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It wasn’t as simple as just crossing another river. By law, no Roman general could lead armed troops into Rome. So when Julius Caesar led his 13th Legion across the Rubicon River and into Italy in 49 bc, it was an act of treason. The impact of Caesar’s decision was irreversible, generating years of civil war before Rome’s great general became absolute ruler. Still today, the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” is a metaphor for “passing the point of no return.”

Sometimes we can cross a relational Rubicon with the words we say to others. Once spoken, words can’t be taken back. When those words escape our lips, they can either offer help and comfort or do damage that feels just as irreversible as Caesar’s march on Rome. James gave us another word picture about words when he said, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).

When we fear we have crossed a Rubicon with someone, we can seek their forgiveness—and God’s (Matthew 5:23–24; 1 John 1:9). But even better is to daily rest in God’s Spirit, hearing Paul’s challenge, “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6), so that our words will not only honor our Lord, but lift up and encourage those around us.

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