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Is it wrong to laugh at inappropriate jokes?

You’re not the only one who finds humor where other people might not agree. There are really two separate questions to ask here. One is, "What makes a joke truly “inappropriate”?" And, "Is it OK to embrace humor wherever we find it?" If it’s actually inappropriate, then by definition, yes, it’s wrong. The real trick is defining inappropriateness—and not everyone agrees on what’s "acceptable" when it comes to humor.

It's true that some of us have urges that aren’t entirely Christlike. For instance, some have a strong temper or a tendency to be selfish. Those are very natural, and yet they’re not the kind of thing we’re supposed to just “go with.” Anger is not always a bad thing, but at some point, responding in anger to certain things is “inappropriate,” such as when it causes other people unwarranted stress, tempts us to sin, or interferes with our relationship with God. The same is true of romantic feelings or hunger or anything else that demands a response.

In the same way, it’s almost impossible to control what we find funny. Some people—myself included—have an extremely “dark” sense of humor. What offends some, others may find amusing. That response—the initial sense of amusement—is not something we can control. All we can do is decide whether to embrace it or resist it in each individual situation.

What's "inappropriate" humor?

Now we get to the issue of defining “inappropriate” humor. Our freedom in Christ is often referred to as “Christian Liberty.” In short, Christian Liberty means we’re allowed to do anything so long as it meets two conditions: 1. God has not explicitly called it a sin, and 2. We’re genuinely and sincerely convinced that we’re not harming ourselves or others by doing it. (See Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 10, plus the article on Christian Liberty on GotQuestions.org.)

Glorifying Sinful Activity

Anything that openly celebrates, supports, or encourages something which God considers a sin can certainly be considered "inappropriate" to indulge in with humor. Some jokes about adultery, for instance, make the cheater out to be the “good guy” in the story, which is dangerous territory.

The same would be true of jokes that seem to imply some sin or vile immorality is actually a good thing. We shouldn’t take lightly something God considers to be evil. Mocking evil or holding it up as ridiculous for the sake of jokes is not necessarily wrong, but it must be done carefully. (See 1 Kings 18:26-27.)

A Negative Effect on Your Audience

We should consider the audience or any listening ears that may hear jokes that could be considered inappropriate. What might seem acceptable in a group of mature adults might be easily misunderstood in front of a young child.

We need to think ahead about how our joking may negatively affect those within earshot. Laughing about drunkenness, for example, would probably be “inappropriate” around a person who has lost a loved one to a drunk driver.

Even if, in theory, the humor itself is fine, any joke or laughter presented for the wrong audience can cause harmful or emotionally painful effects.

If you don't know if it's OK, keep it to yourself.

Finally, the only hard-and-fast rule we have regarding our personal freedom in Christ to joke around is this: If you’re not 100% sure what you want to joke about is OK, then it is sinful to make that joke (Romans 14:23). If you find something funny and you’re convinced it’s not a sinful subject and you’re sure no one is being bothered, offended, or tempted by your humor, then it’s fine.

But if you have any doubt AT ALL about any of that, then it’s a sin to violate your conscience, and it would be best to keep the joke to yourself.

Of course, you can’t just “decide” not to find something funny—any more than a person can just “choose” not to find someone else sexually attractive or “choose” to be totally calm when faced with insults or abuse.

What you DO have control over is whether you curb your response or indulge, avoid those situations or seek them out, or take other steps so that the temptation to engage in inappropriate humor does not actually become sin (1 Corinthians 10:13).

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TL;DR

It’s almost impossible to control what we find funny. Some have an extremely “dark” sense of humor. What offends some, others may find amusing. The initial sense of amusement we might feel toward humor is not something we can control. All we can do is decide whether to embrace it or resist it in each individual situation. As Christians, we’re allowed to do anything so long as it meets two conditions: 1. God has not explicitly called it a sin, and 2. We’re genuinely convinced that we’re not harming ourselves or others by doing it. While we may not be able to "decide" what we find funny, what we DO have control over is whether we curb that response or indulge, avoid those situations or seek them out, or take other steps so that the temptation to engage in inappropriate humor does not actually become sin (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Writer: Jeff Laird

Jeff is a staff writer with Got Questions Ministries and used to be a mechanical engineer. When he's not accidentally setting things on fire in his workshop, or petting strange dogs, he loves helping people better understand God’s Word and how it applies to our lives. Jeff's calling is to untangle the "big picture" of Christian faith, making it easier to understand.

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