Recently, my husband volunteered to make Sunday lunch (not a common occurrence as, while he is more than capable in the kitchen, he lacks confidence). This was motivated primarily out of excitement around the idea of preparing a new recipe: Dragonbreath Chili, a fictional dish in the World of Warcraft universe, interpreted by Cassandra Reeder in “The Geeky Chef Cookbook” (I highly recommend it).
He labored over it for a number of hours, and I was so proud of him for all his work, cutting all the peppers (two habaneros, among others), onions and tomatoes. And the chili stayed true to its name. While it wasn’t an immediate and overwhelming blast of capsaicin burn, it was the kind of heat that goes right on past your tongue and sets the back of your mouth on fire once you’ve swallowed, making sure you remember what you ate long after it’s too late to do anything about it. That said, I would eat it many times over.
The dragon’s breath that I was now exhaling led me to think about the other ways that I breathe fire. While I don’t consider myself particularly talented at giving a visceral and obliterating tongue lashing, I am more than fluent in the art of sarcasm and veiled insults. When I’m angry, I prefer to be blunt about my thoughts on situations, openly declaring things ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb.’
Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. – James 3:4-6
Even if my words are factual, they can be harmful and inciting. Just think of the power that they have in general. God uses our words (and His) to do great and powerful things. For example:
- God created literally everything. (Genesis 1)
- Jesus curses the fig tree. (Matthew 21:18-21)
- Jesus heals the lame. (John 5)
- Balaam’s donkey talks to Balaam because its speech is so influential (Numbers 22:21-39)
With the power of God behind us, what human minds perceive as sounds that are only significant due to relative understanding, words take on a huge weight of significance. They carry enough power to throw mountains into the sea, given sufficient faith. (Matthew 21:18-21)
With that in mind, it is critical for us to tame our tongues and control our words. Because our words are the outpouring of our hearts, even when we pretend that they are just words, either said in jest or out of strong emotion, but are not sincere. Matthew 5:22 declares that our name-calling and anger will be subject to judgement. Just saying ‘you fool!’ subjects us to the fires of Hell! To God, who knows the depths of our hearts, our words are never just words; they are a reflection of our hearts.
During this recent election cycle, tongues of fire have been beyond plentiful. It’s been the most explosive and divisive I’ve ever seen, with insults hurled from both directions and vicious criticisms and accusations thrown at opposition in anger, especially after the results started coming in. So many are angry in defeat or cruelly bragging in victory.
Truly it is an ugly time in American history.
So why must we, when our emotions are so high, learn to control our tongues and hold back our dragon’s breath?
- Words hurt. Whether they are meant as a joke or said insincerely in anger, they hurt.
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. – Proverbs 12:18
To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. – Titus 3:2
- It reflects the actual condition of our hearts. As much as we want to deny these as the condition of our hearts, the truth is that a loving heart is incapable to producing unloving speech. Because we are to be engrafted into Christ (John 15:1-17), a branch can only produce the fruit of its vine, the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The fruit of the spirit do not include sarcasm or careless speech.
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:33-37
- Our words can defile us and make us spiritually unclean. Our unwholesome talk defiles us as individuals before God, because it reflects our hearts. As we know, God knows our hearts and judges us on the condition of our hearts.
“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” – Matthew 15:11
- Speaking in anger does not produce the righteousness of God. While there is certainly scriptural support for righteous anger (eg Jesus turning out the money-changers), this is a very dangerous path to pursue. We must make sure that, when we get angry, we do not ascribe righteousness to our anger where it doesn’t belong. Anger can easily and rapidly turn to wrath, to sin.
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. – Psalms 37:8
A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. – Proverbs 15:18
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. – James 1:19-20
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. – Proverbs 15:28
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. James 1:26
I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence.” – Psalm 39:1
Let us be vigilant in our speech, tame our tongues and hold back our dragonbreath.