Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 16, 1967
NUMBER 44, PAGE 8b-9a

"Behold How Great A Matter A Little Fire Kindleth"

Harry E. Ozment

October 8, 1871 was a fateful day in American History -- the city of Chicago burned to the ground. In that disaster three hundred people were killed and property valued at $196,000,000 was destroyed. Do you know how all of this started? Legend has it that while a boy was milking a cow (that belonged to a Mrs. O'Leary) in a barn on 558 DeKolven Street the cow kicked over a small lantern. Oh how small that blaze must have seemed at first! But it took years to rebuild Chicago because of this "small blaze".

James likens the tongue to a fire in Jas.3:5-6: "Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell." To illustrate what James is meaning, I want us to consider some of the sins of the tongue.

Anger has always been a problem to humanity. Many a friendship has been broken, many a murder has been committed because of an angry word. Some people, proud of the fact that they have a temper, say, "It's my proud blood" -- as if they were thoroughbreds of the human race! Others, manifesting intellectual ignorance or dishonesty, attribute their bad temper to "nerves." How ridiculous -- making an infirmity out of sin! God abhors and condemns anger. Jesus said in Matt. 5:21-22a, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." If God Almighty were the judge sitting on some court benches today, I wonder how many of us would be sitting in an electric chair waiting for the current to snuff out our lives! James says in Jas. 1:19-20, "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth."

Profanity and foul talk is also an outstanding problem in the everyday life of this world. Most Christians refrain from the four-letter words thinking that this is the least they can do to show the world that they are disciples of Christ. But what about some slang expressions that one hears all the time -- even from, yes, Christians? Without going into a detailed analysis of slang expressions, suffice it to say that some are euphemisms of words which take the Lord's name in vain. The English language is adequate to express anyone's thought on any subject without that person resorting to the base talk of the ignorant. Paul said in Eph. 4:29, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers." And Jesus said in Matt. 5:37, "But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." It would be a pity indeed if Satan welcomed us into the depths of hell because of an unforgiven "heck" or "darn.' "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth."

Criticism is a sin of the tongue which has caused a great deal of hard feeling. Jesus said in Matt. 7:15: "Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." Now don't mistake what Jesus was saying. He was not condoning sin, nor does he want us to condone sin. What he does want us to do is to put our own souls in a pleasing relationship with God, and then convert others from sin. And I'm convinced that this is what a great many Christians have not done. Why do you suppose that more Christians today do not take courage and warn others of their sins? Why do you think that more Christians today do not talk to the unfaithful church member, tell him he is in sin, and persuade him to repent? I'm sure this is the reason in some cases: they're afraid that the unfaithful member would retort, "You hypocrite! You have some things in your life you need to correct before you come running to me. In some areas of your life you're not even trying to live the life of a Christian." Brethren, why can't we walk up to the unfaithful brother, take his hand in ours and say, "Join with me in an effort to follow Christ our Lord. Repent of your faults, as I have mine, and let's walk together the narrow path to heaven, helping each other out of the pitfalls along the way." Hasten the day when we can do this instead of engaging in destructive criticism of others. "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth."

Grumbling is another sin of the tongue. Common as it is, God still condemns it. In Phil. 2:14, Paul says, "Do all things without murmurings and disputings." This epistle is called by some the "joy epistle." Yet did you know that it was written by Paul as he lay in a dark, damp, rodent-infested Roman dungeon? Yes, God expected Paul, as he expects us even today, to refrain from grumbling. If anyone had a right to grumble, it was Jesus as he was on trial. Innocent of all crimes and sin, he had to stand before his prosecutors and listen to their kangaroo court tactics against him. He stood before a crowd, and when the coward Pilate asked what evil this man had done, the enraged mob only answered, "Crucify him!" He was spit upon. Men placed a crown of thorns on his head, took a stick, and beat those thorns into his skull. He was taken out to the whipping post and beaten with the whip that had actually killed some before him. He was forced to carry his heavy cross until he fainted under its weight. Nails were driven through his hands and feet, affixing him to the tree. While he was hanging on the cross, suffering indescribably pain, people passed by and laughed and ridiculed the Son of Almighty God. All through this -- did Jesus grumble or mutter even once? Listen to what he did: "Then said Jesus, Father forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Lk. 23:34). Friends, why can't we let Christ be our Pattern in life -- let's stop grumbling and start manifesting more love in our speech. "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth."

Lying is a sin of the tongue which is abhorred by God and by virtually all people-but is practiced by a surprising number in the world and also in the church. Of course, I believe all of us realize that God condemns lying: "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him." (Col. 3:9-10) I believe that all of us know the eternal destiny of liars: "... All liars shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. "(Rev. 21:8) Many, even in the church, fail to blush at some of the lies which they have told to their own advantage. And, furthermore, you'd be surprised at the number of parents who actually teach their children to lie. One day, the Fuller Brush man knocks at sister Doe's door. Sister Doe, engrossed in a television soap opera, doesn't want even to talk to the poor salesman, so she instructs little Jimmy to tell the man at the door that Mommy's not home. Now when little Jimmy told that lie he wasn't hurting the Fuller Brush salesman -oh, the salesman might have lost a $5.00 sale, but he'll recover! Jimmy hurt himself, and his mother was responsible. Children don't inherit the sin of lying -- they are taught it, and all too often by their parents. No -- don't sugar-coat it with terms such as "white lie" or "stretching the truth." Truth is constant -- it cannot be stretched. Rather, call it what it is -- a lie that, if not repented of, will send one's soul to a burning hell. "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth."

Gossiping and busy-bodying is a very prevalent sin of the tongue. The wisest of all men (excepting Christ) said, "A whisper separateth chief friends." (Prov.16:28) And no truer words were ever spoken. Idle tales can come between friends and can even break homes. As for me, I'm letting no cheap busybody and gossiper stick their Pinocchio nose into my affairs that do not concern them. For if they do, I just might find my family a shambles. It's happened before, and I don't want my family to be a repeat performance. Peter admonished, "Let none of you suffer as a... busybody in other men's matters." (I Pet. 4:15)

Friends, these things are written in love. I'm not perfect -- I have a tongue also. I heard a saying once: "As I point my finger at you, my thumb is pointing back at me." Let us all strive to let Christ be our Pattern and Master of our lives, and refrain from these sins of the tongue.