Ephesians 5:4

Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.


1. "Filthiness." This term, though referring to acts as much as words, points especially to that obscenity of speech which is so disgusting to the moral sense of man. It is proof of a corrupt heart - for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" - and, more than anything else, makes the tongue "a fire, a world of iniquity," even "set on fire of hell."

2. "Foolish talking." This is the talking that will have many idle words to answer for at the day of judgment (Matthew 12:36). It is more than mere random gossip; it is the talk of fools which is folly and sin; it includes "corrupt speech (Ephesians 4:29). It is aimless, senseless, frivolous talk. Our talk ought to be full of reason and purpose, and bright with happy suggestion.

3. Jesting." The apostle does not condemn the pleasantry which lends such a grace and joy to conversation, but the wit that is allied to lewdness, brimming over in double entendres, and tending to demoralization.


1. They are not so in themselves, for the character of impropriety essentially attaches to each of them.

2. They are not so in the speakers, who incur a still deeper reproach and prepare for themselves a graver judgment.

3. They are not so for the hearers, who, though they may be amused for the moment, are not profited, but rather debased by such conversation.

III. THE RIGHT USE OF THE TONGUE. "Giving of thanks." Christian cheerfulness ought to express itself, not in buffoonery or levity, but in thanksgiving and praise. We have much to be thankful for in our daily lot, and the thought of the indulgent kindness which supplies all our need ought to repress anything like foolish or scurrilous discourse. The language of thankfulness will minister grace to the hearers. - T.C.

Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
"Filthiness" — impurity of act or speech, "foolish talking," and "jesting," are to disappear as completely as covetousness and the grosser vices. They are "not befitting"; they do not harmonize with the character, the prerogatives, and the destiny of saints. "Foolish talking" is the talk of a fool, of a man that is insensible to the graver aspects of human life. The great discoveries of God and of eternity, of our own present relations to God and of our future glory, which have come to us through. Christ, exert their power on the mind as well as on the heart and on outward conduct. They give a certain intellectual nobleness even to uncultivated and simple men. They inspire self-respect and dignity. As the pride of the Roman people was justly offended when they saw an emperor descend into the arena with charioteers and gladiators, so the finer feeling of the Christian Church is justly offended when Christian men indulge in buffoonery and play the fool. This is "not befitting." It should have no place among Christian people, and to find pleasure in such folly is also below the dignity of those who live near to the throne of God. In condemning "jesting" Paul does not mean to insist that the conversation of Christian men should be always grave and serious. The mind needs rest as well as the body. There is a time to play as well as to work. Amusement has its legitimate place in the intellectual life; and if the mind is subjected to an incessant strain its strength will be broken down. The bright flashes of wit and the pleasant gleams of a kindly humour may be as beautiful and as harmless as the play of the sunlight among the trees or on the ripples of a mountain stream. The "jesting" which Paul describes as "not befitting" is the kind of conversation that reaches its perfection in a civilized, luxurious, and brilliant society which has no faith in God, no reverence for moral law, no sense of the grandeur of human life, no awe in the presence of the mystery of death. In such a society, to which the world is the scene of a pleasant comedy in which all men are actors, a polished insincerity and a versatility which is never arrested by strong and immovable convictions are the objects of universal admiration. The foulest indecencies are applauded, if they are conveyed under the thin disguise of a graceful phrase, a remote allusion, an ingenious ambiguity. There is a refinement to which, not vice itself, but the coarseness of vice, is distasteful, and which regards with equal resentment the ruggedness of virtue. This is the kind of "jesting" that Paul so sternly condemns. It is destructive both of faith and morality. The tongue was made for nobler uses.

