A Great Conflagration

Posted on: May 27th, 2018

London. The night of September 2, 1666. A light flickered inside a bakery in Pudding Lane from a fire that had not been properly banked. The bakery was located deep in the city’s mercantile section not far from the warehouses of the rich merchants.
Fire carts of the day were just that—carts not much bigger than an SUV of today. A wind of gale force was whipping above the city. The mayor dithered giving the order for firebreaker to be initiated for fear of offending the merchants whose houses had to come down.
The result of this deadly combination became one of the most infamous fires of all history, ranking right up there with Rome, Carthage, San Francisco, and Chicago. The fire raged for three days during which time the sun was blotted out. Over one-third of the city was lost and 70,000 people were homeless.
Yet, in all of the records of the event, only one person, a maid in the attic of a building adjoining the bakery, lost her life. One person.
As Christians, we are all familiar with the third chapter of James. He had read his OT well. Isaiah 30:27; 45:23 had told him what he today reiterates to us in verses five and six. The tongue is a fire. Its potential for destruction is greater than all the physical fires in history.
The tongue has also been compared to a viper (Job 20:16), a spear (Ps. 57:4), a club (Jer.18:18), a sharp razor (Ps. 52:2), a scourge (Job 5:21), an arrow Jer. 9:8), and a sword (Ps. 64:3). We all know how hurtful a tongue can be. I can remember incidents where I would rather have been the recipient of the old 2×4 or rock, the sticks and stones if you will, rather than the unkind wounding word.
Today there is a new threat. Let’s say a person dislikes, hates, wants to hurt someone. They are too cowardly to openly say anything and too afraid of reprisal. The internet affords them the anonymity to tell the world what filth, deceptions, and lies about the person who is hated and does so by reaching multitudes who couldn’t have been contacted for obvious logistical reasons only decades ago. Social media harassment and bullying has caused many suicides world-wide. Unfortunately, young people are especially contagious to these campaigns of hate.
But when James in verse 8 of chapter 3 states that no man can control the tongue, he is using a figure of speech called hyperbole where the user whether in writing or speaking grossly overexaggerates to force their point home. When Jesus In Matt. 5:29 tells us to pluck out one eye if it offends us, He wasn’t speaking literally. When I told my progeny to cease performing some bad action or I would kill them twice over, they knew they would live to see another day. Can we be sure we can control the tongue?
First, we need to continually guard our hearts. The Bible tells us both in the OT (Hab. 1:13) and in the NT (I Pet. 3:10) that with God’s help we can. Indeed, the tongue can be an instrument of great good (Song of Solomon 4:11; Prov. 12:18; 15:2; 25:15; and 31:26).
As US citizens we all have freedom of speech. We are not the Web Police. But as Christians we must constantly monitor ourselves not to love in tongue only (I Jn. 3:18) but in deed and truth. No matter the evil things said about us collectively or individually, we take solace in knowing that those same tongues as well as our own, shall, at the end of time, confess that Jesus Christ lives and confess the glory of God (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:11).
As Christians we can and must think before we speak. It is difficult but as we have read from Hebrews and I Peter, we can guard the fire before it begins.
Larry Purkey