On Monday night we took some time to think about a topic that has become important, only because so many of us are so involved with it—social media. Now, no one who is in the position of teaching the word is ever supposed to use the time or position just to “vent,” or certainly not (to use internet language) to rant. So while I have strong personal feelings about this, I waited for while to do it, because I wanted to make sure that the study was not driven by them, but by a genuine concern, and the words of scripture themselves. You may disagree with me in some of these things, but I feel like they’re necessary things to look at. And I invite you to take it to God, in prayer, and by searching the scriptures, on any point where you think I’m wrong. Here are the notes:
First, a reminder: Not all truths are found in verses. For instance, there is no verse that says “thou shalt not post on social media.” Of course not. But does that mean the bible doesn’t have anything to say about it? No. Like so many other things, to really understand what’s going on with our cultural obsession with Social media, we need to saturate ourselves in the bible so that God’s way of thinking gets into us, and we can see how lots of big themes and related passages guide us in all kinds of matters that the bible doesn’t address in one short verse.
So how should a Christian think about Social Media? Here I just want to offer up, as food for thought four major issues which are prevalent with Social Media. They are concerns, not positive things. Based on the way the scriptures talk about life, these are things we should seriously consider when we decide how (and if!) social media should be part of our lives.
So, what are the main issues The Issues with Social Media:
1. Venting Feelings. (See Mark 7:21-23 and Proverbs 29:11). We know that a lot of people use social media to rant and vent. Maybe not so much people in the young adult crowd–but maybe a few. If the shoe fits…these verses say that evil is what proceeds out of our hearts, and that someone who vents whatever is in their hearts is a fool. So, if I use social media to vent or rant, it is no longer a good (or even a neutral) thing, it is a vehicle for sin.
2. Wasting Time (See Psalm 90:12 and Ephesians 5:16-17)
The main issues here are distraction and divided attention. The point of these scriptures is that existence, time to be alive, is a precious gift. We don’t have the right to waste that gift.
The two issues with time wasting:
- Wasting time when you could be doing something else. What prayer or bible reading or constructive thing or real resting or good work or act of love could you be doing instead? If you waste the time on social media instead, you’re wasting time God gave you to know him, love people, and do good things in the world. That’s sin. (I think of John Piper’s classic tweet: “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”)
- Wasting time when you should be doing something else. Maybe it’s not that there might be other things you could be doing, but that that there are definite things, right then, that you should be attending to. The obvious things are when you’re on social media instead of sleeping, doing homework, or doing work you’re currently getting paid to do. Less obvious, but just as dangerous, are times when you’re on social media instead of being really present with the people around you. This is a total epidemic among parents—we have so many people using their technology while they ignore their children. Think what fruit that’s going to bear in just a few years. It’s really a dangerous trend—I would say it’s already starting to reap a pretty horrible harvest. But what about those of you who don’t have kids yet. Do we ever get on social media to ignore our family or other people we live with? Or how about this one—Do we use social media to avoid talking to people in public? For a Christian, who’s supposed to be all about looking for opportunities to love people and speak to them about Jesus, that’s sin.
3. Looking at Sin (Psalm 101:1-4; Psalm 119:37, Romans 13:14; Matthew 5:28-30)
Let’s be honest, a lot of people, especially men, use social media to look at things that are either blatantly sinful (such as images which are meant to stir up lust) or which are kind of neutral, but the user looks at them in sinful ways. Jesus says, cut it off. That means, if social media is a vehicle for you to sin, it’s better to get rid of it then to keep hell in your life.
4. Envying, Causing to Envy and Boasting
Here’s the one that I think is the most difficult to detect, until we’re ready to be really honest, and also kind of complex, because it involves both the person posting and the viewer, together, in a weird sort of artificial or “symbiotic” relationship.
Envy: (See Exodus 20:17 and Hebrews 13:5) If we’re honest, a lot of us struggle with envy in bad way whenever we look at social media. Some of us regularly move right past envy and onto discontent, depression, anger and even feelings of hatred towards the people whose posts we view. I’ve had people just say straight up, “I hate social media,” because of these issues. Wanting other people’s lives is a big problem, which Social Media makes even worse, because it keeps other people’s lives right in front of my face, all the time.
Boasting, and Causing Others to Envy: (See Galatians 5:24-26 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-4)
1 Corinthians 13:4 is, I think, the biggest, clearest, and most helpful verse on this subject. Social Media is the number one way people boast about their lives today. For a lot of them it’s totally intentional. Obviously. You know, not so long ago self-promotion was considered bad taste, but now, since so many famous people get famous and stay famous by shameless self-promotion, and since so many people want to be like the famous people, we have totally ordinary people promoting themselves the same way. But I want to be really careful here, and ask you to just consider this, because I think this one actually cuts really close to home. When Paul wrote this, he wasn’t writing to famous or want-to-be famous people. He was writing to regular people like you and me, and he was writing to Christians. And he knew that Christians need to think about our tendency to boast, even when we didn’t originally mean to.
And I think the way the NKJV translates the word which some bibles translate “boast” is so helpful. NKJV translates it “parade itself.” Love doesn’t “parade itself” around for others to see. It doesn’t put itself on display—which is all boasting is, right—a verbal self-parade? Since social media is more visual (although it seems like a lot of the text with people’s posts is getting longer and longer too), it might slip our notice, but here’s where the Holy Spirit will talk to us if we let him, I think.
