Something Better To Say
“Nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not befitting; but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:4).
There is an ideal that should exist in the Christian spirit that is higher than the world. It is not just that we need to abstain from evil or refuse to give in to the just the most heinous crimes, but, as the previous verse states, “Let it not be named among you, as is becoming saints” (Ephesians 5:3). Consider the following points from this brief text:
“Nor filthiness” – This is defined as shamefulness, obscenity, and nastiness. “Dirty, indecent, obscene language” (Commentary On Ephesians, Boles, p. 298). Some people try to confuse the issue, however, and argue that “obscenity” is just in the eye of the beholder. Essentially, what is disgusting to you may not be disgusting to me. What is common language to one person is uncommonly filthy to another. Some try to make a comparison to the way that “city people” and “country folk” talk, arguing that some things that seem foul to one group are just a part of normal vernacular to the other. This argument falls flat, however, when we see that our motive behind the language is as important as the language itself (if not more so). Paul does not give a list of words that are “off limits” to the Christian, but categorically condemns all filthiness in speech.
“Foolish talking” – This is “impious, silly, godless speech without forethought and wisdom” (Caldwell, p. 232). “This is the talk of a fool, the man who does not know God” (Boles, p. 298). “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have done abominable works…” (Psalm 14:1).
“Coarse jesting” – This is suggestive jesting, or coarse jokes. It would be the use of polished and witty humor as an instrument of sin. “Sometimes it is lodged in a sly question, in a smart answer, in cunningly diverting or cleverly retorting an objection, in a lusty hyperbole, in a plausible reconciling of contradictions, or in acute nonsense” (Word Studies, Vincent, p. 398). Coarse jesting is an oxymoron, basically. It is taking a subject that is dirty, lewd, or risqué, and masking it in smart words, feigned wisdom, or clever language. The coarseness comes from the use of sin as a means of gaining laughs, for it has been noted by righteous people that the lowest form of humor is getting a laugh from sin.
“But rather giving of thanks” – This means that God always gives us something better to do. It is not that He makes us abstain from everything fun or funny in this life, or that He is keeping us from truly being happy. Rather, it is righteousness that leads to true happiness, not filthiness.