Isn’t the Internet wonderful! You had a wonderful weekend with your friends, and you want to tell all your friends on Facebook about it. So you post a full report and even include moments that might look awkward for you as a believer. Perhaps you “Twitter” short and snarky remarks about someone or something. Your party was fun, and you have some neat close-ups of you and your girl (or guy) or of others that will make everyone laugh—and, sure, there are some questionable moments, but leaving them out would cheat the world of some laughs. So you upload it to YouTube. What harm would it do?
It is hard to remember, isn’t it, that when we are taking part in an online social group like Facebook, using e-mail, Twitter, or Instagram, or posting things to YouTube, that it isn’t just our “friends” who will see what we have shown them, who will have our information appearing on their computers. Others will see it as well! Often those friends include both Christians and non-Christians. And don’t forget that your teacher or your employer or (gasp!) your parents also have access to your Facebook Timeline. How would this information affect your choice of how you describe the aforementioned weekend—or even (to raise the ante just a bit) what you might send to someone by e-mail? The use you would make of your video? What pictures you would post? Perhaps the definitely pre–computer age apostle Paul can help with what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31—“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Sadly, this sort of careful biblical thought as to what appears on Facebook, in e-mail, or on any Internet site often seems to be lacking in the posts of otherwise careful and godly brethren in Christ (yes, even in the OPC!). I have been on Facebook for some years now, and it can get really dark out there! On any given day, I can see, on the Facebook pages of my “friends,” profanity, language that approaches profanity, opinions expressed that seem not to have been passed through the filter of Scripture, angry outbursts, selfish and even abusive speech, and more—all posted by professing believers. There are times when, if I did not know that these dear brothers and sisters are Christians, I would not know it from what they post.
Our faith in Christ is supposed to impact all that we do. That is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 10:31. Elsewhere the Scripture exhorts us to “not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil” (Rom. 14:16) and to “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22). Jesus tells us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Love, honesty, discretion, and, most of all, the fear of God (who sees all we write and the condition of the heart that leads to the words we write) should temper what we say and how we say it (Eph. 4:29).
When we post to social networking sites like Facebook, these considerations ought to be the controlling factors, not only determining what we post, but the language we use, the descriptions we give, and even whether or not we should post. Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ and love for our neighbor, but even more, love for Christ, should control everything we do online.
In addition, we ought to recognize that what we post may not only harm brothers and sisters in Christ (who may stumble at our words, or even be tempted to sin), but also adversely affect our testimony for Christ. What we post provides a glimpse into our hearts to those who read or look at what we post. And if they see something other than our Christian testimony, that is not their fault. It is ours for not being more thoughtful of what we post. Is it too big a leap then to say that the viewer might think, “Oh, so it is not so important to Christ how I live, so why do I need to be saved?” Someone might even be led by what we post to despise our faith or even our Savior. Or is it possible that what we post really does reflect a careless attitude toward remaining sin and the sinful habits in our life? If the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart, what do our Facebook messages, our e-mails, and our videos say about our heart?
Perhaps your boss was unfair or even abusive. You post your complaint on Facebook, or you send around an e-mail to all your coworkers and even some acquaintances of the boss. Maybe you make fun of him or call him names. Or what if a friend has betrayed you, and you want to vent to others? So you send out an e-mail to everyone you know, or tell all your Facebook friends about it. What have you done to the reputation of your neighbor? Do you even know what the ninth commandment says?
It is useful to recall the words of our Larger Catechism:
Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting; thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.
Our elders over the last few years have discussed the dangers of using e-mail for important correspondence. We have a policy that requires us to be very disciplined in what we say. One elder on our session has a useful warning he gives regularly (and to my shame, I don’t always remember it!): it is far too easy to hit the “enter” and “send” buttons. If it is more than general information, then we are agreed that we should pick up the phone or wait till we can discuss the matter in person. Further, members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are familiar with the warnings of the Committee on Foreign Missions not to post sensitive missions-related information online ever! People could end up in prison or worse! If verbal gossip has slain its thousands, inappropriate e-mails have slain their tens of thousands.
Scripture instructs us: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:29–32). Does it strike you as hard as it does me that these words are God’s will for our use of social media? This passage tells us how we are to use technology to communicate with each other. Does your use of social media pass this test?
For the sake of the body of Christ, and for the sake of the gospel of Christ, let us be very careful what we say and how we say it. If it gives even the impression of sin, has a danger of corrupting, does not build up, does not fit the occasion, or does not give grace to those who will read or see it, then don’t post it. Think for a while before sending an e-mail. (Tip: some e-mail programs have a setting that delays sending e-mails for a specified time, to give you an opportunity to reconsider what you are sending!) More positively, to paraphrase Paul, “Whether you write it on Facebook, or write an e-mail, or whatever you do on the Internet, do all to the glory of God.”
The author is pastor of Calvary OPC in Middletown, Pa. He quotes the ESV.