Facebook now has over 2 billion active users. More than a quarter of the world’s population now has an active account. Clearly, they are doing something right!
But of course, there are cons to every pro. So it’s not surprising that my newsfeed contains a few of these every day:
“I was at/doing this ____ today and a person said/did ______. How terrible/insensitive/hurtful!”
Living in a fallen world where things aren’t perfect, it’s inevitable that there will be many things that upset, sadden and hurt.
However, as Christians, should we react differently? Can we be counter-cultural in the way that we use social media? Of course, Facebook wasn’t invented in biblical times and there are no commandments in the Bible that say, ‘when online…’. But the Bible has plenty to say on how we use our words, how we can love our brothers and sisters and how to deal with other Christians when they hurt us.
Something that makes me feel particularly uncomfortable is when I see Christians criticise other Christians on Facebook. Even if the perpetrator is unnamed and only the content of what they said or did is published. It’s not that the poster’s complaint isn’t valid—what happened to them was hurtful and unloving. I’m horrified that such ill-considered things occur between brothers and sisters in Christ.
However, I’m still bothered by it when I see it posted on Facebook.
I think the main reason I feel uneasy is this: If I ever found myself the subject of a malicious or overly-critical post, I would have liked for the person to talk to me first, to give me a chance to repent and apologise.
The Bible gives explicit instructions on what to do if someone hurts us. Jesus says: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).
Jesus gives gradual steps of helping the person see the weight of their sin: first just between the two of you. If they don’t repent, widen the circle to a few more. The final step is to make it a public by letting the church know. The person is given multiple chances to hear what they have done and repent before it becomes public. If timely repentance occurs, there most likely is no need for a public naming. Given the nature of Facebook, then, posting about a person’s sin should be the last step in this process that Jesus gave us.
Yes, the original poster had been hurt first—but that does not justify lashing out and hurting the perpetrator back in public. There’s no condition upon ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6:31). The way that we talk to, and about, our brothers and sisters needs to be governed by this principle. James talks about the inconsistencies that Christians commit when they speak ill of others: ‘with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9-10).’
And in John 17, Jesus prays that his followers will be one ‘so that the world may believe that you (God) have sent me’ (John 17:20-21). That is, our interaction with each other in public (social media) is being carefully watched by our friends and family who don’t yet know Jesus. Our interactions with each other on Facebook have a direct impact on evangelism.
Loving and positive use of social media is another opportunity for a Christian to be counter-cultural. To show the world how we live transformed lives in light of our relationship with Jesus. We are the ‘light of the world (Matt 5:14)’. Jesus instructs us: ‘let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matt 5:16)’. As brothers and sisters in Christ, may we demonstrate godly and edifying behaviour not just in the physical reality, but in the digital realm as well.