A few years ago, a serial arsonist was on the loose in a neighborhood near my house. His specialty was setting fire to garages in the middle of the night. One evening the flames in an attached garage quickly spread to the house where several people were sleeping inside. Fortunately no one was injured. This troubled man terrorized the neighborhood for several months before he was finally caught and charged with as many as ten fires. At one point, investigators even brought in an accelerant-sniffing dog to help with the case.
When it comes to accelerants, the Bible doesn’t have anything to say about the common ones: acetone, kerosene, gasoline, lacquer, or lacquer thinner. Instead, it talks about an item that is small but ubiquitous. Every household has at least one and sometimes several. Though it may seem innocent enough, this accelerant can do tremendous damage when activated. What am I talking about?
The human tongue, of course.
Listen to how the book of James characterizes it: “The tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire” (3:5). One ill-considered word can quickly shatter the peace. The Bible compares the tongue to a sharp razor, and it uses adjectives like “twisted,” “lying,” “gossiping,” and “deceitful” to describe it. The tongue is such an expert deceiver that it can even fool the person who wields it. It’s so easy to rationalize our words, creating a thousand reasons to justify our unkindness. Like the serial arsonist, some of us are guilty of causing great harm because of our habit of letting our tongues control us.
Peace comes, at least in part, from learning how to control the incendiary power of the tongue. Today, take a step in that direction by reviewing the conversations you’ve had over the past week. Did your words promote healing and peace or strife and difficulty? If you discover traces of gossip, rage, slander, deceit, or unkindness, go to the person or the people who heard them and apologize. Then ask God to help you develop greater sensitivity to how your words affect others.