Shelby G. Floyd
Don’t all of you enjoy a congregation where people have a smile on their faces instead of a frown? I do not think any of us enjoy being around grouchy and grumpy people. It pulls us down. To have a good laugh lifts us up. I have been preaching about 45 years, or something like that, and I have never preached on the subject of laughter. So I felt I needed to do that.
It is revealing when you go to the Bible and start doing research to find out the Bible has a quite a bit to say about laughter. In Ecclesiastes 3: 4 Solomon says there is “A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Have you ever seen anyone that would cause you to laugh? If you will go to the mall you will see all kinds of people, wearing all kinds of outlandish outfits, and sometimes it is just fun to go over there and sit down and have some good laughs, because people are funny. Solomon says: “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.” That tells us that God wants us to be cheerful. He does not want us to go around frowning and mourning, being sad and weeping and wailing all of the time. There is a time to do that, but not all the time!
Someone said: “Laugh often, dream big and reach for the stars.” “A laugh is a smile that bursts out.” “Laughter is the spark of the soul.” Someone else said, “Laughter is an instant vacation.” We all need some vacations. We can take that kind of a vacation everyday if we laugh a little bit. God wants us to be joyful and glad. Even God has a sense of humor. We say that because when we raise our children we find out what our parents went through, and now God is allowing us to go through the same thing. We say God has a sense of humor because we are experiencing what our parents experienced with us. As we have heard it said, “It is not a sin to grin.” Some people think you should never smile, laugh, or grin in the church. It is not a sin to grin, but it is a sin to worry yourself to death. It is better to grin, be happy, smile and laugh than to be filled with worry and die a premature death.
Laughter is a Gift of God
Laughter is mentioned about 38 times in the Bible. Notice how many times God emphasizes that we should have a joyful spirit and happiness of heart. Laughter is actually a gift of God. He wants us to accept that gift and to enjoy it and to have it in our lives. I will give you a few of those passages. Solomon says: “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:13). So if we want to have a more joyful countenance, a cheerful face, it starts in the heart. Have a cheerful heart and you will have a cheerful face. If you are happy, would you please notify your face! The opposite is also true. “All of the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Proverbs 15:15). We all like to go and have a feast with our family and friends. Laughter is like a continual feast, but those who are miserable are wretched and they do not find a place to feast and to enjoy life. Proverbs 15:30 says: “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.” I really believe that you will add some years to life if you learn to smile and see something humorous everyday of your life. It is not hard to do. It is really easy. In Proverbs 17:22, wisdom says: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” We all need this medicine. We want the Heartland Congregation to be a place where people can come and get the good medicine of the cheerful spirit, smile and laugh a little bit.
Actually when we study the Bible about the subject of laughter there is five different kinds of laughter.
The Laughter of Scorn
The first is the laughter of scorn. In Mark 5 Jesus came across the Sea of Galilee and when he got to the other side there was a ruler of the synagogue and the Bible gives us his name, Jairus. He had heard about Jesus and all of the wonderful works, miracles and powerful demonstrations, and that God was with him. His little daughter that was 12 years old was at the point of death. Just think about your daughter or son that is 12 years old. In the original language the word there for “dying,” is the word for “the end, or for the last,” and so basically he was saying my daughter is down to her last breath. She is at the end of the rope and I want you to come and heal her. Jesus immediately started with this ruler to his home to heal his daughter. In the meantime, there was a woman, who came up to Him. I thought it was kind of neat, that the woman that came up to Him, she had an issue of blood for 12 years and the Bible says, that she had gone to the doctors and spent all that she had. We can relate to that today. Healthcare is one of the most expensive things that you have in your budget today. The doctors are able to improve our lives and lengthen our lives, but it costs an awful lot. She had spent just about everything that she had trying to deal with this. She thought within herself that the Master is so great and if I can just slip up there behind Him and touch his cloak, the hem of His garment, I will be healed. She did so and immediately, she felt within herself the healing power that came from the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus felt that the power had gone out from Him and He turned around and said, “Who touched me?” His disciples had a little laugh here, and said, “look at that crowd out around you and you have to ask us who touched you.” The woman realized that He had healed her and she needed to confess that to Him: “I am the one that touched you.” She did so and the Lord said: “Your faith has made you whole.” They came on to the house of Jairus. Jesus told Jairus, “Don’t fear have faith.”
