Ephesians 5:4 “nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting: but rather giving of thanks”
“Nor”: “Goes beyond immorality to vulgarity” (Stott p. 192). These are to be included in those things, which are unfit for Christians and that are not even to be named among us (Ephesians 5:3). “Filthiness”: Is defined as shamefulness, obscenity, “nastiness” (Lenski p. 596). “Dirty, indecent, obscene language” (Boles p. 298). Some people try to confuse the issue and they attempt to argue that "obscenity" is in the eye of the beholder. Such is the language of ignorance. If "obscenity" is such a vague category that defies all attempts to figure out what really is obscene, then why does everyone use the same basic words when they desire to "cuss and swear"? Why is the language of obscenity so easy to find and identify? And why it is so easy to point out the person who is using it?
“Foolish talking”: “Impious, silly, godless speech without forethought and wisdom “(Caldwell p. 232). “Is the talk of a fool, the man who does not know God (Psalm 14:1)” (Boles p. 298). “Foolish talking" would include the discussion of subject matter, which violates God's truth, that is speculations, which contradict the truth God has already revealed.
“Coarse jesting”: “Suggestive jesting” (Wms); “coarse jokes” (Tay) “polished and witty speech as the 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” (Vincent p. 398). “Witty talk that is corrupted by a smutty intention, a nasty insinuation which raises a laugh at the expense of someone's good name” (Boles p. 298). Someone has said that the cheapest form of "wit" is that which depends upon a four-letter word or dirty joke to get a laugh. God isn't against laughter (Eccl. 3:4), in fact God has a very good sense of humor (Matthew 7:1-5). But God is against the "humor of this world", where getting the laugh or the admiration of men, has become more important than moral purity. “That versatility which turns about, adapting itself, without regard to principle, to the circumstances of the moment, and the varying moods of those around. It refers to the foulness, "foolish talking" to the folly, "jesting" to the false refinement (and trifling witticism: Tittmann), of discourse unseasoned with the salt of grace (Trench)”(Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary). “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). “Words that can be easily turned to other meanings; double entendres; chaste words which, from their connection, and the manner in which they are used, convey an obscene or offensive meaning”(Adam Clarke's Commentary). “Christians should be grave and serious-though cheerful and pleasant. They should feel that they have great interests at stake, and that the world has too. They are redeemed-not to make sport; purchased with precious blood-for other purposes than to make people laugh. They are soon to be in heaven-and a man who has any impressive sense of that will habitually feel that he has much else to do than to make people laugh. The true course of life is midway between moroseness (grumpiness) and levity (flippancy); sourness and lightness; harshness and jesting. Be benevolent, kind, cheerful, courteous, but serious. Be solemn, thoughtful, deeply impressed with the presence of God and with eternal things, but pleasant, and affable (friendly). Think not a smile sinful; but think not levity and jesting harmless”(Barnes' Notes).
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. When I speak people should be able to say, “he is wise, understanding, clever and he has a good heart.” 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 “which are not fitting”: “Which things are beneath you” (Rhm); “they are wholly out of place among you” (TCNT). (5:3) “But rather”: God always gives us something better to do. God always gives the Christian a better alternative than the world can offer. God always offers a superior product. “Giving of thanks”: “but a sense of all that we owe to God” (Phi). “Whereas sexual impurity and covetousness express self-centered acquisitiveness, thanksgiving is the exact opposite, and so the antidote required; it is the recognition of God's generosity. All God's gifts, including sex, are subjects for thanksgiving, rather than for joking. To joke about them is bound to degrade them; to thank God for them is the way to preserve their worth as the blessings of a loving Creator” (Stott pp. 192-193). Gratitude is a great protection against such sins. For the person who is truly grateful to God, realizes that they already have more than enough blessings. They don't view themselves as derived or "deserving" more. When we become ungrateful, we are easy prey for the devil (Romans 1:21). “Believers have received so many blessings from God, in grace as well as in nature, that thanksgiving should be a dominant note in their speech as well as in their thought” (Bruce p. 371).
