Austin Whaley thought his little stunt would be funny. He walked into a local bingo hall and shouted, “Bingo!” Many of the patrons and elderly women present did not appreciate the teen’s hubbub and ballyhoo. Unfortunately for Austin, there was also an off duty security detail present who cited him for disorderly conduct (KETV).
A month later Whaley came before a judge who passed a rather unusual sentencing, “Do not say the word 'bingo' for six months” (ibid). If Austin does not comply with the punishment, he could be facing 90 days in prison and a $250 fine. If he obeys, the charges will be dropped. While this situation was silly and mostly harmless, in some people’s minds Austin crossed the line with his joke. Some people, especially those in the bingo hall, didn’t find his actions funny or amusing at all.
Most people enjoy laughing and joking around, but sometimes we can take it too far. Ephesians 5:4 says, “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” Colossians 3:8 instructs, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”
The question is, what do some of these terms mean? Should we never joke? When can having fun and joking around go too far? Let’s briefly define what these Bible terms mean.
- Filthy Talk: This is language that is crass, crude, and obscene. Examples of this kind of speech include cursing, inappropriate sexual talk, and crude humor.
- Silly Talk: This is language that is foolish and moronic. This is the kind of joking and unbridled speaking one would expect from a drunk or a fool. This also includes those who are wise in their own eyes and reject wisdom.
- Coarse Jesting: This is off color humor and inappropriate jokes. This would include jokes about immoral activities (sex, drinking, drugs, etc), racist jokes, and any other type of joking that is vulgar and crude.
- Slander: This is using words to damage someone’s reputation and character. Examples of this include gossip, telling lies about someone, and saying things that defame and hurt someone (even if joking).
- Abusive Speech: This is speech that hurts, demeans, and discourages others. Some examples included put downs, insults, sharp comebacks, angry words, and speech that humiliates.
We must be very careful with the words we use (Ephesians 4:29). As a rule of thumb, if something we say demeans or insults someone, involves bad words, uses inappropriate sexual talk, or includes off color jokes, then we are crossing the line (even if we’re just joking). There’s nothing wrong with good-natured jokes and having a good time, but we must be careful not to take it too far. Let’s never allow the words and jokes we say damage our reputation and character as Christians (Matthew 26:74).