This is something that I've always had conviction about. Good humor isn't bad, but when anything is said to playfully put down another person, it has always bothered me. We are called to build one another up, to carry one another burdens, to have hearts of thanksgiving.
In America today, and perhaps other places, it seems as though many people joke around in order to deal with stressful situations. We see it happen more and more. It causes another person pain, but the person doing it is unaware. Some will say, "I was only joking, I wasn't serious, can't you take a joke?" We cannot know what other people have been through in their lives. The devotion below really stood out this morning, so just wanted to share. (Not sure who the author is, but worth the read.)
Foolish Talk and Empty Words
Now I know why I am uncomfortable with playful banter; the Bible says it is not appropriate behavior for Christians.
This is a surprise in some ways. The passage this comes from isn’t usually translated that way. Instead, the Greek word is put into English as foolish talking, a phrase wide open to all sorts of interpretations. However, the actual word is not about humorous insults (which is easy to see as inappropriate), but refined light mockery or banter, that doesn’t seem so bad.
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. (Ephesians 5:3-7, italics mine)
I’ve no argument with this passage, but as I read it today it seemed that “foolish talking and coarse jesting” needed more definition. With some research, I learned some new words and a little history. For one thing, the city of Ephesus had a reputation. Its people were “well-turned” or ready at repartee, also known as “jocose” and “persiflage” and “badinage” all words meaning witty conversation. In Ephesus, this was far from being censured; in fact, the Ephesians thought such banter was a pleasant accomplishment.
The Greek word translated “coarse jesting” is eutrapelia and found nowhere else in the New Testament. The commentaries say this word implies a particular versatility which turns about and adapts itself, without regard to principle, to the shifting circumstances of the moment, and to the varying moods of those with whom it may deal. In other words, it is speaking according to the world, not according to the Spirit and principles of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Colossians 3:8 uses a different word, but it conveys the same idea that “filthy communication” and “foolish talking” are a false refinement. These words describe conversations that are seasoned with a selfish, “look at how clever I am” attitude. Christians are not to talk like that. Instead, our words are to be seasoned with grace.
In Ephesians 5, God challenges me to imitate God and love others as Christ loved me. The love of Christ is forgiving, unconditional, and self-sacrificing, not shallow, selfish, sensual, sexual, or attention-getting. Witty conversation has nothing in it that reflects the love of God.
Verse four forbids foolish talk and witty banter, but offers an alternative — giving thanks. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Today’s devotional says, “When we are thankful for everything, we step outside ourselves, because thanksgiving is directed toward God.”
Today’s last lesson in word meanings says that “rather giving of thanks” is a joyful play on sounds in Greek. The word is “eucharistia” and is contrasted with “eutrapelia.” While refined “jesting” and subtle humor sometimes offend tender feelings, “giving of thanks” offers a genuine cheerfulness of spirit. For me, it is a wonderful alternative to any good feeling that comes from light banter and I need to practice thankfulness much more than I do.
One other thought; God does not forbid fun. He is the author of joy, but warns me that this empty chatter puts self on a pedestal and could offend others. Talking this way is foreign to the nature of His Son. Even though I suspect practicing thankfulness instead of witty banter could result in having labels slapped on me by those who consider such repartee is an accomplishment, I would rather be like Jesus.