There is no person that is more bold and courageous than a person of faith. Men and women of faith can be as bold as a lion. There is an exact correlation between fear and faith—the greater your fear, the weaker your faith. The greater your faith, the stronger your courage will be when facing all of the devils that are in hell. Jesus told Jairus: “Don’t be fearful, strengthen your faith.” So when Jesus came into the home, he brought Peter, James and John (the inner circle) with him. He had 12 apostles, but he was closer to these three men than the others. They were the ones that went with him upon the mountain of transfiguration, and they were the ones that witnessed some of the great miracles and speeches that Jesus made. As they went into the room, the people were weeping and wailing, crying and moaning, because back then people would hire mourners to mourn the dead at the funeral. Can you imagine hiring people to come and weep and wail at your funeral? They were just doing their job. They had to put on a good act. When we are around people who go through things like this we need to be sincere. You sometimes feel that anything you say is trite and maybe it is better sometimes if we don’t say anything and just put our arms around them, give them a good hug and tell them that we love them and that we understand. When Jesus came into that home they were weeping and wailing, crying and moaning and Jesus said: “The young girl is not dead, she is asleep.” That is one of the favorite figures of speech in the Bible for death, because when we are dead we look like we are asleep. We know that when we go to sleep we are going to be awakened in the morning to a new day and a new life. I believe that death is like that. It will be a moment of sleep and then we will awake to an eternity of love and fellowship with our God if we serve Him now. When Jesus said that the young girl is just asleep, she is not dead, the Bible says: “They laughed Him to scorn.” They laughed at Him. You say she is just asleep and we know that she is dead. We have to be careful in our laughter, because if we laugh at things that are divine, things that are sure, things that are steadfast, somebody else is going to have the last laugh.
We have people today that laugh at Jesus Christ. They laugh at Christianity, and they laugh at the resurrection of the dead. They laugh at the virgin birth. They laugh and poke fun at the Bible, telling us that it is just a bunch of fairy tales and fables, but the Bible and the great facts upon which the church is built has lasted 2,000 years. So the Bible will withstand any kind of assault, any kind of scorn, and we don’t have to worry. They laughed Him to scorn. We need to learn to laugh with people and not poke fun and laugh at people. We all do a lot of that including myself, but we need to be careful about making fun of people. Jesus went in there and said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” He went over and raised her up and presented her to the people. This is a good example where Jesus had the last laugh. Those people who were laughing Him to scorn, the Bible says that, “they were astonished.” The people who were the hired mourners were the ones now that were astonished. They couldn’t believe that this girl that had died is now alive.
The Laughter of Unbelief
Next is number two, the laughter of unbelief, and it is kind of related. If you don’t believe God and his word, you are probably going to have “the laughter of scorn.” “The laughter of unbelief” is found in Genesis 17:18-21. This is the story of Abraham and Sarah. The Bible tells us that Abraham was 100 years old and that Sarah was 90. She was past the age of childbearing. Then God appeared and said to Abraham, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” The angel asked Abraham, “Where is Sarah your wife?” (Genesis 18:9). Back then it was very rude for one man to ask another man about his wife. The angel again said, “Sarah will bear a son about this time next year” (Genesis 18:10, 14). “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, after I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” (Genesis 18:12).
This was because they did not believe. It was so far removed from normal and what the natural laws of procreation were, that they both laughed, and Abraham fell down on his face and laughed (Genesis 17:17). In Genesis 21, Sarah one year later gave birth to a son and they named him Isaac. The name Isaac means “God brings laughter.”
I was reading a few years ago in one of the epistles of Paul, and he mentioned some men and their names were #1, #2, and #3, kind of like George Foreman who has George 1, 2, 3, etc. How would you like to name you son laughter? The point here is they were laughing with God. Earlier, they were laughing at the promise that God made to them. Now they are laughing with God, because they have a son, the son of Promise, the son through whom the Messiah is going to come. And Abraham is at the age of 100 years old and 90 years old for Sarah. A couple of weeks ago Jim Stephens told me about his grandfather who lived to be about 93 years old. He had outlived his wife and there was a young girl down there in Kentucky, 19 years old, and she had a dream that her husband would come across the field riding a horse. This actually happened! Guess who that husband was? It was his grandpa. He said that he required his wife to fix him cornbread three times a day and finally he died on that cornbread at 93!