(R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

It may be demanded then, what the thing we speak of is, or what this facetiousness doth import? To which question I might reply as Democritus did to him that asked the definition of a man, "It is that which we all see and know"; anyone better apprehends what it is by acquaintance, than I can inform him by description. It is indeed a thing so versatile and multiform, appearing in so many shapes, so many postures, so many garbs, so variously apprehended by several eyes and judgments, that it seemeth no less hard to settle a clear and certain notion thereof, than to make a portrait of Proteus, or to define the figure of the fleeting air. Sometimes it lieth in pat allusion to a known story, or in seasonable application of a trivial saying, or in forging an apposite tale: sometimes it playeth in words and phrases, taking advantage from the ambiguity of their sense, or the affinity of their sound; sometimes it is wrapped in a dress of humorous expression; sometimes it lurketh under an odd similitude; sometimes it is lodged in a sly question, in a smart answer, in a quirkish reason, in a shrewd intimation, in cunningly diverting, or cleverly retorting an objection; sometimes it is couched in a bold scheme of speech, in a tart irony, in a lusty hyperbole, in a startling metaphor, in a plausible reconciling of contradictions, or in acute nonsense; sometimes a scenical representation of persons or things, a counterfeit speech, a mimical look or gesture passeth for it; sometimes an affected simplicity, sometimes a presumptuous bluntness giveth it being; sometimes it riseth from a lucky hitting on what is strange, sometimes from a crafty wresting obvious matter to the purpose; often it consisteth in one knows not what, and springeth up one can hardly tell how. Its ways are unaccountable and inexplicable, being answerable to the numberless rovings of fancy and windings of language. It is, in short, a manner of speaking out of the simple and plain way (such as reason teacheth and proveth things by), which by a pretty surprising uncouthness in conceit or expression doth affect and amuse the fancy, stirring in it some wonder, and breeding some delight thereto.


1. Such facetiousness is not absolutely unreasonable or unlawful, which ministereth harmless divertisement and delight to conversation. For Christianity is not so harsh, so envious, as to bar us continually from innocent, much less from wholesome and useful pleasure, such as human life doth need or require.

2. Facetiousness is allowable when it is the most proper instrument of exposing things apparently base and vile to due contempt. When sarcastical twitches are needful to pierce the thick skins of men, to correct their lethargic stupidity, to rouse them out of their drowsy negligence; then may they well be applied.

3. Facetious discourse particularly may be commodious for reproving some vices and reclaiming some persons (as salt for cleansing and curing some sores). It commonly procureth a more easy access to the ears of men, and worketh a stronger impression on their hearts, than other discourse could do. Many whose foreheads are brazed and hearts are steeled against all blame, are yet not proof against derision.

4. Some errors likewise in this way may be most properly and most successfully confuted; such as deserve not, and hardly can bear a serious and solid confutation.

5. This way is also commonly the best way of defence against unjust reproach and obloquy. To yield to a slanderous reviler a serious reply, or to make a formal plea against his charge, doth seem to imply that we much consider or deeply resent it; whereas by pleasant reflection On it we signify the matter only deserves contempt, and that we take ourselves unconcerned therein.

6. So easily without care or trouble may the brunts of malice be declined or repelled. This way may be allowed in way of counterbalancing and in compliance to the fashion of others. It would be a disadvantage unto truth and virtue if their defenders were barred from the use of this weapon; since it is that especially whereby the patrons of error and vice do maintain and propagate them.

7. Furthermore, the warrantableness of this practice in some cases may be inferred from a parity of reason, in this manner: if it be lawful (as by the best authorities it plainly doth appear to be), in using rhetorical schemes, poetical strains, involutions of sense in allegories, fables, parables, and riddles, to discoast from the plain and simple way of speech; why may not facetiousness, issuing from the same principles, directed to the same ends, serving to like purposes, be likewise used blamelessly?

8. I shall only add, that of old even the sagest and gravest persons (persons of most rigid and severe virtue) did much affect this kind of discourse, and did apply it to noble purposes.

9. In fine, since it cannot be shown that such a sportfulness of wit and fancy doth contain an intrinsic and inseparable turpitude; since it may be so cleanly, handsomely, and innocently used, as not to defile or discompose the mind of the speaker, not to wrong or harm the hearer, not to derogate from any worthy subject of discourse, it cannot well absolutely and universally be condemned; and when not used on improper matter, in an unfit manner, with excessive measure, at undue season, to evil purpose, it may be allowed. It is bad objects, or bad adjuncts, which do spoil its indifference and innocence.


