This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications
and is included here with their permission.
“Tongues of fire”
James paints a vivid word picture of the harm that can be done when we mis-use our God-given power of speech. He likens the tongue to a fire which can be the cause of self-destruction and the destruction of our victims. It only takes the smallest of flames, he says, to begin a fire that can sweep through a forest, upsetting nature’s balance and creating a kind of hell on earth.
If we abuse the gift of speech, which sets us apart from the animals, we too can create a kind of hell on earth for people who, like us, are beloved children of God, made in his image. It doesn’t take much: one insensitive remark which causes offence; one rumour which damages someone’s reputation; one stinging criticism which annihilates someone’s confidence and sense of identity.
Perhaps James would rather we didn’t speak at all if we’re going to use speech to abuse and curse as well as to praise and bless.
But a fire can be different. It can be a warm glow of comfort in the cold and dark; it can cook food that would otherwise be inedible; it can draw people together to tell stories and share thoughts.
The words we speak can be different. They can be words of comfort and compassion; encouragement and praise. We can choose how we use words in our relationships and we can pray that the Holy Spirit, who Himself appeared as tongues of fire, will protect us all from harm.
Lord Jesus, living Word of God, you speak words of love and truth, encouragement and blessing. Help us to follow your example, being careful when we speak that our words honour you and do no harm to those who are our brothers and sisters in fellowship with you. Amen.