· It is so easy to be influenced by our culture (Romans 12:1-2), especially when many “conservative voices” in our culture are at times just as rude and crude as the rest of the world. We live in a society where, while someone might be morally conservative on some issues, at the same time they engage in coarse jesting and filthy talk.
· We live in a culture where people have been told that in order to get your point across you have to use some crude language, or, in order to keep your audience interested you have you spice things up.
· We also live in a culture that seems to have lost their sense of dignity, self-respect, and what is appropriate concerning humor and jokes. The idea that a dirty joke is a something sinful has long disappeared in our culture.
· Increasingly, we live a society where the media, advertisements, radio hosts, and others are constantly trying to use one sexual innuendo after another, where everything is given a double meaning. I believe that such is due to our culture’s obsession with self and always wanting to be being entertained (2 Timothy 3:2-4).
What Type of Humor Should I Avoid?
· Jokes that demonstrate disrespect for God, Jesus, the Bible, and the Church. That is, humor at the expense of that which is holy. Jokes that tend to place God in a trivial light. Humor that in the end is teaching the wrong lesson or a false doctrine.
· Jokes that rely on sexual humor, and innuendo. Obviously, humor that even the world would consider to be “dirty”. Christians need to remember that the various ratings that we run into, whether, for movies, music, or video games are the ratings given by people of the world (1 John 2:15). If even the world recognizes that something needs parental guidance or supervision, then how much more does a Christian need to avoid it? If a non-Christian would view this joke or story as dirty or crude, then, I need to avoid it. We should avoid humor that relies on a person being “worldly” to understand, and humor that would be lost on someone who is thinking about things that are “pure” (Philippians 4:8).
· Humor that would send the wrong message concerning your own values or would give people the impression that you might be open to certain temptations.
· Humor that is cruel, and laughter at the expense of a horrible tragedy. Humor that you wouldn’t appreciate, if you or a loved one was in the condition being ridiculed (Matthew 7:12).
· Consider the source of the joke, that is, who told it to you. One source noted that the word “coarse jesting”, “is not the sin of the tongue merely, but the manners or words of the witty, godless man of the world” (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 353).
· Check your motivation. Often, when one becomes a Christian there is a learning period to discern what is and what is not appropriate speech (Hebrews 5:14). But if you have been a Christian for some time, then look at your motivation before you say something humorous. If you want to shock people, or prove that you aren’t a “prude”, then you need to refrain from saying what you were about to say. Ironically, Christians don’t have to worry about trying to “shock people”, the message that we are bringing from God will do just fine in getting people’s attention (Acts 24:25).
Matt 12:36-37"And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the Day of Judgment. 37"For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned”
“Every careless word”: First, God does pay attention every word that we speak. Unfortunately, I think that the devil has convinced us that we are given some “free” words every day that don’t count. Or, that God only listens at certain times. David said, “Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, Thou does know it all” (Psalm 139:4). “This literally means a vain, thoughtless, useless word; a word that accomplishes no good. Here it means, evidently, "wicked, injurious, false, malicious, for such" were the words which they had spoke” (Barnes Notes). “An idle word is a non-working word; an inoperative word. It has no legitimate work, no office, no business, but is morally useless and unprofitable” (Vincent’s Word Studies).
Matthew 10:16 “innocent as doves”
It is very hard to avoid saying something nasty or giving something a double meaning, if we are allowing our minds to be filled with worldly thinking and humor. Cleaning up our speech means that we must first clean up our minds, which in turn means filtering what we allow ourselves to see and hear. “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34); “For out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:19); “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts…and foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).
Ephesians 5:3 “But do not let”; 5:4 “and there must be no”
These statements should encourage us, for God is saying that we can control what we say. Be impressed that these commands are issued to people who were at one time deep in sin and very worldly (Ephesians 2:1-3). The good news is that we can “renew our minds” with good and noble thoughts (Ephesians 4:22-24). We don’t have to be a slave to what we have seen or heard in the past, and neither do we have to allow such evil things or images to control our thinking in the present.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017