1. All profane jesting, all speaking loosely and wantonly about holy things (things nearly related to God and religion), making such things the matters of sport and mockery, playing and trifling with them, is certainly prohibited, as an intolerably vain and wicked practice. All injurious, abusive, scurrilous jesting, which causelessly or needlessly tendeth to the disgrace, damage, vexation, or prejudice in any kind of our neighbour (provoking his displeasure, grating on his modesty, stirring passion in him), is also prohibited.

3. I pass by that it is very culpable to be facetious in obscene and smutty matters.

4. All unseasonable jesting is blamable.

5. To affect, admire, or highly to value this way of speaking, either absolutely in itself, or in comparison to the serious and plain way of speech, and thence to be drawn into an immoderate use thereof, is blamable.

6. Vain-glorious ostentation this way is very blamable.

7. Lastly, it is our duty never so far to engage ourselves in this way, as thereby to lose or to impair that habitual seriousness, modesty, and sobriety of mind, that steady composedness, gravity and constancy of demeanour, which become Christians. We should continually keep our minds intent on our "high calling," and grand interest; ever well tuned, and ready for the performance of holy devotions.

(I. Barrow, D. D.)

I. That Christians should make great conscience, not only of their actions, but their words also; for after the apostle had dissuaded them from all uncleanness and filthiness in practice, he addeth, "Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient." We must make conscience of our words for these reasons.

1. We are not absolute proprietors and possessors of our own selves; our tongues are not our own to speak what we please. Exempt any one faculty or member from the jurisdiction of God, and you disown His authority and interest in you, and open a floodgate to let in sin and wickedness into the world. We are not left to run at random in our ordinary discourse, to say and utter what we think good.

2. As we had our tongues from God, so we are accountable to Him for the use of them; and therefore will our actions not only be brought into the judgment, but our words and speeches also (Matthew 12:36, 37).

3. Words do much discover the temper of a man's heart.

4. Because our tongue is our glory: "Awake, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp" (Psalm 57:8), "My heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth" (Psalm 16:9). Compare Acts 2:26: "My heart is glad, and my tongue rejoiceth." So Psalm 30:12: "That my glory may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent"; that is, my tongue. But why is our tongue called our glory? For a double reason, both which are pertinent to the case in hand.(1) Because thereby we can express the conceptions of our minds for the good of mankind. It was not given to us for that use for which the tongues of the brute beasts serve them, to taste meats and drinks only, or to taste our food. No; but to converse with each other. Speech is the excellency of man above the beasts.(2) The other reason why it is called our glory is because thereby we may express the conceptions of our minds, to the glory of God as well as the good of others, "Therewith we bless God, even the Father" (James 3:9).

5. Because our speeches are regarded by God, and therefore you must consider, not only what is fit for you to utter and others to hear, but what is fit for God to hear.

6. Because the well ordering of our words is a great point of Christianity, and argueth a good degree of grace (James 3:2).

II. In making conscience of our words, we should specially take heed of filthiness, foolish talking, and jesting.

1. Filthiness is when we speak of obscene things in an obscene manner without any respect to modesty and Christian gravity or sobriety.(1) It is a sin most inconsistent with any reverence and fear of God: "The fear of the Lord is clean" (Psalm 19:9).(2) It is a grief to the Holy Spirit, as it obstructs that purity and cleanness of heart which He would work in us (Ephesians 4:29, 30).(3) You infect others, and corrupt them by filthy discourse.

2. The next word is "foolish speaking." This hath so many branches, that it is hard to reckon them up; as —(1) when they speak of foolish things;(2) when men speak of serious things in a ludicrous and vain manner, and design it for jest;(3) lavish, superfluous speech to no end;(4) rash speech;(5) personal boasting. Now, I shall prove that it is a sin that should be made conscience of.

(a)Because it suiteth not with the seriousness of religion, which is the wisdom of God;

(b)it suiteth not with the mortified estate of sincere Christians;

(c)because it shutteth out better discourse, and so converse with others is rendered unprofitable. Omission of good is caused by it.