Children make us Laugh
Our children make us laugh. A few examples: when my oldest granddaughter was just a little girl she was telling some big yarn. We had been watching the video of Pinocchio and I said, “Brittaney, remember that story about Pinocchio when he started telling those lies his nose started getting longer.” She looked at me and just as quick as that she said: “Papa is my nose really getting longer?” I told her no, and she said, “that is a lie and people should not tell a lie.” I was amazed because she caught me telling a lie and she was sharp enough to see that and took the attention off her and put it back on me.
We were down in Florida for the graduation of my granddaughter from high school. When Jacqueline was a little girl about 4 or 5 years old, her mother was teaching school so I stayed home with her. She said you two can go to McDonald’s for lunch, and she can ride her little bicycle. So at noontime I said are we ready to go to McDonald’s and she said sure. So she got her little bike and she said you have to push the buggy with my little doll in it. They still kid me about that. We had to go about two miles and I had to push that buggy and she is riding beside me.
Another funny one was when Evan and Trevor were up to our house. My mother-in-law, Letha, was setting on the couch and I had gone into the kitchen and got me a big cup of coffee. I was setting in my chair drinking my coffee. I felt somebody down around my feet, but I wasn’t paying any attention as to what was going on. So after I had finished my cup of coffee, I still had about a half of cup, I was going to go and refill it and when I got up I staggered across the room, I was about to trip and fall, but I was so agile I did not spill a drop of coffee, I sat it down on the coffee table and Letha in her Tennessee accent said, “Well Shelby, I’ll be.” What had happened was that Evan had tied my shoe strings together. I fell on my face, but didn’t even spill the coffee.
My oldest grandson Jacob was up here in Indiana last year. He was looking out at my backyard at my pine trees. I had planted about six of them across the backyard. He said, “Grandpa, I’ve got a confession to make. When I was a little boy I was standing out in front of the pine tree. It was about six feet tall and I imagined it was solider and I took his head off.” So I have one pine tree that has no top on it. We need to learn to laugh with our kids and grandkids.
My favorite that I heard just recently is about Caden and Cassidy. You know how little boys are. We are born to be warriors and anything that we have in our hand is a weapon. I guess Caden shot a little rubber arrow and hit his sister Cassidy in the head and she told her aunt. “Bubby needs to be arrested.” Then she said; “How do you arrest people?” She said you call the police. Cassidy said, “What is their number and I will call them.” Later, they had a little birthday party and got her some handcuffs, and Bubby is going to be arrested. Don’t you imagine Abraham and Sarah had many laughs with Isaac as he grew up and became an adult? It is a wonderful story.
The Laughter of Sinful Merriment
Next let’s look at the laughter of sinful merriment. As you watch a lot of these comedy shows on television, have you ever noticed where the people say something and in the background they have all of these people laughing? It is canned laughter and sometimes it is not even funny. I will say, “Why are they laughing that is not even funny.” A lot of the laughter today is based upon the crude, crass, and vulgar, and people shouldn’t even be laughing at these things because it is not a good kind of laughter. It is a laughter that grows out of sinful conduct, attitude, and words. Christian people have to learn to laugh at the right kind of things. I will give you a few examples from Solomon. He said: “Laughter is foolish and what does pleasure accomplish.” (Ecclesiastes 2:2). If we laugh at the things that are sinful pleasure, what is it really going to accomplish? It is not a good kind of laughter. There is the laughter at sinful merriment. In Ecclesiastes 7:6 Solomon says, “Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless.” If you have ever built a fire in a fire pit, or fireplace, sometimes the wood will start crackling and spitting out embers. It’s not a good thing to sit around a fire like that. The laughter of sinful merriment is like that, and you really want to get out of that crowd, because it is not the kind of laughter Christian people ought to enjoy. So let’s try to avoid the laughter of the world. This kind of laughter is sinful and needs to be avoided.
The Laughter of God’s Condemnation
Next is the laughter of condemnation. As I said earlier, God is going to have the last laugh. You know somebody said one time, “He who laughs last, laughs best.” God is going to have the last laugh. People can laugh now; they can deride Him and His word, the church, and the Christian way of life. But one of these days, when the Almighty stands up and judges the world, He is going to have the last laugh. I will give you a few verses that indicate that is going to take place. Davis said in Psalms 2: 4: “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” The Lord is going to laugh at people who have rejected his love, his son Jesus Christ, His grace, and His mercy. He is going to have the last laugh. The Bible declares in Proverbs 1:24-28:
“But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you—when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me.”
