“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” (James 3:5)
James is a practical person whose writing is full of descriptive, helpful images. In this passage about wise speech, he talks about training horses, steering ships, sparking forest fires, taming animals, testing springs of water, and comparing fruit trees. The variety of images here helps us to explore the importance of wise speech from several angles.
Perhaps you have noticed how even a simple phrase that’s out of order or misunderstood in a conversation or on social media can bring a painful and immediate backlash that breaks trust and disrupts relationships. It’s like a great forest fire that’s ignited by a small but poorly timed spark. Sometimes it may feel safer to say nothing at all in order to steer clear of trouble, but the message in James is that our pure speech is needed to create Christlike community.
Forestry experts will sometimes say that a forest fire can be necessary — to break seed pods open and to feed soil with the nutrients of ashes. Big, difficult conversations can also be necessary at times, but we still need to be wise. Our speech shouldn’t be about building up our own reputation as clever critics or about taking sides and being divisive. The only way to know what really needs to be said is to remain rooted and connected to Christ through the Spirit and the Word.
Lord, it can be hard to know what to say sometimes. There’s so much controversy and pain in the world, and we don’t want to make things worse by saying the wrong thing. Help us to know how and when to speak so that our words can bring peace and healing. Amen.