On the first day of my Christian Ethics course here at SWBTS, my professor introduced one of the thinkers that we were going to be reading that semester by submitting to the class what was either a quote or a paraphrase of certain passages of his writings that said something to this effect: “You can judge a person’s spiritual maturity based upon his sense of humor.” The writer was Soren Kierkegaard. And I can’t think of any better way to put into a nutshell what C. J. Mahaney’s recent sermon called “Don’t Waste Your Humor” is all about.
When I first heard that Mahaney had preached this sermon, I was delighted to see that it was actually delivered by someone who does in fact display a remarkable amount of both personality and humor. I mean, honestly, the last person you want to see preaching a sermon about making the most of your humor for Christ is the pastoral embodiment of the stereotypical “Ben Stein.” On the other hand, if you choose to listen to this message, you will find that it, for the most part, is primarily serious. At first, after I had made it a few minutes into the podcast, I was wondering if I had even clicked on the right link due to Mahaney’s earnest tone.
Many people would be skeptical of such a sermon topic, but I suspect, if you have any reservations at all, they will quickly be laid to rest in the wake of the substantial amount of biblical testimony that Mahaney reveals concerning a theological and scriptural position on developing a Christ-centered sense of humor. As a seminarian there have been times when I wondered to myself if I was somehow less-spiritual than others due to the fact that I liked to laugh and joke around. Of course this isn’t true, but for some reason, Christians naturally lean towards the propensity to ascribe a certain level of “holiness” or spiritual maturity to another person simply based upon his or her quiet or serious demeanor. On the other end of the spectrum some Christians may feel pressured to discipline themselves to be more serious in tone and appearance in order to produce spiritual maturity, and therefore, evoke a certain reputation that would not otherwise be gained.
Believe it or not but Christians do battle peer pressure from a completely different angle; and believe or not, popularity has a major influence in Christian circles. The difference, however, is that popularity within a Christian social ring goes beyond merely good looks or athletic ability and moves into a spiritual rating system. But this isn’t supposed to be a post on spiritual competition within the world of theological education, though it would be a worthy subject.
Still the topic of humor is related to the issue insofar as people who strive to be themselves will have a much easier time giving way to bursts of laughter and the enjoyment of humor. A large portion of Mahaney’s sermon deals with the interrelationship between humor and humility. He emphasizes the great sanctifying benefit of self-deprecating humor, especially when you become the target of those people who are closest to you. Along these same lines, Mahaney highlights the Christian brotherhood expressed through the kind of humor that functions as a vehicle for one Christian to indirectly express and confirm his love for another believing brother. But, as with all “talk” and not just jokes, Mahaney challenges every person to keep his or her humor under the boundaries of Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up , as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” I would hope that we all could come to the understanding that nowhere in this Scripture is there an exclusive comment that ostracizes humor from performing in this manner. On several occasions, I have walked away more encouraged and uplifted from a priceless time of brotherly joking around with my Christian friends than I have from a dead serious conversation over some deep theological matter.
I won’t go over the biblical content that supports a Christ-centered sense of humor since Mahaney already does that sufficiently in his sermon. I want you to listen to his sermon for yourself instead of getting a rehashed version of it in my post. Yet thinking over this issue has recalled to my mind ideas that I have been pondering for awhile related to Christians and the use of laughter and a cheerful heart. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a time for a believer to be the stoic warrior. But that doesn’t mean there’s never a time for him to strap on that goofy-looking hat and be the court jester.
Though I know it is dangerous for me to make this statement, I hope I can trust you all to interpret it with integrity and maturity when I say that I believe there is a Christ-centered way to “Eat, drink, and be merry” for Christ lives and life is good in him.