I’m pretty busy this week helping out with my high school’s marching band, so I asked my friend Ashley to fill in for me by writing a guest post. I’ve mentioned before that she is an excellent writer. This, coupled with a thoughtful personality, makes her writing a pleasure to read. The following post is no exception; I’m grateful that she took the time to pen this for me, and how it’s made me think about the way I use my speech and sense of humor.
“Humor in Speech”
We all appreciate a good joke here and there. We often amuse ourselves with our ability to form our own. We feel pleased when others find us funny. There is a satisfaction involved in listening to such wordplay and in crafting amusing remarks. In some measure or form, we all enjoy humor when it causes us to laugh with joy.
The first questions I found myself asking as I sat down to write this are these: Why do we laugh? Does God have a sense of humor? My friends and I have often jokingly said, “God must be laughing at us right now up in heaven!” I am inclined to believe that He likely does have one. We can conclude this because while addressing the rest of the trinity prior to the creation of Adam, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). We were made to resemble Him, fashioned with certain of His qualities. Thus, our propensity toward laughter, to find things to be funny, seems to indicate that God too has this attribute.
But since we live in a fallen world, the senses of humor we have been given do not always reflect what is good because they have been tainted by sin. Though there are a lot of things which we find funny, we also know that not all humor produces the response of delight we usually associate with it. A joke taken too far is met with distaste. Sarcasm, even when subtle, can be used to mock others. In saying one thing, but meaning another, its lack of transparency is often a means of slyly conveying what irritates or elicits judgment from us. The humor we encounter today and may even engage in ourselves is often lewd. Humor can verge into bitter cynicism as we express our discontentment.
As an articulation of speech, humor is capable of the destruction that our words can wreak. James asserts that “we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2). He describes the control of our speech as a comprehensive struggle. In fact, James boldly goes as far to claim that one who does not struggle with what he says is without flaw. As we all are imperfect sinners, we all find it difficult at times to speak in a manner glorifying to God.
James stresses that when we stumble in our speech, the church body is damaged: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell… With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:6, 9-10). The hypocritical nature of our speech presents a stark contrast: we praise the Lord one moment, and scorn each other the next. We encourage each other at times, and gossip later on. We use humor to cheer people up, and then use it to malign others. But as James says, “these things ought not to be so.”
Paul describes a purpose for our speech and what it should sound like as a result, exhorting us to “[l]et no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). It is clear that our words are meant for building up, for encouragement. We must be cautious and refrain from uttering anything that will dishearten when our humor earns laughs at the expense of another rather than for the benefit of others. Instead, we are to pursue humor which will lift one’s spirits and directs us to see the joys in life, in each other, and in ourselves.
Paul also maintains that “there [should] be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4). Again nothing in this verse, or elsewhere in the Bible, explicitly restricts us from all humor, but it does restrict us from that which is obscene or vulgar, humor which is based upon making light of sin or even advocating it. Sometimes humor is a means for revealing our complaints. Paul emphasizes that instead, we are to have an attitude of thanksgiving. We have much to be thankful for, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). We have been freed from sin and declared righteous in His sight. There is no room for discontent or cynicism, no reason to cling onto sin; our speech and humor should reflect this. Since we are no longer enslaved to the sin that corrupts our speech, we are to pursue righteousness and “[w]alk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:9-10). “Filthiness,” ”foolish talk,” and “crude joking,” are “out of place” because they contradict our role as believers who are to walk in the light. If our words follow the guideline of being “good and right and true,” they will not only be a blessing to those who hear, but pleasing to the God who has rescued us from the eternal punishment of our sin.
A popular form of humorous expression among my own GOC class (which is quite the playful bunch) is teasing one another. Most of the time, we tease out of affection and most people understand this though they still feign mortification. With affection as the intent, this teasing has even drawn us closer to one another, enabling us to be more open with each other as brothers and sisters-in-Christ. But teasing can go too far when bitter criticism is at its root. There is a difference in noting a characteristic in someone because we find it endearingly hilarious and calling attention to fault so that she’ll feel embarrassed. Part of the call we have to monitor our speech is to monitor our humor, first in discerning whether or not the situation calls for humor and then in being aware of how people respond to it. It may be necessary to humble ourselves and admit the fault in our words when we realize we have gone too far.
But James reminds us that ultimately “no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). As with all things, it is not by our power that we can accomplish the purification of our speech; we must ask the Lord to continually work in us so that our words would be pleasing to Him and that the Spirit working through us would aid us in discerning when our humor crosses lines it should not.
Though we ought to be careful with the words with speak, refraining from humor which harms others and makes light of sin, this should not stifle us from finding and sharing what we find appropriately humorous: for the Lord has given us the gift of laughter as an expression of joy and we have much to be joyful for in Him. So let us pursue all that is good and right and true in speech so that it may give grace to those who hear and glorify Him who has given us cause to laugh with joy, knowing that we have been set free from darkness and are now in the light because of His grace!