Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” (Proverbs 26:18-19, ESV)Three word definitions might be helpful here:
- "madman" -- This word is only used twice in the Bible. It means "flaming" and can be translated as such. "madman" or "maniac" are also appropriate translations of this word. It is also translated as "enchantment" or "occult fire" in other versions of the Bible.
- "throws" -- also translated as "shoots"
- "deceives" -- This word actually means "throw." It can mean "deceives" ... not in the sense of lying or tricking... but in the sense of causing one to stumble. It is also translated as "throw" or "betray"...
The remainder of these two verses is very adequately translated. I add these definitions, not to protect one from making this passage say "too much" but to keep it from saying "too little."
The "I am only joking!" mantra of some has become the cover-all for any of our words that we have "tossed out" there. Quite often we haven't been careful with our words, and they have landed in a soft spot on someone's heart. Many times we don't even realize this: especially in our "I just love to give you a hard time" society, where ribbing someone has become a love-language of sorts. Many, when they are most honest, will admit that they have been stung by another's ill-placed words.
Though it is glorious to overlook such wounds, we may need to rethink a few things. Maybe the problem isn't that some are just "too sensitive" but that we (as a society) have become too insensitive. We expect others to get over their wounds and toughen up more often than not.
Instead of priding ourselves on our quick wit and thick skin, shouldn't we, as Christian, work even harder to make it our practice to let every word that comes out of our mouths, be good for building others up?
Next time you find yourself diminishing someone's injured feelings with "I was only joking" ... try instead to say, "I am genuinely sorry that my words hurt you like that. I appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable by pointing this out. I want you to know that I will be working harder at being more careful with my words. If this ever happens again, please... please... don't hestiate to bring this to my attention. You really matter to me, and I want to only say things to you that will build you up, not hurl you to the ground."