Have you ever experienced a "temper-fire"? Over the last couple of years, the Arizona forests have had their share of challenging fires. Some ignited by man, others ignited by nature, but all damaging in their effects. Fire has a way of "catching" and "taking hold" quicker than we can imagine. A few week's ago, we had a fire in our neighborhood. The entire home was lost to the ravages of the licking flames. The destruction of one spark resulted in the complete devastation of the home. Fire is indeed not a thing to be taken lightly, especially when it is a "temper-fire".
A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. (Proverbs 15:1 MSG)
Temper-fires are those moments in time when we put on display the heat of anger - sudden outbursts - sparks of passion which can "catch" quicker than we realize. One thing to keep in mind as we begin this study is the condition of mind which is behind this kind of "fire". First of all, it is a habit - not a one time deal - but a well-practiced, frequently occurring way of responding. Second, it is a disposition - it is our characteristic attitude. In other words, we come to be known by the impact of this attitude. Not sure about you, but this is not the way I want to be known!
Our disposition is the prevailing or dominant tendency of our spirit (that which animates us). Where the spirit goes, so does our emotion. Let emotions rule and you end up seeing flames where only a spark may have been! When we say a metal is "tempered", we are referring to a process of adding carbon to steel, so as to make it harder. The purpose of adding carbon to the steel is to make it "abrasive". Hmmm....I wonder if it would be okay to think of our "temper" as making us "hard" and a little "abrasive"? When we begin to see the influence of the "tempering" process, we might just want to see our "temper" become a thing of the past!
Solomon compared the "sharp tongue" as "kindling" a temper "fire". Hmmm...the way metal is tempered is through fire. The way sharpness is produced is by making the metal harder and harder. So, take this down a notch and we will realize the "harder tongued" are probably finding themselves in and out of the fire a lot! Tempering the metal is a process of heating up, cooling down, and heating up again. Isn't this an accurate description of a man's temper? It heats us, quickly cools, then reheats again - almost without warning!
What are the attributes of a sharp tongue? One characteristic is criticism. The sharp-tongued are those who hurl criticisms quicker than compliments. A long time ago, when facing criticism which was unkind and really hurt, someone told me "it takes one to know one". In other words, the one criticizing me actually struggled with the same thing I did! Only they were unable to see it, or admit it! Now, this did not bring me much comfort at the time, but in the years which have followed, I now consider criticism differently. Criticism is an action of passing judgment - something scripture quickly warns us not to engage in. There is only one judge - God. He is the only one who can see the "big picture", so he is the only one who can weigh the intentions of the heart and know if a man is right or wrong. Since criticism is a form of passing judgment without all the facts, it stands to reason how this can act as a "spark" which results in an all-out fire!
Another characteristic of the sharp tongue is bitterness. This attribute is often not "seen" as much as it is "heard". Let me explain. Bitterness has a way of manifesting in our words first - actions follow. There is a stinging, almost piercing effect to bitter words. They often display hurt or betrayal. There is an intensity to them which almost comes across as hostile - maybe not toward you, but toward someone in the person's past or present who has done a number on them! Bitterness doesn't develop in a moment - it takes a period of time to take hold. You know, a fire doesn't just spring up - it takes time to take hold, but once it has a hold - watch out!
One last characteristic to consider is the tendency of the sharp tongue to be sarcastic. Sarcasm is a form of "cutting words" which really can be masked behind other words. Regardless of how we try to mask the sarcasm, it mocks another. It conveys scorn and contempt. Now, think of the fire for a moment. As a Girl Scout, I was taught to never "disrespect" the fire. In other words, be ever aware of the glowing embers. No fire was ever completely out just by kicking a little dirt over it. You had to smother it out! Sarcasm can continue to do great damage when it is "smoldering" and just waiting for the moment to take hold again - spouting out those cutting words as easily as a fire creates its cutting flames!
No wonder Solomon warns us of the sharp tongue! No wonder he likens its effect to a "fire-starter". Remember this, as well - you cannot go in and out of the flames too many times without becoming affected by the flames! At first, you might just bear the tell-traces of the fire, such as the smell of the smoke on your clothes. In time, you will begin to see evidence of the charring effect of the flames. Go in and out of the flames long enough and you will eventually find yourself "converted" by the flames - into something which gives hardness - carbon! Isn't carbon one of the main elements of coal? Don't we use goal to make even more flames? Hmmm...seems to be a cycle here, huh?
Just some perspective on the "temper-fire" we might be setting if we are given to a sharp tongue. If we aren't the one with the sharp tongue, we likely know someone with one. Either way, God can douse the flames of the fire, but first he has to be join the "fire-fighting" team! You cannot do it alone - he must "captain" our fire brigade! Just sayin!