Sometimes it feels like Facebook should come with a warning label: Enter at your own risk.
The internet can be a harsh place, and it can be easier to slip into bad habits on social media than in the “real world.” You can’t always see the damage you do, you can react within seconds in the heat of anger, and it’s hard to take your words back once you’ve put them out to all of Facebook.
As Christians, we should be especially careful what we post online, and more importantly, how we treat others. You might be able to come up with more, but here are 10 problem areas that I see most often. Have you noticed yourself or others falling into these traps?
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1. Thou shalt not compare yourself to others.
This one’s tough because it’s basically what Facebook is meant to do. It’s like an ever-changing slideshow of what others have that you don’t, and it can leave you feeling left out and lonely.
Before you reach for bitterness, choose to remember your blessings instead. And know that what you see on social media isn’t the nitty-gritty hard stuff—there’s a lot that even the most perfect Instagram families are walking through that you may never see.
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2. Thou shalt not add a smiley face to an insult.
“But wait,” you say, “the emoticon means that anything I said before it was just a joke and is completely excused.”
Nope. That’s not how that works. What it means is that you wanted to get away with being unkind, and that’s not something the Bible is going to let you do. This is basically the 21st century version of what he spoke against in Proverbs 26:18-19: “Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’”
Overstatement? Maybe. But the point is there: say what you mean, and remember that tone of voice can’t come across on social media. When in doubt, leave sarcasm out, and you’ll avoid unnecessary hurt feelings.
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3. Thou shalt not brag about yourself.
Yes, you can celebrate something—a new job, your toddler’s successful potty-training, a winning March Madness bracket—without being arrogant.
That’s different from a constant feed of posts that are designed to subtly (or not-so-subtly) brag about yourself. I’m not saying all selfies are sinful, but here’s what I am saying: Affirmation on Facebook will never be enough. If you are motivated by wanting others to like you and think well of you—whether it’s your physical appearance, witty sense of humor, or list of accomplishments—you’ll always need more to be happy, and you’ll never quite get there.
So what is enough to satisfy that need? Jeremiah 9 23-24 gets to the heart of it: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me.”
4. Thou shalt not start a discussion that should happen in person.
This one is less black and white. I can’t give you a list of topics you shouldn’t post about, or conversations better had over coffee than via Messenger. Here’s a guideline, though: If you aren’t sure whether you should say something in person or in virtual Facebook-land… talk about it in person, even if it’s something hard, like a confrontation. Chances are, you’ll communicate better that way, with fewer misunderstandings.
Am I saying being passive-aggressive is a sin? Sometimes, because we usually do it out of fear. We avoid hard topics and conflict and genuine honesty with others because we’re not willing to take that risk.
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5. Thou shalt not believe everything you hear.
As in life, be careful to confirm what you see with other sources… and doubly so if you choose to share it. This seems trivial when it’s something like a meme (did Abraham Lincoln really say that?), but it can be more serious when you’re reacting to a news source that distorts or misrepresents what really happened. I’ve seen Christians outraged about something that isn’t even happening, and they feel pretty sheepish when they find out that what they shared wasn’t true.
The reason this matters is because it becomes a trust issue. Unbelievers want to think that Christians are ignorant and untrustworthy. Everyone makes mistakes, but as much as we can, we should be careful not to give them any ammunition for this false stereotype.
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6. Thou shalt not buy into outrage culture.
I cannot say this often enough or loudly enough: We must resist the urge to join in the noise of fury and outcry. Outrage gets clicks and comments. It sells, and everyone from retailers to media to public figures are using that knowledge against us. Please, think twice before venting about a situation or an issue on social media. Shouting matches do not advance the gospel. They slowly change our minds and hearts into an “us vs. them” conflict that isn’t biblical.
Before you get pulled into an angry exchange, consider whether it will be worth it. Does the other person seem interested and willing to listen to your point of view? If not, it’s probably best not to respond, or say, “I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this” and move on.
You can’t argue anyone into the kingdom of heaven. In fact, Christians are supposed to look different because of our love for others. That love takes a stand on truth, yes, but it should also reflect Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
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7. Thou shalt not put on a spiritual show.
We’re not talking here about sharing verses or thought-provoking articles about faith. That’s great! Think instead of making sure everyone knows what you’re giving up for Lent, or that you’re reading Leviticus with your morning coffee because you’re just that dedicated, adding on a #blessed to everything to spiritualize it, and feeling a constant need to impress others. All are signs that you care more about what others think of you than what God thinks.
Here’s what the author of Ecclesiastes has to say about the constant shallow, spiritual buzz we can fall into: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”
Share what you believe… but remember that your faith is not a relationship between you and your Facebook friends. It’s a relationship between you and God.
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8. Thou shalt not blur boundaries.
By this, I mean that Facebook allows us to be in contact with everyone, sometimes in ways that aren’t healthy. I’m not just talking about potential problems with staying in touch with old flames when you’re happily married (though that’s certainly included here). You may need to stop seeing some kinds of posts. You may need to stop messaging a “friend” who encourages your bad attitude. You may even need to consider what limits you should put on your overall use of social media, because it can damage the real-life relationships that are significantly more important.
I could give examples, but it’s going to be different for every individual. You know what you struggle with. Pray about areas you may need to cut back with your Facebook interactions.
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9. Thou shalt not gossip.
You know you’ve seen this… and probably done it. It’s easy to slip in a bit of news about others, insult them behind their backs, or intentionally exclude them.
Time to put Ephesians 4:29 into practice: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Refuse to engage with others’ gossip. Better yet, if you see those types of conversations going on, be brave and call it out, saying something like, “I don’t think Facebook is the right place for that.”
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10. Thou shalt not misrepresent the gospel.
Whoa. Those stakes just got raised really, really high. But this is what our lives are about, right? We are Christians—little Christs. People are supposed to be able to look at us and see what Jesus is like. They should be able to add us on Facebook and see posts and responses that are consistent with the character of God.
That’s not always the case in my life, and I’m guessing it’s the same for you. Remember that the world is watching you and what you say. But don’t let that drive you into fear or paranoia. No, instead you should pray for what Paul hoped for the church in Philippians 2: That we would be “blameless and pure children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.”
How we use social media matters. Let’s tell the world the truth about who Jesus is.
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Amy Green uses social media for her personal life and for her job in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She blogs about the connection between faith and everyday life at themondayheretic.blogspot.com.
Originally published Thursday, 25 May 2017.