This summer we have watched the raging infernos devour the pristine wilderness of Yosemite National Park. The U.S Forest Service announced that the wildfire scorched more than 237,000 acres, or 370 square miles, and engulfed 11 homes. Moreover, putting out the fire has come with a high price tag of $81 million. This blaze has been the third largest in California’s history. Recently, investigators discovered the cause of the wildfire—one hunter’s campfire that simply got out of control.
California's largest fire on record, a 2003 blaze in the Cleveland National Forest east of San Diego, was sparked by a novice deer hunter who became lost and set a signal fire in hope of being rescued. The so-called “Cedar Fire” of 2003 burned nearly 430 square miles, caused 15 deaths and destroyed more than 2,200 homes.
In 2000 more than a thousand firefighters battled a wildfire in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The fire took 80,000 acres of valuable timber. When the arsonist was arrested she laughingly offered to pay restitution for the damages, which came to a whopping $42 million. What caused the blaze? A lady was smoking a cigarette and threw a still-burning match on the ground.
It’s no secret that most wildfires are caused by human negligence. In the same way, starting a wildfire with our tongues requires little effort. Rumors, half-truths, grumblings, sarcastic remarks and hurtful jabs said in the heat of the moment are like smoldering embers that have the potential to burn acres of family peace, church unity, reputations and relationships.
That’s why James wrote these scathing words about our words, “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” (3:5-6).”
While human speech has conveyed comfort, beauty, and blessing throughout history, it has also delivered hate, lies, and curses. The tongue, the fleshly organ, is not to blame, of course. Jesus said it was out of the heart of man that "evil things come" -- including words (Mark 7:20-23). George Swinnock has said, “The heart is the metal of the bell, the tongue is but the clapper.”
The way we use our tongues indicates what we really have going on in our hearts. We must be vigilant in taming the tongue by giving God the reins of our heart. The chain connecting heart and tongue cannot be broken. For good or bad, it will always be there. But try this: Before you speak sinfully, pause and ask, “Why did I almost say that? What is my motive?” Then honestly submit: “Lord, I need you to hold my tongue and cleanse my heart, lest I start a wildfire with my words!”