Humour is one of the great blessings God has given to mankind. Spontaneous joy is often received through our laughter at the comical incidents we experience in the world and with those we interact with.

Scripture also presents humour and laughter as expressions of delight:

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” (Gen 21:6)

Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.
” (Ps 126:2)

A time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance.
(Eccl 3:4)

Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
(Luke 6:21b)

Humour is given graciously as a gift by the heavenly Father, who gives every perfect and good gift (James 1:13). Great humour wells up goodness and pleasure in our souls. One might even argue that the joy we experience in our laughter with others is a tiny representation of the eternal joy that the three persons of the Trinity experience together within the Godhead.

John Chapman saw humour as a gift of God in his unfinished manuscript, Only When I Laugh:

I think laughing is one of the best of God’s gifts to us. There is nothing like a good belly laugh. In fact, I dreamed such a joke one night that I woke myself laughing at it. It must have been good because I was rolling about in bed in peals of laughter. [1]

1. How far is too far when it comes to making humorous remarks?

While Scripture often paints humour and laughter in a positive light, we know from experience that not all of the jokes we make are well-received by others. We can also reflect on occasions where some of the remarks our friends made felt tasteless and fell far short of the laughter it intended to produce. Is it possible to go overboard with what we say? How far is too far when it comes to making witty commentary?

When does humour become sinful and displeasing to God?

Fortunately, Scripture does offer some cautions for Christians who have the tendency to misuse the gift of humour. You can often stumble into committing sin:

a) When your humour becomes crude

As ambassadors of God, we are called to be a witness to the watching world through our actions and speech. Our representation of God is meant to reflect His perfect mercy and goodness, and we are tasked with the responsibility of pointing others to God’s magnificence and beauty.

Humour can be used as a blessing for others to experience the great joys in life that point towards the Creator who has made all good things for His glory. However, when our jokes become vulgar and licentious, it paints a picture to the observers that the God we represent is a God of profanity and indecency.

The apostle Paul warns heavily on the use of crude humour:

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Eph 5:4)

It is out of place for Christians to coat their language with uncleanliness because we are misrepresenting who God is to those who are watching us. Paul doesn’t make light of this sin, for he says that those who persistently engage in corrupt talk show themselves to be immoral and impure people, and such people are outside the Kingdom (Eph 5:5).
This sort of humour brings great dishonour to the name of God and He will not tolerate it in His kingdom.

b) When your humour causes relational conflict

James urges his readers to see the potential destruction the tongue can cause when it is not tamed:

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….With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. (Jas 3:6, 9)

Making humourous jokes at the expense of other people can often inflict wounds on others and create relational conflict. It can lead to much strife, distrust and quarrelling of all sorts, and it can ultimately form chasms within intimate friendships. Sinful humour degrades and belittles others and it defecates on the image of God. This not only brings dishonour to God, but it also dishonours those whom we have offended.

c) When your humour is delivered in an untimely manner

God has made every gift, every moment, every activity, and every experience to be enjoyed within its given season (Eccl 3:1). This subsequently means understanding that there are times when banter and laughs are appropriate, and times when they are not (Eccl 3:4). If we crack a joke in a situation that does not fit the occasion, we display to others our lack of discernment in knowing when is the fitting time to crack our one-liners – the marks of a fool.

No one ever looks well upon a person who tries to lighten the heavy atmosphere and break the awkward silences by cracking a ridiculous joke during someone’s funeral. We mustn’t laugh at those who are grieving, those who are living in sin, or in other situations where it is disrespectful. Don’t be that one person who never gets the memo and seems to be incapable of doing anything else but try to be funny! (I’m preaching to myself more than anything here).

d) When your humour extinguishes the work of the Spirit

The Spirit often uses opportune moments to actively work in people’s hearts and enable them to understand spiritual truths from God’s Word in peculiar and profound ways. These teaching moments of the Spirit can happen during your daily devotions and prayer, through reading the Word within your community groups, listening to a sermon or through deep and meaningful conversation with others.

However, you might find that you are that one class joker who can’t stand it when your group is engaged in serious conversation and always ends up ripping out a thigh-slapper in the middle of conversation. This one-liner changes the atmosphere completely, disrupts the flow of the conversation, and the subsequent teaching moments that carried powerful potential to edify others in the truth dissipate.

This is a direct manifestation of quenching the Spirit’s work (1 Thess 5:19); causing others to stumble and to lose out on the opportunity to understand God’s word in that special moment.

Untimely humour can disturb the learning environment which the Spirit uses to convict biblical truths in a person’s heart.


Friends, let your humour be seasoned with grace and thanksgiving so that others can laugh with sheer joy, giving praise to God the fountain of overflowing joy. Seek the Spirit’s guidance to know how to formulate your jokes so that they will bless, build and encourage others. Lastly, govern your tongues by your God-given conscience to know when you should crack your jokes and when to refrain so that the Holy Spirit may accomplish His ministry of teaching to our beloved brothers and sisters in the faith.


References

[1] – John Chapman, Only When I Laugh, page 1

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