In 1999, while serving at a church in the Metro Toronto area, my wife had to do a hospital visit. At the same time, just after she parked the vehicle, a Bell Canada repairman was working in a switching station in Metro Toronto, and dropped his metal hammer. The metal hammer set off an electrical reaction so profound that it went through the phone lines and shut down bank machines, computer consoles and phone systems from central Ontario and in isolated spots all the way to Victoria, BC. This happened as year 2000 preparations were underway to save us from power-outages and system failures that would have left us in trouble in the winter!
What is a hammer to millions of consumers? By itself it is a small thing! Dropped in a switching box its impact is enormous. My wife couldn’t get money from the cash machine to pay when the electronic reader wouldn’t read her card. She couldn’t get out of the hospital.
See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire. And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.
James 3:5b-6 NASB
Jan Sibelius was a great Finnish composer from the beginning of the 20th century. Sibelius knew about the power of the tongue to create or to destroy. One of his music students was giving a concert and it was poorly received by the critics. Sibelius read the reviews and realized that his student was going to be discouraged, to the point of giving up. So he walked up to him, put his arm around him and said, “Remember son, there is no city in the world where they have erected a statue to a critic!”
Wise advice from a master...
Sadly, Sibelius didn’t take his own advice. After a concert in which one of his symphonies was played, he heard some critics talking at an evening party. They were indicating in a mocking tone that his musical style was dated—old fashioned.
From the day of that party to his dying day, Sibelius never wrote another note!
An idle comment mentioned at an evening party, and a genius found himself so wounded that he never used his genius again!
The tongue can build people up, or it can destroy. It can be a boon to advance society, or it can be the thing that tears down the labor of years. James makes the point that the tongue is a delight and a downer, a source of life and death, praise and bitterness, blessing and cursing. That is the reality; the calling is something else. The use of our tongues is mixed to such an extent that it is well nigh impossible to control it—but control it we must, because the tongue is the key to passing through life successfully.
A hammer took out millions of consumers. An idle comment can be a wrecking ball to a genius. When leveled at a child, it can destroy a child’s esteem or raise a genius! God is calling us to a controlled tongue, to a single-minded focus in our speech.
© David Chotka 2020