Many are troubled by the destructive ways people interact on social media. And the issue isn’t merely non-Christians fighting with each other over politics. Many professing Christians have contributed to this sad situation. While most of us admit that there is a significant problem with the discourse on social media, few of us think of ourselves as being a major part of the problem.
I would like to offer four principles from Scripture to help us honor the Lord both in our public interactions and in our heart attitudes.
1. Love Assumes the Best
“(Love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
We are often inclined to give the benefit of the doubt (and our “likes”) to those from our own tribe. On the other hand, we tend to believe the worst about those from tribes that we regard as hostile. We are inclined to interpret their statements in the worst possible light and may post snarky comments about their posts.
For example, we should be able to agree with these two statements:
- Some people are called by God to stay in hard marriages.
- There are situations in which an abused spouse has the right to flee to safety.
Yet, if each statement were to be posted on social media, the reaction of some to statement 1 might include accusations that the author idolatrously cares more about marriage than abuse victims. Responses to the second statement might accuse the author of encouraging people to divorce their spouses for unbiblical reasons. Can we agree that it is important to protect both God’s institution of marriage and the safety of those who are at risk? We might even be able to have a fruitful discussion about how to apply these two principles to challenging situations wisely.
Another example would be differing reactions to the Covid epidemic. Churches that followed government mandates to meet online or to wear masks were accused of compromising as they bowed the knee to Caesar. And churches that continued to meet were accused of killing people by spreading the virus. Could we give one another the benefit of the doubt while charitably assuming that each church is trying its best to act wisely and honor the Lord in a very confusing and difficult situation?
2. Stop Judging
“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you to judge your neighbor?”( James 4:11-12)
A sad truth about human nature is that we enjoy judging others. A corresponding truth is that we absolutely hate being judged. This is a toxic mix on social media where people delight in pronouncing judgment upon their opponents. The goal of judgment is not to gently restore those who may be in error as we walk in the Spirit and keep watch on ourselves (Gal. 6:1). Instead, the aim seems to be to destroy (or cancel) our enemies. Sometimes entire classes of people are judged for the sins of a few bad representatives. I also have noticed that the harshest judgments seem to come upon those who have recently switched tribes.
Many use pejorative names (racist, misogynist, bully, liberal, woke, snowflake, etc.) with little concern that we may be unfairly misrepresenting others and damaging their reputation (Matt. 5:21-22). This is compounded by the impersonal nature of social media. A person isolated with their device may type hurtful things that they would never say to someone’s face. Don’t write something on social media that you wouldn’t say to their face with their spouse and mother nearby.
This does not mean that we can’t disagree with others publicly. Paul confronted Peter publicly when he was publicly wrong (Gal. 2:11-21). But Paul didn’t resort to personal attacks.
3. Be Slow to Speak
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19).
Many have had the experience of reading something inflammatory on social media, which leads to an overwhelming desire to respond in kind. Slow down! It is rarely urgent that you reply immediately.
Many posts on social media are “red meat,” which will be devoured by their tribe but will do nothing to persuade those of differing viewpoints. Are we speaking accurately and fairly? Does our attitude reflect the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24) or the divisive deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21)? Will this post honor the Lord and edify others (Eph. 4:29)? Show your potential post to godly friends who may help you to express yourself more graciously (Prov. 11:14). Elizabeth Elliot wisely reminds us, “Never pass up the opportunity to keep your mouth shut.”
4. Be Humble
“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think…” (Rom. 12:3a). “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov. 26:12).
Pride on social media can be subtle. When we put others down, we may implicitly signal our own virtue and superiority. “Unlike you, we care about those who suffer oppression.”
Another form of pride is a refusal to ever admit that we may be mistaken or imbalanced in our views. One sad aspect of the Covid crisis was how people on both sides would speak with absolute authority without acknowledgment that they could be wrong. It would have been better to admit that we were doing the best we could with limited knowledge and that we could be proven wrong in the future.
Positively, we should be quick to humbly seek forgiveness when we have been sinfully harsh on social media (Matt. 5:23-24).
Another way to express humility is to be quick to overlook troubling statements by others. “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11). Spurgeon, in his “Lectures to My Students,” wrote that those in ministry need one blind eye and one deaf ear.1Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students (Tyndale House Publishers, 2014), 269. Don’t be overly sensitive.
The problems of harmful interactions on social media are not new. Scripture warns against the various forms of sinful speech we see on social media. While it is good to be restrained in what we say, the most important issue is that of our hearts (Prov. 4:23). If we are walking in the Spirit we will not express ourselves in a destructive fleshly way (Gal. 5:16). This is possible because of the redemptive work of Christ which both forgives and transforms us (2 Cor. 5:17).
Questions for Reflection
- How have you been hurt by what has been written on social media?
- How have you expressed yourself sinfully or unwisely on social media?
- Before you post something, are you willing to evaluate your words in light of the fruit of the Spirit and the deeds of the flesh?
- To what tribes do you belong? Which tribes do you oppose?
- 1Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students (Tyndale House Publishers, 2014), 269.