A few years ago a hillside above the suburb where I live was ablaze with fire. We awoke at about 5am to a house full of smoke, the sounds of sirens and helicopters, and an eerie glow outside. This particular fire was caused by strong winds fanning the embers of a smaller fire seemingly extinguished several weeks previously. All it took to devastate that hillside were some sparks and a constant wind across dry scrubland. The resulting inferno was so intense that entire pine trees were suddenly exploding in flames. Such a fire destroys everything in its path.
There is another source of fire which can destroy lives – the burning words of someone who refuses to control their tongue. I have seem someone consumed with pain from the flaming tongue of another. This metaphor of the tongue as a fire comes from James 3:5-9:
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. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. (James 3:5-9 ESV)
James not only uses the image of fire, but also of poison. A poison gets into our lives and causes sickness within, sometimes even paralysis. Words can crush a person, breaking their spirit and leading to a cycle of sorrow (Proverbs 15:4 and Proverbs 15:13).
The words from our mouths are like bullets – once fired off they cannot be retrieved, and if spoken indiscriminately they can cause great harm. Yet our words can also bring life and healing to others, it all depends upon the heart of the one speaking.
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. (Proverbs 10:11 ESV)
What comes out of our mouths reflects what is stored up in our hearts:
For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
(Matthew 12:34b ESV)
It makes sense then that the words which will bring healing to our souls, the words of eternal life, come from the One whose heart is absolutely pure, good, righteous and holy. As we walk around in a world of sinners we will be wounded by careless, even vicious, words. Such wounds can fester and destroy us unless we are set free from their power. The way to be free is to abide in the word of Christ and know the truth (John 8:31-32). Truth will set us free from the lies spoken to us.