Monday, January 28

"Just Kidding" or Just Cutting?

Have you ever known a person who insults you or lies to you and when you challenge him/her on what was said you get, "It was just a joke! Lighten up!" Or "I was just kidding! Why are you so sensitive? If I offended you, I apologize."

The words "just kidding" (and their texting equivalent "jk") have been used for a long time to cover up things said and quickly regretted, criticism actually meant but then decided was too mean, or criticism intended but the person took offense so had to be covered up.

Almost everyone does it. Sometimes we really are just kidding but often there is an element of truth that we feel compelled to criticize. Since we hate confrontation or we don't like the response we're getting we say, "Just kidding!" 

But the damage is done! The wound is made. And often the person immediately responds or plots a good comeback that will wound us...even though they too are "just kidding!" 

Read: Proverbs 26:18-19; Ephesians 4:29 and James 1:26
Proverbs 26:18 Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death 19 is one who deceives their neighbor and says, "I was only joking!"

Ephesians 4:29 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.

James 1:26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

Few of us think we have a problem with this. And yet nearly all of us do it in some way. We hide behind sarcasm and add on "just kidding" to say things we're afraid to say directly. We often want to make a point without actually having to confront a person. We want to bring the person down a bit, but we don't want to be seen as critical or mean or we make our sarcastic, critical comment and quickly add, "just kidding!" We try to couch our comment in humor hoping to avoid blame.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that simply adding "just kidding" or something like it doesn't stop the damage. Our words hit home. They wound their target. 

The problem is that our words reveal what's in our hearts. When we use sarcasm, semi-joking, and hurtful words, we show there is anger, bitterness, jealousy, envy, hurt - or something like it - in our hearts. It may be we're simply having a bad day, but whatever the case, our words hurt. 

The author of Proverbs calls us "maniacs" and suggests that our words are "flaming arrows of death" when we say something deceptive and then tack on "I was only joking!" We might think that's a bit dramatic, but if we stop and think about it, we've been wounded by others so we know what it's like. It really hurts. Sticks and stones do break bones, but hurtful words are painful too. 

Paul said we should avoid "unwholesome" talk. "Unwholesome" refers to something rotten or spoiled. It's something ruined and of no value. Unwholesome talk is talk that doesn't fit the occasion. It doesn't offer grace or give life or build up. It cuts down; it injures. 

Joking in and of itself is not the problem. Telling the truth (in love) is not the problem. Using humor; using sarcasm; using "just kidding" to hide what we really mean in such a way that we hurt the other person, that's the problem. We who claim to be followers of Jesus (James says who are "religious") need to be especially aware of our words. There is a world watching us to see if we are different, to see if our faith matters. If our words wound or create humor at another's expense, what does that say about our faith? How is that different from anyone else? 

All humor is not wrong. Even sarcasm is not always bad. But we need to be aware of our motives and what's going on inside us before we say something that will likely hurt another person. We need to keep a tight rein on our tongues so we become people who build up and encourage rather than tear down and injure.

1. Pay attention to your words for a day or two

Do you find yourself saying, "just kidding" after a lot of comments? Why? What were you really trying to say? 

Could it have been said directly? Differently? 

2. Look for ways to speak encouraging words
Ask God to help you be the kind of person who truly speaks the truth in love. Such a friend may say critical things, but those words will build up their recipient because they are said in love and with the other person's best interests at heart. When we do that, we don't have to hide behind "just kidding" because our desire is to edify and encourage.

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