Yesterday, USA Today led with the story of a major finding by the military that many of the illnesses associated with the first Gulf War in 1991 and the current war being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan is about the dust that flies in the air there. The dust inhaled by soldiers and others there contains 37 metals, 147 different kinds of bacteria, and potentially harmful fungi. All of these have been linked in studies by the EPA to "neurological disorders, cancer, respiratory ailments, depression and heart disease" (Kelly Kennedy, 1A, 5/12/11). "Up to 1,000 [dust particles] can sit on the head of a pin" (ibid.), but though undetectable without scrutiny they still do damage.
Sometimes, hardly noticeable, "little" things can be in the air that combines to create a dangerous atmosphere! Particles of discontent, complaining, disputing, judging, gossip, or slander may not, in individual incidents, seem like much. Yet, put together, they can quickly grow into a problem that can seem suffocating, toxic, and dangerous. The Israelites, when wandering in the wilderness, typified this "dirty air." Some of them grumbled and were destroyed of the destroyer (1 Cor. 10:10). They grumbled at Moses following God's punishment of certain rebellious ones among their number (Num. 16:41). They grumbled against God (Num. 14:26). They moaned and wept in faithlessness and greed (Num. 11:14ff). The Hebrews writer comments on the "toxic air" produced by that generation, saying, "And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?" (3:17).
God calls for gratitude and disdains grumbling and disputing (cf. Phil. 2:14). Paul warns against "contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults" (2 Cor. 12:20), particles of attitude that pollute the air. Let us avoid creating and being part of an atmosphere that throws a cloud covering over the good news. The person, message, and mission of Jesus get hidden by such deadly matters that so easily fly in the air. So Paul says, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one" (Col. 4:6).