Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
It may be, that a more untrue statement was never written, or said actually, since I can remember it vividly from my school days. Think back, when did we normally invoke that phrase way back then? Usually when the exact opposite was true was when we would recite that phrase. In other words, we usually made a point to say that to somebody who had just hurt us with their words.!
Here, James uses a great comparison to discuss the destructive power of our tongues, or our speech. Earlier he compared the small tongue’s ability to control our conduct to a bit in a horses mouth, or the small rudder piloting a giant ship. Here, he compares the destructive power of the small tongue with a tiny spark which ignites a huge fire.
One of the most notable examples of this, of course, is the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Although started by something so small as a lantern in a barn, this great fire eventually burned almost half of the city of Chicago to the ground.
Two of the greatest men in the Old Testament, recognized the power of the tongue and issued guidance about controlling it. David and his son Solomon both wrote about the destructive power of speech. As David was somewhat hot tempered, we should strongly consider his words in this matter.
Psalm 39:1-3 I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,
Solomon had the following to say:
Proverbs 17:27 He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
Proverbs 14:29 He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.
The tongue and fire have other similarities as well. Few would dispute that a fire under control can have many benefits, and can be used for much good. On the other hand, few would dispute that a fire, like a mouth, out or control can cause massive devastation.
What do we do with our tongues? Do we use them for good, for edifying believers or telling the Gospel to unbelievers? Or do we use them for evil by teaching untruths, gossiping or pushing the non believing away from Jesus Christ?