Do your children tear each other down with their constant joking? Is the Lord pleased by roasts and sarcasm? What can a Christian parent do about it? Join AMBrewster as he discusses these topics and more and helps us parent all to the glory of God.
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Welcome back. I hope you’re looking forward to today — not necessarily because of the subject matter — but because God has given us one more day to grow in our intentional, premeditated, disciple-making role as parents.
I also hope you’ve been enjoying our journey through parenting from God’s perspective, and if today is your first day with us, let me tell you that every episode is extremely valuable regardless of the size of your family or the age of your children.
In addition, our content is evergreen because God’s Word never goes out of style.
So, I encourage you to join this parenting journey from our pilot season and experience for yourself what tens of thousands of people from over 100 countries have experienced.
And thank you to all of our listeners who have made us the number one podcast for Christian parents. TeamTLP and I cannot thank you enough.
Okay, so today we’re going to talk some more about Family Talk.
This is something we discuss a lot on this show. In fact, in episode 148 I listed all of our Family Talk shows. You can go back there and hear that list, and in the future we’ll have them all listed at TruthLoveParent.com under episodes by topic.
And though they are all about the communication in our homes, each of them approach Family Talk from a slightly different angle. And today’s angle is super important because — like so many of Satan’s sharpest weapons — the issue we’re going to discuss today may seem the most innocuous.
Today we look at jokes, sarcasm, making fun of each other, roasts, hyperbole, and family stereotypes. We’ll talk about joking that can glorify God, the joking that doesn’t, and what we can do about the joking that displeases the Lord.
Let’s start by talking about what we’re not talking about. In Ephesians 5:3-5, “Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Obviously, the sexually-charged filth this world calls “humor” should not even once been named among us.
However, today’s topic is concerned with the seeming appropriate, culturally-accepted jokes and jabs within the family.
So, let’s start by laying a foundation for all Family Talk:
1. Careless words are sin. Matthew 12:36 says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” The word translated “careless” is also translated “idle,” “lazy,” and “useless.”
Of all our family communication, jokes are actually designed to be careless. Their greatest benefit is bonding relationships through humor, but — beside that — they accomplish nothing beneficial. When we speak lazily — without giving careful thought as to what we’re saying and why — we’re going to have to give an account for that.
Telling jokes is like walking on the edge of a knife. A little slip and we’re doing more damage than good.
2. Words that tear down are sin. Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
The word “corrupting” is also translated “diseased” and has the idea of something that is bad and rotten. This type of communication tears people down. But God commands that all of our words must build people up.
How much of the “joking” in your house does little more than tear each other down?
Along with this principle we must accept the reality that even though a person smiles, they may not truly appreciate the joke. We all know this is true. Everyone listening to my voice today has smiled or laughed when they actually felt slighted and hurt.
Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” This means that when we joke with each other, it’s not a question about whether our words will make people smile or groan, it’s a question about whether our words will be a good medicine to them or dry up their bones.
The tongue is so powerful. James 3 tells us that the tongue is untamable without the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s so easy to destroy with our words; it’s imperative that we don’t casually throw around words that can dry someone up.
3. Angry words veiled in humor are sin. Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
I share this because when I was in high school I realized that I could say almost anything I wanted as long as I smiled. There was this guy at work who annoyed me so much, and one day he did something that angered me to the core of my being.
Now — before I continue — I need to acknowledge that all of this was sinful. My selfish response to his foolishness was completely unjustified, and my words were downright wicked.
So, this guy did something, I got really mad, but instead of tearing into him, I smiled really big and said with a laugh, “Man, I hate you.”
Well, it worked. He laughed and went on with his life unhurt by my words, and I realized that I could tell people exactly how I felt if I made it seem like a joke.
Be careful of this in your family. You or your spouse or your kids may to have learned this same response and your “jokes” may be more accurate than they seem and be motivated by anger, not relationship.
4. Funny words that grow from sinful thoughts are a sin. We know that our communication comes from our hearts — our minds. And we know that in Philippians 4:8 God commands our thoughts to be continually true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praise-worthy.
So, it doesn’t matter if we’re telling someone that we love them, if we’re doing it for impure or dishonorable reasons, God’s not pleased.
The same goes for our jokes.
