Proverbs 26:20-21

Wood, Coal, and Fire


1. Verses 20-21 both speak about strife and use the analogy of the relationship between fuel and fire.

2. Verse 20 speaks of how to put a fire out.

3. Verse 21 speaks of how to keep a fire burning.

How to Stop a Fight (vs.20)

1. The illustration:

20a Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out:

a. Solomon makes a statement here that everyone can understand. No one would ever object to or argue with the logic of this statement.

b. I have heated my house with wood for almost 30 years (now with wood pellets). If I don’t keep my stove stocked up with food, the fire goes out. I know exactly what Solomon means.

c. Perhaps you have been to the church camping trip and have sat around the campfire. If the fire is not replenished with wood, it goes out.

d. And it doesn’t really matter what kind of fuel you use (wood; pellets; oil; etc.) – When the fuel is gone, the fire dies out.

e. And take this illustration one step further.
• When the fire dies out… the heat dies out.
• This seems to be implied in the illustration.
• Remove the fuel and the fire dies out… and so does the heat subside.
• Without continually supplying a wood stove with wood, the fire goes out… and the house gets cold. The HEAT dies down.
• There is a direct connection between adding fuel and heat.
• Without fuel there is no fire; without fire there is no heat.
• That is the main point of the illustration Solomon uses here.

2. The application:

20b So where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.

a. Solomon applies the illustration to the talebearer and strife.

b. Talebearer:
• Whisperer; expressing discontent in low tones; grumbler; complainer.
• Gossiper; slanderer; one who harms others by attacking them verbally falsely.
• It indicates a person who whispers things that will harm others, things that should be kept secret.

c. Usage of the term talebearer:
• Prov. 16:28 – “A whisperer (same word) separates chief friends.”
» One who whispers things they shouldn’t can do a lot of damage to relationships between and among people.
» I have felt the effects of this before—and it can be painful.
» It needlessly destroys friendships and relationships.
» Just as fire and heat can burn down a house, a talebearer and a whisperer can ruin interpersonal relationships.
» It creates heat and friction and ruins friendships.

d. Solomon’s point in Prov. 26:20:
• Talebearers are like fuel that keeps the strife going.
• Strife: Discord; contention; brawling; dissension; dispute; argument; verbal fight; quarrel.
• Just as it takes fuel to keep a fire going, it takes a talebearer… a gossiper… a whisperer… a grumbler to keep an argument or contention going.
• If you want the fire to go out; stop adding fuel to the fire.
• If you want contention to cease, get rid of the talebearer!
• Prov. 22:10 – “Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.”

e. This principle works in any setting!
• At school:
» In any group of kids at school there is usually one troublemaker. There is one in every crowd.
» There is usually someone who is always saying things and causing strife to an otherwise peaceful group.
» This person gets his kicks out of stirring up trouble verbally and turning one student against another.
» If you are in a group like that—then follow Solomon’s advice: avoid the talebearer. Don’t invite him to activities—even if people think he’s cool.
» He is the fuel to the fire. Stop adding fuel and the fire goes out.
• Home:
» This works at home too.
» Whether it is contention between husband and wife or among the kids… if you stop adding fuel to the fire, the fire will go out—and the heat and friction will be over—relatively quickly… without having to spend $120.00 per hour at a counselor’s office.
• Office:
» There is usually one trouble maker at work that causes heat and friction in the office.
» Do you want the fire to go out? Do you want the contention to cease?
» Then identify the “talebearer—whisperer—backbiter” and then do whatever is appropriate in that setting to get rid of him or her.
• The church:
» The church is certainly not exempt from this kind of strife.
» Our adversary would LOVE to light a local assembly on fire and burn it down!

f. Consider this aspect of human nature:
• When an argument is going on, it is human nature to demand the last word… to get in the last jab or dig.
• And as long as two people have that attitude, the contention will NEVER end.
• One last jab adds just a little more fuel to the fire—and then again the other side throws in one last jab… and on and on it goes.

g. To STOP the argument – someone has to swallow their pride and allow the other person to have the last word… and leave it at that.
• That takes humility… selflessness… but it WORKS every time.
• If the other person is really stubborn, he may want the last 10 words… but eventually, if you don’t fight back, he will grow tired of arguing with himself and cease.
• Eventually—and relatively quickly—the fire will go out… the heat will die down… and the contention ceases.

h. But beware: even after a fire dies down and the flames cease, it may simmer for a while.
• The embers may remain hot for some time after the flames and the fire go out.
• Don’t assume that since you stopped retaliating and it worked—the flames and the fire died down… don’t assume that it’s safe to throw another log on the fire… to get your final jab in AFTER the strife ceased.
• Long after the flames of the fire have ceased, the embers can still be very hot under the surface of ashes… and can quickly start ANOTHER fire.

3. This principle of not adding fuel to the fire works every time.

a. Fire really does require fuel to burn.

b. Arguments really do require words… jabs… digs… gossip… etc. to continue.

c. Without the fuel, the fire dies down, and the heat dissipates—every single time.

d. It takes but a tiny spark to get a massive fire going but it takes fuel to KEEP it going.

e. A little spark will start a fire; a little wisdom will cause it to cease.

21 As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.

How to End a Fight (vs.21)

1. Verse 21 deals with the very same subject as verse 20, but from the opposite angle. Solomon wanted to cover all bases so that no one would miss his point.

2. Verse 20 spoke of strife CEASING.

3. Verse 21 speaks of strife being KINDLED.

4. Kindle:

a. Physical burning: To glow; to melt; burn; dried up; scorched.

b. Metaphorical burning: To incite passion; to be angry; burn in anger.

c. Obviously, Solomon uses the term in a metaphorical sense.
• Since he is using the analogy of comparing strife to fire, this is the perfect word to use.
• Just as a fire is kindled and sparks into a flame, so too, arguments and contention are kindled… like a fire.

5. Here Solomon states that coal and/or wood are needed to kindle a fire and get it started.

a. So too, at takes a contentious man to kindle strife—and get it started.

b. The contentious man is likened to the spark that gets a fire going.

c. Solomon traces the STARTING of strife to its source: a contentious man (or woman).

d. Contentious:
• Brawling; given to strife and dissension.
• This is the KIND of person who is at the source of the strife—whether in the church, at home, the office, etc.

6. In verses 20-21, the contentious man is compared to the talebearer.

a. Solomon’s point is that this kind of person STARTS the fire (contention). (vs.21)

b. And if he is removed, then the fire will go out. (vs.20)