The Tongue is a Fire

Dwight Oswald Headshot

October 1, 2020 ()


James, using descriptive metaphorical language describes the tongue as a fire (Ja. 3:6). The "tongue is a fire" means it is potentially dangerous and destructive as he just illustrated in verse 5 when he said, "See how great a forest a little fire kindles!" James also says that the tongue "is set on fire by hell." (Ja. 3:6) This is perhaps the strongest thing ever stated about the tongue.

The word translated as hell is the Greek word Gehenna. Gehenna was the DUMP just outside of Jerusalem where the fires continually burned rubbish. This word Gehenna is used 12 times in the NT with 11 of those times being used by the Lord Himself in the gospels. The only other time it is used is found in James 3:6. When Jesus spoke of the eternal place of punishment (hell) He used this word “Gehenna” and perhaps pointed out to the south of Jerusalem to the city dump where the fires continually burned (cf. Mt. 5:22; 10:28; Mk. 9:43-48). What Jesus called Gehenna in the gospels is called “the lake of fire” in the book of Revelation (cf. Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15).

Hell (Gehenna) is the place prepared for the devil and his angels (cf. Mt. 25:41). It is thought therefore that “hell” as used in James 3:6 is really a synonym for Satan and his demons. A tongue set on fire by hell is that which is an instrument of Satan fulfilling “hells” purpose (cf. Mt. 16:23; Eph. 2:2; 1 Jn. 5:19). Amazingly, even the children of God can have a tongue “set on fire by hell”. When Peter rebuked the Lord for the idea that He would be killed and raised the third day, in that moment his tongue was set on fire by hell. Jesus said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me” (Mt. 16:23).

James points out that all created creatures have been tamed (controlled) but that no one can tame the tongue! The tongue "is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." (Ja. 3:7-8) The tongue is out of control and dangerous! Way of proportion to its size it causes immeasurable damage! Only God can control the tongue! We need help on this! It's too much for us. James says "we all stumble in many things" and then says "if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body." (Ja. 3:2) The tongue is our greatest challenge! Only the perfectly mature (with God's help) can control it. And yet James just stated that "we all stumble in many ways." No one ever gains total mastery over it until we get to glory. There is always DANGER with the tongue!

D.L. Moody said, "I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man I have ever met." And we might add that we have more trouble with the small member of our tongue than with any other member in our body.

The world is set on "hell fire" by the tongue! Constantly more fires are being set. In contrast we as God's people are not to contribute to the flames. As James said, "My brethren, these things ought not to be so." (Ja. 3:10) God's people are to be governed by God's wisdom from above which seeks to use the tongue to a wholesome end (cf. Ja. 3:17). There are those who have a harvest of righteousness and others who burn the place down with their tongue. One allows God to control the tongue, the other has a tongue "set on fire by hell." Remember only with God's help can you and I prevent the spread of HELL FIRE.

James 3:17–18 (NKJV)
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Psalm 141:3 (NKJV)
3 Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.

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The Tongue is a Fire