Should Christians Ever Joke Around?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:3-4

During my tenure at Irvine Presbyterian Church, the men of the church went on an annual retreat. Yes, there was plenty of time for singing, prayer, and Bible teaching. But one of the most distinctive elements of our men's retreat was humor. We told jokes and stories. We did silly skits and pranked each other. We laughed and laughed. Once in a while, during informal gatherings, one of the men might tell an off-color joke. The others would chuckle and forget about it.

Until one year, when a man I'll call Harry showed up at the retreat. He seemed a bit put off by the humorous tone of the event, preferring a more prayerful ambience. But he was especially critical of some of the suggestive stories. He cited Ephesians 5:4 as his authority, challenging the men to avoid "obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking." Most of the other men wanted to reject Harry's criticism by labeling him as a killjoy. But some of the others, including some who had enjoyed a racy joke or two in the past, knew they couldn't simply reject biblical instruction because they didn't like it. They wanted God's Word to govern all of their lives, including their language at the men's retreat.

Harry's criticism launched a wider discussion about the appropriateness of humor at the men's retreat. Was it right to be silly? Was some of our humor too negative? Some folks pointed to the King James Version of Ephesians 5:4, which cautions against "filthiness," "foolish talking," and "jesting." Does this mean that all joking around is wrong?

When we carefully study both the context and the language of Ephesians 5:4, we see that Paul is not saying Christians should never tell a joke or a funny story. This is not a blanket prohibition of all humor and laughter. Rather, we are being cautioned about language that is obscene and impure. We are to avoid words that degrade what God has created for good, including our sexuality.

After considering Ephesians 5:4, the men from my church decided that it was fine to do much of what had made our retreats fun. Most of the jokes, stories, and gags were both enjoyable and edifying. But, they did make a new commitment to avoid off-color language and risqué stories. It seemed to me that their discernment was both consistent with Scripture and conducive to an even better retreat, one in which all men felt welcome and encouraged.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever found yourself in a situation like that of the men from my church? What happened? How can we know when our humor goes over a line and is no longer consistent with God's intentions for us?

PRAYER: Gracious God, you have made us with the capacity for laughter. You have given us the gift of humor. Like all of your gifts, we can receive this particular gift with gratitude, using it in ways that please you. Or, we can take your gift and corrupt it. Forgive us, Lord, when we use humor in ways that degrade your creation or hurt people. Help us to discern when our joking around is edifying and when it is hurtful. Give us a refreshed desire to use all of our words for your purposes. Amen.


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Image above by Abishesh Joshi. Used with Permission. Via Flickr.