Believe it or not, this subject has sparked some controversy and theological debate among many pastors and theologians in the past. Some have taken the approach that Christianity is supposed to be a serious endeavor and, therefore, should not include what Paul calls “Crude joking” in Ephesians 5:4.
They usually go on to quote James 4:9 “Be miserable and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” CSB. So, does God really want his children to live with this type of demeanor?
Several years ago, after being chastised for telling jokes while preaching a revival in southern Arkansas, I began an exhaustive study of this very subject. What I discovered surprised me immensely. Not only does God not want us to live in a perpetual state of solemn misery, he expects us to laugh and be full of joy.
The verses quoted above are part of a very small family of statements made in the Bible about avoiding improper joking and displays of joy. In fact, they are certainly the exception not the rule and can only be applied to the anti-humor perspective if taken out of context with the rest of Scripture. As with any subject, you can dig through the Bible and find at least one statement to validate your position. I call this “Gunslinger theology”. We find an individual passage that backs up our position, then whip it out and start shooting as the occasion provides. But is this what God really intended for us?
My study concluded that, although we must avoid offensive humor and belittling anyone in the Body of Christ, God really did give us the desire and ability to laugh; especially at ourselves. In fact, the wisest human that ever lived had this to say about it in Proverbs 17:22, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” CSB
Another way the Hebrew might be understood is “A joyful heart makes medicine work better.” The statement literally translated would be “A heart of rejoicing, it causes good a healing.” In other words, if you take medicine with a happy and healthy outlook on life it brings and promotes healing. Let’s face it; people like to have fun, even in church.
The Bible is full of life changing concepts and change is always difficult for a gathering of believers. In fact, an old joke I learned in seminary says this about the subject; “What are the seven last words of a dying church? We’ve never done it like that before!” When someone joins a Gathering they usually are drawn to it because it operates in a way they like. However, as with any group, change is inevitable as the group grows and moves forward. Too often, many get left behind because they refuse to change. This is due in part to personal growth being hard and often unpleasant. So how do we help them accept the change and grow with the rest?
This is where humor can make a big difference. Psychologically, people do not tend to fear things they can laugh about. If we turn it into a joke we fear it less. To paraphrase Solomon, “if we can help people face personal change with a joyful heart it will make the transition easier.” It will also help them take the “medicine” of your sermons easier and give you the ability to say things you might never get away with otherwise. A strong word of revelation from the pulpit goes down much easier with a little humor. Or as Mary Poppins would say, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
In conclusion, I encourage you not to be like the small town preacher whose sermons were so boring the congregation came to him and told him no one in town wanted to come there because of the dry messages. This, of course, hurt the preacher’s feelings, so he cried out to God for a sign to see if it was true. The next Sunday morning was a hot day so they opened all the windows in the church. When the preacher went to the pulpit to deliver his message a strong gust of wind blew his sermon notes out the window. Suddenly, a milk cow walked up and ate the sermon notes. Two days later she went dry.
You have many important and powerful truths to share. Using humor can help them be received more easily. Just make sure you prepare yourself because not everyone can tell a joke. Many years ago a young pastor, who was terrible at telling jokes, went to a conference. One of the messages was on using humor in the pulpit. The speaker walked to the podium and opened with this statement: I must confess to you my fellow pastors. Last night I held another man’s wife in my arms, (Dramatic pause), I hugged my mother!” The young pastor went home armed with this joke and could not wait to pull it on his congregation. He walked into the pulpit, laid out his notes and cleared his throat. “Church, this morning I have a confession to make. Last night I held another man’s wife in my arm, (Awkward pause), and for the life of me I can’t remember who she was!”
R.A.G.E. Ministries, INC