Last summer, my wife and I had the privilege of going to a preview of a Gary Chapman conference to be held in Cincinnati. We had a terrific time and were treated very graciously by the host church. Yet, during our luncheon with a group of pastors, I was reacquainted with a particular truth that all who are leaders (especially preachers of the Gospel) would do well to remember:
If you have to get a laugh at someone else’s expense, it’s just not funny.
I say this as one who grew up on the Three Stooges where Moe would poke, prod, smack, and insult — calling Larry a “porcupine,” or calling Curly a “mutton head” (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk). I grew up on All in the Family where Archie would call his son-in-law “Meathead” and call everyone else everything else.
But the older I get, the more I see the power of words and the power they have to break down relationships. Psalm 140:1-3 says,
Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men;
preserve me from violent men,
who plan evil things in their heart
and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s,
and under their lips is the venom of asps. Selah
Sharp and venomous are words ill-spoken. And damaging — but not simply to those who receive these words, but also to those who speak them as well.
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.
Granted, the motive behind these words is anger — but these words carry a big punch for them to be recognized as used with that motive. When we think we can say hurtful things and think that a simple smile can overcome it all and make it better, we have to reconsider. The words will still sting.
I’ve seen too many preachers — from the pulpit even! — who use some and jokingly prod them about something foolish they did or some trait they have and use it to generate a laugh. I told my ministry students last night that this is not appropriate for the minister of God. You may be loved when you say these things, but one day something may come up where they will question something you did — then all those things you said ‘jokingly’ will begin to carry more weight. Then they will wonder how serious you were! As Dr. Tim Beougher of Southern Seminary told us in preaching class, “If you have people shooting at you, don’t give them bullets!” Oh, how words can serve as those bullets.
So again, if you have to get a laugh at someone else’s expense, then don’t do it. Find other creative ways to lighten the heart and build up at the same time. Sure, lots of TV shows and stand-up comics make a nice living at such a thing…
… but who wants to be Andrew Dice Clay?
I’ll work on being more like Jesus, thanks. That’s why he created and saved me to begin with (Romans 8:29-30).