My closing charge to the congregation yesterday at Trinity keyed off of the image Peter Leithart used in his sermon of Isaiah as a “fire-breather” (Is. 6). Having touched his lips with a coal from the altar, Isaiah became like one of the seraphim, one of the fire breathers of God who is commissioned to bring the fire of God’s judgment on Jerusalem, so that they might be consumed and refined. And this imagery certainly seems to be taken up at Pentecost, coals of fire for every believer, and suddenly everyone is speaking in tongues, declaring the mighty works of God.
But as I was meditating on the “fire-breather” imagery it struck me that James picks up this picture as well only as a warning (Js. 3:5-6). The tongue is able to kindle great fires with only a few little sparks. This means that as image bearers and renewed image bearers, there is some sense in which our mouths are always on fire, we always breathe fire. This goes back to the idea that words are always magical and powerful.
The only question is: Whose fire are we breathing? Whose magic are we speaking? The Devil is a dragon who breathes the fire of division and deception and bitterness, but God is a Dragon who breathes the life-giving fire of the Spirit. Our prayer must be to be filled with that fire, that Spirit of life.
My charge (which was much more succinct than this post!) reminded the congregation that with Christmastime upon us, we will be spending a good bit of time with our families and friends, and there will be many words in the air, we will have much to say to one another. And the charge was to speak the fire of the Spirit, specifically I reminded them of the words of Peter, the original fire-breather at Pentecost:
“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Pet. 3:8-9)
May our words for our children, our wives and husbands, the neighbors, the grocery clerks, the TSA officials, our cranky and absurd relatives, may our words be seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6) and be filled with the fire of love (Song 8:6).