by Graham Mol
Last week on our family camping trip we found ourselves hiking through the blackened and burnt bushveld from a fire the previous night. For the majority of our trek that morning we were surrounded by the sights and smells of burnt plant remains. I considered the sheer extent of the fire, not much remained untouched. I was reminded of an example given in the letter of James:
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. (James 3:5 NIV)
I decided to use this observation as a teachable moment for my kids. I told them what James says about the tongue and how the words that we say can be like that small spark that sets ablaze a fire that grows and grows and becomes out of control. We had seen large flames blazing on the hills the night before, lighting up the night, and we could now clearly see the extent of its destruction. In the same way, a careless word, a little lie, a passing comment can result in a firestorm of trouble and hurt. Once we’ve said those words, there is no taking them back, and we may not realise just how much damage they can cause.
“Yes Dad, we know.”
Of course they knew the example from their lessons at Church and at school, but it’s one thing to know the example, the metaphor, and another to have learnt from experience the damage our words can cause. The haven’t yet learnt just how easy it is to start a fire that soon becomes a roaring blaze.
It’s no wonder that James urges his recipients to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (James 1:19). Just how many bush fires could we have avoided if we had rather kept our mouths shut? How many times have we wished that we could have erased that comment or reply and take back all the hurt and destruction that it caused?
The good news is that there is life after the fire. What was once there is no more, but new saplings spring up and the black gives way to the bright, new green. While there are words that can destroy, there are also words that can heal and we can choose to build others up rather than break them down.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)