Just like we discussed in the “Teaching Our Children to Obey” series, true obedience requires a right motivation. Too many words spoken in our homes are justified because the words themselves weren’t necessarily sinful; all the while the intentions were selfish and wicked.
Try to discover why your children joke the way they do.
5. Dishonest words are sin. Proverbs 26:18-19, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking!’”
Have your children ever said something deliberately unkind or spoken a lie, but when challenged they replied, “I was only joking!”
This verse needs to be added to our Parenting Bibles right away because this issue is pervasive in our culture. We’ve gotten the idea that we can excuse anything — racism, sexual harassment, unkindness, lies, and general filth — with the phrase, “It was a joke!”
Alright, quick review:
I believe that right there may address most of the sinful family joking that goes on is our house.
But there are three other ideas we need to discuss. These are the grey areas that can be beneficial or sinful.
1. Let’s talk about roasts and jokes that sound like they’re tearing someone down, but are genuinely appreciated by all parties involved.
Obviously, the principles edification applies here, but I believe it is possible to bandy words with someone on a Christ-honoring way.
The first reality is that we need to recognize that 99.9% of humor is funny because it tears someone or something down. It’s easy to see how the vast majority of jokes are like this, but consider the lesser jokes we read on the back of bubble-gum wrappers.
“Why did the chicken cross the road?” doesn’t appear on face-value to tear anyone down, but no one really appreciates jokes like this because the punchline assumes that the person guessing wasn’t smart enough to realize the answer was so simple.
So, we obviously need to be super careful that we don’t inadvertently hurt someone given the roasts are designed to chip away at people and situations.
Now, I will admit that we often find phrase-turning and wordplay to be funny as well. That’s the 1% of comedy that’s not designed to tear things down. Unfortunately, that type of humor his more erudite — and since most of our ten year olds aren’t joking this way, I’m not going to spend any more time on that category today.
Still, is it possible to roast someone without the person actually feeling torn down? I believe so. I believe that two mature, Christ-honoring individuals can poke fun at each other and genuinely enjoy the experience without either feel slighted.
Let me share a personal example. My family uses a lot of pet phrases and nicknames. One our favorites is the polish word Paczki. The word refers to a jelly-filled donut on steroids, but we like to use it as a term of endearment. Well, the same goes for the word, “dork.”
In our home, that word has become a term of endearment, especially when used to refer to my son.
Now, I have to tell you that some people have heard me call my son a dork and have lovingly confronted me and challenged me that it’s dangerous to use such terms because of all the reasons we’ve just discussed.
However, because of the way my family uses the word, my son actually enjoys being called a “dork.”
And here’s the key. I never call someone ugly who’s actually ugly. I never call someone fat who’s actually fat. But, I frequently call super-attractive, skinny people “fat” and “ugly.” It’s funny because it’s ludicrous.
The same is true of calling my son “dork." I use the word at the moments that it’s the least applicable.
And I think that’s how most Christ-honoring family jokes are used.
I walk into the kitchen and see my five-foot-two-eyes-of-blue-only-weighs-one-hundred-and-two wife eating a cup of ice cream, I call her “fatty,” and we both laugh.
Now, everyone knows that most jokes have an element of truth. Therefore the joke becomes more offensive the larger the truth.
For example, I was discussing this topic with my friend Ben, and we imagined two different scenarios where it would be genuinely funny for me to call him a crack-addict.
I imagined him coming up with a ridiculous idea (one that we both recognized was ridiculous) and I say something like, “Wow, Ben, I didn’t know you smoked crack.”
But in his version, he immediately thought about the fact that he drinks at lease one cup of coffee a day. He also knows that I can’t stand the stuff. So, his scenario imagined him walking into my house with his daily dose and I quip, “Hey, everyone, the crack addict is here!”
In both of those situations I’m calling him a crack-addict, but depending on the strength of our relationship, the quality of his morning, and his frame of mind, the second one may be less humorous than the first.
In the first situation, he knew what he said was ludicrous, in the second I’m posing my life choices against his.
The second has the greater opportunity for offense because it carries with it the greatest amount of relational truth.
Of course even the first situation could have turned sour if he actually thought his idea had been a good one.
