Please explain what Ephesians 5:4 means as to foolish talking nor jesting.
Ephesians 5:3-7 we read, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.” The context in which Ephesians 5:4 resides is within a discussion of abstinence from sexual temptations. Fornication refers to any consummate sexual act outside of the marriage bond. Uncleanness refers to acts which are less than fornication, but still sexual in nature. Covetousness in this context refers to thoughts and lusts regarding uncleanness and fornication. Remember the very first thing forbidden to covet in the Ten Commandments is one’s neighbor’s wife (Exodus 20:17). Covetousness can, therefore, have reference to sexual desire as well as desire for physical things and this context bears that out. Subsequent to the text under question we have a repetition of the same warnings regarding fornication, uncleanness, and covetousness. Those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom and cannot be a part of God’s kingdom. Those who practice such things merit the wrath of God. Those who practice such things are partakers with the children of disobedience. The Christian is admonished not to be part of this type of mentality.
Sandwiched in between these two stern condemnations of sexual avarice we find a rebuke regarding a specific kind of speech as well. The King James Version reads, “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” The English Standard Version translates this verse as follows: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
The word “filthiness” is a translation of a word that some scholars say is limited to speech. This is the only place where this word is found in the New Testament and it is within the context of speech. It has as part of its base the same stem that makes up the Greek word that we translate “shameful” and given the context, the shame would be in association with unlawful promiscuity. It is also rarely used in classical Greek as well and when it is, has reference to things that are lascivious in nature.
The phrase “foolish talk” is a translation of one Greek word and is a fairly straightforward and literal translation. In this context, foolish talk would be anything that might embroil one in a situation where one would be tempted to commit some kind of sexual sin. This word also is only used this one time in the New Testament and its context would seem to define for us what it is referring to.
Finally, we find the word “jesting” as translated by the King James Version and “crude joking” as translated by the English Standard Version. I like this translation, though it doesn’t give the specific kind of crude joking that this word is describing. The word literally involves a turn of a phrase. In English today we would refer to it as a double-entendre where something seemingly innocent is said, but it really has a second meaning that is sexual in nature. To quote from one commentator, (Lenski, pg. 596) “The three may refer to speech, the last two certainly do so. And because of the context these are given a sexual coloring. How worldlings so generally love nasty stories, throw out silly, vile remarks, crack supposed jokes of a spicy kind!” With his comments we certainly agree and in today’s world we are seemingly bombarded endlessly with such nasty speech. It comes to us from our work environment, from the places where we socialize, from our own television sets during popular sitcoms–there seems to be no end to the number of ways that men and women today can joke regarding things that are best left discussed in the privacy of the bedroom of a husband and wife. Let us as Christians resolve to rid our minds of such thoughts and should we have such thoughts to never let them pass through our lips. And if we have been guilty of speaking in such a way in the past, let us strive to do better in this regard.
I would like to mention one more thing, in contrast to this type of base humor, there is nothing wrong with humor that is instructive and decent in nature. This passage does not deal with all kinds of humor, only with the kinds that involve matters of sexual promiscuity. For a Christian to tell a perfectly innocent joke to another Christian is often fun and can be instructive if the joke has a certain point that is being made regarding a particular kind of behavior.