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In September of 2006, Facebook was opened to anyone over the age of 13 who had a valid e-mail address. It wasn’t the first social networking site, but it quickly edged out competitors to become one of the most popular sites for people wanting to connect with friends, coworkers and family. Today, people use Facebook to video call family and friends, shop for items and services in their area, and even rely on it to get their news. Above all, Facebook and other social media sites are valued as platforms for users to share their photos, stories, ideas and values with others.

The exponential growth in technology and social media has brought controversy. There are many questions about the privacy of shared information and the growth of “fake news,” which is often shared on these sites by users. Some blame social media for what they see as increased polarization in the United States, and there is growing concern over the effect of social media on our perception of ourselves and others.

We humans love to communicate. We love to talk, to write, to sing, to create art and to share ideas. But is every idea worth sharing? What is our responsibility as Christians in a digital age, when sharing everything from our lunchtime menu to the latest news release takes mere seconds? Does the Bible have anything to say about how we use something that didn’t even exist when the Bible was written?

I thought about this question when I read 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 [23] All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. [24] Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth.
American King James Version×
. Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” Now, Paul isn’t talking here about social media, but I think that the concept he addresses is worth exploring.

Freedom of speech is recognized as a fundamental human right. In the United States, there is a great deal of freedom in what we say, whether verbally or through the written word. Culturally, we tend to value our right to self-expression; our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech in its first amendment. As Christians, we also believe in freedom. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:17 2 Corinthians 3:17Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
American King James Version×
, “the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

We have been set free through Christ. How should we use that liberty? Paul answers that question in Galatians 5:13-15 Galatians 5:13-15 [13] For, brothers, you have been called to liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. [14] For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [15] But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another.
American King James Version×
: “You, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”

What does loving our neighbor look like when it comes to what we post on social media? Here are some things to think about before we post:

Is it true?

This is one of the biggest issues I see on social media every day. Too often, we share articles and graphics that sound reasonable, but we didn’t really investigate. Worse, sometimes we share articles that we didn’t even read completely: the headline sounds interesting, so we share it and think we’ll read it later. It is important to pause before you post and consider whether this is a trustworthy source. If the information contained is very different from other things we have read or seen, we should take the time to check it out. If we don’t have time to investigate, we shouldn’t share it. As Christians, we are called to place a high value on truth. We should not be sharing falsehoods. If we find that we have shared something that is not true, we should do what we can to remove it and be honest about our error. We should never share or defend something “because it could be true.” Just as we should be reliable in our in-person interactions, we should be reliable online.

Is it helpful?

Thinking back to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10, it’s important to consider the thoughts and ideas we share by asking whether they actually help someone. Will this improve a situation? Will it brighten someone’s day? Will readers come away from reading a post feeling instructed, enlightened and encouraged? Or am I only complaining about my day? Or, worse, complaining about someone else? There is room for transparency: we don’t all have to have “the best day ever” every day! On the other hand, it can be useful to review the last 10 or 20 things we have written or shared via social media. Are they useful and edifying?

Is it loving?

In Ephesians 4:15 Ephesians 4:15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
American King James Version×
, Paul writes that we should be “speaking the truth in love.” Even if something is true and helpful, if it is spoken, written or shared without love it can be damaging instead of edifying. It is important to consider our tone when we speak to one another, and when we speak about one another. Christ said that we would be known as His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35 John 13:35By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
American King James Version×
). Let’s look at that list of recent things we’ve shared again. How is our tone? Are most of the posts positive, kind or encouraging? Or do most of them seem angry, bitter or accusatory? We need to think carefully about not just our own words, but about the things we share from others. If it is being shared from our account, it is going to be associated with us. It should reflect the values we embrace, and, for Christians, love should be the top priority.

Does it promote unity?

Unfortunately, we human beings are much better at finding the things that make us different from one another than we are at finding the things that are the same. Too often, my social media feed is a long list of opposing opinions, stated in ways that denigrate anyone who holds a different opinion. Sadly, we who are Christians can sometimes be the worst offenders in this area. We need to set a different standard.

Back in Ephesians 4, at the beginning of the chapter, Paul pleads with Christians to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (verses 1-3). If we find ourselves getting ready to share something, we need to consider our motivation: is it really about helping someone else? Or is it mostly about showing ourselves to be “right” about something? We can completely believe that one course of action is correct without bragging about it or harshly putting down those who completely believe that another course of action is correct. We need to ask whether what we say brings people together, or splits people apart.

Would I say this to your face?

Technology has some great ways to bring us together, but it also can make us feel that we aren’t really talking to real people. This is especially true when we are sharing an article or image that someone else created; we didn’t invest our time in making it, so sometimes we forget that sharing things associates them with us. What we write online is read by real people, often by the people we love most. Before we post, or before we share, we need to take a moment to think, “Would I say this to you if you were in front of me? Would I stand up in the middle of church and say this?” If for any reason we would not say it to a person who was standing in front of us, we don’t need to say it to the hundreds of people who are sitting on the other end of a social network connection.

Social media is a tool. Like any other tool, it can be used well, or it can be used poorly. I think about that when I—like many others—pick up my phone every morning and check in on the social media sites that I use. During the COVID-19 stay-at-home order I was especially thankful for being able to communicate freely and immediately with my granddaughter, my best friend and my coworkers. It is a blessing to connect with so many people instantly. We need to use this tool with care, however.

Let’s do our part to make every method of communication a blessing to those who hear or see our words! 

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