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David Otten: Shooting off your mouth without thinking is like setting a forest fire

 
By David Otten
Contributing writer
updated: 9/15/2021 4:09 PM

Greetings from Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.

James writes, "How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness." (James 3:5-6 ESV)

It many be hard to judge which is more destructive -- our tongues or our nation's 750-plus active forest wildfires.

It is hard not to agree with James when he writes, "The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell." (James 3:6 ESV)

Solomon also writes, "A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire. A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good." (Proverbs 16:27-29 ESV)

The Greek moralist Plutarch used an illustration of a runaway fire in describing the destructive and uncontrollable nature of loose speech. The childhood saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," is an attempt to defend against a bully. But those words still hurt and for many those words are etched permanently in their minds.

Our words and speech when used for evil violates the following commands: "You shall have no other gods." Something other than God has become our god when our words are used in an evil manner. "You shall not take the Lord's name in vain." Here God's name is blasphemed, or we use His name to curse, lie, cast magical spells, teach falsely, or we fail to pray. James again writes, "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so." (James 3:10)

The last commandment that we break with our tongue is "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." This includes lies, gossip, slander, belittling, insults, not keeping a neighbor's words confidential, failure to defend our neighbor's reputation, negligent and faulty journalism and falsely testifying in a court of law.

Families, churches, businesses, neighborhoods, our towns, and our nation have suffered because of the misuse of our tongues. It behooves us all to examine the speech we use. Good speech and listening ears can put out fires, create bridges, show honor and respect for both God and our fellow man.

Jesus rightly points out that the problem starts in the heart when He says, "But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person." (Matthew 15:18 ESV)

The heart -- not the tongue -- is needed to be fixed. In the cross the sins of our heart and tongue have been forgiven. All the evil you have spoken has been cleansed. In repentance the Holy Spirit creates a new heart in us that guides the tongue.

The Spirit by Word and sacrament maintains a life of repentance that bears the fruit of love that will be found in our words.

May the love of Christ rule your heart and guide your tongue.

• David Otten is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.