Sin is No Laughing MatterApril 7, 2016
To say that our world at large disregards the gravity of sin is so obvious that one hesitates even to mention it. Continue reading . . .
To say that our world at large disregards the gravity of sin is so obvious that one hesitates even to mention it. Countless men and women go about their daily existence, moment-by-moment drawing breath from the very God whose name they openly blaspheme and whose blessings they so presumptuously take for granted.
One shouldn’t be surprised by this among unbelievers. But it is all the more shocking when professing Christians respond to sin with a flippant and casual disregard for the offense to the honor and glory of God. I believe this is what James is talking about in the fourth chapter of his epistle. People who read James often react with shock that he would insert this passionate appeal to the professing Christian community:
“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (James 4:9).
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is how God wants us always to live our lives as his children. James is directing these exhortations to those among his readers who had befriended the world and treated it as if it were no big deal (see James 4:4-5). They were insensitive to their sin. They had grown somewhat indifferent, even whimsical, to what it means to defy and dishonor God and his grace. Their sense of the gravity of sin had been somewhat blunted. James is thinking in the same terms as Solomon in the book of Proverbs when he said: “Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool” (Prov. 10:23a).
James is calling them to a sober reassessment of their souls. James is certainly not opposed to joy. After all, he tells us back in James 1:2 to rejoice even in the midst of trials. His point here is simply that sin is no laughing matter. Rejoice in holiness. Find in Christ and his beauty a reason for joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). But don’t delight in your worldliness.
Some of you who are calloused and careless about your sin need to mourn and weep and exchange your laughter for heartfelt repentance. But others of you who are burdened by your guilt and saddened by your failures need to rejoice with joy inexpressible that your sins are forgiven!
So, James is not condemning all laughter, but thoughtless, hard-hearted laughter that makes light of sin.
I’m certain that James would have happily echoed the sentiment of the psalmist when he said: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psalm 126:1-3).
And he would certainly agree with Paul that we should “rejoice always” as we find delight in the sweetness and freedom of forgiveness (Phil. 4:4).
So, let us rejoice and be glad and extraordinarily grateful that God has given us innumerable reasons to experience “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). But be assured of this, sin is not one of those reasons! We must mourn and weep when we fall, but give glad-hearted thanks and celebrate when we reflect on the forgiving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.