Little foxes, little folly, little fire
Some of the most destructive habits and practices in life are usually little things. They creep in on people, and soon redirects the full course of their lives. Not surprisingly, the Bible talks a lot about little things, many of them with great consequences. We have all heard of the little leaven that leavens the whole lump. Twice Daniel speaks of the “little horn” (Daniel 7:8; 8:9). Now, we know what great influence that little horn (the antichrist) is going to have on world history and the destiny of man generally. We speak here of three little things – little foxes, little follies, little fire. All three have one thing in common: their potency to affect the eternal destiny of man lies in their size.
They are all little things and they can crawl in imperceptibly. It is the little things that injure man the most. So it is in the spiritual life. The things that destroy vital spiritual fibre are the little things we allow to work in our lives. And these are the things God’s Spirit is warning all believers about. Alongside the warning on each of these little evils, the Lord gives us guidance on how to handle each of them.
The fox is a wily animal. It never goes out alone to seek food, but is always in the company of forty or fifty together. They do not go out for food in the daytime, but wait till it gets dark. They eat plants of different kinds; sometimes roots, and at other times fruits. This then is the message of our text: “Take us the foxes that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes.” First, the “little foxes” refer to whatever we permit to eat off the roots of grace and the fruit of the Spirit from our lives. These things enter into our lives slowly. “Our vines have tender grapes.” Secondly, the “little foxes” are those things we permit to rob us of the tenderness of heart with which we started the Christian race (Hebrews 3:12-15).
They could be: little unconfessed sins, delayed restitutions; little resistance to divine rebuke; a little root of bitterness that troubles the heart (Hebrews 12:15); a little carnality that leads to eventual backsliding (1 Kings 11; 1-10); little fleshly lust that leads to fornication and adultery (1 Peter 2:11); little false doctrine/teachers, leading to outright heresy (Ezekiel 13:3,4); a little worldly association that draws the heart away from God (Hosea 7:8-11); a little ill-temper that leads to hatred and murder; a little covetousness that leads to stealing; a little self-conceit that leads to arrogance and pride; little prayerlessness, leading to self-management and spiritual blindness.
The counsel of scripture is to remove the little foxes that destroy the vine. This can happen through carrying out a regular character examination (1 Corinthians 11:28,31; 2 Corinthians 13:5), having a regular quiet time (Psalms 5:1-3; 119:105), and yielding promptly to the faithful but gentle warning of the Holy Spirit. It also includes making yourself accountable to a spiritual mentor (Luke 22:31,32), being sober, vigilant and prayerful (1 Peter 5: 8; Matthew 26:41), and making regular use of the means of grace God has provided for all (2 Peter 3:18).
“A little folly”, or a “little sin”, may appear to be seemingly harmless, and not exactly destructive, but it is the beginning of damning iniquity. Slothfulness, ease and recreation might not have been damning for David, but see what it did to him at last! Little sins make way for great ones. Little sins are as destructive as a little termite that enters the furniture and nobody seems to care. They are as potentially dangerous as a spark carelessly dropped by a lone man on the field. Little sins sometimes act as burglars do: they take along a little boy, who enters the house through a window that is so small it would not admit them in. Then he goes in and opens the door. Sin, no matter how small should be fear.
The smallest sin has ten thousand mischiefs sleeping within its bowels. “A little folly” sometimes also refers to a weak or absurd act not highly criminal. It might be an act that is inconsistent with the dictates of reason, or with the ordinary rule of prudence. It is that act of yours, which embarrasses those that believe in you. It is the careless act, the little indiscretion. And it springs out of a failure to heed the counsel of Scripture to “Abstain from all appearance of evil”. Beware of unadvised living on borrowings; an unwise utterance that ruins family or even church harmony (Proverbs 17: 28); an unwise but well-intentioned charity that throws a pastor or a Christian open to suspicion among Church members. You cannot guard too much against this. Little follies are just as destructive as little fire.
Used very well, fire is a wonderful thing: it warms, cooks, incinerates. A little misuse, however, and it becomes a nasty destroyer: it burns, consumes and kills. So is the human tongue. It has great potentials both for good and for evil. Misuse of the tongue in gossiping, backbiting, evil speaking, falsehood and murmuring has destroyed many relationships. There is actually a strong connection between the measure of grace dwelling in the heart and the quality of words flowing out of the mouth.
Therefore, the tongues of sinners come in various evil forms, like flattering tongue (Psalm 5:9); cursing tongue (Psalm 10:7); proud tongue (Psalm 12:3); deceitful tongue (Psalm 120:2,3); backbiting tongue (Proverbs 25:23); sharp tongue (Proverbs 12:18); lying tongue (Proverbs 6:16,17); perverse tongue (Isaiah 59:3). So, the question is: “What shall be given unto thee? Or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?” It is simple: Bridle it (Psalm 39:1); Keep it, that is, discipline it (1 Peter 3:10); Submit it to the control of the Holy Spirit (James 3:8); Pray on it (Psalm 141:3).
Further Reading (King James Version): Song of Solomon 2:15; Ecclesiastes 10:1; James 3:5; Song of Solomon 2:13,15; 1 Corinthians 5:6; Hebrews 12:14-17 with Genesis 25:29-34; 1 Peter 2:11; Ephesians 5:3-5; Proverbs 10:19; Hosea 7:8-11; Ezekiel 13:3,4; Ecclesiastes 10:1,3,12-14; 1 Kings 15:5; 2 Samuel 11:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:22; Galatians 2:11-14; 2 Corinthians 8:19-21; 2 Chronicles 19:2,3,3; Romans 14:16; Philippians 2:15; 2 Peter 3:11-14; James 3:1-6; 1:19,26; 2 Samuel 10:1-7; Proverbs 18:21; Jeremiah 9:3-8; Psalms 39:1; 141:3; 1 Peter 3:10-12.
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