What does God say about Social Media?

            On February 4th, 2004 19 year old Mark Zuckerburg founded a website for Harvard University students to communicate with one another called Facebook. At the end of 2004, there were 1 million users on Facebook predominantly college students in the United States and Canada.  As of last year there were over 1.1 billion people using Facebook monthly.[1] The fastest growing demographic that uses Facebook are women ages 55-65.[2]  Facebook has opened the door for other social media websites or phone apps such as twitter, Instagram, vines, snap chat, etc.  There are so many different social media sites that it is hard to keep track of all the different ways people can communicate online. 

            There are many of you that are not on social media, have never been on social media and have no desire to ever be on social media. You may be tempted to check out of this sermon before it even begins. There is verse or chapter in the Bible that mentions social media so why preach on it?  Although the Bible may not specifically mention social media, it has a lot to say about social media.  The Bible is relevant for every area of our life. It is transcultural.  The Bible extends to every human culture through every human era. The Bible was relevant to the world in 20 AD, is relevant to the world in 2015, and will be relevant to the world to 3015.  Peter writes in his last letter that God’s, “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” We have a responsibility to display the glory and excellence of our great God to our world. The Bible does not have explicit teaching on social media, but the Bible has given all that we need to approach social media in a God-honoring, God-glorifying manner. 

            You may not use social media, but I promise you that you know someone who does.  You have friends, children, and grandchildren that may are immersed in the social media that you will be discipling in Christ.  We cannot escape our world, but we are called to live carefully in our world both individually and corporately as a community.  I believe it is important for our faith community to take some time to think about how we interact with our world including, but not limited to social media.  I use social media, but do not use it very often.  One of the reasons I do not use it is because I often am very discouraged and frustrated in how I see Christians behave online.  When I began seminary, I would have never thought that I would ever preached a sermon on social media, but I convinced that we need to think through the implications of how we engage with our world online.

            One of my favorite prayers of Paul is found in Philippians 1:9-11, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  This is my prayer for you. I desire for your love to abound more and more. I want you to grow in your love for God and for his people and for our lost neighbors.  Our love grows as our knowledge and discernment grow.  And what is the result as we grow in love, knowledge and discernment? Paul gives us the purpose as identified following “so that” at the beginning of verse 10. Therefore the aim of this talk is “so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  Let us grow in our love for the glory of God.  We should use social media as a way to love our neighbors.
Loving Your Neighbor with Worldview

            Shane Barker, a social media consultant, compiled a list of the top 15 quotes reading social media, number 3 was by Alex Tew who said, “You are what you tweet.” Your tweets, posts, updates reveal your worldview. Your worldview is how you view and interpret the world so how you engage our world communicates what we value. Professor and Anthropologist Paul Hiebert, defines worldview as, “the foundational cognitive, affective, and evaluative assumptions and frameworks a group of people makes about the nature of reality which they use to order their lives.”  As Christians, we view the world in light of God’s Word and His Story. The worldview of a Christian has to be formed by God’s gran-meta narrative of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation.

Creation - We believe that God created the world. And because God created the world 
everyone has value and worth for they were made in God’s image. They all experience God’s common grace.

Fall –Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the garden to doubt God’s goodness and to reject his commands. Adam and Eve became idolaters replacing God as supreme King for themselves ushering sin into the world. We believe that every human being is marred by sin and under God’s condemnation. Every human being is under the power, penalty and presence of sin.

Redemption - God sent Jesus Christ to redeem fallen man. Jesus lived a perfect life wholly righteous and blameless. Although he was innocent, Jesus was crucified for sinners on the cross.  Jesus died to redeem humanity through his own blood. After his death, on the third day Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God forever to intercede for his people. We believe that Jesus is our hope and peace, not only for us, but for all who would put their faith in Jesus Christ. 

Consummation – All of history is moving towards its end when Jesus Christ will return to judge the living and the dead while making all things new. He will bring His elect to His presence where He will be their God and they will be his people for the rest of eternity. 

We must allow this story to impact how we live out our story. 

