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Turn on the TV and you’re sure to see it. Take any Friends episode, for instance. Joey will say something less than brilliant and before you know it, Chandler Bing will zing Joey. He will use words to cut him down to size. Sarcasm. What the comedian Don Rickles drenched each joke in. Most sitcoms have at least one character who is skilled at it. But television isn’t the only place you’ll witness sarcasm.
I was having a great time at our women’s event. Feeling relaxed, I played verbal volleyball with my friend Tanya. She’d say something and I’d quickly return it over the net. And sometimes there would be a spike, from which she could not recover. It felt wonderful throwing our witty remarks back and forth. Harmless, right?
Two days later my friend Jan called me, “Anne, I have something I want to talk to you about.”
Silence. I knew hesitation on the phone indicated the conversation would be a hard one. Hard for someone to say, but even harder to hear.
Finally Jan came out with it. “Linda wondered what was up with you. She thought you were a critical person.”
My stomach tightened. I searched my memory to recall talking to Jan. And I came up empty. Where did she get that idea? I didn’t even know Linda.
But Jan read my mind. “It was when you and Tanya were talking.”
Still I drew a blank. All I could think of was the bantering Tanya and I did that night. But no one else was involved. Could it be that verbal volleyball wasn’t a spectator sport?
I thought of how it could have come across to an observer. I had used sarcasm. Was there any value to it, I wondered. And that led me to another question: Should Christians be sarcastic?
When I feel accused, the first thing I do is defend myself.
We were just kidding. We weren’t hurting anyone.
But I started wondering, if one person felt this way, could it be true for others?
According to Wikipedia, “Sarcasm is the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.”
My Uncle Rich came to mind. When they visited, we could hardly wait for them to get out of their car. Cousins were an important part of our lives growing up. But my Uncle Rich scared me. I loved him, I was just scared of what he might say. He used sarcasm when he spoke to us. Uncle Rich liked getting laughs, and most of the time it was at someone else’s expense.
We learned to stay out of the hot seat by being good laughers. I laughed on the outside but cringed inside. I didn’t want to be his next target.
Maybe sarcasm and feeling safe do not go together.
Thinking back on the interaction I had with Tanya, though innocent, that’s not how it came across. There could have been others who were uncomfortable. Kind of like when Uncle Rich came over.
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Some of you might be thinking, what about Elijah? He was sarcastic. Read 1 Kings 18:27. He was showing how ridiculous it was to trust anyone but the one true God.
Looking at what sarcasm does will help us determine if it’s beneficial in our communication with others.
At first, this appealed to me. I liked being someone in an elite group. Doing something not everyone could do made me feel special. Yes, I suppose there was some pride there. I admit it. God is a God of unity. Sarcasm does not unify. Jan’s friend did not feel included. My words excluded her and anyone else who didn’t know what I was talking about.
Sarcasm can hurt.
And it wasn’t so much my words as it was how I said them. There’s a little bite to sarcasm. As if the person saying it is angry. It made some uncomfortable. The thing is, I was totally unaware of this, just wrapped up in myself and the fun I was having. Sarcasm can hurt. Words can injure.
So what does God say our words should do?
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Our words are meant to build others up, to encourage and edify. Sarcasm does the opposite. It puts down and belittles others. Proverbs 15:4. God is changing us into the image of his Son. One day we will be like Jesus. God wants us to display the fruit of the Spirit. One fruit is kindness, another is gentleness. Sarcasm is neither kind nor gentle. Galatians 5:22-23.
Sarcasm feeds pride.
I have to admit it, when I got a stinger in, I felt higher than my sparring partner. Would I be able to remain king of the mountain? Read Philippians 2:3 and you’ll find something quite opposite. The Bible tells us to think of others as higher than we are.
Read Colossians 4:6. Seasoning with grace is what we do when we love someone. Zinging a person is not loving.
And pride is the opposite of humility. Jesus was humble. And it was true humility. Sometimes people fool themselves into thinking they are humble, by scrunching down. They try to look humble. True humility is standing to our full height next to His Highness. When we recognize how big God is, we see that we could never reach his stature, even on our tippy toes.
So what do you think is honoring to God? Considering the feelings of others, where you are equal to the one you’re interacting with, or beating someone at the word game?
The question is, what should we strive for in our communication with others? We live in a hurting world. Our desire is to draw others to God. Maybe if we don’t conform to the world, but instead we show grace, the world may notice something different about us.
Read Proverbs 16:24. Maybe we could be known as those who satisfy souls and are a source of healing. And wouldn’t that be good?
The next time you are ready to use sarcasm, ask yourself this question: Would I say this if Jesus were in the room?
Anne Peterson is a poet, speaker and published author. Some of her books include her memoir, Broken: A Story of Abuse and Survival, Real Love: Guaranteed to Last, and children’s books like, Emma’s Wish. She recently published Droplets, a poetry book for those in grief. To see more of her books visit Anne's author page. She has also authored 42 published Bible Studies and over 30 articles with christianbiblestudies.com/Today’s Christian Woman. While Anne enjoys being a poet, speaker and published author, her favorite title is still, “Grandma.”
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