Remember when checking social media used to be somewhat enjoyable, or at least innocuous? People would spill their thoughts on kombucha, which is not my cup of tea. 😉 They would post videos of their cat eating a cupcake. There would be lighthearted debates on the appeal of Hallmark movies. I never thought I would say this, but I kind of miss those days. Obviously, social media should not be used merely for cat videos and comments on tea. In fact, in many ways, it was intended to be a catalyst to spark healthy, productive dialogue. But like any advent of new technology, it has great potential for good or evil. The question is: do people in 2020 still use it to have winsome conversations that promote growth in one another?
From my vantage point, too many social media posts nowadays from Christians are divisive, demeaning, and deflating. It is rare to hop on social media for more than a couple minutes before feeling nauseous at the unfortunate rancor and hostility. People want to use it to get their point across rather than demonstrating grace toward others in Christian love.
- Listen to the viewpoints of others? Nah. Why do that when I can loudly shout my opinions while closing my ears to any divergent thoughts that could possibly differ from my own?
- Learn from others in order to arrive at a place of empathy and understanding? Nah. Why do that when I have all the editorial information I could want from my favorite news network that aligns with my personal ideology?
- Develop helpful, biblical content for others to consider that will build them up and point them to Jesus? Nah. Why do that when I can make snap judgments that justify or condemn someone?
Social media has become a toxic conflagration of provocative, punchy sound bites aimed to hit and run. Posts like that tend to stifle conversation, not start it. Could our Lord possibly be pleased with this? Is there any evidence in Scripture that disunity in the body of Christ without dialogue delights the heart of God? Surely not! James 1:19 says that we should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Notice the order of those commands. We must eagerly and actively listen long before we ever begin to share our thoughts and opinions. I have heard it said that God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak or type or text. Sadly, we see much of the opposite: reticence to listen, hastiness to speak, and impulsiveness to react indignantly to hot button topics.
This got me thinking. Do Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:34-37 apply to social media—namely, that people will give account for every careless word they type? I believe so. That should be quite sobering. I know it convicts my heart because I am just as culpable of carelessly typing a response on social media without thinking about kingdom impact. Furthermore, Jesus says in that passage that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Oh man! What does that say about my heart when I type something that tarnishes the name of Jesus?! Many of us may not consider before we type something how it could hinder our witness or hurt our brothers and sisters in Christ.
All that to say, an area of Christian discipleship that probably needs to be strengthened is online conduct. How should we exhibit godly etiquette in social media? To avoid typing careless words, perhaps we should be slow to type and instead think through the ramifications of what we are about to put out there for all to read. Here are four questions to ask ourselves before typing.
- Will it glorify God?
This should really be the main question we ask ourselves before anything we do or say in life. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Will this social media post absolutely bring glory to God? If you are not sure, then it is probably better not to post it. Silence supersedes foolishness every time (Proverbs 10:19, 13:3, 17:28, 18:2, 21:23, 29:20).
Along with that, does your post contradict the Bible? If so, then it certainly will not glorify God because it is countering biblical truth. But what if the Bible does not directly address the topic you are dealing with on social media? The Bible may not mention every specific issue in life, but the Lord does give many godly principles for us to abide by. Biblical principles and godly wisdom should be the lens through which we conduct ourselves.
- Will it edify the family of God?
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths [or keyboards or phones], but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” In other words, only type things that exhibit grace and are good for building others up. We are not seeing a lot of grace given in our society right now. What if Christians demonstrate what giving grace to one another looks like? What if we sought the good of one another with every social media post we make? Ensure that your posts spur other believers on toward love and good deeds and are used to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Moreover, if something is not spelled out in Scripture specifically and there is some ambiguity on how you should respond, then it may be a matter of conscience and personal conviction. There is a lot more to be said here but look to Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10 for guiding parameters in those instances. Beware of elevating personal issues of conscience to the same level as biblical truth. Your personal convictions in gray areas cannot be forced upon others and will likely result in unnecessary divisions. Throughout church history, there has been a helpful mantra: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” In other words, we should be unified in essential gospel truths and basic Christian doctrine, but we can agree to disagree on secondary matters. But no matter what, show each other grace and love.
- Is it in a spirit of kindness?
Sometimes people on social media can be just flat out unkind and uncaring. The perceived sharpness of your words can have as big of an impact as the words themselves. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Show kindness with your words. Otherwise, if you are not careful, you may turn people away without the ability to explain in conversation, which leads to the final point.
- Will it lead to relational conversations?
Paul tell us in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We should prioritize relationships with others. Social media gives a mirage of relationship, but in reality, it’s shallow connectivity. It does not suffice for life-on-life relationship, so how can we possibly prioritize others behind a wall of text and superficial photos? Quite honestly, this is why it is so easy to vilify our brothers and sisters in Christ on social media. We hide behind a screen without seeing their faces and how our words impact them. We try to give quips without context, but our words have impact, whether for good or evil. Should we not then strive to have personal, individual conversations with others to ensure proper communication and edification? There are far too many “truth watchdogs” who want to be warriors for truth claims while holding a torch in their hand to burn bridges of friendship. What if instead of berating others and evoking visceral reactions, we follow the path of the Bereans in Acts 17 and investigate truth claims in Scripture through relationship together?
Realize the limitations and scope of social media. It is NOT a good medium for contentious public discourse. Conflict resolution is best done in person. If that is not possible, then talk over the phone. The worst possible medium for conflict resolution is through written/typed communication due to the inconsistencies and inefficiencies of it. There are so many communication filters we have already in face-to-face communication, and each filter presents opportunities for the message to be distorted through the speaker or the receiver. With written communication, it is compounded even more because they cannot hear our tone, volume, inflections, emphases, or see our body language, all of which are vital to good communication. Good conflict resolution involves coming with the right tone of voice to defuse the situation and to tear down walls. It necessitates a humble posture and contrite facial expressions to convey that our hearts are burdened over this issue. Sadly, none of that can be conveyed over social media.
Paul, for example, rebuked the Corinthians through written means, but then he tells them that he would follow up with them personally through an in-person visit. The conflict resolution was started through a written letter, but he made plans to follow through in person. He does the same with Philemon regarding Onesimus. Whenever Paul had the chance to confront someone in person, he would do so as he does in Galatians 2 with Peter.
Social media theoretically should be a good marketplace of shared ideas and opinions that can spark winsome conversation if it is done with grace. For that to happen, there need to be clear principles of etiquette, agreed-upon conversational guidelines, and boundaries and thresholds for each conversation so that it does not go off the rails outside of its intended scope. As Christians, we should be setting examples for the world in this arena. Avoid the ideological “my-sideism,” which is ultimately damaging to the body of Christ and slanderous to our Lord. If Jesus says that the world will know him through our love for one another (John 13:35), let’s use social media properly to point people to Jesus!