James encourages Christians to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). A brief scroll through the average believer’s social media feed may suggest that we as Christ followers struggle to apply James’s teaching. We can be quick to anger when we read something disagreeable, quick to speak our mind on the matter, and slow to truly hear any alternate or opposing position. Our passions appear to be very much at war within the body (James 4:1), and the casualties of war extend beyond the church to the lost world watching us fight.
So how do we improve our etiquette to become more like Christ? How do we interact online for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)? I’d like to offer a couple suggestions.
1. Remember wisdom, humility, and love.
C. S. Lewis wrote that every person we meet is immortal, emphasizing the weight placed on each of us to act appropriately toward such souls. We may well play a part in helping someone along the road to glory, or we may play a part in furthering one’s progression toward hell. Either way, we dare not treat our interactions with fellow people lightly (see The Weight of Glory by Lewis for the source of these ideas).
In our online involvement, we would do well to remember that every person we encounter, every immortal soul, falls into one of two groups: the lost and the found. Christians are called to “love one another” (John 13:34-35), extending to all members of the body (the found ones) the same love Christ has shown to us. We are also called to love our neighbors, a general category that could include the lost or the found depending on the context, and our enemies, a group we often associate more with the lost but which may, unfortunately, functionally include some found ones as well (Luke 10:25-37 and Luke 6:27-36). If I’m reading this right, these three categories encompass all people in both groups. By the command of our savior, we ought to love all people.
This love should make us humble toward others and wise in our interactions with them, leading us to recognize the value of each person we encounter and the love God has for each of them. We of all people should be the least likely to disrespect and dishonor our brothers and sisters or to mock and ridicule our enemies. When we interact with people online, we ought to resist the temptation to resort to clever memes or fallacious arguments in our posts. These can do more harm than good, for they often misrepresent opposing positions and mock those who hold them rather than graciously and honestly engaging with people and their points. Instead, let us be the first to ask good questions, to seek understanding of differing positions, and to speak the truth lovingly in every circumstance. As Paul wrote, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
2. Remember the mission.
Christ calls his people to action. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 serves as the mission statement of all believers, the goal underlying every work of ours in this world. We seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness in our pursuits (Matthew 6:33), and we work to glorify the Lord in everything we do (1 Corinthians 10:31).
The mission of God affects every area of our lives, our social media habits included. Every post, every reply, every private message should be viewed through the lens of the mission of God. As we consider how to use social media in light of our faith, let us ask how our decisions relate to our mission. Will the kingdom be furthered if I share this picture? Will God be glorified if I post that comment? Am I being loving with my words? In some cases, the answers will be affirmative. I’ve no doubt that God can use our posts for good on social media. But we must remember the weight of our words and tread cautiously (see Matthew 12:36-37). Some issues warrant a response, but many do not. Discernment between primary and secondary issues will serve us well here.
In all things, proceed with prayer. Show love to all people, in wisdom and in humility, using your words intentionally rather than carelessly. In all things, seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). In all things, glorify the Lord. And let our entire lives, both on and off social media, reflect that “the old has passed away” and that “the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Thanks to Seth Stanley for suggesting the topic and the title for today’s post.
Many thanks to John Massey for his suggestions in the writing process of this post.