Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Tongue Lit By Hell's Fire

Whoever first coined the little ditty about sticks and stones breaking bones but words never hurting him was a liar. Words hurt. They can do immense damage, many times leaving scars much greater and much longer lasting than the bruise of a stone or bloody gash from a stick.

Most of us have both used our tongues for evil and have received third degree burns from such a hell-bent tongue. Likewise, we have all used our tongues for good and have had our hearts warmed by others' tongues as well. Good or bad, our memories hold tight to the actual words much like a burr in an animal's coat. Some conversations, we can repeat verbatim twenty years later even though we may not remember the time, place, or any other trappings of that day.

Because God knew the power of words, He cautioned us as Christians to use our tongues for good, not evil. James said, "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... 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; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way" (Jas. 3:6, 8-10).

Here, James first denotes the tongue's tendency to speak evil, to act as a fire that devours, as a poison that destroys an entire entire life. He also notes where such fleshly tongue-tendencies come from--hell.

However, in the same passage, James mentions that the Christian's tongue can also be used for good, for blessings, towards other men and towards God. Though James doesn't use the exact words, the implication is that this tongue-tendency comes from the opposite location--from heaven, or in this case, from the third part of the trinity, the Spirit that resides within.

Although the tongue may have both conflicting tendencies since flesh wars with the spirit within, James makes it clear that we must strive to use our tongues only for good and not for evil.

Many times, even when we suppress the Spirit and speak otherwise, it is perfectly clear as to whether we are using our tongues for good or for evil. But what about those times when it's gray, when we're unsure, when maybe we're unsure our motives are 100% pure in the speaking? What then?

I believe part of the answer is housed in another usage of the same term tongue.

In the book of Acts, Paul describes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as "cloven tongues like as of fire," which "sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance....we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:3-4, 11).

This tongue literally came down from heaven and commandeered each man's fleshly tongue so that it spoke (in James' words) to "bless our Lord and Father."

A second effect of these heavenly tongues was unity.

The first indication of unity is that even though there were many different nationalities and languages present, each man heard in his own tongue, one man asking "how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" (Acts 2:8).

A second indication of unity was the Christians' actions after the tongues of fire. Paul writes after this event that "all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart" (Acts 2:44-46).

As such, it seems there are two indicators we as followers of Christ can use to determine whether our speech is of a tongue lit by hell's fire or by heaven's fire. First, will my words serve to glorify God? Will they serve to bless others or God, Himself? And secondly, will they serve to bring unity or division?

It's not a fail-proof checklist. But there have been many times when asking myself these two simple questions would have saved me miles of scorched earth that I had to reseed in repentance.

Photo: Michael Wells' Photography

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