It also had a secondary effect. The Forestry Service suddenly realized that, with all the able-bodied men away at war, fighting a forest fire, as was almost caused by the refinery’s proximity to Los Padres National Forest, would be next to impossible. A campaign to stop preventable fires ultimately resulted in Smokey the Bear, a fictional mascot for the Forest Service. The first poster featuring this beloved symbol, drawn with ranger hat, belted blue jeans, and a shovel, reminding us that “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” appeared on August 9, 1944, and he has been with us ever since.
I wonder if we don’t need such a symbol to remind us of the spiritual fires we cause. And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell, James 3:6. I ran out of room writing down the sins caused by the tongue: it breathes lie, it sows discord, it spreads slander, it teaches false doctrine, it tempts men to sin, it kindles strife, it destroys reputations, it splits churches—need I go on?
So how do we prevent those fires? By refusing to listen, by rebuking those who try to set them, by putting them out with a liberal dose of Truth. I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve, Rom 16:17,18.
Do you understand exactly how evil some of these sins are? From the time of the Law of Moses, gossip has been associated with bearing false witness, a capital offense, Lev 19:16. The Proverb writer tells us that God hates he who sows discord among brethren, Prov 6:19, something nearly impossible to do with anything other than words. As for liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death, Rev 21:8.
Paul also makes it plain in passages like Romans 1:32 that God considers us as guilty as the ones who do those things when we “consent with those who practice them.” It isn’t enough not to slander, not to lie, not to sow discord or spread false teaching. We are not only not to listen but to actively rebuke as well--have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them, Eph 5:11. God expects us to prevent the fires that would ruin his people’s souls and the unity of his body.
Maybe it’s time we borrowed Smokey the Bear and posted him around our meetinghouses and next to the telephones and computers in our homes. Only we can prevent the fires set by a malicious tongue, whether it is ours or not.
For lack of wood the fire goes out; and where there is no whisperer, contention ceases. As coals are to hot embers, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife, Prov 26:20,21.