Now, we have to be fair, we never have the right to be offended and angered by anyone’s words. When the God-Man was tortured and reviled, He willingly died for the sins of those who were trying to take His life. He didn’t tear anyone down with His tongue. I really don’t care how unkind their words are, we need to respond to persecution and insult and hate with love and joy. That’s Bible.
No getting offended.
But, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be unkind because “they shouldn’t get offended.”
So, when it comes to roasts and jabs and personal jokes, I believe that they can actually be used to engender relationship when A. The amount of truth in the joke is low to nonexistent, B. The joke genuinely follows the guidelines we discussed, and C. Everyone responds lovingly.
So, that’s roasts. Alright, two more things:
Here’s the dictionary definition: “1: a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain. 2 a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual.”
Now, that may sound bad, but sarcasm is not inherently a sin. However, most people do use it sinfully.
There are a number of examples in the Scriptures of what I like to call “Sanctified Sarcasm.” In I Kings 18:27 the worshippers of Baal are trying to convince their false god to burn up a sacrifice. Listen to what happens, "And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’”
In I Kings 22:15-17 we read, “And when he had come to the king, the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we refrain?” And he answered him, ‘Go up and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.’ 16 But the king said to him, ‘How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?’ 17 And he said, “ saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd.’”
Micaiah, the prophet of the Lord, was speaking sarcastically, and the king knew it.
And consider I Corinthians 4:7-14, "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. 14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.”
The reality of this passage is that the Corinthians were none of the things Paul said. They didn’t have all they wanted, they weren’t rich, they wouldn’t have become kings, they weren’t wise in Christ, they weren’t strong, and they weren’t held in honor. This is why at the end of a passage where it might seem that Paul said many nice things about them, he has to end with, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed.”
He was using “a sharp utterance, directed against an individual, designed to cut or give pain” — specifically, to cause conviction.
Paul used nearly every communication device he could to help his listeners understand the Truth of God. And in this situation, the Corinthians needed to feel the pain and see the hypocrisy of their lives.
Even God Himself uses this device. In Job 38:19-21 He asks, “Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, 20 that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?” And then God answers sarcastically, "21 You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!”
So, here’s the issue. Again, sarcasm isn’t inherently sinful — people simply use it to sin in the same was that people pervert God’s gift of sexuality.
In order to help your family glorify God with their speech, it will be vital to help your children understand why they said what they said. You can learn more about that in our Merest Christianity series starting in episode 95.
The reality is that sarcasm can be used to glorify God and build people up in His truth. But if we’re using it for anything else we run the risk of sinning.
On this point, I need to make a note about hyperbole. Hyperbole is extravagant exaggeration. Again, this is a biblical device. Jesus said that it would be better to gouge out our own eyes and chop off our own hands than to sin. He also said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven.
His words need to be understood within the legitimate uses of human language.
I use hyperbole quite frequently in my counseling and parenting. We all need to understand the severity of our sin against God. But I think there’s room for it in common speech as well.
If my child drew me a picture and I didn’t like it, I could say, “That’s the most beautiful picture I’ve ever seen.” It’s the tone that betrays the intent in sarcasm.
However, my child can draw me a picture, and I can love it, and I can use hyperbole to say, “That’s the most beautiful picture I’ve ever seen!”
The child understands the exaggeration, and it’s appreciated because it communicates that his gesture meant more than the image itself.
Alright, so we’ve talked about guidelines for all family communication, we talked about family roasts that can glorify God and sarcasm that can glorify God, and the dangers inherent in both.
3. Now, I want to end discussing the use of stereotypes for humorous purposes.
I’ve always said that stereotypes are stereotypically true. It wouldn’t be a stereotype to say that most college professors dropped out of high school. However, there are many professions where you might imagine that stereotype being used. That’s not to say it’s true all the time, but stereotypes become stereotypes because a large (or visible) segment of the demographic fit that description.
In families, stereotypes abound.
“Men are logical, women are emotional.” Or worse yet, “Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus.”
“Men are the ones who are always thinking about sex, and women have to convince themselves to go along with it.”
There are stereotypes about fathers galore. For a time, apparently all fathers were sports watching, beer drinking, gruff men who were emotionally disconnected and spiritually absent.
When I was growing up, moms were apparently all sweet, adorable, fragile people. This is why dad’s would be railed on during Father’s Day messages, but moms would be built up and coddled by the exact same pastors on Mother’s Day.
