Kindling A Fire

After years of using inflammatory political rhetoric, it seems only recently that some politicians, news reporters, and celebrities have decided inflammatory political rhetoric is bad. Some politicians are now pleading that this inflammatory speech — of the same type they have been using for literally decades — should be toned down because it has incited some people to violence and lives are now being lost because some are so stirred up by such speech. As is sometimes noted in an old adage, this is the pot calling the kettle black.

      The dubious pleas of politicians, who have personally and corporately used inflammatory political rhetoric for decades, to have others tone down the rhetoric is disingenuous, at best, and hypocritical through and through; some of these same politicians who decry the inflammatory political rhetoric depend on it every election cycle to stir up their constituency and disparage the opposition in an effort to somehow look better and, of course, to gain control and power. Pardon me if I am a little skeptical of their motives. But, their hypocrisy aside, the pleas should have been made long ago, and the inflammatory rhetoric should have never been initiated.

      James reminds us, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity” (Jas. 3:5, 6). Similarly, the wise writer told us long ago, “As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Prov. 26:21). When you have a contentious man [which would describe most politicians today], and a tongue that is uncontrolled, one could only expect trouble and strife as a result.

      The problem is, with all the inflammatory talk going back and forth between politicians, and echoed by radio and television talk shows and supposed 'news' sources — all within the public eye and ear — it seems society, too, has plunged into the common practice of inflammatory rhetoric, speech, and what might be a stretch to be called dialogue. Even simple and non-controversial Internet articles and posts seem to bring out the worst in people nowadays, to the point we have anonymous bloggers or commentators insulting, intimidating, or even threatening people they don't even know, or just simply throwing in an inflammatory comment just to draw attention to themselves [even as they seek to remain anonymous].

      The overabundance of hate-filled words used today is in no way uniting us, and in no way paints us as loving or caring. Especially if anyone claims to be a Christian, such words should never be associated with one who makes such a claim! Sadly, though, I have read and heard far too many words from some who profess to be Christians that show exactly the opposite: no love, no caring, and an apparent lack of self-control; the result is, these words kindle a fire of contention, ill-will, and hatred for those speaking such words, and a rejection of everything they are supposed to be standing for — including God and Christ and anything religious. Surely, we can do better! Surely, we must do better! We must, because God's word says we must. Consider just a few reasons why we must be more careful with our words:

      Words Are Powerful. The wise writer tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov. 18:21). Words are powerful, and whether the words are good or bad, we will reap the consequences of those words; if we choose good words, we will see positive results, but if we choose hateful words, harsh words, or false words, we will suffer the consequences of those words, too.

      Again, the wise writer speaks wisdom regarding our words: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Words can sometimes change one's life! Bullying words have been the motivation for some to end their own lives; harsh words have been the cause for many children to have low self-esteem and anxiety; thoughtless words have caused many to never seek the Lord; demeaning and hurtful words have been behind many divorces and destroyed families; boastful and selfish words have been the cause of some wars. On the other hand, soothing words have calmed anger and averted certain conflicts; encouraging words have inspired many to do greater things; and positive words can change a child's whole outlook on life. Use your words carefully!

      Our Words Will Judge Us. It seems that many today think nothing of speaking harsh, spiteful, and inflammatory words, often done as some way of 'winning' an argument or merely trying to sound clever or witty — or just for attention's sake. The Internet has emboldened many to sit behind their screens and write words they would never say to someone's face or if someone knew who they really were, but that anonymity has given far too many a false sense of security. Some anonymous commenters have been revealed and faced severe consequences, but there is a greater consequence we should all be aware of: the final Judgment.

      Jesus tells us, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36, 37). The words we speak or write are never anonymous, no many how many layers of digital protection we think we have, for God always knows. In fact, the psalmist told us many years ago, “For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether” (Psa. 139:4). The fact is, God always knows what we say or write. Use your words carefully!

      Some Words Are Not Fitting. It is not surprising that those of the world use harsh and thoughtless words, but such language [spoken or written] should never be associated with the people of God. Paul reminds us, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Eph. 5:4); you see, it's not just our behavior, but also our words, that tell the world whom we follow. We do the faith and our Lord a great disservice when we use words not befitting those who believe, and do sometimes irreparable harm.

      As the people of God, we can't be talking out of both sides of the mouth, either; the world will see only hypocrisy if we speak loving words or the truth of God's word on one occasion, but later hear us speak hateful, harsh, or filthy words. As James wrote, regarding the tongue, “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (Jas. 3:9, 10). Use your words carefully!

            With all these things in mind, let us make a greater effort to make a positive difference with our words, whether written or spoken. Don't be quick to get in a word if it has potential to destroy your influence or bring shame on the name of the Lord. Stop and think about how those words will affect others but, more importantly, how you will be judged by your Lord one day.        — Steven Harper