Google “hurtful humor” and your computer will offer 805,000 articles to read. Want a few cruel examples of funny stuff that injures someone else? Well, I won’t give you any examples and please don’t bother to look them up.

We’ve all been assaulted with the humor that hurts. And, most of us have used humor to hurt someone else. Sometimes those we hurt the most are those we claim to love the most. It’s as if the Golden Rule of Jesus doesn’t apply; as if it is okay to treat others as we’ve been treated rather than love others as we want to be loved.

Maybe it has always been this way but it seems that the breeding ground for unchristian humor is strong political views or dogmatic religious beliefs. As Christians who claim the New Testament, we need to remember that differences and difficulties are usually our grandest opportunity to live out the love of Jesus rather than perpetuate the ways of the world.

Humor is a gift from God. But like so many other good gifts from God there is potential for abuse. Humor can be the socially acceptable speech that is used to tease, insult and bully. It is often the unkind instrument of insecure persons who have themselves been wounded and grasp for revenge by wounding others. In the 21st century we now can use the internet to magnify the humor and the hurt while we stay safely distant and often anonymous.

So, here are some guidelines for getting a laugh while being righteous at the same time:

1. Joke about others as you would have them joke about you
2. Think before your comedy becomes a weapon
3. Hold back laughter when humor hurts instead of helps
4. Apologize to those who have been hurt on the inside by unkind humor on the outside
5. Ask God to make you funny in a blessing-sort-of-way

This article originally appeared in the NAE Insight.

Leith Anderson
Leith Anderson is president emeritus of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor emeritus of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. He served as NAE president from 2007-2019, after twice serving as interim president. He served as senior pastor of Wooddale Church for 35 years before retiring in 2011. He has been published in many periodicals and has written over 20 books. Anderson has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Bradley University and Denver Seminary.