In a recent blog post, my friend Patrick Mead used a recent personal experience to illustrate that the work of Christians is to live out what we believe about Jesus. The story goes like this:
Kami and I recently were at a local restaurant for lunch. We were tired and had arrived at a place to eat about an hour or more after we really should have eaten. I was cooking a migraine and her arthritis was acting up in her knees and hands. Still, it was a good day and we ordered our salads and looked forward to our meal. Halfway through our meal, Kami looked down and asked “Patrick, what is this?” I took her plate and looked at it. It was a ladybug – the brown kind that bites. We called our waitress over and showed it to her. She called her manager who arrived at our table about ten minutes later – testing our patience. We remarked to each other that were we the manager we would have run over and apologized profusely. When he finally arrived, he said “huh” and took our plates away after asking if we wanted to finish them (???). We sat there for another fifteen minutes waiting for him to return and he didn’t. We asked our waitress if he was coming back and she went to check. She came back and said the meal was being compensated so we were free to go. He never did come back or apologize. As we were leaving we reminded each other that no matter how we felt or what our experience was, our WORK was faith in Jesus and that only worked if we reflected him even after finding a bug in our salad.
We called our waitress over and gave her a tip that would have been about 25% of the total of our bill had we received one. We said “You worked hard. It wasn’t your fault. We appreciate what you do and know it can be difficult. Have a blessed day.” She was shocked and just stood there. We walked out.
We didn’t put the name of the restaurant on social media. We didn’t write angry letters. We didn’t tell everyone we knew not to eat there.
We wanted to, but we didn’t.
Because we were working…on our faith. We have found that faith takes a lot of work. We often get it wrong – sometimes terribly wrong and in public, too! That just makes us want to work harder to get our faith right.
That story paints a good picture of what it means to live out our faith in Jesus in “everyday” situations. It’s also a good example of how a Christian should use social media by exercising restraint when it comes to posting on social media sites. The Meads made an intentional decision to not post their frustrations with this restaurant because of their desire to reflect Christ in all situations.
This is something that more Christians should think about. Do our postings echo the teachings of Christ? Have we worked out a strategy for how to use social media as part of our commitment to living out our faith in Jesus in all things?
Here are some thoughts on how Christians should use (and not use) social media that might help us work through these kinds of questions:
1. Christ-followers should use social media as a platform for encouraging others. Scripture tells us to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Social media platforms provide a great way to practice this command. On our congregation’s Facebook page we do a “Facebook Shout-out” every Monday to recognize our volunteers and encourage them in their efforts. It’s one way that we are using social media to promote the values of the Kingdom of God.
2. Christ-followers should resist the social media self-promotion trap. Many people use social media to promote themselves in a way that is completely narcissistic with the goal of showing everybody just how “awesome” their lives are. But Christians are called to avoid this kind of lifestyle. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
3. Christ-followers should use social media in a way that is consistent with the ethic of love that Christ exemplifies. In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is what kept the Meads from publishing a nasty post about the restaurant that had treated them so poorly. More Christians should use that same filter. Posting negative rants, complaints, and critiques undermine Jesus’ teachings about love and our Christian witness.
4. Christ-followers should remember that the principle of speaking the truth in love also applies to social media. Christians have every right to speak out on issues and speak up for others. However, we cannot forget that the way we do that matters. The Bible’s teachings on speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and loving one’s enemies (Matthew 5:44) ought to frame how we speak out on issues. We can point out error, we can voice disagreement, we can advocate for certain policies, we can promote organizations and institutions, and we can champion the truth of the gospel – these are freedoms afforded to us. But, in the Kingdom of God, we are not free to do those things in ways that demean others or advance hate.
5. Christ-followers should use social media primarily for the purpose of promoting the cause of Christ and sharing the mighty acts of God. First Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” This is our purpose, and social media can be a very effective means of proclaiming the excellencies of God. But if we, as Christians, contribute to the worst practices that are seen on social media everyday we reveal ourselves to still be trapped “in darkness.”
Social media, in our day and time, has given followers of Jesus Christ a new frontier in which to shine the “marvelous light” of Jesus. But we will miss the opportunity to do so if we are not intentional about our use of this platform. If we will simply follow what Jesus taught us about our speech and our treatment of others, we can enjoy using our favorite social media platforms in ways that integrate our beliefs and actions.