2018 was one of the worst years ever for wildfires in California. Multiple fires blazed throughout the state this summer, but the Mendocino Complex fire, sparked in early August just north of San Francisco, destroyed over 280,000 acres in just eleven days. It was the largest recorded wildfire in modern California history.
When battling wildfires, fire control teams often utilize the “fireline” or “firebreak” strategy. In order to halt the progression of a wildfire, firemen will cut a perimeter around the blaze to remove flammable vegetation from its path. When the winds are low, this strategy greatly hinders the fire from spreading because it simply runs out of fuel once it meets a cleared section of land.
Christians should be well known for their fireline work in the area of personal relationships. Proverbs says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (Prov 26:20). Gossip, slander, cruel jokes, and any other kind of reputation-destroying, fight-starting, relationship-harming communication should stop dead in its tracks when it reaches a Christian.
Like these California wildfires destroy land and property, the fires of gossip and slander devour people. When unkind or untrue words about another person are allowed to burn unabated, they end up ruining people’s relationships and wrecking their reputations. Suspicions grow between friends and wrong impressions about others are allowed to spread among a community. It’s no wonder why James said that our tongues are set of fire by hell itself (James 3:5-6).
When we refuse to entertain gossip or slander, we cut off the fire’s fuel supply. Yes, when winds are strong, it’s possible that a fire may jump a fireline. When it comes to slander, we can’t ultimately control whether or not an unkind word will eventually make its way into a relationship or a community.
Nevertheless, it is our Christian responsibility to do what we can to clear our hearts and lives of any relationally-flammable material. When someone attempts to stoke the fires of gossip by divulging unflattering or patently false information about another person, heed the call of Proverbs 26:20 and put that blaze to rest.