“And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among our members. It stains the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
James 3:6 (CSB)
I know what you’re thinking. This is the perfect verse for Christmas. I mean, what says sweet baby Jesus, tinsel and twinkles, family and fun, better than the thought of our tongues being set on fire by hell? There may be better scriptural choices for Christmas joy, but if you’ll give me a moment I promise to deliver some advent-worthy wisdom through these words of James that fits this season like a glove.
When I reflect on this year, there have been good things, but those were often overshadowed by hard things. Pandemics, politics, racism, and hate crimes have filled our news feeds. And with all of this going on in our world, of course we talk about it. We use our words on social media, in the grocery store, at work, in our social circles, and in our homes.
And let me be the first to say, my words have not always been good. I have said things behind someone’s back in frustration that should have been spoken with wisdom and gentleness to the involved party. I have reacted emotionally to social media posts, forgetting I do have the choice to keep on scrolling. I have said things that were too harsh to my husband and children. And I have too often left unsaid things that should be spoken. Things like “I was wrong,” “I forgive you,” “I’m sorry,” “I love you,” or “I appreciate you.”
And I thought as I read this verse, maybe you have, too.
James says when we allow unrighteous words to fall off our tongue it starts a fire from the pits of hell. Pretty powerful picture he is painting, isn’t it? Our words can start a fire that Satan would love to fuel. And the more tongues he can recruit, the bigger the flames get. Before we know it, we’ve got a big blaze that’s hot, awful, and destructive. I believe this is what we have witnessed too much of in the last year, wagging tongues setting everything around us ablaze.
My husband is a firefighter and often points out nuggets of fire safety. One thing he taught me is that in a forest the best protection a homeowner has against a forest fire is to have a clearing around their home. The gap between the trees and the house is about more than aesthetics, it can preserve the structure if a fire occurs. Additionally, watering around the house in that gap provides further protection. Interesting how a small gap, a stop in the fuel, and a dousing of water can stop the spread of fire.
This Christmas, at the end of this fire-filled year, we have the opportunity to stand in the gap. We can douse ourselves in godly wisdom and pour it out to the world around us. We can speak a word of kindness, or maybe even an apology to that person who has irritated us all year, tell our loved ones how much they mean to us, and choose words that are fire-stopping. Who knows, maybe something you say in kindness will ignite a new flame, and more people will see and know the Jesus we celebrate this time of year.
What an opportunity we have this Christmas. How are you going to use it?