How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. . . . . With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. (James 3:5-6, 9-10)

Every one of the many fires burning out of control in California today started with a small spark, a match, a lit cigarette. The Apostle James’ words from the Bible warn us that the things we say to one another can be just as destructive. We may toss them off as throwaways, but they can burn deeply into the heart of someone near us.

During Sunday’s sermon, Pastor Connie had us listen to a beautiful Gospel song about our commitment to one another in the church, the Body of Christ. You can hear this Hezekiah Walker song here. The simple affirmations we make to each other in the repeated chorus are:

I need you, you need me.
We’re all a part of God’s body.
Stand with me, agree with me.
We’re all a part of God’s body.

I pray for you, you pray for me.
I love you, I need you to survive.
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.
I love you, I need you to survive.

The line that stood out to me each time we sang it was, “I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.” I don’t want some words of mine to start a blaze in your heart, and I believe all of you feel the same. Yet, it happens all the time. I’m sure I went straight from singing that song to hurting someone in the church congregation with words. James warns us how hard this promise to one another is in actual practice:

Every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue. (James 3:7-8)

As hopeless as it may seem to try to tame our tongues, especially when the Santa Ana winds of our own passions take control of us, God does give us encouragement in the next chapter of James’ letter:

He gives all the more grace to those who are humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:6-8)

So, self-examination is the key. Before I speak unkindly to a sister or brother, I need to stop and think. Where am I coming from? What little fire of hurt may be in me that my words may spread to others? In the church, the Body of Christ, this is Fire Prevention 101. My goal should be nothing less than to be able to promise to each person in my circle of nearness (family, church members and friends), “I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.”

— Pastor George Van Alstine