Over the last several years, the Arizona, California, and New Mexico forests have had their share of challenging fires. Some ignited by man, others ignited by nature, but all very 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 a neighboring area just outside of the town limits where I live. There were homes lost to the ravages of the licking flames - some for human dwelling, others for the creatures of the desert that made their sanctuary those scrub grasses, cacti, and now scarred juniper trees. The destruction of one spark resulted in the complete devastation of a huge area - leaving nothing but a 'fire scar'. Fire is indeed not a thing to be taken lightly, especially when it might be the result of the words we have spoken!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 our anger or misgiving - sudden outbursts - sparks of passion which can certainly "catch fire" quicker than we realize. One thing for us to keep in mind is the condition of the mind behind this kind of "fire". It could be it has become a habit - not a one time deal - but a well-practiced, frequently occurring way of responding to life events that don't go our way. These outbursts are really part of a person's disposition - it is our characteristic attitude when times get tough. It is important for us to realize we come to be known by the impact of the attitude we exhibit under pressure. Where the spirit goes, so do 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". 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". The way metal is tempered is through fire. The way sharpness is produced is by making the metal harder and harder. We will do well to 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 up, 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. Ever heard the adage - "it takes one to know one"? The one criticizing us might actually struggle with the same thing we do. They may be unable to see it, or admit it. 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". 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! The tendency of the sharp tongue to be sarcastic is another issue. Sarcasm is a form of "cutting words" which are usually masked behind other words. Regardless of how we try to mask the sarcasm, it mocks another. It conveys scorn and contempt. 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 God warns us of the sharp tongue! No wonder he likens its effect to a "fire-starter". Remember this - 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 coal to make even more flames? Anyone else seeing a repetitive cycle here? 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 joined by the "fire-fighting" team! You cannot do it alone - he must "captain" our fire brigade! Just sayin!