Heal or Destroy

The tongue . . . is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.
It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire,
and is itself set on fire by hell. . . .  No man can tame the tongue.
James 3:6, 8

I LOVE A WARM FIRE IN THE WOOD STOVE on a cold winter day.  There is nothing quite like it.  Some of my fondest memories are centered around fireplaces, wood stoves, campfires and winter bonfires at sledding parties in Michigan as a young boy.

Fires are wonderful things when they are in the proper place and in a controlled environment.  Useful tools and implements are forged in fire.  Gold and silver are purified in fire.  Cars run on the fiery heat of a combustion engine.  But fires can also be devastatingly horrific—like forest fires.


My son, Gideon, is currently working on fire choppers—incredible machines that fly into danger to extinguish raging, out-of-control, life-stealing fires.  He and his team go to disaster sites around the world, wherever they are needed, to put out fires and minimize damage as much as possible.  His job is to keep the choppers in the air and on duty.   The fire-birds are maintained in the open field when necessary and sent back to the fire-line for continued battle.  He has been on duty in California, Oregon, Louisiana and Australia.

Often these fires are the result of careless or malicious behavior.  One of the most recent catastrophes has been the massive Eagle Creek fire in Oregon in 2018.  The fire was started by the recklessness of a 15-year-old boy igniting fireworks during a burn ban.  The fire consumed over 48,000 acres of land and forest, destroying homes and threatening thousands of others.  The fire also trapped 153 hikers with the Indian Creek fire on the other side of them–sandwiched between two terrifying forest fires.

The consequences of the boy’s foolish and reckless behavior are to pay over $36 million in restitution, serve 5 years probation, and 1,920 hours of community service.  He was also ordered to write apology letters to each of the hikers he left stranded in harm’s way.

“Every day I think about this terrible decision and its awful consequences,” said the boy, who was identified by the judge only by his initials, A.B. “I know I will have to live with my bad decision for the rest of my life.”1

James, the brother of Jesus, likens the human tongue to a forest fire set by careless, thoughtless, or malicious words.  Once words have left the mouth there is no retrieving them.  The fire has begun, and lives are often destroyed as a result.  This is why James also tells us that we should be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James. 1:19).  This is why Paul tells us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up others according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

One of God’s greatest gifts to humanity is the gift of speech.  With our speech we can either bless or curse; we can heal or we can wound; we can give life or steal life.  For these reasons, we would do well to place the following hedges around our speech:  “Before you speak, answer the questions—Is it true?  Is it necessary?  Is it kind?”

If we would be more careful in the use of our tongues, we would find our lives becoming more Christlike and more profitable for the welfare and service of others.  We would also discover a richer spring of joy within our own.

It is still winter outside, so, put another log on the fire, but keep the fire inside the stove or fireplace.  Take my word for it, you don’t want it on the living room floor.


“The tongue can bring death or life;
    those who love to talk will reap the consequences.”
-Proverbs 18:21 (NLT)



1  Eltagouri, Marwa (May 22, 2018). https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/05/21/teen-who-started-massive-oregon-wildfire-with-fireworks-must-pay-36-million-judge-rules/?utm_term=.24d1722eaec1