He is talking about the wicked who reject and who scoff at God’s Wisdom. On the last day it will be too late for them to cry out and ask for the grace, mercy, and the love of God. The time of prohibition will be over. In Psalms 37:13 the word says, “but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.” God is going to laugh at the wicked when their day does come. Psalms 59:8 declares, “But you, O LORD, laugh at them; you scoff at all those nations.” We see those nations today. We call them rogue nations, nations that do not live by the system of law, but by violence and wickedness. God will laugh at them too. Those nations and those people need to be mourning right now. Their day is coming!
The Laughter of Eternal Triumph
Finally, I want to speak about the laughter of eternal triumph. This is where we come in. In Psalms 126: 2-3, we have the record of God’s people coming back to Jerusalem (Zion) after they had been in bondage. They were taken into bondage 600 years before Christ, 723 years before Christ the Northern kingdom was taken into bondage and 600 years before Christ the Southern kingdom was taken to Babylonian Captivity. They were taken into bondage because of their sin, their idolatry, their scoffing at the Lord as the only true and living God. But when they repented and came to their senses, God led them back to Jerusalem—to Zion. David penned these words: “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, The LORD has done great things for them. The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (Psalms 126:2-3). When we humble ourselves and repent of our sins, do you see what happens—God gives us laughter and joy.
Lament Now and Laugh Later
Our weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth is turned into joy and laughter. I say to all of us, if we have sin in our lives, we better not be laughing. We are not going to have the eternal triumph and laughter if we have sin in our lives and we are not doing something about it. Instead of laughing, what we need to do is mourn. That is what repentance is all about. It is not good when people are laughing and living the life of sin, whatever that sin might be. That is the reason that Paul when he wrote to the Corinthian church, and even that church had a lot of sin in it, said in 2 Corinthians 7: 10: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” When the people of the world get in trouble, they are very sorrowful, sorry they are in trouble; sorry they got caught, sorry their crime caught up with them, but they are not sorry they offended God, His laws, and His government. Godly sorrow is just the opposite. When we are sorry for our sins, sorry that we have offended God, sorry that we have broken His wonderful law, sorry that we have not subjected ourselves to His government, that is the kind of sorrow that is going to lead us to change our life. We can laugh, be happy and joyful, because we have peace of mind, soul, and heart. So Jesus and the apostles had quite a bit to say about the fact that if you will just mourn a little bit now, cry, be filled with Godly sorrow, and repent of your sins, then later that is going to be changed into laughter. If you are laughing now, the laughter of sinful merriment, then one of these days that sinful merriment is going to be turned into sorrow, the sorrow that leads to eternal death. In Luke 6:21 we read, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Weep and then laugh that is the order, but the order of world is laugh now and you will weep later. I think I prefer to weep now and laugh the eternal triumph of salvation. In Luke 6: 25 the writer declares, “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” When the apostle James wrote his letter near the end the Bible, he said to his readers in James 4: 9-10: “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” That is when we can laugh, when we humble ourselves, then the Lord will lift us up like he did Abraham and Sarah and we can laugh with the Lord and we can laugh with each other and when we get to heaven we can laugh for eternity. In Psalms 100: 1-5 David indicated that God loves joy and laughter—that is the joy and laughter of eternal triumph over sin, over the grave, and over the world:
“Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he, who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
My brothers and sisters, I do not really need to say this to you because we do not have a problem with laughter do we? Everybody enjoys being around each other laughing and visiting after we dismiss. Have you noticed when people come how glad they are to see each other? That is the way it should be. We should be glad to be with one another whenever we get together. That is the way we want it to be in this great congregation. There is a time to weep and there is a time to laugh. We have had plenty of laughter in our lives and especially in our church life. Loosen up and lessen up the tension with laughter, loosen up the heavy load that you are carrying with some laughter. Level the road and make it a little easier to go over the road of life with laughter. Learn to laugh with your husband or your wife. Learn to laugh with your children, neighbors, grandchildren and I guarantee you that you will have a better life. Before you do that, be sure that you weep and wail over your sins and that you repent of them and let the Lord raise you up, forgive you, and make you a child in His family. In Acts of apostles and the accounts of conversion to Christ, there is no example of anyone rejoicing until after they were baptized for the remission of sins:
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:36-39 Emphasis SGF).
Sinner friend, repent of your sins, express your faith in the good confession and be immersed for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:37-39). Then God will give you the laughter of salvation and everlasting joy.*
*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon Sunday morning, June 15, 2014 and May 21, 2006, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana. Copyright © 2014, 2008 Shelby Floyd All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd