Sarcasm isn’t bad in and of itself. When used appropriately, it can really lighten the mood, bring friends together and even bring emphasis to a passionate point. The Apostle Paul sometimes used sarcasm in his writing, my favorite example of this of course being Galatians 5:12.
But can sarcasm be sinful, harmful and damaging? Can it be a sign of our own insecurities and immaturity? Yes, and yes.
So how to know the difference? How to know how far is too far? In my own experience of learning this the hard way, as well as seeing it used and misused in my church from the perspective of a pastor, I hope the following list is helpful to you and your communities:
4 Indications that Your Sarcasm Needs to be Checked:
1. Is your sarcasm just a veiled way to complain?
Philippians 2:14 says Do everything without grumbling or arguing. Do you grumble and complain about things in your church, but cover it up with a “just kidding” remark? Complaining is contagious and is one of the quickest catalysts for church division, something most of the New Testament letters teach against over and over again.
2. Is your sarcasm just a veiled way to gossip?
Do you mock people or mock the decisions they make? Do you make assumptions about people and then make jokes about those assumptions? Complaining and gossiping often go hand in hand. Instead of complaining about a thing, gossip complains about a person. The art of sarcasm belittles a person in a way where you never have to feel convicted about it and can never be confronted in because again, you’re only joking. If you frequently find yourself saying, “You just need to lighten up, that’s all,” it’s most likely you that needs to lighten up on the sarcasm.
3. Are you able to give genuine encouragement?
One of the most subtle things sarcasm does is it builds up cultures of criticism. If everyone in a group of friends or in a community is always making fun of each other (“just joking,” of course), how is there ever any room for genuine encouragement? Giving encouragement is a humbling and gentle act. If sarcasm is anything, it is not gentle. Sarcasm makes people feel uneasy because it’s often very difficult to distinguish if you’re only joking or being serious. The very essence of sarcasm is to say something that is very serious, but in a context that is humorous. Sarcasm builds upon itself. It’s almost impossible to be sarcastic and then flip a switch and say something genuinely encouraging. Interestingly, indicators 1-3 all show that sarcasm only focuses on the negative and on criticism. If you describe yourself as a sarcastic person, do you realize this also means you are a negative and very critical person? Are negative and overly critical people good or bad for community? Is being negative and overly critical the path of following Jesus? Why do you feel the need to always try to be funny? What are you trying to accomplish or compensate for? What are you insecure about? When is the last time you genuinely gave someone authentic encouragement about something good they are doing? How would you describe the mood of the ministry community you are in: full of encouragement or full of criticism?
4. Are you able to be vulnerable and talk about serious things?
Vulnerability is key to growing as a Christian. To be able to let your guard down, confess your sins, be entrusted with other people’s confessions, and talk sensitively about mature subjects is the rich and fertile soil in which we do our deepest growing as brothers and sisters in Christ. If sarcasm were depicted in a cartoon, it would be that of a person pulling the rug out from another, or pulling a chair out from behind as a person is lowering themselves onto it. That sort of behavior and language builds up a reputation. Can you be trusted by others to take care of their vulnerabilities and insecurities without them fearing you won’t use it against them later in a joking fashion or even care enough to stop the jokes and actually listen in the first place. Can people even bring up serious subjects around you without you making jokes or mocking them and the subject at hand? You might think they can and should, because of course in your mind you’re “only joking” and they need to “lighten up”, but if you find people keeping their emotional distance from you, or you find it very uncomfortable when a serious and sensitive subject is brought up, in reality that’s an indicator that you indeed are too sarcastic.
Some proactive steps you can take to overcome being overly sarcastic:
1. Focus on being intentionally encouraging.
2. Offer to pray for people and take a genuine interest in their prayer requests.
3. Be comfortable talking about your flaws and weaknesses. Lead with humility.
“God opposes the proudbut shows favor to the humble.” (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34)
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