As I prepared to write this blog about the wise use of social media a teacher in the area got into trouble for posting a message on FB that indicated she wanted to kill her students (because they were out of control and impossible to discipline).
Despite the fact she was pointing to a real problem in many public schools her comment, clearly born from frustration was foolish and given without any thought as to how it would be received.
A dictionary definition of something foolish is showing a lack of sense, or ill considered or lacking forethought, caution or wisdom. A Christian user of social media should avoid that which is foolish, ill considered, lacking forethought, wisdom, common sense or caution simply because we represent Christ (2 Cor. 5:20a).
The Book of Proverbs gives great counsel as to what a wise use of social media could be as well as what to avoid. Here’s a few examples.
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Pro. 12:18, ESV)
Words without thought, reactionary words, harmful words posted are akin to being stabbed with a sword and separate friends while the postings of the wise are aimed to healing a relationship.
Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret, lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end. (Proverbs 25:9-10 ESV)
The context is that of working out a conflict with a neighbor and for the Christian it would mean an application of Matthew 18:15 in an attempt to make peace in the relationship.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:15 ESV)
The counsel from Proverbs is simple and really common sense for the thoughtful Christian.
I once had to rebuke (privately) a professing Christian who told me that I had no business telling them anything about their social media posts since under the Constitution they had freedom of speech (the person attended my church and it was my responsibility to shepherd them since I’m the asst pastor).
I am all for the Constitution and freedom of speech but as Christians we have a higher allegiance than our Constitution and that allegiance should belong to God and if God says rash words are like sword thrusts (meaning accusatory, mocking, condemning or insulting words) then it would be wise to refrain from those sword thrusts and instead use the skill of peacemaking in a given situation. The person in question did not listen, unfriended me and left the church.
Social media is a lousy medium for much substance and airing out a conflict is just about the most foolish thing a Christian can do. A person who is persistent in airing their gripes and complaints against others soon gains a reputation that is hard to shake once gained.
The proverb is also a warning against gossip. Perhaps a good biblical definition of gossip would be to spread rumors or secrets, speak about someone maliciously behind their back or repeat something about someone else that you have no right to repeat.
Perhaps nothing in the church is more divisive than gossip. It gets people talking without facts or knowing the whole story and it gets people wondering about the character of others whether they are actually named or not. Proverbs 26:20 tells what happens when gossip ceases:
For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. (Proverbs 26:20 ESV)
The Christian should be geared to promoting peace and not one to air strife or whisper against others which always make matters worse and divides brothers and sisters.
Another helpful proverb is 17:14:
The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out. (Proverbs 17:14 ESV)
I think if we couple Proverbs 12:18 with 17:14 we’ll see that Christians should avoid a quarrel on social media, a medium not well suited for problem solving. I like the water analogy of 17:14. If you’ve even had a water problem (burst pipe or basement flooding) in your home then you know how difficult it is to control water on the loose or the clean up required after the damage is done.
Solomon says quite simply, “just stop” or “or just quit” because once strife gets rolling it’s hard to contain or control. Perhaps another viable way to put it is to simply shut up if you don’t have anything helpful to say!
That takes wisdom and skill because emotions are often involved so the first step is to take a step back and ask yourself, “is my response contributing to the strife” or does it seek peacemaking? A little self-control before posting can go a long way to solving a problem.
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 29:20 ESV)
The application for this proverb would be posting something without regard to possible consequences like the teacher in my opening illustration. What she meant was she was frustrated; what she got was in trouble for her hasty foolish words.
The spoken word can often be given in haste and emotionally driven and therefore highly reactionary rather than thoughtful. The same is true on social media. Knee jerk reactions are never helpful and when chronic the poster or speaker gains the reputation of the fool, which in Scripture means “one who lives their life apart from God and his wisdom.” This ought not be the reputation of a professing Christian.
And finally this:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21 ESV)
The Proverb means we have the power of destruction in our words, spoken or written and if used in a destructive way they produce a kind of death, usually a relationship. But we also have the power of life in our words, spoken or written which means speaking or writing in such a way that gives life or at the very least does not harm the gospel or our gospel witness.