Three Highly Contagious Diseases
I do not wish to diminish the critical nature of the current spread of the Coronavirus. Regardless of the statistical contrast between COVID-19 and other contagious viruses, lives have been lost. COVID-19 is particularly frightening because it involves unknowns and we do not, as yet, have a vaccine. We pray for those whose lives have been turned upside down by the Coronavirus, and we are saddened by those who have lost loved ones.
With these concerns in mind, I would also like to turn our attention to some highly contagious diseases found in the Bible. I don’t mean to alarm you, but we are all vulnerable, and those who are infected can suffer irreparable harm to themselves and others.
The contagious tongue. James writes, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” (James 3:5) The tongue, which represents the words we speak, can bless others with kindness. But it can also destroy others with things such as gossip, slander and complaints. I once heard a fable about a man who had trouble holding his tongue. An older, wiser man gave him a feather pillow and asked him to slice it open. When he did, the feathers were blown away by the wind. Then the older man asked the man with the tongue problem to put the feathers back in the pillow. He replied, “That is impossible! They have blown away and can’t possibly be put back.” The older man said, “That is correct. This is also true of the careless words we speak of others. Once they are spoken, they cannot be unspoken.” I shudder sometimes to think of how deadly our words can be. For this reason, we should always strive to say things that are “life-giving” to those around us.
Contagious yeast. Jesus warned His disciples against the yeast of the Pharisees. In this case, “yeast” represented the legalistic teaching of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6) as they prided themselves in keeping some portions of God’s Law while neglecting things such as love, mercy and justice. Later, the Apostle Paul spoke of the “yeast of malice and wickedness” (1 Corinthians 5:8). Yeast causes dough to “rise” or expand. Therefore, something that is akin to yeast starts small and grows large. We might think a little ungodliness won’t hurt anything, but sin has a way of expanding. Legalism, malice and wickedness can infect an entire community. If you don’t believe me, spend a little time studying the witch trials that took place in the American colonies. Take the advice of Jesus and Paul and avoid the yeast.
Contagious godless chatter. Similar to the disease of the tongue, “godless chatter” involves careless instruction by those who enjoy hearing themselves talk more than they value the truth. In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul called out some false teachers and said, “their teaching will spread like gangrene” (2 Timothy 2:17). We might think we are immune from this disease if we are not Bible teachers. However, as our culture grows less knowledgeable of God’s Word, and more prone to create its own truth, words become emptier and the possibility of destroying lives through false teaching becomes greater.
These are dangerous diseases, to be sure. The good news is, there is a vaccine! God’s Word is our reliable source of truth and wisdom. We may not understand it all, but it will guard our hearts, minds and tongues from feeling, thinking and speaking in destructive, contagious ways.
I will add that “contagious” is not necessarily a bad thing. Words of truth, encouragement and love can also spread, lifting the spirits of the heart-broken and leading others into the waiting arms of our Savior, Jesus. “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)
If you are going to be contagious with your words, make sure they are the good kind of words. Anything else can be downright deadly.