Coarse jesting and crude joking are attempts to elicit laughs by crossing a line into impropriety. The use of foul language, sexual innuendo, or rude or racist comments means that a so-called joke had to appeal to baser instincts in order to earn laughs. Ephesians 5:3–4 warns against coarse jesting: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” It is interesting that coarse jesting is included in this list of more grievous sins that are “improper for God’s holy people.”
Coarse jesting and crude joking do not reflect the new life we have in Christ. God desires to transform us by renewing our minds and sanctifying our spirits (Romans 12:1–2; 2 Corinthians 10:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3). We are walking temples, dedicated to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Physical body parts that were once dedicated to sin become “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:12–13). Our mouths are part of our bodies and a significant part of that transformation. From our mouths should come worship and praise, edification and encouragement, truth and blessing (James 3:9–12). Controlling our mouths is part of true religion: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not bridle his tongue, he deceives his heart and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
In everything we do, we should seek to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). This includes our joke-telling and attempts at humor. Laughter is great, but we should learn to control our words, judging whether or not they belong in a body that houses the Holy Spirit. Would Jesus think that joke is great? Would He find humor in foul language, demeaning jabs, or sexual innuendo? If not, then we should refrain from that type of speech. Coarse jesting and crude joking do not need to come from a mouth that is supposedly dedicated to His honor.
The Bible says that our words are powerful, and we need to treat them with respect (Proverbs 18:21). Part of maturing in Christ is learning to filter what comes out of our mouths. Some people give themselves a pass on questionable banter and coarse jesting because “it’s just a joke.” But Proverbs 26:19 warns against those who hide behind the phrase “I was only joking!” Jokes do not give us an excuse to sin.
Intelligent humor does not rely on shock value or offensive content. True humor can stand on its own merit. Comedians who rely on inappropriate, coarse joking to get laughs are only demonstrating their lack of creativity. They must make their hearers uncomfortable to hold their attention, and that is not a mark of excellence.
When our thoughts have been purified by immersing ourselves in God’s Word, our speech will change (see Philippians 4:8), and coarse joking will feel foreign on our tongues. Crude jesting will leave a bad taste in our spirits and echo like a clattering gong in our ears. If we belong to Jesus, the Holy Spirit will draw us toward repentance when we’ve crossed a line. Coarse jesting and crude joking have no place in the life of a follower of Christ.