Point of Origin
by Pastor Aaron Adame
At the end of summer, 2017, when my family and I were first moving to Oregon, we were excited to get out of the smog and pollution of Southern California. However, when we arrived, the air was thick with smoke. The Gorge was ablaze from the Eagle Creek Fire. The point of origin revealed that the fire was started by a 15-year-old boy who was playing with fireworks during a no-burn season. Needless to say, a small “innocent” spark turned the forest into an inferno that lasted three months until deemed fully contained by fire authorities. By the end, fifty thousand acres of the most beautiful and scenic country in the state had been scorched. Waterfalls and hiking trails have yet to be reopened—and some never will as the topography has completely changed. Areas were still smoldering nine months later.
I was reminded of this tragic situation when reading through the book of James and how he speaks of the tongue.
“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:5–6 ESV).
In this chapter, James is speaking on the dangerous activity of interpersonal communication. Gathering his insight from the wisdom literature found in the book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, along with his own experience, he warns his reader of the destructive power of words poorly spoken. But his goal is not simply to pay attention to our words, but instead, to find the point of origin—the place from which these words are conceived.
Jesus, the brother of James, identifies the point of origin for us. In Matthew 12, when indicting the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, he says these words to them: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his treasure brings forth good, and the evil person, out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (vs. 34b-35 ESV). The point of the origin for fiery words is the human heart!
Jesus never settles with moralistic conformity—He doesn’t just want to change our behavior— Jesus always goes for the heart! To be more cliché: The heart of the matter is always a matter of the heart. Therefore, Jesus’ point is this: If your heart is good, you will speak good; if your heart is bad (meaning it isn’t sanctified by Christ), then bad will come forth. James picks up on this same idea with a metaphor: “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (James 3:11–12 ESV).
This is helpful to think about because, after all, who can truly know or judge the heart? Only God can. However, we can at least take an inventory of the heart by the words that burst forth from it. We can’t see the roots below the surface, but we can see the fruit hanging from the limbs.
Flowing from this, I want to think for a moment about the kind of communication that can spark a wildfire of destruction. I also want to share some ideas of the kind of communication that should mark the people of God.
This article isn’t long enough to discuss all the kinds of poor communication, so let’s just focus on one of the worst—Gossip! In Proverbs 6, we see listed several things the Lord hates, many of them relate to gossip in some way, which ultimately causes division. Here are four quick thoughts about gossip:
Don’t go looking for it. Sadly, there are some people who love to fill their bellies with some delicious gossip. So they ask around, and they eavesdrop to get what they’re looking for.
Don’t welcome it when it comes. Sometimes gossip comes into our lives without us even looking for it. Someone may share something with us, thinking it may be what we want to know. What we need to do in these situations when it does come our way is just walk out of the conversation. Once we walk away, we need to forget we heard anything. Gossip cannot be heard as credible information; it does us no good to store it away in our minds.
Call it out when we see it. When gossip comes your way, and you have the relationship with the person to speak out, say something. Admonish them to not speak in those ways and instead go to the right person or people to handle the issue.
Don’t spread it yourself. This is an obvious point. If you are going to avoid gossip, it starts with you.
James admonishes us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. In communication, if we take a moment to think about what we are going to say, we might avoid destructive words. T.H.I.N.K. is a good acrostic to use as a filter for communication.
True. The first thing to consider is whether the words you are speaking are true. Now this is hard because sometimes truth is confused with perception and/or perspective. But that doesn’t necessarily make it fully true. Make sure that your communication is true in that it rightly represents the full picture.
Helpful. Even though we may be saying something true, it might not be helpful for the person(s) we are sharing with. Make sure it is beneficial information for the hearer.
Inspiring. Our words as believers are supposed to be seasoned with salt and only for what is to build up, not tear down. This doesn’t mean we can’t say hard things to the people we know well. All it means is that those words are meant to uplift, not tear down.
Necessary. People have a lot of information, but not all of the information is necessary. The details may not be needed and might cloud the point. Furthermore, saying something that isn’t necessary to move forward might put an unnecessary hurdle in the situation.
Kind. Tone matters. Oftentimes it isn’t just what you say, but how you say it. Are your words kind, both in what you are saying and how you are saying it?
Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV).
In the home, in the workplace, and especially in the church, God desires for His people to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit with self-control over the way we speak. When a fire is going, we can’t fight fire with fire, or everyone will get burned. Instead, we fight fire with a cool glass of water, speaking kindly and graciously.