      Does God’s story impact what and how you share things online?  Before you say something negatively about someone do you consider that they were made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with respect. Do you think of them as a potential redeemed brother or sister in Christ purchased with his blood? Do you remember that one day you will have to answer for every careless tweet or post or link shared?  Do your posts push people to pursue comfort or the cross? Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God so do your posts promote peace or stir up strife?

For better or for worse, your online life is communicating a worldview. The question is, “what worldview are you communicating?” Simple filter to check your worldview is to ask, “Does what I am posting or saying show a love for God and a love for his people?” 

Loving Your Neighbor with Words

            Words matter.  Social media is a way to communicate with others. The Bible may not say a lot about the internet, but it says an awful lot about communication. I have seen excellent ways that Christians use their words to bring encouragement and life online, but I also have witnessed Christians (within this church) use careless, ungodly words. Here are a few proverbs:

The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse. (Proverbs 10:31-32)

With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. (Proverbs 11:9)

Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. (Proverbs 11:12)

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21)

If you actively engage in social media, you have to think through your use of your words.  Do you words show righteousness or folly?

Our digital age stifles communication. Pastor and Blogger, Tim Challies writes in, The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion,

And what of the vast amount of empty, meaningless conversation that goes on today? This must show that there is an emptiness, a lack of substance, in our minds and hearts. Shallow words reveal a shallow heart. Could it be that our digital technologies are encouraging us to live in a world of shallow, meaningless, immediate communication? Are these the ideologies carried within Facebook, within the cell phone? Do they promote significance in communications, or do they seem to prohibit it? Do they promote depth, or breadth?[3]

Challies makes a good point.  Social Media lends itself to quick, immediate and often-times meaningless conversation.  I find it interesting that most of our communication has been established in a style by a self-professed 19 year old atheist.  I am not saying that social media is set against God, but I am saying we have to analyze if social media communication is the best way to communicate.  Worldly systems often come with worldly ideologies. If social media has an ideology of quick, careless communication, then we should head the words of Jesus, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37) Social Media’s strength is speed, but its speed may promote carelessness and we will give an account for careless communication.

God cares about the words we use and how we use them. Death and life are in the power of the tongue or another way of saying that is death and life are in the words we use and how we use them.   Social media is one way we can bring death or life. We have an obligation to think through how we are using our words. Charles Bridges warns us, “no utterance of our tongue can be called trifling. A word, though light as air, may rise up as witness at the throne of judgment for death or for eternal life…Are not the sins of tongue an overwhelming manifestation of God’s patience? In the inner man the heart is the main thing to guard, in the outer man the tongue.”[4] Love your neighbor with your words, but also with your willpower.

Loving Your Neighbor with Willpower

            If social media encourages quick, careless communication, then as Christians we must learn to control our impulses and be governed by self-control. Gal 5:22-24, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” According to Paul, those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death the passions and desires of the flesh. One way this is manifested is when we exercise self-control.  Self-control protects and it protects reputation of Jesus Christ and the Church. A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Proverbs 25:28) Self-control builds up walls to protect from the enemies of the flesh, the world and the devil.

There will be a myriad of ways one can exercise self-control in regards to social media.  This is important because a lack of restraint hurts you and it hurts the kingdom.  I have seen a lack of self-control in how people use social media hurt the body of Christ.  We do not live in isolation, but community. What we do and what we say affects other people, even if it is done online. There will be a myriad of ways one can exercise self-control in regards to social media, but let me off a few specific areas I believe restraint is required.

Time – Social media is one of the biggest time wasters there is in our culture.      Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5 both say that we are called to make the best use of our time. We have only so many precious hours in our lives, why would we want to waste them?  How many hours have been stolen from companies with people trolling away on twitter during business hours? Or how many kids have been neglected as parents stare at a screen by neglecting their kids? Or how many lost people have not heard the gospel because we use social media as a way not to talk to people around us? Exercise self-control in how you use your time with social media. Do not neglect the people around you, great literature or God’s Word for the purpose of social media. Love your neighbors with your time.

