September 18, 2020
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
Have you ever been in the shower or drifting off to sleep, and thought of the perfect comeback for an argument that happened earlier in the day? Maybe you thought of the perfect words to cut your boastful coworker down to size. Maybe you thought of the best way to defend yourself against an aggressive boss. Or maybe you thought of a killer parting shot as your spouse or boyfriend left the room in a huff. Even when we don’t get the last word, we think of ways we could get the last word in.
Here’s the problem with that thinking: it only works in the movies. A lawyer decimates a witness on the stand. A salesman has the perfect pitch to land the big sale. The nerdy guy manages to outsmart the jock and win the girl. Movies have one significant advantage over our real world relationships. They don’t have to show the salesman having to build long term trust with a valued client. They don’t have to show the inevitable conflict between the sharp-tongued nerd and his girlfriend. After the verbal KO, the credits roll and they never have to answer the question, “What happened next?” You and I don’t have that same privilege. There are no outtakes after an argument. No credits roll after you get in a screaming match with your teenager. We have to live with the consequences of those words, even if they are the perfectly executed comeback.
This is why James describes our words as a fire. Burning words don’t just stop when you hang up the phone, leave the room, or block someone on social media. They continue to smolder and scorch in your life, and in the life of someone else. The only way to put out that fire is to combat it with words of peace. As the Bible says in Proverbs 15,
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Until you stop trying to have the last word or executing a cutting comeback, the conflict and anger will continue to grow. The next time you are in a conflict, whether at home, at work, or in the grocery store, try to speak a gentle answer to the other person’s hurt or anger. By the way, phrases like “I’m sorry you are so immature that you got mad” is not a gentle answer. Phrases like, “It seems like I’ve made you really angry. That wasn’t my intention. Please forgive me.” or “I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. How can we work together on this?” are gentle answers. You would be amazed at what a difference those words can make.