Words are powerful – one word can provoke memories, dazzle lovers, describe emotions, soothe or singe. Thread a few powerful words into sentences, attach with a comma or a semi-colon, end with an exclamation point and you can create a paragraph tapestry filled with paragraphs that inspire generations, incite wars, bring nations to destruction, encourage the hopeless, or instill timidity with courage.
More powerful, however, is the tongue behind the word. The Bible explains, “The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). In fact, James goes on to say, “No one can tame the tongue, it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men who have been made in the likeness of God’ (James 3:9).
Yesterday, between the hours of 12:00 and 6:00 I experienced and contributed to a number of small fires.
A tweet here and quick email there and the flames began to grow. Late in the afternoon, on the phone, I was sharp-tongued and unkind to someone that I thought was trying to sell me something. Turns out I was wrong. He was a believer working in the office of a friend. Flames licked the edges of my conscience and singed the ear of the receiver.
Jesus said, “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Ouch. I was in a hurry yesterday, what mattered was my schedule and my agenda; I took no time to consider the person on the other end of the line. I heard the voice of Jesus calling me to repent, to seek forgiveness, and make no excuse. Sheepishly I called him back and asked for forgiveness – he was gracious in his response. The Spirit reminded me that even if he had been a salesman my words matter.
We all possess an un-tamable tongue. I know from experience. I’ve had mine for 53 years and it gets me into trouble a lot, which makes me all the more thankful for the gospel. Jesus paid the price for all of our sin. He knows the true condition of our hearts. He forgives us for every vile thought and every ugly spoken word. He instills us with grace so we can forgive and be forgiven.
Several fires were set yesterday, yet by the time I went to bed, every single one had been extinguished because of a posture of humility – a recognition that we all make mistakes, we all let words escape from our mouths, and as believers we can freely acknowledge our part in setting the flame. We receive, and then extend grace and forgiveness because it’ll soon be our turn to speak grace with truth, or extend forgiveness for another.
Gospel words spoken from humble hearts rolled off once wily tongues quenched the flames.