Watching Our Words on Social Media

The power of the words we speak and write is far greater than we realize. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that “Life and death is in the power of the tongue.” In fact, usually our written words assume more permanence and reach further and wider than our spoken ones.

Yet as I’ve observed Christians interacting on the internet, including through social media, I'm concerned that many of us are failing to use our words in a way that is honoring to Christ. We’re neglecting to remember that these powerful tools many of us are using—whether in blogs, as comments on blogs, on Facebook or Twitter, or as responses to them—can serve either God or Satan, good or evil.

God holds us accountable for every word we say, including the careless ones we share over the internet. Jesus said, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36). This means we better think carefully before we hit post or reply.

Words as Weapons

Jackie Hill Perry writes, “It is not wise or healthy to disassociate what you say on social media from who you are. It seems as if many, including Christians, feel the freedom to be critical, divisive, harsh, and flat out wicked with speech via social media as if it is not AS damaging. Don’t be fooled, you will be judged just as much for what you said with your mouth as you will with what you’ve typed with your hands.”

I’ve seen Bible-believing, Christ-centered people post thoughts on a blog or on social media only to receive a string of hypercritical responses from people who wield Scripture verses like pickaxes, swiftly condemning the slightest hint of a viewpoint they consider suspicious. Others quickly join the fray, and soon it appears that no one has bothered to read what the blogger actually said. Responders assume the worst, not giving the benefit of the doubt and engaging in shotgun-style character assassination. (If I were an unbeliever reading such responses, I certainly wouldn’t be drawn to the Christian faith!)

I wonder why it’s not immediately recognized by those engaging in such behavior that what they’re doing is utterly contrary to the faith they profess and the Bible they believe. How is it that perpetual disdain, suspicion, unkindness, and hostility are seen as taking the spiritual high ground? We dishonor our God and each other when we accuse and delight in our brothers’ and sisters’ alleged errors.

A Call for Wisdom

The ancient book of Proverbs has much to say about our words. These biblical principles apply every bit as much to our written words as our spoken ones. Proverbs 12:18 says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered” (Proverbs 17:27). “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

Paul David Tripp writes, “…you have never spoken a neutral word in your life. Your words have direction to them. If your words are moving in the life direction, they will be words of encouragement, hope, love, peace, unity, instruction, wisdom, and correction. But if your words are moving in a death direction, they will be words of anger, malice, slander, jealousy, gossip, division, contempt, racism, violence, judgment, and condemnation.”

Truth and Grace

James 2:13 says, “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” Where is the mercy among evangelical Christians? Personally, I’ve seen a lot of it. But I’ve also seen a lot of unmerciful condemnation of the sort that Jesus repeatedly denounced.

Yes, we can and will disagree in the Christian community, but we should speak the truth in love: “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15-16). God calls us “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men” (Titus 3:2).

While we should desire that truth not be compromised, we should also remember that Jesus often condemned the Pharisees, those whose doctrine was closest to His own. Why? For their lack of grace. Our Jesus came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He calls for us to be full of both.

Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” What are we doing to cultivate this kind of unity? Sometimes we must disagree with our brothers. But are we going out of our way to assume the best rather than the worst? Are we laboring to share our opinions in a spirit of love and grace? “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).

A Higher Calling

Paul reminds us to “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Wouldn’t it be wonderful for those of us who are already each other’s brothers and sisters to learn how to believe the best of each other? And to speak the truth to each other in love? And to be like Jesus toward each other: full of grace and truth? (One thing is certain: a world torn apart by criticism, suspicion, and hostility will never be won to Christ by a church riddled with the same.)

Galatians 6:10 is an apt reminder for our interactions on social media: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” On social media, in our conversations, and everywhere in between, may we seek to do good to our brothers and sisters in Christ through our words, always remembering our accountability to the Lord Jesus.

photo credit: William Iven via Unsplash

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries

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