Opinions – Not every opinion you have is worth sharing. Some of the opinions you have are worth sharing, but should not be done using social media. Specifically, always remember that those who you disagree are people made in the image of God.  I have seen more venom and hate directed at people through social media than anywhere else. It is easier to say things online rather than when someone is standing in front of you. The online world creates a distance that allows people to say and do things they would never do it person.  If the President of the United States was standing in front of you, would you call him a fool?  If your waitress who did a poor job during your lunch, would you call her a horrible before you left the restaurant? Do not allow the “online distance” make you believe that you have the right to share your “humble opinions.”

Social media is known for controversy.  It has become the place we share our opinions and thoughts about what is happening in our culture, but remember that when you speak (through posting, liking, tagging, sharing) you do so as part of us.  Your opinions may hurt people in this congregation.  And they may do so not that your opinion is wrong (although it could be), but in a manner that is careless. Please love your neighbor through restraining your opinions.

Life – How much should you share about your life online? I do not have the answer to this question and I think it will differ with each person. And yet, I think we should be cautious on how much we share about lives online because of the underlying narcissism that dominates our age.  We live in a “look at me” culture. And that attitude is against the “look at God” framework of the Bible.  We want people to see through us to Christ. If we share too much of our lives, we may be feeding the desires of self. Take some time this week and have a conversation of the theological implications of the “Selfie.”

Godly willpower is a fruit of Spirit.  I am not telling you how to specifically exercise self-control, but I pray that you will seriously consider how you can better love your neighbor through a thoughtful, godly restraint. 

Loving Your Neighbor with Wisdom

Every form of new technology has to be analyzed and approached from a biblical perspective.  Thus far, I have laid out a lot of the potential dangers and pitfalls that come with this new form of communication through a biblical lens. And yet, despite all the dangers, we called by God to engage with our world which includes technology. If you play with fire, you may be burned, but if you properly use fire, you will get warm. Look at those twin text from Paul mentioned above,

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)

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. (Colossians 4:5)

The key is to walk in wisdom. Although it is the key, it is also the greatest challenge.

            Wisdom is the application of biblical truth and it looks different in different contexts and with different people.  The application of truth can be messy.  For example, at what age should your children be allowed to use social media? How will you monitor them? Should you publicly engage in a cultural debate or do it privately? When is it appropriate to advocate for your cause online? How does my advocacy affect my immediate family, my faith family, and my heart? Should I even have a social media account? What do I say to my grandchild who seems to be always staring at their cell phone? How should social media be used in evangelism? How do I approach a brother or sister in love when I am concerned with how they are using social media?

            God’s truth can be applied in a myriad of ways. Christians are to live counter-culture lives. The way we interact with the world has to be different than the way the rest of our culture engages in society. We are called to look carefully at how we walk so we can be wise and not unwise.  This is why God has built community into our lives. We should not make decisions in isolation, but in community with God’s Word. Invite people into your lives giving them the freedom to help you carefully look at your life. 

Many days before I leave my house I ask my wife, “How do I look?” I want her opinion to see if I need to change my outfit. I do this so that I can put my best foot forward as I engage in the world.  We should bring friends into our lives and ask, “Is this wise? How can I better engage the culture? Is this honoring Christ?”

My goal is not to answer all of your questions, but hopefully to raise more, giving you a grid to answer those questions.  I pray that you will think critically and look carefully on how you live so that the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ will be manifested in all the earth.  I desire for your love to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to glory and praise of God. Beloved, love our neighbors for the glory of God and for the good the church and for salvation of the lost.

[1] http://news.yahoo.com/number-active-users-facebook-over-230449748.html;_ylt=A0LEVw9xz69UehsAI6RXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTBybnV2cXQwBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMgRjb2xvA2JmMQR2dGlkAw--
[2] http://www.insidefacebook.com/2009/02/02/fastest-growing-demographic-on-facebook-women-over-55/
[3] Challies, Tim. The Next Story location 1232
[4] Quoted in Challies Kindle Loc. 1243
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