On Sunday, October 8, 1871, a fire broke out in Chicago, Illinois. It started in a small shed (no one really knows how) and quickly spread throughout the city. The heavy use of wood for construction at that time, a drought which had occurred prior to the fire, strong winds from the southwest that carried burning rubble toward the heart of the city, and poor reaction by city officials and citizens all combined to create a devastating inferno. The fire burned for two days, but even when it was over, the smoldering remains were still too hot for a survey of the damage to be completed for days.
Eventually, the vast destruction from the fire was determined:
- An area four miles long by three quarters of a mile wide, or more than 2,000 acres
- More than 73 miles of roads and 120 miles of sidewalks
- 17,500 buildings
- $222,000,000 in property, which was about 1/3 of the city’s total value
- Of 300,000 inhabitants, 90,000—30% of the city’s population—were left homeless
- 200-300 people were killed
In James 3.5-10, James compares the human tongue to a raging fire:
“Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also 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. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”
James compares the tongue to fire because just like fire, if our tongues are out of control, they can cause a great deal of damage. Gossiping, talking behind people’s backs, saying hurtful things, putting others down, spreading falsehood…all of these actions of the tongue can cause far-reaching damage. When we’re careless with our words, we can destroy a friendship or a reputation.
A lot of times when we talk about moral problems, especially with teens, we tend to focus on the “big” issues: things like drinking, drugs, sex, etc. Those issues need to be talked about, but the harm we do with what we say is a much more common problem—I hear people using their fiery tongues all the time (even in church!) with little regard for the collateral damage they could be causing.
Read James 3.9-10 again:
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”
Our speech can be a problem or it can be pleasing to God. What’s it going to be for you? Your tongue can be as dangerous and destructive as a fire. Use it carefully.