Like the God who made us, we humans are incessant communicators. We will use anything to talk to each other: scratches on a cave wall, reeds dipped in plant dye, Dixie cups and a long string, mechanical arms stamping letters on paper, or digital pixels bouncing off satellites into mobile devices for social media. God communicates so naturally his image-bearers would do so.
Social media is not inherently evil any more than the teletype, telegraph or telephone were when invented. Today’s tweet was yesterday’s pamphlet. Today’s status update was yesterday’s bulletin board note. Today’s Periscope was yesterday’s 8mm reel-to-reel. We will devise anything to communicate. Our problem is not what we use to communicate, but how we use it.
James wrote professing Christians
“must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (Jas 1.19-21).
Christians get sideways with one another. When we do, we love one another by talking less and listening more. We do more receiving of the word than expecting others to receive it from us.
James could not remotely envision Facebook or Twitter but the principles still applies. Christians should be slow to type and slow to anger. Because Jesus’ disciples are no longer of this world (Jn 17.16) they do not handle conflict in worldly ways. That especially includes the temptation to vent on social media in the name of Christian piety.
We’re all guilty of it. Someone offends us so we attack them on Facebook using generalities, insinuations and innuendo. We are the pious ones defending virtue and Christian accountability against “those people” who act so unbecomingly. The world is lucky to have someone like us to call out sin.
With a wink-wink we summon our in-the-know friends to sympathetic aid. We hope the-person-who-shall-not-be-named reads it and is brought to tears in holy conviction (which never works and typically stirs up more anger, cf. Prov 15.1). We pat ourselves on the back for correcting a brother or sister. If we are honest, we rant to serve our own egos rather than our neighbor, piling up “likes” at their expense. What we call maturity God considers petulant self-righteousness. Cowards.
We use God’s name in vain, treating our enemies as things/its/ideas rather than persons. We would rather throw a handful of rocks out of a moving car hoping one of them hits the bully who offended us. And then we seek sympathy and commendation from everyone in the car. It’s neither honest nor godly. It is not “in humility, receiving the word implanted, which able to save your souls.”
Instead, we should lovingly, patiently, privately and prayerfully take up the offense with them. Love doesn’t attack nameless people “out there” or the anonymous “you” who treat(s) us this or that way. Love draws near, not blood.
Jesus does not treat us anonymously. He lovingly comes to us, calls us by name (Jn 10.3) and makes peace with us. Christians should no more use social media to shame others any more than they would post a handwritten note on a city hall bulletin board. The “Golden Rule” is enough to restrain us (Lk 6.31).
I love a clever tweet as much as the next guy. I appreciate the renewed relationships social media has afforded across state, national, and global lines. But we are citizens of heaven (Phil 3.20) and how we communicate in heaven informs how we communicate on earth.
Jesus provided the means by which we handle interpersonal conflict in the church. If we are offended and cannot graciously overlook the offense (1 Pt 4.8) then we are to go to our brother (Mt 18.15). We do not rush to Facebook to talk about him without really talking about him. We talk to him because we love him. We don’t adjudicate our conflict on social media. We work toward confession, repentance and forgiveness because God is serious (Mt 6.14; 18.35).
The world is ruthless, vindictive, passive-aggressive and shameful. The church is anything but those things; therefore, Christians are not to update statuses the way the world does. Self-justifying people ask who their neighbors really are (Lk 6.29). Jesus-loving people don’t parse ideas. They “go and do likewise” (Lk 6.37).
Jesus prescribed that unresolved conflict be handled within the merciful confines of the church (Mt 18.16-18). Christians should never assume the liberty, especially in the name of God, to publicly shame one another before the world. We do not want to give the world any more fodder by slandering them or especially our own (Col 3.8; 1 Pt 2.1). Satan is the slanderer and accuser and we want nothing to do with being like him. Therefore, we keep the circle as small as possible as long as possible.
We do not want to sully Christ’s name or unnecessarily or intentionally shame our brother’s name. We handle our business in-house where there is pastoral protection, love, humility and courage. If we must eventually “go public” then we do so with our pastors/elders and covenantal family, not with our “friends” or “followers.”
Social media has its place and value. But its place and value are limited and governed by the rules of Zion. Jesus never made anonymous threats or offered generic love. He dealt with our offenses personally, lovingly and decisively. The next time we are compelled to Facebook to call out “you know who” let us go instead to prayer and then to them. Let us remember that God “has not dealt with us according to our sins” (Ps 103.10). We may find that what we could not wait to write is actually not worth being said. If you will not go to your brother then you should not go to your “friends.”
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4.11).
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Col 3.17).