(d)Because it argueth great emptiness, that we have not a good treasure within us (Matthew 12:35), or have not hid the Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), or not taken care that it might dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16).

3. We come now to the third sin enumerated, "and jesting." Here we must state this matter. Is all jesting unlawful and misbecoming Christians?In the use of it all due circumstances must be observed; as —

1. In the matter. It is a dunghill mirth that must have somewhat unclean to feed it.

2. For the manner. It must be harmless to others, not making sport with their sins or miseries (1 Corinthians 13:6).

3. For the measure. Not excessive wasting the time in vain, especially not habituating the mind to levity; that is scurrility when men accustom themselves so to vain jesting that they cannot possibly be serious; they can as well be immortal as serious.

4. For the time. Not when God calleth us to mourning or more serious employments should it be taken in hand.

5. The end and use must not be forgotten. Our great end is to serve and glorify God, and everything that we do must have respect to it, and be proportioned by it.

III. One special means of checking such sins is to consider how much they misbecome Christians; for the apostle saith no more but "they are not convenient," or do not agree with that state of grace into which we profess to be called. For three reasons this will hold good.

1. Because there are four affections which serve to draw us from and guard us against sin — fear, shame, grief, and indignation. The guilt of sin causeth fear; the stain, shame; the unkindness, sorrow; unsuitableness, indignation. Awaken this, and sin cannot have long entertainment in the heart. Therefore it is enough to a serious Christian: It is not convenient.

2. The unsuitableness mindeth us of our dignity, as being admitted to communion with God. Therefore to talk of filthiness with that tongue which is to be employed in speaking of God, and to God, is a most indecorous thing.

3. This striketh at the root of the temptation. Many think filthiness, foolish speaking, and jesting to be a great grace to them, and affect the reputation of wit at such a rate that they forget honesty. No; these are not an honour and a grace, but a blemish and a blot.

IV. That a Christian cannot want mirth as long as he hath such abundant cause to give thanks.

(T. Manton, D. D.)

"Foolish talking and jesting," than which nothing is more common in the world, are to be held in disesteem by all Christians. They should look upon themselves as a new order among men. Christ redeems us from the shallow mirth of the world, which is the mirth of folly, to the joy of wisdom, which is the joy of God, and which fills heaven, and will fill eternity, with delight and song.

(J. Pulsford.)

It is dangerous to jest with God, death, or the devil; for the first neither can nor will be mocked: the second mocks all men at one time or another; and the third puts an eternal sarcasm on those who are too familiar with him.

(J. Beaumont.)

Jests too tart are not good; bitter potions are not for health. An offensive man is the devil's bellows to blow up contention.

(J. Beaumont.)

Whosoever will jest will be like him that flourishes at a show — he may turn his weapon every way, but not aim more at one than another. It is very unsafe to sling about this wormwood: some noses are too delicate to bear the smell. Some are like tiled houses, that can admit a falling spark; yet others are like dry straw, that with the least touch will kindle about your ears.

(J. Beaumont.)

A jest should be such that all shall be able to join in the laugh which it occasions; but if it bears hard upon one of the company, like the crack era string, it makes a stop in the music.

(Owen Felltham.)

Solon, who was always willing to hear and to learn, and in his old age more inclined to anything that might divert and entertain, particularly to music and good fellowship, went to see Thespis himself exhibit, as the custom of the ancient poets was. When the play was done, he called to Thespis, and asked him if he was not ashamed to tell so many lies before so great an assembly. Thespis answered, it was no great matter if he spoke or acted so in jest. To which Solon replied, striking the ground violently with his staff, "If we encourage such jesting as this, we shall quickly find it in our contracts and agreements."


The story is well known of the person who invited a company of his friends that were accustomed to take the Lord's name in vain, and contrived to have all their discourse taken down and read to them. Now, if they could not endure to hear the words repeated which they had spoken during a few hours, how shall they bear to have all that they have uttered through a long course of years brought forth as evidence against them at the tribunal of God?


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