Most people who have been a part of the Christian community will recognize the WWJD bracelets that could once be found on the wrist of countless Christians in the 1990s. The phrase represented by the acronym is “What Would Jesus Do?” This slogan can be traced back to Lee Sheldon’s book published in 1896, “In His Steps.” This fictional story tells of a group of Christians who embark on a journey to begin to live their lives as best they can according to what they believed Jesus would do in their shoes.
While I understand the reality that WWJD has become nothing more than a Christian cliché, I do appreciate the heart behind it. If we claim to be followers of Christ, 1 John 2:6 tells us plainly, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” It can be beneficial to ask ourselves what our Savior would do if He were living our lives…assuming we are willing to do the same.
I want to take that principle and apply it to an arena where it is desperately needed, and seemingly rarely practiced: Social media. Social media has exploded at breathtaking speed since its inception in the late 1990s. When the first few platforms became available to the public, no one could have imagined that social media would one day become such an integral part of our daily lives on a global basis. Whether you are an advocate for or opponent of social media, like it or not, it has become one of the most common communication tools in our world. Our society is inundated with it. Companies are using it to reach their customers and people are using it to connect around the world. Facebook alone had a reported annual revenue of over 40 billion dollars in 2017. I think it is safe to say that social media is not going anywhere.
I do not want to focus here on the benefits or detriments of social media on our society. Like anything, social media is simply a tool. It can be used for good and for evil. But what I want to address in this post is how a Christian who is active on social media ought to represent his or herself as a believer.
As an active member of a Christian community, I cannot tell you how many arguments, hurt feelings, broken relationships and rumors I have seen happen among believers from something that has been posted on Facebook. As a pastor, I have often wanted to throw my hands up in the air and shout, “Curse you, Facebook!” However, the actual platform is not the issue. The issue is Christians who lack wisdom in their use of it.
When I examine the problems that are caused by social media posts, two issues are often behind these conflicts. The first comes from the fact that it is so easy to misunderstand someone’s heart behind a post when it is not clearly spelled out. This is one of the weaknesses of written communication. And it is not just an issue on social media. Have you ever sent someone an email and found out later that they are concerned that something is wrong? You were just trying to communicate a brief message, but they read something into that was not actually there. Maybe you have been on the receiving end of a text message and you immediately sensed that the other person was angry with you. But then you talk to them and you realize you jumped to conclusions because the tone that you read into it was not that person’s tone at all. This is an ever-present danger when it comes to communicating through writing.
Many people use Facebook as a means of venting their feelings, whether positive or negative. It is not uncommon for someone to write a post ranting or raving about something that happened in his or her life. If ten people read that post, each might come up with a different interpretation of it, depending on what they think the poster was saying. We need to be extremely careful how we come across on social media. You simply have no idea who is going to read your post and how they will perceive it.
For example, I have a friend in our church who is a physician. Let us say I go to my own doctor’s office and have a really bad experience. What if I wanted to use Facebook as an outlet to vent my frustrations? I might post, “I hate doctors.” Many people may not think much about it, but how would you think my friend might perceive that information? Could it possibly hurt his feelings and even drive a wedge between us? Of course. And this is just one simple example. There are countless other ways to misinterpret information, which is all the more reason that we need to think before we post.
The larger issue that I see when it comes to people being hurt on social media is this strange attitude that many Christians seem to have about the difference between verbal communication and posting something online. It appears that they somehow think that it is okay to just vent, judge, throw out their opinions and speak their mind on social media in a way that they would never do in public. I have been shocked over the years to see what some people post. It is the reason I hardly read anyone else’s posts anymore. Quite frankly, I have to keep my own heart right, because it makes me angry to see people so careless with their words. We might expect this from the world, but even Christians will post things in a way that they would never dare to say out loud to other people.
There is something about social media platforms that make people think they can throw anything out there and then hide behind their account. I personally know unbelievers that are probably less likely to ever attend a church or listen to a Christian share the Gospel because of posts that have carelessly been put on Facebook that they viewed as insulting. And it could easily be avoided if we would just think before we post!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we should cower down and never stand up for what we believe in. But we are to do it in love…on Facebook…just like we are to in person. If each of us would take a step back before hitting the post button and ask ourselves “Would Jesus Post This?” I wonder how much hurt, misunderstandings and poor demonstrations of Christian character could be avoided.
In order to not become guilty of simply ranting and raving at others who rant and rave, I want to give a few practical, biblical concepts to consider before posting content on any social media platform. The Bible talks a lot about our words, which would include both verbal and written. Allow me to change a couple of words to put it in context:
- Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your [social media posts], but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who [read them]. (Eph 4:29)
- Let your [posts] be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col 4:6)
- Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Eph 5:4)
In Philippians 4:8, Paul gives us some excellent filters we can use. I think Paul would say something like this if he were writing to our churches:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—[post] about such things.
These are the kinds of qualities that ought to be seen in the posts of those who name the name of Christ. If we used these characteristics as guardrails to choose our words online, I think we might actually be able to make a positive difference in the world. Jesus tells us in Luke 6:45, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Perhaps it would be a good time for us to look over our Facebook posts from the last six months and ask the question, “What do my Facebook posts reveal about my heart?”
Before you post, ask the following questions:
- What is my motivation in posting this?
- How might others perceive what I am posting?
- Is this bringing glory to Christ or attention to myself?
- Could this post in any way misrepresent the heart of God?
- Would Jesus post this on His Facebook account?
If you want to post what you ate for dinner, or random facts about yourself, that is your choice. But perhaps the Lord has a higher calling for us. How much more good could we intentionally do with the Gospel on Facebook? How many more people can we lift up and encourage? Does it all have to be about speaking our mind, setting others straight, complaining about things in our lives and making sure everyone knows that our views are right and everyone else is foolish for thinking otherwise? Maybe it is time to examine our use of social media and make changes as necessary.
Lord, help us to be wise with our witness in every area of our lives!