Question: "Is joking a sin? What does the Bible say about telling jokes?"

Answer: Joking is an interesting topic and difficult to paint with one broad brush. Biblically speaking, joking itself is not regarded as sin, although in some instances, it certainly can be. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that “the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” James 3:3-12 compares the tongue to a bit in a horse’s mouth, a ship’s rudder, and a fire. The tongue is a powerful thing, and words can either bring great life or great hurt. There are ways to joke that edify. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). The Psalms are full of references to laughter, which is what good joking produces. But there is also a way to joke that is demeaning and harmful, and we are called to “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).

Our words should always honor God and communicate that we value that which He has made. The best way to know whether our joking is bordering on the sinful is to seek the Holy Spirit and ask for His conviction. He can make us sensitive to when a joke is appropriate and when it may not be. If there is any doubt in our minds, or if our consciences are being pricked by our joking, it is probably best to forego it. There is also the issue of making others stumble, which we can easily do with jokes that we may feel are perfectly innocent, but which others see as offensive or hurtful. Our liberty should never be exercised at the expense of another’s conscience (Romans 14:13-17).

Occasional jokes and jesting, if they are appropriate, are probably for the most part innocent. But there are those who make jokes so often that they can hardly say a sentence without it containing a joke of some sort. This is hardly the most appropriate lifestyle for a Christian, however, as we are told to “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12). As with all “gray areas” in the Christian life, seeking God’s wisdom regarding our speech is the most profitable way to go (James 1:5).