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Humor is very valuable in evangelism and Christian communication because:

  • Humor breaks down barriers and can smuggle ideas and challenges into people's hearts.
  • A joke or humorous situation is often very memorable.
  • It shows that we don't take ourselves too seriously, that we are not 'holy Joes', killjoys, or boring.

Says who?

  • "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people." (Victor Borge)

  • Says writer Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: "Humor allows us to approach threatening subjects in a non-threatening way... Most people find it difficult to receive information from someone who has little or no sense of humor."

  • "You cannot teach people unless you have their attention ... by using illustrations, questions and even humor. Most people don't like to be preached at, but most people like to be talked to." (Firm Foundations, by Trevor McIlwain, New Tribes Mission)

  • Christian humorist, writer and evangelist Jim Watkins writes, "Humor is one language that everyone can understand. It breaks down barriers between people. If you can share a laugh with someone, you've connected with that person. The defenses come down, and there's a desire to continue the dialog. And secondly, humor is 'laughing gas'. You're not going to stay in the dentist's chair and allow him or her to drill away on a root canal unless you're hopped up with plenty of anesthetic. So humor is the laughing gas that allows us to drill away at the abscessed areas of another person's life."

The Bible. Funny?

Someone asked recently in a newspaper, "Are there any jokes in the Bible?" It is filled with humor - usually wry Jewish witticisms, hyperbole and idiom! "You can tame every animal on earth, but not the tongue," says James. "Yeah, yeah," says Micaiah to King Ahab, "You'll win the battle for sure." (I Kings 22). "I don't want to twist your arm, but hey, you owe me on this one," (Paul to Philemon). [Loose paraphrases]

Many of the Proverbs communicate timeless wisdom with a smile and a wink. God invented humor! So surely we would expect Jesus to use it. And He does, frequently. Many of the parables are intrinsically amusing cameos. They were surely not delivered as deadpan monologues, but in the style of the story-teller with voices and gestures to match (and much two-way banter) - and with very likely from time to time the involvement of children or other listeners as props. This method of communication was very near to street theater!

  • "Full recognition of Christ's humor has been surprisingly rare. In many of the standard efforts to write the Life of Christ there is no mention of humour at all and, when there is any, it is usually confined to a hint or two." [Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ]

  • "Jesus as always had snappy oneliners ready for the occasion, such as, 'Let the dead bury their dead,' and 'The poor you always have with you.' It's how you tell them! Try these prefaced with a heavy shrug and 'Oy Vay'." [Adrian Williams]

  • "Jesus has a particular eye for the ironical and paradoxical. He gave His disciples nicknames: Peter the Rock who was big on words, but a coward when it mattered; James and John, hotheads, were 'Sons of Thunder'. He told stories about judges who gave justice only after being pestered repeatedly, businessmen who amassed riches only to die the next day, and about priests too precious to help a man who had been beaten up. He talked about people who gave stones in the place of bread, and saw the speck in the eye of another but ignored the log in their own eye. He talked about the blind leading the blind. He called the holy men of his day 'whitewashed walls'." [Rev Peter Weatherby]

  • "Many of His comments would have had the audience laughing incontrollably, while at the same time making a deep point. The pictures of 'blind Pharisees straining at a gnat but swallowing a camel' is hilarious. Similarly it is reckoned that shepherds were the butt of Galilean society's jokes, and so the one about the shepherd leaving the 99 to search for just one, would have also raised a laugh." [George Newton]

  • "How often there was a twinkle in the eye of Jesus! His humor shines through his words. For instance, Jesus once pictured the religious legalists of his day. He said they were like a man who polished the outside of his drinking cup, but forgot to clean the inside. "You are like a person," said Jesus, "who picks a fly out of his drink and then swallows a camel" (Matthew 23:24). Jesus made his point by a humorous exaggeration. He used the same kind of humor when he said, "It is much harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle" (Mark 10:25). There must have been a twinkle in his eye when he talked about the fault-finder: "Why do you notice the little piece of sawdust that is in your brother's eye, but you don't notice the big piece of wood that is in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3).

  • The humor of Jesus show us the quickness of his mind and the playfulness of his outlook. Long before Mary Poppins, Jesus knew that a "spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down." How much we need the humor of Jesus today! We get deadly serious about his words and miss the humor in them. Jesus talked about the necessity of communicating his message. He made this point by an absurd picture: "Does anyone bring a lamp home and put it under a washtub or beneath the bed? Don't you put it up on a table or on the mantel?" (Mark 4:21).

  • Jesus did not fit the pattern of what people expected a holy man to be like. Luke reported: "By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently" (Luke 15:1). The religion scholars were not pleased and growled, "He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends" (Luke 15:2). Jesus' cousin, John, had followers who fasted all the time. Jesus and his followers had a reputation for eating and drinking. Again, Jesus reached for a humorous image to portray his contemporaries. He said about them: "They're like spoiled children complaining to their parents, 'We wanted to skip rope and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk but you were always too busy.' John the Baptist came fasting and you called him crazy. The Son of Man (Jesus' favorite term for himself) came feasting and you called him a lush" (Luke 7:31-34, The Message). I believe that Jesus would approve this little prayer:
    God, give me sympathy and common sense,
    And help me home with courage high.
    God, give me calm and confidence
    And please - a twinkle in my eye."

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