For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. —Proverbs 26:20
But the man left the woods, and the fire, and on May 5, 2007, his abandoned campfire ignited a fire in the Superior National Forest of northern Minnesota that would burn 75,000 acres (118 square miles total) of timberland, destroy 150 buildings, and cause more than $10 million in damage before it was done. The fire burned for a week and cost an additional $11 million to put out.
The trees and plants of the region had not yet leafed out. Without the green of leaves and plants, the dry forest litter, tree branches, and fuel-laden boles of evergreen trees burned ferociously unhindered. Winds pushed the fire west and then north. Even though 75,000 acres were burned in the US, nearly half the total damage of this one fire was in northwestern Ontario, Canada, as the fire jumped from island to island and across waterways in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The fire, pushed by the wind and aided by a drier winter than normal, burned on the dead and dry bodies of trees that had blown down in the summer of 1994.
A match lit the wood. A fire lit the woods. And the forest burned because the fuel of dry dead trees was readily available. However, in the official analysis of the fire, the Forest Service report notes that where firefighters and forest managers had previously burned out the dead wood from the blowdown, the Ham Lake fire burned less intensely and was more quickly brought under control and snuffed out. In other words, where there was no wood to fuel the fire, the fire went out.
Where firefighters actively reduced the fuel load, the fire was easily controlled and put out. James 3:5-6 remind us, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.” Proverbs 26:20 points out what we have already said, “For lack of wood the fire goes out,” but it also points out what we are now saying, “and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.”
You want to know the best way to end (and to avoid) a quarrel? Remove the fuel. Keep your mouth shut. What you hear, don’t repeat. Don’t get involved in what doesn’t concern you. Don’t take up the offenses of others and don’t be so easily offended yourself. Don’t talk about what you don’t know, and be very, very slow to talk about what you do know. Practice self-control in the moment and genuine, Christ-empowered love at all times. Don’t provide fuel for the fire.
The only times I can think of when Jesus spoke out loud what he knew of the secret intentions and actions of others, he spoke directly to the guilty and offered them mercy, and grace, and compassion as a means for heart transformation. He did not fuel the fire of conflict. He fed the fire of humility that leads to forgiveness and devotion. He did not whisper behind their backs, making his knowledge a burden for others to bear. He opened the door to new life by speaking directly to those concerned with an eye to their redemption.
So let it be with us. “For lack of wood the fire goes out and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.”
How would you rate yourself in this area? Are gossip and “whispering” a temptation for you?
Can you think of someone you have wrongly accused or gossiped about? Have you gone to the Lord in repentance for fueling the fire of discord with sinful speech?
In what ways can you build up and encourage one another in the way you speak?