’s untamable; it’s restlessly evil; it’s a deadly poison; it’s a source of cursing.

But it’s also a source of blessing, an instrument of godly instruction, and an origin of refreshment and delight. How can these two different perspectives both be true? Because it depends on the heart. Out of the overflow and abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Mt. 12:34; Lk. 6:45; Js. 3:12). Our speech simply reveals the true nature and condition of our hearts. Which is why David rightly asks of God, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord…” (Ps. 19:14). When we meditate on God and His truths, when we wisely and carefully discern our actions and motivations, when we think as God thinks, it will be reflected in our speech.

Do you want to be freed from words of anger, bitterness, hatred, gossip, unwholesomeness, and argumentation? Then think and meditate on the truth of God, and think truly about your own spiritual condition and heart.

The course to controlled speech and kind and encouraging words is following the path of godly and righteous thinking.

2 thoughts on “The tongue is a fire

  1. What a perfect example of the tongue’s destructive power. I just had to apologize for mine this week. Thank you for a timely reminder!

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