How many of our posts, even if we didn’t really mean to consciously, are actually a little parade of something great about our life? We go on vacation, and we show people. We have a nice day, and we show people. We have a good friend, and we show people. We finally get a great relationship, some man or woman of God who likes us, and we show people. The more serious it gets, the more we post. Notice, absolutely none of these things are even remotely wrong. If you have a good day, or go somewhere cool, or have a great friend, or have an awesome relationship—that’s awesome! God gave that to you. Enjoy it! The Bible tells you to (in 1 Timothy 6:17). But what’s happening to all of us is that, almost all the time now, the good desire to enjoy good things gets invaded by another desire—the desire for other people, who aren’t there with us, to see what good things we have, and to know what good things we experience. And we need to honestly stand before God and ask him to show us—why do I want everyone to see this? Really great, otherwise spiritually mature people fail here. I just want to ask everyone to really seek God about this.
And think… “Why am I no longer able to just enjoy the good things God brings me? Why do I feel the need to capture them, pose them and filter them, and make other people look at them too?”
And obviously this is where we get to the sin of causing others to envy, which is what parading ourselves and boasting is really for. And it’s so funny—probably none of us would actually sit around and think, “you know, I want to make that person jealous.” But if we’re willing to take an honest look at our actions, we have to recognize that when we boast it’s a compound sin—I do something sinful—that’s one issue—and then a lot of the time, I also lead other fellow human beings into sin as well.
So here’s some other person, and if they’re at a rough job, or having a down day, or struggling through a long trial, or maybe if they don’t have the financial means we do—and they have to look at pictures of our great days and our great vacations—our great lives—what have we done to them? Have we helped them? Are we pointing them to Jesus and helping them press on with our inspiring example? Or, are we discouraging them and making them feel worse about their life…and making them envy ours?
Or how many of our friends are wishing for a relationship to come their way—and as soon as their next friend gets into a relationship, they have to sit and look at a stream of pictures reminding them that one more person found love and they didn’t. And you’ll see it gets worse as life goes on—the person I remember telling me they hated social media was a young mom, and all her friends post beautiful pictures of their kids acting perfect all day. And all the couples who can’t have kids struggle every time they see it. And all the moms that do have kids struggle when they see it, because even though they know the pictures are a totally fake representation of that person’s actual life, their kids are runny-nosed and fighting and screaming and disobeying all the time—and they envy the life they see on the screen.
Friends—there’s nothing Christian about this. We’re supposed to love each other and consider each other. (Look at Romans 14:1-22 and 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 to see Paul work through these same issues, even though the conflict in the Roman and Corinthians churches was about something different. These passages are important for us to listen to for thinking about these and all kinds of other matters.)
And here’s one last part of this issue I think almost no one thinks about (but I know it’s true because I’ve been there). Christians in other parts of the world, especially third-world countries and places like that—they look at our social media. Especially if you’ve been on a missions trip and made friends—they’re watching you! What does our Christianity look like to them—a parade of rich people having fun? Just think of what that does to their ability to persevere in difficult times! Honestly my friends, God is going to hold us accountable for this!
Enjoy the good things God’s given you. But if you turn them into something that parades your life and promotes your pride and causes others to sin, you’ve ruined what God gave you, and you’ve used it for evil.
What are the stakes in all of this? If we mess this up, we could be… failing to walk in love (Romans 14:15); preaching ourselves, not Christ (2 Cor 4:5); and therefore, violating the two major commandments—to love God, and love each other.
- Cut off whatever leads you to sin. Whether social media leads you to lust, or envy, or anxiety, or anger, if it leads you into sin, there’s no point in keeping it around.
- Allow God’s love to rule your life in such a way that you think about all your actions, and how they will affect other people. Let your decision about whether or not to use social media, and how to use it, to be shaped by the concerns of Christian love for others. Think about how to lead a life that helps others walk with Jesus, and never makes them stumble.
- Pursue real interactions with the actual people God has put in your life. Let social media become less and less important to you, and actual human interaction become more and more important. And never let social media become a diversion from solid time alone with God, Solid time alone resting, public availability to strangers, or time you can spend with the people in your life. This is another reason to just cut it off, as much as possible.
- Redeem the time God’s given you. Think strategically—what are all the ways I could most glorify God with the time he’s given me.
As a final word, I just want to share that my experience is this: There are a lot of things I’ve never done, but I don’t have to do any of them to just look around and see where they get other people–and I know my life is better without them. I’ve never had social media, but I see what other people have, and I know my life is better without it. I can enjoy my wife and my kids without reducing them to images for other people’s consumption. They won’t ever feel that from me, or have to deal with me paying more attention to my phone and people I’m not with than I am to them. I won’t ever embarrass them with a post. I can enjoy the good things God’s given me without a second thought about causing some other person who doesn’t have those things to envy.
I can be more present to my life, to nature, to the moment I’m in, and the people I’m with, without any second layer of thought about capturing, posting, and likes and comments.
I can look back at my time and see that it was used for good, even eternal, things, instead of wasted, scrolling and tapping.
I can be more attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit, who lives in the present, who gave us nature, who speaks through other people, and who will only lead us to walk in love.
That’s the heart of all of this: loving God by listening to him and being more attentive to him, and loving God by loving other people better.
And if you’re not a follower of Jesus—we just want to say—the world is so much more than all this tech. We invite you to come alive to real world.