How we use our language is one of the most profound ways to show what is going on in our hearts. There is a lot you can see about a person by the way he or she tells a joke, responds to a comment, or acts around people who use filthy or abusive language. Do we heartily play along with those who make fun of another person in a way that is hurtful? Do we say nothing when an illicit joke is made – even worse, are you the one telling the joke? People will know you by your fruit (Matthew 7:16-20), so the tough question that must be asked of us every day is: what kind of bad fruit is being produced by your words? Always try to remember what is said of our language in James 3:2-12. “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell… The tongue can be tamed by no man; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison…” But the encouraging thing about this section of text is that it reveals how much God believes we can control the tongue. While the language is written in a way that seems hopeless, the very fact that we are given exhortation about controlling our language shows that we have the potential to do it.
“Nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not befitting; but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:4). There is an ideal that should exist in the Christian spirit that is higher than the world. It is not just that we need to abstain from evil or refuse to give in to the just the most heinous crimes, but, as the previous verse states, “Let it not be named among you, as is becoming saints” (Ephesians 5:3). We are supposed to be such righteous people that we do not even talk about immorality and moral filthiness in a flippant or casual manner. The only time we should make reference to sin in our language is when we are combating it. Let us press on to maturity, friends, and leave behind the foolish language of the world. Let us attempt to take hold of our tongues and use our language for good only. Consider the following points from our text:
· “Nor filthiness” – This is defined as shamefulness, obscenity, and nastiness. “Dirty, indecent, obscene language” (Commentary On Ephesians, Boles, p. 298). Some people try to confuse the issue, however, and argue that “obscenity” is just in the eye of the beholder. Essentially, what is disgusting to you may not be disgusting to me. What is common language to one person is uncommonly filthy to another. Some try to make a comparison to the way that “city people” and “country folk” talk, arguing that some things that seem foul to one group are just a part of normal vernacular to the other. But this argument falls flat when we realize that is “obscenity” is such a vague category that defies attempts at being defined, then why does everyone use the same basic words to cuss? Almost everybody agrees on what words are “swearing”, which means that obscenity is pretty easy to define. Even when secular movie rating organizations warn that a film includes some “mild language”, they are clearly admitting that this is not normal, and goes beyond the scope of “clean language.”
· “Foolish talking” – This is “impious, silly, godless speech without forethought and wisdom” (Caldwell, p. 232). “This is the talk of a fool, the man who does not know God” (Boles, p. 298). “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have done abominable works…” (Psalm 14:1). Foolish talking would include pointless discussions on subject matter that violates God’s truth. While this may seem surprising to some who revel in speculations, it seems clear that foolish talking would include debating the existence of God, whether or not the Bible is the truth, whether or not there is Hell, arguing over spiritual matters that are clearly revealed in the Bible, and other things that just lead to the ruin of the hearers (2 Timothy 2:14). Some things just are not worth debating – some subjects are just foolish. Quite simply, if there is a clear Bible teaching on a matter, arguing about it is just foolishness. If there is no clear Bible teaching, then arguing about it will not reveal anything new (Deuteronomy 29:29).
· “Coarse jesting” – This is suggestive jesting, or coarse jokes. It would be the use of polished and witty humor as an instrument of sin. “Sometimes it is lodged in a sly question, in a smart answer, in cunningly diverting or cleverly retorting an objection, in a lusty hyperbole, in a plausible reconciling of contradictions, or in acute nonsense” (Word Studies, Vincent, p. 398). Coarse jesting is an oxymoron, basically. It is taking a subject that is dirty, lewd, or risqué, and masking it in smart words, feigned wisdom, or clever language. The coarseness comes from the use of sin as a means of gaining laughs, for it has been noted by righteous people that the lowest form of humor is getting a laugh from sin.
· “Bur rather giving of thanks” – This means that God always gives us something better to do. It is not that He makes us abstain from everything good in this life, or that He is keeping us from truly being happy. Rather, it is righteousness that leads to true happiness, not filthiness. When we make jokes about God, this is hardly “giving of thanks.” Instead of being grateful for God’s blessings and keeping our minds focused on moral purity, the filthy talker engages in selfish exploration and ingratitude. To make a joke about sex is to degrade a blessing from God (which we ought to be thanking Him for).
Does this mean we cannot makes jokes?
Ephesians 5:4 in now way prohibits the use of jokes and sarcasm in our language, but we need to have a very clear understanding about its place. God is not against laughter (Ecclesiastes 3:4 states that there is a time for laughter). Nor is He against sarcasm when it is used appropriately. God is our creator, and He made us with the need for humor. This is reflected in the Bible very clearly:
· Stories like Balaam and his donkey are undeniably hilarious (Numbers 22-24).
