Sometimes there is nothing better in life than a nice hearty laugh. I am one of those people who find pleasure in laughing and smiling. I find it very enjoyable to sit, watch something funny, and get lost in the humor of it all. One of my wife’s favorite movies is the old classic comedy The Absent-Minded Professor. I can honestly say I have never seen my wife laugh so hard in my life. (I guess my jokes aren’t that good.) If you ever meet her, just ask her about this movie and you will see a huge smile come across her face and she may even start laughing on the spot. Despite how wonderful hearty laughter is. I want to turn your attention for a moment to what causes laughter, which is often the result of jokes or joking. While I believe laughter is a good thing, is it a sin to joke and if so when does a joke move from being funny to being sinful?
Laughter is good for you.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22
Let’s start with the good news, laughter is good medicine, and it is not a sin to joke or joke around. A cheerful heart, filled with laughter promotes healing and helps you get through moments of grief. This is one reason why people seek out laughter in the first place. A funny story or a good joke can affect the mood of a room or conversation. Well-timed humor can be a balm of healing. When I was a teenager, my grandfather died. I remember my sisters, my cousins and I were very sad because we were all close to him. After the funeral, we went to the cemetery for the burial, and they decided to sing a hymn at the graveside. When they began singing the people were all off-key and it felt like everyone was singing in their own key. I don’t think any two people sang the same note and there was no harmony. (I laugh every time I think about it.) When we heard this, I looked at my cousin and we began to snicker because it sounded so bad. We were trying to hold back the laughter to the point that people began to console us because they thought we were holding back tears. When we all got back to the limousine, we all busted out in a hearty laugh and that changed the mood for all of us for the rest of the day. The laughter helped us cope with the situation, it was good medicine.
Laughter is good but when is it a sin to joke?
While laughter is good for you and there is nothing wrong with a good joke, we must be careful at the source of our laughter. While it is not a sin to joke, there can be situations where what appears to be innocent joking can be sinful or at least out of place. Because we must be careful it forces us to think about when is it a sin to joke? The determination comes down to one simple instruction, love your neighbor as yourself. With this let me give you some things to consider that I believe will keep you safe when you are joking.
You can joke about yourself freely – It is okay to make yourself the butt of the joke because you are not offending anyone. For example, if a husband is telling a joke about marriage and he is the punchline that is acceptable. In this instance, it is not a sin to joke. Obviously, I am making reference to jokes that are free from vulgarity as well as inappropriate language or topics.
You should joke about others cautiously or not at all – It is probably a good idea to tread very cautiously if you intend to joke about someone else. Laughter at someone else’s expense can be devastating and embarrassing to that person. In this instance, it is a sin to joke. I recall I went out to dinner with a group of co-workers and one of the managers began to joke about one of the guys at the table who was single. He went on and on for a long time making this single guy the butt of the jokes simply because he was not married yet. Needless to say, it became very uncomfortable for the guy and everyone at the table. This is not good and is a behavior we should never engage in. Make sure you follow Jesus’ command and love your neighbor as yourself and as the golden rule says, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Things to be careful of if you are going to joke:
The danger of trying to be funny.
The best humor often comes when you are not necessarily trying to be funny. Since humor is a natural part of life, we don’t have to try to be funny, which many times doesn’t work. This is especially true if you are trying to be funny at someone else’s expense. Also don’t try to be funny when someone is sharing with you very personal or deep emotional things. Your attempt to be funny in this matter can be seen as insensitive, immature, or uncaring.
Be careful with ethnic humor.
Ethnic humor falls into the same category as individual humor. If you want to joke about your own culture or people that is usually fine. However, it is not a good idea to make jokes about someone else’s culture or ethnicity. These can often cross the line and easily offend people, even those who don’t belong to that ethnic group.
Be careful about humor that includes gender.
This same rule applies if you attempt to make a joke about gender as well. If you are a man talking about men and you make a joke about that it can be funny and acceptable. If you are a man and you make a joke about a woman, especially if that is your wife, that can be offensive and is not acceptable.
Watch the humor in the pulpit.
Because laughter can shift the mood of a person or a room, a bad or misplaced joke can suck the life out of a person or cause you to lose your audience. I heard a pastor in the middle of his sermon tell a political joke, assuming all the people in the congregation shared his political view and would find his joke funny. Unfortunately, many people in the audience didn’t share his view and what was meant to be funny ended up offending many people in the room. While it is okay to use humor in the pulpit, it is not okay to try to be funny. Humor flows naturally and is usually connected to the message while trying to be funny usually is disconnected and can be hit or miss. The preaching or teaching of God’s word is too important to risk being funny.
What should you do if you offend?
What should you do if you discover you have crossed the line and offended someone? If this should happen, then I believe the method and degree you offended the person should be the method and degree you apologize to them. If you offended someone publicly then your apology should be public. For example, if a pastor offends someone in a sermon or on social media, the apology should be in a sermon or on social media. You should first apologize privately but I believe a public one is also necessary. This has nothing to do with penance or an eye for an eye, but if you have joked at someone else’s expense, you may have damaged that person publicly. For this reason, you should seek to restore that person publicly as well. On the flip side, if your offense was behind closed doors then an apology behind closed doors is appropriate.
Joking – The final thought.
Joking and laughter can be fun and are a necessary part of our lives. In general, there is no rule that says it is a sin to joke but as we have discussed the object of the joke can make it a sin. As best we can let’s look to enjoy a hearty laugh which is good medicine for the soul. Let’s just make sure it is not coming at someone else’s expense.