Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Maniac Shooting Flaming Arrows of Death

Jokes are convenient ways to turn frustrating situations or individuals into something we can understand and control. When a situation is turned into a joke, we control the punch line. When a person is turned into a joke, the joke teller holds the power over the person (the punch line).

In a conversation before a meeting this week, a friend of mine called me on my increasing use of sarcasm. He was right. Sarcasm is defined as harsh or bitter derision or irony. I have a tendency to increase my use of sarcasm when I feel like I have arrived in a position of leadership or authority. It is a weakness that I use to help me feel like I am “right” or “in control”. It is less work to deride someone I do not understand or disagree with than it is to seek restoration. It feels better to me to make a joke out of someone when I want to be “right”.

I am grateful for my friend’s accountability.

It would have been easy for me to say “I was only joking”. But sarcasm has its roots in bitterness. Proverbs 26:18-19 says “Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’” When we use sarcasm in an attempt to make light of a situation we knowingly and unknowingly use our words to shoot flaming arrows of death at our intended targets.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) When we use sarcasm, it only benefits the joke teller. My hope is that my words are helpful in building others up. God’s desire is that we use words to encourage and make others look good. Paul goes on to say in verse 30 that our words can grieve the Holy Spirit. Our words can make God sad. That is definitely not on my to do list.

Before you make that crack about your senior pastor, or about that one board member or elder, check yourself. Before you tear down your parents with “witty” jokes, check yourself. Before you make a generalized statement about men or women, or about kids these days, check yourself. Or before you tear down your teacher or a politician, check yourself.

Instead, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)


  1. It is possible to be ironic, though, without being sarcastic. Jesus's comment, for example: "At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone Me?" (John 10.32) Folks may interpret that to be sarcasm because they're overlaying their own bitterness or anger on it. But when our own motives are simply to point out the irony (rather than mock individuals for it) it can be a proper prophetic correction to society. Again, it goes back to motives.

  2. That is right K.W. It is about the motive. My wife and I were talking about the difference between sarcasm and irony, and it really comes down to the motive of the heart.