· Many of the deaths and calamities that befall sinners bring a smile to our faces (Abimelech in Judges 9, Eglon in Judges 3, Sanballat in Nehemiah 6) – not because we are cruel, but because irony is a powerful method of teaching lessons.
· There is certainly some sarcasm in Elijah’s voice in 1 Kings 18:27. He is not being humorous at their expense, but simply pointing out through humor the foolishness of idolatry.
· Matthew 7:1-5 is quite humorous, for the idea of a man hardly noticing a log in his eye is ridiculous.
Humor is not the enemy in God’s eyes. It is humor that turns to sin for its punch line. He is against the “humor of the world”, where getting the laugh or the admiration of men has become more important than moral purity. The Lord is not against silly situations on television programs, but He is displeased with situations involving fornication, lying, stealing, swearing, homosexuality, etc. Jokes should be means of pointing out the joyful, silly, random, ironic things in life, not the filthy, seedy, disreputable aspects of human imperfection. “These words do not preclude spontaneous Christian joy and a sense of humor, but they indicate that Christians are not to indulge in empty frivolity. In the Greek they connote the sort of jesting that is vulgar and unclean. The antidote for the Christian is thanksgiving” (The Wycliffe Bible Commentary).
There are, quite frankly, better things for the Christian to say than filthy jokes or swear words. When we are commanded to be sober-minded, we should not take this lightly (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8). Christians have been redeemed, not so that we can make sport of the world and treat everything flippantly or casually – the world is dangerous, and Satan is prowling about like a lion (1 Peter 5:8). If we let our guards down for one moment and fail to take life seriously, it may be all the time the devil needs to infiltrate our hearts and lead us to ruin. The point is that we need to find a balance in our lives and our language. While we should not be miserable, depressed, cranky people, we should also not be silly, stupid, carousing people. In the middle is the sober, thoughtful, happy individual who is impressed by God’s presence and things of the spiritual realm. Christians should be happy and content, and always willing to relax and enjoy the good things of this life (Ecclesiastes 5:18) – while at the same time taking things seriously (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4).
Our jokes can be funny, silly, and lighthearted, so long as they are not imbued with innuendo, filthiness, or hurtful words. Our language needs to be edifying, not destructive. Humor is one very positive way that we can edify each other, and bring joy to a sorrowful person’s heart. “Which means that when the Christian speaks, it should be intelligent speech and not the speech of the fool. When the Christian engages in humor, it should be morally clever… Filthiness in speech simply tells people that we have allowed a lot of trash to accumulate in our minds (Matthew 7:20-23)” (“Ephesians 5:4”, Mark Dunagan, www.beavertonchurchofchrist.net).
What about using the Lord’s name in our speech?
We often call this “using the Lord’s name in vain.” But what does that actually mean, friends? The Israelites were directly commanded “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). The real problem is how we see the name of God. What do we think of it? If we take God’s name seriously, and give Him the respect that He deserves, we would not want to use it in our casual speech as a curse word. Why do we scream the name of Jesus Christ when we hit our heads on the car door? Why do we ask for God by name when we are talking about some rumor about our neighbors? If we want to revere God the way He should be revered, then we need to treat His name like it is something special. “We can misuse the Lord’s name by using it to back up a lie. We also break this command when we use God’s name flippantly or irreverently. A person’s name is closely associated with the person who wears it… Names meant more to Jews than they do today. The Jews eventually came to believe that it was wrong to even use the name of Jehovah at all” (The Law of Moses, Hymel, p. 41). How would you feel if people abused your name the way you do God’s?
· Your name would be associated with angry, surprise, sarcasm, and bad tempers.
· People would call you in the middle of the night for no reason.
· You would feel useless and ignored, in spite of the fact that everybody said your name all the time.
“And I say unto you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). We need to remember that the Christian is expected by God to maintain control of his tongue. If we have our minds set on things of the world, we will talk about those things. We will want to talk about filthiness, lewdness, and make light of other people’s faults. But if we have our minds set on things above, things that are pure (Philippians 4:8), we will not want to discuss worldliness in jest. To a Christian, those things just are not funny, entertaining, or worth our attention. We have better things to talk about, like the Gospel, our families, our goals as Christians, stories from the Bible, our spiritual needs, and the humorous or pleasant things of this life that help build us up, not tear us down. Remember, even when we think of the evil things of the world, before a word is even said, God knows what is on our minds (Psalm 139:4).