There are also stereotypes about children. Each age from the “terrible-twos” on up have their cultural stereotypes.
Here we go: I don’t believe stereotypes have any value in humor. Sarcasm, roasts, and hyperbole can all be used in humorous was to the glory of God. But stereotypes cannot. Here’s why:
How many pastors have I heard try to use husband and wife stereotypes from the pulpit for humorous effect, and how many congregations actually believe the stereotypes to be true?!
If every father jokes with his daughter that her future husbands won’t be able to understand a word she says, a thought she has, or an emotion she feels, eventually our daughters will believe it.
In reality, stereotypes are only funny when everyone realizes they’re not true!
This goes back to our discussion about personal jabs. The more true they are the less funny they and the more harmful they can be.
And if the stereotype isn’t true, why are we preaching messages about them? Why are there entire marriage and family conferences built around the Failure Philosophy that men and women think differently?
Now, you may be thinking, “Well, Aaron, men and women do think differently.”
I’m sorry, just because they do, doesn’t mean that God created us that way. It doesn’t mean that’s how it should be. It doesn’t mean that’s how it has to be.
First, my wife and I are the perfect examples of the foolishness of stereotypes. We defy nearly all of them. From libido to emotional responses to aesthetic sensibilities, my wife and I are flipped in so many ways. And I’ll tell you right now that there are a bunch of people listening to me who completely agree. Every time I make this observation, there’s at least one couple in the room who feels rush a relief that they’re not weird. We have pastors and teachers preaching stereotypes that leave God-loving, Bible-believing Christian men thinking they’re from Venus when the reality is that they’re just glorifying God.
Remember that father-stereotype from the 90’s? The gruff, absentee, doofus? Well, that’s not the biblical picture of manhood at all! Paul uses very “motherly” terms when talking about his love for the body of Christ. God says that the entire church is the bride of Christ, and He doesn’t care that a bunch of men in 2018 are uncomfortable with that analogy.
Whether they be men or women, we see that the more conformed they are to the image of Christ, the more they have in common. We’re not called to think like men or women, we’re called to think like God. And there is absolutely no biblical data to suggest that men and women should be different in their spirits, thoughts, emotions, or desires.
The problem is that each generation of children is taught how to think by the generation before them. What type of husband and father do you think your son will be when your example is distant and detached? What kind go woman do you imagine your daughter it going to become when she’s surrounded by church ladies who believe that while the men are having their basketball tournaments and hunting banquets, the ladies should have teas and craft fairs?
Now, please I’m not trying to offend anyone. If you’re a woman who likes teas and craft fairs, that’s fantastic. I’m simply trying to point out that there are many ladies in who hate tea and crafts who would really like to fellowship with other ladies on the basketball court. There are men who passionately love God who aren’t interested in mechanical metaphors. I don’t like basketball or mechanics, and I’d love to meet with a bunch of guys and drink tea.
And when we humorously promote an inaccurate view of reality, all we’re doing is sacrificing our children’s understanding of truth . . . for a smile.
By all means, joke with your family, but don’t do or say anything that might leave them believing a lie.
I don’t want to joke with someone about being fat if they’re actually going to believe they’re fat and choose to starve themselves because of it. I don’t want to joke with a girl that boys can’t understand her and tempt her to fear that she’s going to have just live with that reality in every relationship in her life.
I really appreciate your time, so let me finish with this observation: Joking is a matter of Christian freedom. In our joking we must never degrade anyone — our speech must always edify. Christians are also called to live at peace. Our speech should bear our audience in mind. Even if a joke may be acceptable to God, we do not want to cause others to stumble. We also don’t want to use jokes as a way of avoiding painful or serious subjects; Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us there’s a time for laughter and a time for tears. Above all, we need to ensure that our speech — in jest or in seriousness — is a glorifying reflection of God and motivated by love.
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On our next episode we’ll ask the question, “Is It Okay to Get Mad?”
Remember, Season 6 is all about being super-practical and dealing with the things you encounter on a daily basis.
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Listen, I love to laugh and thoroughly enjoy chasing a quick wit. But above all else we must be certain that God is glorified and others are loved in our teasing.
Otherwise, we will give an account for idle, unkind word.
See you next time.
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