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Douse the Fire, Fan the Flame

Fire is used as a metaphor for many things. The apostle James uses it as a metaphor for evil. He says, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).

These are strong words. They are not words a teacher/pastor is likely to use when trying to encourage someone to guard what they say. Recently, I was having a wonderful conversation with a new acquaintance who I judged to be a mature Christian. After using some foul language during the course of our conversation, she caught herself, looked at me, and confessed, “I swear a lot.”

While I don’t think less of her and certainly don’t intend to distance myself from her, my spirit was uncomfortable in her presence for no other reason than her use of foul language and the implications of what I was hearing.

Foul language (whatever that may be in your cultural context) tells a lot about a person. While James is most definitely not just restricting himself to foul language when he speaks of the tongue being on fire, it does seem that the use of expletives which would not have been heard in ordinary conversation years ago, has become acceptable even among Christians today.

James goes on to say that purity and holiness cannot co-exist with an evil tongue. He says, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (3:11). James exhorts, and the Ten Commandments require, God’s people to put aside all forms of evil talk including foul language and using God’s name loosely.

I wonder if James struggled with wisdom in his conversation. His teaching exhibits a clear grasp of the chaos a loose tongue can evoke. Fortunately, he also understands the blessing that comes from bridling the tongue - the whole body is under control.

If we take the truth of James’ exhortation seriously, we understand that those who cannot control their tongue cannot control their body (3:2). Dousing the fire sparked by the tongue leads to blessings of holiness and righteousness which fan the flame of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.

May we all live this year to fan the flame while dousing the fire.

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