The Tongue on Fire

“The very way we express ourselves, even among Christians, may undercut the message we want to transmit.” – Frank Burch Brown


Fascinating claims have come out of the world of botany, indicating that one can actually speak growth into the plants he or she is cultivating. And while Mythbusters only marks the findings as plausible, there is sufficient argument from case studies that positive or negative words spoken over plants can, in fact, encourage or hinder growth.

Now, if you think that is crazy, and that words couldn’t possibly affect the outcomes of plants, listen to the claim that is made in James 3:3-6.

Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And 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.”

The claim made here, is that something as small as the tongue is able to guide and steer the whole human. James, of course, isn’t talking about the physical tongue, but rather the words that proceed from the mouth. In other words, James argues that words spoken over human beings can in fact influence the very lives of the speaker and the ones over which the words are spoken.

Further, Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:16 that empty chatter “will lead to further ungodliness. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit.” These are just three of the many directions in Scripture to be careful and clear in the communication of words.

For this reason, content and clarity in the words that we speak become increasingly important. The words that we speak in our homes, in our churches, in our communities have the power to affect change not only in our own lives, but also in the lives of our hearers. As a result, let us look to the Scripture, the very Word of God as we attempt to clearly communicate the truths of life in Christ.


The Lost Words

“The faith has a basic grammar.” – J.I. Packer


I remember the first time I heard a pastor say that they don’t use the word, “Worship,” at their church. I was a well-intentioned worship leader, trying to fit in in a church culture that had become increasingly conjoined with popular culture. This particular church was following the widely-respected and partially helpful guidelines of Andy Stanley and his book Deep and Wide. Stanley had intimated that in order to reach the culture churches must remove all potential obstructions of coming to faith. It was, as Stanley said, hard enough already for people to come to Christ. What this translated to was the removal of any of those “churchy” words that were obviously a turn-off to non-church-goers. For example, instead of “worship,” the church used “sing.” Instead of “sermon,” the church used “message.” The word “church” was removed from the church’s name. And while I appreciate the heart of the pastors in this church, as well as the intention that they have in reaching the lost, the removal of the faith’s vocabulary became a detriment to the church cause itself.

In a recent podcast titled, “Youth in Crisis,” Michael Horton spoke about the unfortunate bi-product of removing these kinds of words from our vocabulary. Horton noted that the removal of the words not only kept the words from the seeker audience, but it also kept the words (and their meanings) from the members of the church! In this way, Horton said that we were “unchurching the church itself.” In other words, by removing the words in our faith vocabulary, the church had essentially stopped teaching its members about its own faith.

As Horton and others have suggested, by the removal of its faith vocabulary, the church has largely undermined its own ability to teach its members the core doctrines of the faith. The answer? In order to clearly communicate and instruct the church regarding the Christian faith, the church must return to the biblical language surrounding the faith and worship of God.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 says, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.”

The New Testament records how these words in Deuteronomy can be taken to a legalistic extreme, which resulted in the Pharisaical behavior in the centuries leading up to Christ. However, in today’s culture, the pendulum has surely swung to the other side, in which the specific words of Scripture have all but lost their significance in many situations. May we take as truth the exhortation in Deuteronomy 11 to diligently recall, remember, and absorb the words of God, as we seek to worship Him in the significance of their meaning.