Do you think that the Bible, written thousands of years before the invention of the internet, has nothing to say on the subject of social media? It may surprise you to learn that it does! The Bible contains plenty of teaching about how we should behave, our speech, our friendships and our motivation for all that we do. These principles should be applied to how we act online as much as to any other area of life.
As Christians we are ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ and people will be watching the way we behave. Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). These commands apply to how we behave on social media – everything that we choose to post or share should be done in a spirit of love towards others and in a way which honours God.
There is a temptation in the world of social media to hide behind a computer screen and say things that we would not say in person; but if we are seeking to represent Christ to the world around us, we must be consistent in what we say and how we express it to others.
Be wise in what you post
Social media websites are a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, to share information and enjoy good discussions. However there are a number of dangers that can trip us up if we are not careful about what we post.
The Bible, especially the book of Proverbs, has much to say about our speech and what God thinks of our conversations with others. We are warned repeatedly not to be people who gossip or break confidentiality (see Prov. 11:13), and this is especially relevant in what we choose to say online, where our audience is far larger than it is in the rest of life and where what we say will potentially remain visible for many years to come and can be shared and seen by people for whom our comments were not originally intended.
When using the internet we are bombarded with all sorts of information from a wide range of sources and we need to be aware that not everything we read is true! Before we share something we should be checking to make sure that what we are saying is both true and fair.
However, the Bible teaches us that God isn’t just concerned about what we do and say but also about our motives. When we post on social media we should be examining our reasons for doing it – are we boasting, seeking the approval of others, seeking revenge, showing love to others that should characterise us as followers of Christ? Remember that Jesus said that we will have to give an account to God for every idle word that we speak (Matt. 12:36). That is quite a challenge!
The Bible warns us not to be people who deliberately stir up conflict (Prov. 16:28) but to be peace-loving. That is not to say that we should never get involved in online discussions about controversial issues, but we shouldn’t purposefully provoke negative reactions from people and when we are in a situation where opinions differ we need to be wise in how we respond.
We should take the time to listen to other people’s viewpoints. Proverbs 18:2 tells us that it is the fool who finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing their own opinions.
We should also be people who think before we post (Prov. 29:20). We should be slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19), and when we do find ourselves reacting angrily we need to remember that we are commanded to not let that anger lead us into sin (Eph. 4:26).
If we spend any length of time on social media sites, we will have times when we are offended by something that someone else has said. When that happens we should be careful not to respond by insulting the other person. In 1 Peter 3:9 we are told, ‘Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.’ We need to remember that a gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger (Prov. 15:1).
Jesus also taught his disciples that if someone offends them, they should deal with it by speaking to them privately (Matt. 18:15). Facebook and Twitter (and other social media sites) are not the places to air our grievances or to confront those who have hurt us!
Use your time well
The Bible teaches us that our lives are short and that time goes quickly. We are accountable to God for how we spend our time here and encouraged to be wise in making the best use of that time (Eph. 5:15-16).
It is easy to waste lots of time on the internet, especially on social media, and we should not allow this to replace real relationships or fellowship with one another (Heb. 10:24-25).
Be aware of temptation
The dangers of social media are many and varied. We can find ourselves wasting time, becoming envious of the lives we see other people living, becoming bitter about our own lives and getting angry at things we read or see. We can end up boasting, obsessing over how other people respond to us and isolating ourselves from real life as we focus on our online interactions. Then there is the danger of watching videos that we shouldn’t really watch, reading articles which are not helpful and allowing the world to influence our thinking more than the Bible does.
The Bible tells us that we are in a spiritual battle and that the devil will do whatever he can to tempt us to sin and to damage our witness to others. We need to be aware of our own weaknesses and if we find that our use of social media is leading us into sin, we need to take strong action (Matt.18:9)!
Use it for good
If you have read through this far, you may be feeling quite depressed about all the potential pitfalls and dangers of social media! However, social media is not all bad and the Bible says much about how we can use our time and our speech for good too.
We can use our time online to encourage and build others up (1 Thess. 5:11), to help bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). Social media helps us to be more aware than ever of the challenges that our friends are facing, which should inform our prayers for them and give us the opportunity to help them practically too.
If we are wise in how we use social media, we have the potential to share God’s love with far more people than we would otherwise reach just in our daily lives and to bring honour to him through that.
What a challenge!