Words are a gift. Words are God’s idea. As Creator he communicates using words. As his image bearers, we communicate using words. On this side of Adam’s rebellion, however, we’re very capable of abusing words, misunderstanding words, drawing uncharitable inferences from words, and so forth. One outlet through which I witness the abuse of words is social media (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, etc.).

Don’t get me wrong. Social media can be an immense blessing. It can serve as a useful tool to stay connected with friends and family. Many also utilize it to request prayer, share constructive ideas, advertise business endeavors, review literature, or rejoice in the Lord’s good gifts of life, laughter, children, food, marriage, and countless more.

Social media is also a great avenue for Christians to communicate the truth of the gospel, especially as that gospel applies to an array of matters in the public square. In fact, the church could, and often does, harness social media platforms to spread Christ’s fame and answer how his kingdom relates to ethics, money, public policies, justice, the poor, the sciences, etc. That’s not to condone a sort of Christianity that stays behind a screen and never enters lives to embody the love it proclaims (e.g., Col 1:24), but only that social media can be one avenue for offering the world careful, clear, and compassionate answers according to the gospel.

Nevertheless, social media also becomes for some (and I want to emphasize for some) an avenue to vent frustrations quite apart from lifting high the cross of Christ. In light of this potential for social media as well as its abuses, I want to offer the following counsel. I’m a bit late to the game. But I pastor a local church in Fort Worth. I love them dearly. I think of them often. And I’ve written these things first to equip myself and them.

1. Do all to the glory of God

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Christians know this. What they often miss, however, is the link it has with neighbor love in verses 32-33: “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”

Living for the glory of God is living in a way that does not seek your own advantage but that of many, that they may be saved. If there’s going to be an obstacle/offense it must be the cross of Christ. It should not be our vitriolic attitudes, personal prejudice, and political punditry. Every sentence, article, link, picture, etc. should bring God glory in the sense that it serves our neighbor and opens avenues for the gospel’s advance. Honestly test yourself here. What is your motive? Is your motive to be seen? For others just to know where you stand? To get a rise out of the “left” (or the “right”)? To glory in another’s downfall, arrest, failure? To maintain the “edited” you? Or, is your chief motive bringing God the glory in the relationships given?

2. Face to face is better than Facebook

“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). Social media can be a façade for community. It can give a sense of being “connected” without true investment. It can give a sense of “community” while still sitting alone with your iPhone/Tablet. Moreover, communication is limited through social media. It’s difficult to discern someone else’s tone and demeanor. You can’t see whether the reaction came from just personal irritation or heartfelt concern. The apostles certainly utilize the letter, but they preferred face to face (also Gal 4:20; 1 Thess 2:17; 3 John 14).

Would you talk to people (or to the people you’re writing about) face to face in the same manner you type behind a screen? If proximity permits a face-to-face encounter, why aren’t you pursuing it for the sake of gospel clarity and fostering brotherly affection? What is motivating you to avoid face-to-face when that’s possible? Fear of man? Need for approval? Loss of immediate support from all who agree with you?

3. Communicate what is true and do it in love

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). How quick we are to give our opinion about something before we’ve ever done the patient work of getting the facts straight, truly understanding another, using sound logic, cutting through false assumptions, stereotypes, clichés, etc. Our perception of things isn’t always reality; and we must be humble enough to admit that. Christians must relay truth, not slander or falsehood. That takes work, and oftentimes more time than people are willing to give before hitting the “Like” button, retweeting a link, or posting their fifth response.

Truth must also come “in love.” As we’ve learned before, love is a genuine affection for another’s good in God such that we spend ourselves sacrificially to see them obtain it. Does the content you communicate, the manner in which you communicate, and the timing of your communication, fit within that definition of love? Is there a genuine longing to see others obtain the good in God? Or, do your words and posts more so reflect a longing just to give people “what they deserve”?

Again, motives are key. Of all people, Jesus said some really hard things. Sometimes following him requires us to say some really hard things. But let’s remember that Jesus didn’t say those things while sitting comfortably behind a computer screen, snickering at his own clever turn of phrase. Jesus said them on his way to Jerusalem to die for those who “knew not what they were doing.” Our words to others must come with a willingness to die for them.

4. Communicate in ways that are kind and fitting

“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil” (2 Timothy 2:24). Have you made the effort to charitably listen to the other person’s perspective? Or, will your words just stir up strife unnecessarily? Ephesians 4:29 adds, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

We haven’t fulfilled our duty to Christ if we merely lob clichés and stereotypes and saucy remarks into a situation that lack discernment, precision, care, empathy, compassion, and “putting ourselves in another’s shoes.” We must speak in ways appropriate to the situation and the individual. To the situation: What is happening? Are they grieving/rejoicing? Is this the best timing for their sake? Do they have tangible needs I can meet? To the individual: Who are they? How mature is their faith? How might I anticipate them responding to XYZ? Would it help to qualify? Do they trust me?

Notice in the Gospels that Jesus’ harshest words came against the religious “right,” hypocritical rich, the Pharisee, the self-righteous. His approach is different with the Samaritan woman, the blind man, the prostitute, and his disciples. We would do well to imitate him. He also knew when to speak and when not to speak: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (2 Pet 3:23). The more we desire to walk in his footsteps, the more we will image our Creator’s designs for speech.

5. Being wise in Christ includes being slow to speak

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

The fool has to run his mouth all the time. Today, it’s the person on social media who props himself in the Judge’s seat and thinks he must give his opinion on every issue. To be clear, mere opinions are not the concern. Quickness to speak them is. Quickness shows a refusal to bring all speech first under the rule of Christ. The tongue is a revealer of what we’re really like inside, whether we really want Christ to rule us down to our very words (Matt 15:18). Such awareness should not silence us—especially where the truth compels us to speak—but it should sober us. We’ll give an account for every careless word (Matt 12:36-37).

6. Subject your words to the correction of others

“Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8). “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5). “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).

Before posting something, step back and recognize the gifts of other people whom the Lord has given you for the common good. People who differ with you in the church are gifts from God. They can see where you’re often blind. Their critical and constructive feedback may mean you scrap everything you worked on (that happens to me occasionally). More often it will mean clarifying your argument, nuancing a sentence, making something more precise, undoing logical fallacies, deleting that unnecessary adjective, improving the gracious tone, bringing further consideration of those with different histories, etc. My fellow elders, my wife, and my other brothers and sisters in the faith have been immensely helpful, even with the present post.

7. Use your time wisely; that may mean deactivate

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). If we could tally all the minutes spent swiping, clicking, Liking, commenting, scrolling, reacting, refreshing, posting, skimming, we might be alarmed how the minutes add up to hours. John Piper once wrote, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”

As believers, we must prioritize time in the word and prayer and in doing what pleases the Lord. We are saved no longer to live for ourselves but for Christ. If we find the draw and distraction of social media too great, or if others find that our social media accounts do more to harm to the gospel’s advance than promote the gospel’s advance, it may be time to deactivate your account(s). Perhaps not forever, but at least as long as it takes for the Lord to mature us. Mere deactivation changes nobody. But it may assist in using the time you would’ve spent on Facebook, on Christ. Ultimately, it’s by beholding his face that will change us in the end (1 John 3:2); it’s also what changes us now (2 Cor 3:18). Moreover, perhaps it would also afford more time to enter the lives of those we were just typing about before from a distance.

These exhortations and cautions are certainly not all that could be said. But I’m hopeful they’re at least moving us one step closer to imaging Christ in our use of words on social media. May God’s grace be with us all!

Soli Deo Gloria