Earlier this week, I had a brief and disappointing interaction with a young-in-the-faith Christ-follower regarding the public persona they were displaying on social media, and how it is damaging for us to express hatred, and to call into question the authenticity of another’s faith, as though Jesus had not called on us to love our enemies, to bless those who persecute us, and as though our walk with Jesus is so pure and free of stains that similar questions of authenticity could not be asked of us with equal validity. With that in mind, I will do well to examine my own social media presence!
In responding to me, this young believer said flatly, “I have the right to express my opinion.” In a given context, that may be so, but simply because a thing may be done, does not mean that a thing should be done – or said. The apostle Paul emphasizes this truth, shutting down the “I have a right…” argument with one brief statement to the church in Corinth.
“Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. – 1 Corinthians 6:12a, BSB
For the Christ-follower, navigating social media is like walking through a minefield. We must walk with great care, examining ourselves every step of the way. Here are five choices, or decisions, each of us must make prior to engaging on a social media platform.
1 – Bricklayer versus Wrecking Ball
When we engage with others on social media, it is helpful to ask ourselves, “Am I here to build up, or to tear down?” There is a quality to social media that leaves us feeling disembarrassed to say things to others online that we would never risk saying to their faces, or even over the phone. I have witnessed barrages of humiliation unleashed upon hapless targets by men and women who wear the name of Christ! I have seen F-bombs in one posting followed by a “Praise Jesus” meme shortly thereafter – from the same person! The incongruity is striking, and it drags Jesus’ name through the mud.
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. – James 3:10, ESV
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. – Psalm 19:14, ESV
Choose to be a bricklayer rather than a wrecking ball.
Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11, NASB
2 – Compelling Light versus Burning Laser
You are light. You have no choice in that matter. I am light, and my light, like yours, is affecting those around me. The only question is with regard to how it affects them. What kind of light am I? Does my light radiate beauty, or is it scorching everyone who encounters it? Does your light shine with the love, hope, and redemption you have in Christ Jesus, or does it cause people to become defensive?
Be careful about criticizing people for being defensive. “You’re so defensive! Lighten up.” Remember, the compulsion people feel to defend comes about because they perceive me to be attacking. If I am not attacking, then there is no need to defend. If others seem defensive around you, examine the way in which you approach them. What kind of light are you shining?
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16, ESV
3 – Praise versus Protest
Social media often serves as a platform for unleashing the darkest side of our emotional being. For some, that involves unending tirades of anger directed at whatever has upset their apple cart at that particular moment. When others respond from a differing perspective, the result is an increase in the voltage of the original anger. Language intensifies, and before long, the target of one’s anger becomes the other person rather than the original topic of discussion.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen … Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:29, 31-32, NIV
Another common use for the social media platform is as a forum for airing woes. Please, do not misunderstand. When there is genuine tragedy, or emotional agony, by all means, ask for prayer and comfort from the community. What I am addressing here is the high-maintenance, nonstop posting of the discomforts of life as though I am the only person in the world who suffers to this degree, and I am desperate for you to say, “Oh, you poor dear.”
In stark contrast to that, I have a friend on social media who suffers from chronic pain to degrees that I find difficult to fathom – nonstop pain that comes in waves at thresholds I have never experienced, and can scarcely imagine. Yet I find her posts deeply encouraging and positive, because in the midst of her agony, she chooses to magnify and glorify God, rather than wallow in her morass.
Similarly, another friend on social media is on the doorstep of glory as he is dying of cancer. Even in his distress, his focus is on accomplishing as much good for the kingdom as he can, during moments of clarity, before he is taken to be with Jesus.
Men and women like this inspire me! How could I ever complain about anything in my life when compared with the challenges faced daily, and courageously, by these giants in the faith?
Do everything without complaining or arguing – Philippians 2:14, BSB
4 – Productive versus Barren
Social media can be a horribly rapacious with our time. The allure of silly videos and memes featuring a dog balancing a pancake on his head will suck us in, and drain hours from our days that are better invested in more productive ways. The world is lost, and spinning wildly out of control. It does not seem so, for many, because those in the world have persuaded themselves and even some of us that this jarring ride is normal. We should be using our time and resources to shake the world loose from the illusion so they can embrace reality and truth.
Make the most of your opportunities because these are evil days.. – Ephesians 5:16, GWT
Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. – 1 Peter 2:12, NLT
5 – Transformed versus Conformed
There was a time when I believed the music we produced was the most accurate barometer of our society. Today, I will place that well behind what we can find on social media. Social media gives us a fairly accurate picture of what the world is today, and as Christ followers we must actively choose whether we will embrace that and conform to the world’s standard, or choose to be transformed by the Holy Spirit of God with a renewed mind. A passive posture is not an option, because the vortex of the world will suck us in. Thus, I say we must “actively choose.”
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2, ESV
Social media is a tool, nothing more and nothing less. We can use it for evil, or we can use it for good. The challenge for us, as Christ-followers, is that social media is used for both purposes by millions, and all at the same time. We dare not be passive and aimless in our social media use and engagements. Use it, but use it actively, consciously, purposefully, for good.