I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this passage, heard it quoted and heard it preached. Somehow I’ve never noticed this little verse, though. The tongue sets the whole course of a person’s life on fire…wow.

I think usually sermons focus on the damage done to others by a person with an untamed tongue, and rightly so; the old saying about sticks and stones is about as wrong as it is possible to be – words can cause far deeper and more lasting, crippling damage than mere sticks and stones ever could.

Yet not only does a person’s malicious, snide, careless talk burn his or her victims, it sets the whole course of the speaker’s life on fire, too.

How so?

I think partly it’s because we can shape our own minds by the things we say. Although, clearly, what you say comes from your mind, the act of saying it seems somehow to reinforce the original thought and allow it to fester. On top of which, once it is said, people will either agree with you, which will enforce it again, or will disagree and ask you to strengthen your case, in which case the simple statement will be expanded and reinforced all over again.

In addition, we tend to live up (or down) to people’s expectations of us, so if we become known as the person who can always come up with the witty put-down, we tend to play up to that, and our words start to slash and burn their way through every situation. (I know: that used to be me at uni. It was fun and gave me a buzz, but I eventually realised it wasn’t the kind of person I wanted to be. Fortunately, life changes happened; I graduated, moved on, and started afresh with people who didn’t know that side of me, so it was easier to lay it down and start again.)

So the words you say seem to shape both people’s expectations of the kind of person you are and your own brain-patterns. They set your life on fire by blazing a trail before you, and if you’re not careful, you find it’s not the trail you wanted to follow.