Does the Bible condemn sarcasm? The answer isn’t as black and white as you might think. What does God’s Word say about this communication method?
I know how to be sarcastic, a sarcastic jerk frankly. In the years I wasn’t walking with Christ I cultivated a personality of wit, taking pride in my supposed ability to fire increasingly insurmountable comebacks at those who dared enter a duel of verbal barbs with me. That’s what I told myself I was doing, anyway. It’s the idea of seating oneself on a communication throne over others just to enjoy the ridiculous notion that your mouth has the quickest draw in the west. Yet instead of heated exchanges of sarcasm being some kind of gun fight where the loser can still walk away and manage to heal eventually, shooting barbed words at those whom we claim to love results in a far deadlier outcome. They stick and they sting…badly, and at times the victim doesn’t always recover.
Does God’s Word condemn sarcasm? That’s a fascinating question. I don’t think the answer is so obviously black and white; it isn’t as clear cut and dry as you might be inclined to believe. While in most contexts I believe the Bible condemns sarcasm, I also think there are instances in which God’s wrath doesn’t enter the equation.
And I’ll start with an example of just that… Sarcasm, while not explicitly lauded or rebuked, that isn’t answered with God’s disapproval of the speaker. I point you to the narrative of Elijah and the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18. If you’re unfamiliar with that text, please read it and better understand what unfolds, as I desire only to emphasize verse 27.
As the Baal prophets were pitifully crying out to someone that didn’t exist during a showdown of sacrifices, God’s representative Elijah laid on some thick sarcasm! I always get a chuckle from the idea of a false god taking a bathroom break.
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.”
God didn’t verbally commend what Elijah said, but what follows verse 27 doesn’t indicate that He experienced a hint of consternation due to the prophet’s words. After all, Elijah said what he did to call out the obvious error of his idolatrous opponents. He also of course knew Who the one true God was! And in a way, Elijah’s remarks to king Ahab’s flunkies could be considered a form of worship to Yahweh. Elijah knew the Lord could do anything, which included the awesome and superbly supernatural obliteration of his altar, and I don’t think God would have acted if He was any way displeased with the prophet’s attitude and/or comments. Thus, sarcasm that the Lord actually blessed!
The Lord also isn’t angered by sarcasm that serves its hearer with gut-splitting laughter! Poking innocent fun at yourself is my best illustration, though you’d need to be very careful that the sarcasm isn’t simultaneously fueling your own ego. The focus is service. Yet it also depends on the hearer’s personality. Even the most seemingly innocent sarcasm is capable of bothering, offending those who detest the mere thought of it. Such a person could consciously choose to be less sensitive, but that’s a tall order for anyone who’s way of reacting is ingrained. And that’s not a fault of the person necessarily; you may very well need to work on giving up sarcasm so as to not be a stumbling block. That is for you to work out with the sensitive person.
Now for the general truth of this matter. Yes, in the grand scheme of communication, God definitely condemns sarcasm and commands us in the Old and New Testaments to stay far, far away from it. The Scripture examples are many, and I’ll reference a handful: Ephesians 4:29, Matthew 5:37, Ephesians 5:4, Proverbs 26:18-19, Proverbs 18:21, James 3:3-12, Genesis 4:9-12, Proverbs 12:18. God truly cares about our communication; we need to do it His way!
The take-away is that sarcasm much more often than not is used because we are swelled with pride and want to injure the recipient(s) of our words. The James passage in particular makes it clear how dangerous that is. And isn’t it interesting, perhaps you’ve never considered, how Scripture is more concerned with the tongue (speaking) than anything sexual about us? The Bible warns us most about sexual sin, but it singles out the tongue as the most potentially damaging tool of our body. It’s full of deadly poison! That’s not to say that communication sins anger God more than sexual sins do, but He created us first and foremost to be a communicative, speaking people. After all, God is a communicative, verbally-relational God. That’s why the need to be on guard against selfish sarcasm, and agonizingly careful with attempts to use serving sarcasm, can’t be emphasized enough.
The reason I’m hammering this is due to my being guilty of sarcasm’s misuse way more than I ought to be. It’s thankfully not every day, but I do hurt my wife, my pastors, my brethren, and others with comments laden with biting sarcasm. That is terrible, and it grieves the Spirit that commands me to build up, not tear down those made in God’s image. Worst of all perhaps is that it detriments my witness for Christ. This is an area where I desire to work very hard to cooperate with the Spirit, though sometimes my efforts are pitiful I admit. It can be very discouraging! That’s why I’m so grateful that God’s grace is not only greater than all our sin, mine especially, but it’s the sure and faithful power to change my heart. That doesn’t mean it will eliminate my barbed words completely, at least not in this life, but I have hope about it every day! I need to encourage with my words; it’s that simple.
I need to preach this sermon to myself regularly; I hope I do. And it’s one I hope you will take to heart as well fellow millennial Christian. Our relationships, our families, our marriages, and our churches depend on it. Communication isn’t about how comedic you can make yourself seem to be, but how well you can serve others in the way they need.
Recommended book: War of Words (Paul David Tripp)