We’ve been engaged in a series called “Worship 24 x 7,” and we’re looking at how to live in context of the Bible guiding every aspect of our lives. In this lesson, we’re going to examine how we live spiritually while engaged in online activities. How do we present ourselves as Christians in our modern culture of online communications?
Two caveats before we begin:
- I’m restricting this lesson to how we behave online socially. We could go into whole separate lessons about moral conduct online in the context of file-sharing, downloading pirated media and games, and visiting questionable websites; but those discussions can wait until another lesson. The focus of this lesson is social conduct.
- This lesson is not coming from someone who is afraid of the modern web or who sees it as inherently evil. I don’t get confused every time Facebook changes the shade of blue or moves a button. I know my way around social networking and have fallen into and climbed out of many of the pitfalls we’ll be talking about.
Potentials and Dangers
Social networks are amazing things. What began in the nineties as forums for small groups to congregate has blossomed into a mainstream phenomenon where parents, children, teachers, grandparents, and entire masses of people can reach out to each other and connect more easily than ever before. Through a variety of services, we can share pictures, bookmarks, links, hopes, fears, ideas, and so much more with our new online communities. The potential for communication is greater than in any point in history, for a few taps of our thumbs can take those messages and share them with the entire world.
We build up our own pages to ourselves where we feel a sense of empowerment behind the anonymity of the keyboard. We are not, however, truly anonymous. People actually see these things we post and share — but we forget that those things reflect on us as Christians. See, along with this great ability to share ideas and knowledge across the globe comes a false sense of security and bravado. We aren’t talking directly to someone. We don’t see how our words and our comments affect others, so we grow bold in the things we share or approve of online.
A Reflection of Our Hearts
What we need to remember is that everything we do online reflects upon our character. When I post a tweet, it reflects my character. The same is true when I compose an email or forward one sent to me by someone else. It’s true when I send text messages, when I share someone else’s material in some way, when I write comments under a status update or blog post, and when I quote someone else. When I write, share, or endorse something online, it demonstrates where my heart is — perhaps more accurately than any other venue because of that perceived anonymity I allow to embolden me.
What I write is a form of speech. It is verbal language put into a visual medium, and the Bible has much to say about our verbal conduct. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus speaks of fruit born by good and bad trees; every tree is known by its fruit. He then draws a parallel to our speech in relation to our hearts. If we are pouring out negative and hateful things from our mouth, what does that say about our hearts? In the parallel account of this lesson in Matthew 12:33-36, Jesus goes on to say that we will be judged by our careless words. Few settings are a greater temptation for careless words than when we are online. It’s so easy to simply hit a button without taking a second to think about how this will reflect on our Christian walk.
Ephesians 4:25-29 asks us to put away falsehood in our lives, to control our anger, and to only speak such things that are beneficial for encouragement. Then there’s James 3, where the apostle writes about the power of the tongue, and he paints a picture that portrays our tongues as nearly uncontrollable. James asks why we think we can curse our fellow man with the same mouth we praise God. He calls it a contradiction, and that same contradiction exists when we post mean-spirited, hateful, and unmerciful things online. That’s where the wisdom spoken of in verses 13-18 comes in. We have to be wise about what we post.
Some Practical Tips
So what are some things we can do to avoid tarnishing our reputations as Christians online?
- Think about who is seeing your posts, especially on Facebook. Let’s avoid airing out relationship problems, becoming involved in personal arguments, and otherwise imposing our dirty laundry on others.
- Is what you’re about to share even true? This is especially dangerous when sharing someone else’s post or forwarding an email — substantially more so when the topic skews political. Before you go sharing a juicy bit of outrage, you should see if it passes the Snopes test. Then you still probably shouldn’t share it even if it does.
- Ask yourself what Jesus would endorse. I’ve seen Christian hit the Like button on statuses and groups that convey hateful attitudes, that portray misplaced priorities, that even use coarse language. Think about it, do you think Jesus would endorse a group called: “If you’re going to burn our flag, wrap yourself in it first?” Are we (like I Timothy 5:22 warns against) laying our hands hastily on others?
- Ask yourself if your post is encouraging. Honestly, I know which public figures you hate; I know what laws and bills make you bitter; I know which celebrities get under your skin; I know which groups make you angry. It’s so easy to be negative, but we need to try to avoid it and rather share things that edify and encourage.
- I’ve already touched on this, but texting or tweeting foul language is no better than saying it. And, no, I don’t give free passes for abbreviations. Let your words (and acronyms) reflect your spirituality.
- Don’t post things that require disclaimers. “I don’t approve of the hateful way this person says this, but he makes a good point.” No he doesn’t. If it has to be done coarsely, rudely, or hatefully, then it’s not worth sharing, and the points made probably aren’t all that good at any rate.
- If you wouldn’t be willing to say something you’re writing to someone’s face, then don’t write it. I’ve received messages and emails from Christians that simply turn my stomach, and I’ve never heard them talk that way in conversation. Hold your emails to the same moral standard as your spoken conversations.
- Finally, consider the focus. What does your Timeline say about your priorities? Mine says I’m about 10% spiritual. That’s not good, but it unfortunately does better than a number of Christians online. Would anyone know you’re a Christian by the focus of your online conduct?
Teach the World
We can go on and on about the dangers of social networking. Some of you won’t even touch sites like Facebook because you’ve seen the harm that can come through them, but there is so much potential for good. There is so much potential for seeing opportunities to help others in need. There is so much opportunity for edification and encouragement. There is so much opportunity to lean upon one another for support in ways that would have been impossible in the past. Let’s not squander these opportunities by misusing our time online, and let’s not lose out on opportunities to encourage because we are afraid.
Most importantly, social networking gives us the opportunity to share God’s word like never before. My Bible study blog gets visits from all over the world. Our congregational site and blog gets visited by people all over the world. We’ve been visited over 8,000 times in just the last week and over 50,000 times since the new site was launched. When you post to Facebook or other social networks, you are reaching out to friends and family who may live hundreds or thousands of miles away, who might otherwise only know you through annual Christmas letters. The potential is astounding. The opportunities are endless. Let’s use them well. Let’s teach the world. Let’s make each other better. Let’s save souls. Let’s be living sacrifices to God even when we network online.
lesson by Robert Smelser