Hold the Sarcasm

Hold the Sarcasm

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Sarcasm is a popular form of humor in today's culture, but sometimes we take it too far. We fail to realize when our words become hurtful in conversations, particularly in arguments.

Lately I've noticed a trend on Christian radio stations. Artists like TobyMac are producing songs like "Speak Life" that encourage us to be mindful with our words. That song in particular carries the message that we should speak life into others and focus on building them up rather than tearing them down.

As followers of Christ, we should not speak to others out of malice, and we shouldn't react instantly out of anger. We should learn to hold the sarcasm.

I recently learned where the word sarcasm came from and what it really means. The root word in Greek, sarx or sarks, means "flesh." Sarcasm as a whole comes from the Greek word sarkazein, which means to "tear flesh." Sarcasm hurts people by mocking their beliefs or feelings. And it's more than just the words we speak. It's also the tone we use to deliver them.

A friend explained that root of sarcasm to me last week, and it made me realize just how important it is to refrain from it. My boyfriend and I struggle with this when we disagree sometimes. We have a tendency to focus so much on being right that we’re prone to disregard each other’s feelings. We both have the gift of encouragement, but sarcasm shows up when we’re tired or when our spiritual lives need some attention. We’ve hurt each other with our sarcasm even when hurt wasn’t intended.

The tongue is one of the hardest things to tame, and that's stated bluntly in Scripture. The book of James addresses the power of the tongue and how much damage it can cause if not harnessed. The tongue is likened to a small fire than can set even a great forest ablaze. It is a deadly poison (James 3:5-8).

All too often we speak too quickly out of impulse rather than stepping back to assess our words carefully. I’ve learned it’s better to stop talking sometimes and regain control of my emotions than to answer immediately out of spite. It keeps me from saying something hurtful. Knowing myself well enough to realize when my emotions are reaching an unhealthy place causes me to focus more on what I’m saying and how I’m saying it instead of only how I’m feeling.

A good example of how we can hold our sarcasm and instead speak love is found in Ephesians 4:29-32:

"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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (ESV).

I notice a difference in myself and my relationships when I make an effort to purposefully encourage. A good starting point for me, especially in conflict, has always been prayer and learning to release control of situations and emotions to God.

How do you go about speaking life to others, and how does your spiritual life affect your ability and desire to do so? If you know someone who does this well, what patterns do you notice in their spiritual lives?

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  • --My mom married into a family of teasing, kind of sarcastic jokesters. Her line is, "be nice, not funny!" For someone who inherited the mind that can turn any word in a conversation into a quick joke, it's a good reminder. I think people sometimes use humor to one-up other people. It's like a status symbol if you can be funny in a kind of smart, almost slightly barbed way. But those little digs can lodge under peoples' skin, and it's not the kind of communication we're really called to.

  • --I belong to a culture in which it is normal tobe less than perfectl polite to your close friends. It's an indication of trust. You trust thyem to not take offence, and they trust you to not mean it.

    Excessive compliments are usually regarded with a sceptical eye.

  • --I should add that being able to tell a story in which you fail, or are the butt of the joke, is highly regarded.

  • --One lesson I had to learn is that if you make a couple witty jokes, people are going to remember that you were funny or even hilarious. You don't have to spend the whole night rattling off jokes like a standup comedian. When you're not always looking for the next joke, you have more time to listen to and engage the people around you.

  • --A friend and I had a conversation about sarcasm just the other day.  We both agreed that while a little bit of teasing and sarcasm can be fun and maybe even a little flirty, there comes a point when it gets really old.  It's no fun when someone doesn't know when to be serious, or runs a sarcastic joke or remark into the ground.  Also, if someone can't communicate with me in any way other than sarcasm, I have to wonder how well they really know me...because if they did really know me, they would understand that I'm only good for the occasional sarcastic comment.  When I start to respond with grunts, I'm WAY past the point of enjoying it!    

  • --Oops, I also meant to add that as a Christian, I try to be aware of how my words sound to non-Christians.  If I'm making sarcastic remarks (on the rare occasions that I do so) that could have any possibility of being taken seriously or taken the wrong way by someone who overhears me, then I need to refrain from that.  Unfortunately, I know a number of very sarcastic Christians who aren't cautious about that.  One in particular comes to mine, and he's sarcastic with EVERYONE.  He doesn't mean to be this way, but he comes across as rude, obnoxious, and "holier-than-thou" because of his particular variety of sarcasm...and then he mentions that he's an evangelist and Christian counselor.  

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