We are considering verbal strife. Scripture teaches that such strife has certain preconditions. “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Prov. 26:20-21).
The fire department tells us not to leave oily rags in a heap in a corner of the garage. When we do this, we are simply asking for it. In these verses, two forms of verbal behavior are described as creating this kind of danger, leading to strife. The first is tale-bearing. It has been well said that it takes two people to wound you — an enemy to say something bad about you, and a friend to get the word to you. Tale-bearing can be disguised in many ways — prayer requests, for one. Tale-bearing is characterized by a busy-pants scurrying about. In this we should seek to recall that great Pauline principle: “Mind thine own business.”
The other set of oily rags is the contentious man. By himself he can have no strife, but he still has a personal need for strife. Consequently, he goes out and kindles it. The presence of strife does not mean that every participant is contentious, but the presence of a contentious man means that there will be strife — in the kitchen, hall, bedroom, and living room, with wife, children, brothers, sisters, parents, and more.