In the US last year there were over 38,000 cases of arson. According to the FBI, incidents of this crime increased by close to 20% over the previous year. For those of you who, like me, are terrible at math — that’s about 6,000 MORE cases this year than last year.
Profilers have identified certain characteristics to aid in the identification and capture of arsonists. Most often, an arsonist had an unstable childhood; often one or both parents missing from home, and frequently abused or neglected. When parents were in the picture, there was often a cold or aggressive relationship with the father. Arsonists frequently display very poor social skills, occupational adjustment, military performance and academic performance.
Today’s verse makes an observation that is both simple and profound:
“A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.”
TEMPER-FIRE. I find that “The Message” translation of the Bible often unpacks the meaning of a verse with an elegant piece of verbal imagery. “Temper fire.” Perfect!
For many years, my mouth made me a relational arsonist.
I’ve destroyed both people and relationships with a sharp tongue. My big mouth has kindled many a fire. Perhaps yours has, too. Thankfully, as God has worked both ON me and IN me, that has changed to a great degree.
In the Old Testament, the Book of Proverbs tells us that a sharp, harsh tongue will kindle a fire of anger. In the New Testament it is James who gives us some great insight on this topic. After comparing the need to control our tongue to both a bit in a horse’s mouth and the rudder of a ship, James tells us, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
Small sparks start big fires. Your tongue can set your whole life on fire! It is one of the key tools that our enemy (?? remember him ??) uses to steal, kill and destroy. If the enemy can get you to speak with an unbridled tongue, he can destroy your family, your marriage, your job or your church. Your enemy wants to set your tongue on fire. TEMPER-FIRE.
The answer to this situation is to let your Heavenly Father address the pain in your heart, and to allow His word and His Spirit to train you. Your own parents may have been wonderful or terrible, but your Father in heaven is perfect. He can work His perfection into your life. While you’ll never achieve total perfection in this life, His work of grace in you will add His kindness, goodness, patience, gentleness and self-control into you.
Since the bible is the living word of God, it’s power can change our hearts. When it changes our hearts it will also change our mouth! Jesus said that out of the HEART the tongue speaks. So each of the verses below is both an instruction AND a promise. If God tells us to do something, then CONTAINED WITHIN HIS INSTRUCTION is the power and capacity to obey.
So, you and I can become “fire fighters” and overturn the plans of the enemy.
It begins by making sure that your relationship with your Father in heaven is not missing. You NEED your Father, believe me! If He’s missing from the home of your heart, you’ll be frequently abused by the enemy. A solid relationship with your Father changes everything, and makes what I’m writing about next possible.
Paul instructs us not to let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. That is God’s instruction, and also His promise that you can walk in it. So we form our prayers around God’s promises. “Lord, help me to not let any unwholesome talk come out of my mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.” Our angry words come out of a heart focused upon US; but helpful words will come out of a heart focused on building up OTHERS.
God also tells us to let our conversation be always full of grace. So, fill it up!!! With grace! A graceful and gentle tongue will defuse anger, not kindle more flame.
Sometimes the best thing we can do with our mouths is to keep them shut! Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. So keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
Here’s the real secret ….
Make this your prayer:
“Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)
Ask God to work in you by His Spirit, and guard your lips. This is a good prayer to say at ANY time, but especially just before you go into a conversation that will tempt your temper. Or once you realize that you are in a conversation that IS kindling that fire within you.
The tongue has the power of life and death.
Don’t be an arsonist, be a fire fighter.