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  • Writer's pictureRick LoPresti

The fire triangle

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Anyone who has been through firefighter training knows about the fire triangle. It says that there are three components to a fire - fuel, heat, and oxygen. A fire must have all three. All you need to do to put a fire out is to remove one of the three sides of the triangle and you no longer have a triangle - a fire. All firefighting techniques and equipment are about separating one of these elements from the equation. Water and CO2 are common tools in firefighting because they remove the heat. However, you can't use water on a grease fire like a cooking fire because it will not separate the triangle. In fact, it will spread the grease and thus the fire. Halon was used to displace oxygen, but the problem with it is that everyone needs to evacuate because there will no be oxygen to breathe several seconds after deployment. Special foams and powders such as potassium powder can separate the fuel from the heat and oxygen.

There are some spiritual principles to learn from this firefighting information. Anger and lust are both compared to fire in the Bible. Anger is described as being kindled like wood. The anger of God is described this way 38 times and the anger of man 18 times. Since God gets angry (and not just in the Old Testament), anger is not sin within itself. It is not realistic or necessary to expect ourselves to never get angry. Sometimes we should get angry, as long as it is at the right thing and we control it. Anger is an emotion. Like all emotions, it is part of our makeup. It is not to be ignored or let out of control. It is spiritually and emotionally unhealthy to do either. It can even be physically unhealthy. "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath (Eph 4:26)." This tells us two things we should do with anger. We should control it and not let it cause us to go too far and sin. We should also settle the issue that made us angry before the end of the day if at all possible. At least we should settle back down emotionally and regain our composure and rationality as soon as possible. One way we can do that is taking deep, purposeful breaths. Have you ever noticed how your breathing becomes rapid and shallow when you are upset? This technique forces you to slow down, engage your mind and self-control, and get oxygen to your brain so you can think better and make better decisions. It also forces you to redirect your attention so you can slow down your reaction. This will help prevent saying or doing something you will regret later. One of the Hebrew words translated wrath has the original meaning of nostrils. You can also count to 10. "A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards (Prov 29:11)." The best way to fight a fire is to prevent it from even starting. However, we can only control our own behavior. Although anger is an emotion, there is a moment when we make a conscious decision to run with it.

Anger is described as being hot 14 times. One of the Hebrew words translated wrath has heat as its original meaning. David said, "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue (Ps 39:3)." Today, we describe angry people as hotheads or hot tempered. A saying describing those who avoided getting hot with anger and thus helped calm the situation is "cooler heads prevailed". Mistakes made in anger are described as being done "in the heat of the moment". Removing the heat from the situation will prevent or put out the fire. Sometimes the source of the heat is a person who is given to anger as a character flaw. Unfortunately, this may necessitate the removal of or separation from this person. "Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease (Prov 22:10)." "Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul (Prov 22:24-25)." "As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife (Prov 26:11)." This person is the fuel and needs to be removed from the equation. Anyone who barbeques know the coals have to be touching. If you separate the coals, you have no fire.

Anger can be a good motivator to stir us from inactivity or apathy. However, it can be terrible in the long term. It can "fire us up" initially, but since it is an emotion it is also fraught with dangers and cannot sustain a righteous cause in the long term. When Saul was anointed to be the first king of Israel he just went home (1Sam 10:26), but when he heard about the threat the Ammonites were making, he got angry and led Israel to battle and victory (1Sam 11). However, his anger did not serve him well in the long run. It led him to attempt to kill his loyal servant David at least 20 times among other errors (1Sam 18-26).

Anger can be dangerous in every way. Both evil deeds and words can unleashed by anger, and the damage can be difficult to undo. "Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell (Jam 3:5-6)." It only takes a tiny spark to start a forest fire when it goes out of control.

A fire in a fireplace or a firepit can be beautiful and relaxing to watch. It can help you stay warm and even ward off wildlife and pesky bugs. It can be a place to cook. Some people enjoy tending the fire - strategically placing new wood to keep it going and moving it around to allow the air to circulate. Some fireplace owners have a bellows to "fan the flames" and push oxygen into the fire. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Greek, and a little Aramaic. The Hebrew and Greek words translated spirit also mean wind or breath. The Holy Spirit wants to burn within us to ignite our spiritual passion for God (Acts 2:1-4). However, our human spirit left unchecked will fan the flames of anger. "Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy (Jam 4:5)?"

The same principles apply to lust (Rom 1:27). The Israelites burned incense to idols. This worship often included sexual activity. Eventually, this led to their temple and their cities being burned up. When we allow lust to control us instead of us controlling it, it will lead to eternal burning in the lake of fire (Rev 20:14-15, Rev 22:8). Jus as anger is not a sin until it leads to sinful attitudes, words and actions, temptation is not sin until we respond to it with sinful behavior. Also, lust is not only sexual lust. It is the desire for anything we should not have.

It is better to not let fires get started in the first place, but it is also wise to be prepared for the possibility. Having the right equipment readily accessible and having an evacuation plan for the worst case scenario is being responsible and aware of the danger. Fire can spread very rapidly and we need to be prepared for it. Praying, reading the Bible, attending church gatherings, fasting, and being aware of our weaknesses and safeguarding against them are all great tools. Avoiding compromising situations is best, but we also need to be ready to get out of there when we see that we are there (1Cor 6:18, 1Cor 10:13). That is what Joseph did (Gen 39). We can too.

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