“A Man may make a Remark –
In itself – a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature – lain –
Let us divide – with skill –
Let us discourse – with care –
Powder exists in Charcoal –
Before it exists in Fire -”
My wife recently shared this poem with me recently, and I found it to be a good reminder of the power of words. Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov 18:21), and James says that the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity (James 3:6). We ought to be careful not to sin with our tongue. Dividing with skill and discoursing with care is certainly important, and disciples of Jesus Christ are obliged to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9).
This is not to say that our remarks should never cause a stir. Words can offend without being sinful. Indeed, telling the sober truth often offends and sparks fuses. Consider the first sermon of the God-Man at Nazareth (Luke 4:16ff.). Jesus’s words ignited the anger of the Jews in the synagogue and they led Him to the brow of the hill to cast him over. What was that word? He claimed that Israel was a hardhearted people that would not listen to the prophets sent to them. While the words of Elijah the prophet were received by a Sidonian widow and a Syrian soldier, they were largely rejected by the ancestors of those in the synagogue. They proved to be the true children of their fathers as they led Jesus to the brow of a hill to cast him over. They would not accept his words.
Another incendiary discourse is Jesus’s claim in John 8. His argument in John 8 centers on the fact that He is the unique Messenger of the Father (OT–Angel of the LORD). Although Jesus describes Himself as “I AM” twice in the chapter without their catching it (8:24, 28), Jesus makes the incendiary claim: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus’s clear claim to deity ignites the anger of the Jews, who pick up stones to stone him. John 10 tells a similar story.
While I think the poet’s words reflect an important ethic found in Scripture regarding our words, we must not think that a situation where there is no argument and no disagreement is necessarily healthy. Yes, we must take care in discourse. Yes, we must be skillful in dividing. But truth must be set in the sunlight, and if that truth becomes a spark, so be it. Jesus is God in the flesh. May that truth set the world aflame.