Set-Apartness in Social Media

Set-Apartness in Social Media

Glorifying God in Your Digital Conduct.

by Leslie Ludy | August 1, 2017

A Diary Made Public
Kate's Story

Kate sipped her latte and glanced around the cozy coffee shop trying to gather her thoughts.  Suddenly, she smiled.  She’d just thought of the perfect title for her newest blog post. “The Man I Want to Marry.” She quickly typed the words into the title box.

Letting her thoughts wander, she imagined the kind of exciting life she could have with this “perfect man” she was dreaming of.  Every idea that came into her mind quickly spilled out into her blog post.  As she wrote, she realized that she’d never met a real-life man who actually fit the ideal she was describing.  But it seemed to Kate that by expressing her thoughts and desires on her blog, she was somehow closer to finding one.  As she clicked the “publish” button and watched her words float into cyberspace, she felt happy and satisfied.  She loved the freedom of self-expression, and blogging provided the perfect stage on which to debut the unique ideas dancing within her heart and mind.

But a couple of weeks later, Kate’s blog post took an unexpected turn.  A young man who attended Kate’s church began posting on his own blog about the many unique qualities that he possessed, with titles like “The Kind of Man I Am” and “What My Future Holds.”  His descriptions of his personality and desires just happened to match perfectly with the specific attributes Kate had mentioned in her blog about the kind of man she wanted to marry.

Kate felt confused and unsettled.  Was he really the kind of man she’d been dreaming of?  Or was he a fraud, using her own words against her to manipulate her heart?  As this man began to pursue her — both online and in real-life situations — Kate had no way of knowing whether he was truly genuine or simply a shrewd actor.  She felt extremely vulnerable to being deceived.

Slowly, Kate began to realize the dangerous position she’d placed herself in. By freely expressing her intimate thoughts and desires online for all the world to see, she had, in essence, “made her diary public.”  And now, selfish men could easily take advantage of the personal things they knew about her from reading her blog.

An Outlet For Anger
Allison's Story

Allison slammed the front door and threw her purse onto the coffee table, taking a deep breath in a vain attempt to calm her raging emotions.  She was seething.  How could her church friends, who called themselves Christians, behave this way?  They had clearly been excluding Allison and her family, just because they didn’t agree with some of her family’s lifestyle choices.  It was hypocritical and judgmental.  She knew she couldn’t put up with it.  Something had to be done.  These holier-than-thou bigots needed to be brought to task.  

She quickly opened her computer and clicked onto her Facebook page.  The little box inviting her to write a post appeared on the screen, along with the words, “What’s on your mind?” Allison smiled sarcastically as her fingers hit the keyboard.  She knew exactly what was on her mind, and she was ready to tell the world all about it.  

She started her post with the words, “It’s time to get real.”  All her hurt and bitterness came tumbling out onto the page.  With each word that she typed, her frustration and anger grew stronger.  As she expressed her thoughts, she felt more and more justified in openly criticizing the people who had offended her.  It wasn’t gossip, she told herself;  it was simply being honest about her feelings and calling out hypocrisy in the Body of Christ.  She was just doing what any good Christian should do!

Within a few hours of Allison's post going public, she began receiving supportive feedback from her friends.  Comments like, “Thank you for being honest!” and “Thank you for showing us that we need to be real about our hurts!” and “It’s so sad that people in the church would treat you that way — these people need to start acting like Christians!” populated her page.  As she read them, she began to feel a satisfying sense of vindication.  Her anger and bitterness had been validated by her Facebook friends.  It was wonderful to have an outlet where she could be completely honest about her feelings and vent her anger without being judged or condemned.  

Though Allison gained a sense of personal satisfaction by using social media as an outlet for her anger, the long-term results were more damaging than she could have imagined.  Within a few weeks, groups of Christians within her church had taken sides against each other over the hurts that she had made public on her page.  Arguments, misunderstandings, and rifts began to ravage the church.  And over the next few months, a nasty church split began to unfold.  Lifelong friendships were severed, and an outward-focused church suddenly turned inward to nurse its wounds.  

All because one woman chose to use social media as an outlet for her hurt and anger.

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A Daily Distraction
Emily's Story

Emily opened her Bible half-heartedly and began thumbing through the pages.  She felt unmotivated and apathetic.  As a full-time missionary, she knew she should spend time in God’s Word each day, but it was a struggle to make herself actually do it.  The Bible didn’t seem nearly as interesting as some of the other things she could be doing in her free time — like getting on social media.  But she knew she wouldn’t be a very good missionary if she never studied her Bible.  She tried to force her mind to stay focused as she read a couple of Proverbs.  Then, as she flipped to the Psalms she heard a ding on her phone.  Snatching it up, she quickly scrolled through her social media notifications.  Her sister had posted some new photos on Instagram.  And she had two new notifications on her Facebook page.  

Telling herself that she’d get back to her Bible in a few minutes, she quickly opened her social media pages and began scrolling, reading, commenting, and posting.  An hour went by, until Emily suddenly realized she was supposed to be helping serve lunch at the missionary base where she was living.  As she put on her shoes and raced out the door, her Bible still lay open on the bed, neglected and forgotten from the moment she’d picked up her phone.

As Emily went about her missionary work that day, she wondered vaguely why she felt so distracted and lethargic.  She had left her home and family to serve Christ in a poverty-stricken country.  But she found her mind more occupied with what was happening on social media than what was happening right in front of her.  She didn’t feel the same strength or excitement that she’d had when she’d first come to the mission field.  Every task felt like a burden.  Every challenge felt overwhelming.

That night in an email, she confessed to a close friend, “My struggles on the mission field are different than you might think.  It’s not the discomforts, heat, poverty or hard work that is getting to me the most.  It’s the fact that I can’t seem to spend enough time with God.  I spend more time on Facebook than I do in prayer or studying God’s Word.”

What had started out as a harmless free time activity had turned into a missionary’s greatest stumbling block.

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These three stories — though names and other details have been changed — are each based on real-life scenarios I’ve encountered over the past few years.  Whether we like it or not, the digital world is the most powerful influence in modern culture, and it affects each of us in one way or another.  Texting, blogging, posting, pinning, and tweeting are not merely “occasional free-time activities.”  Rather, they have become part of the very fabric of our culture. Like these three women, all too many of us don’t know how to handle our online conduct in a Christ-honoring way.  And the results in our daily lives, and in the lives of those around us, can be very destructive.  

But even if we grew up in church, most of us didn’t hear many, if any, sermons or Sunday school lessons on how to be “digitally honorable.”  Social media, blogs, and smartphones came onto the scene at such a rapid pace that there wasn’t time for one generation of Christians to pass along any “godly social media guidelines” to the next generation.  No other generation in Christian history has ever had to navigate the murky waters of digital conduct.  We can’t read books from great Christians through the ages who have gone before us and set a shining example for how to honor God online, because they don’t exist.

And yet, just because there are no clearly established guidelines for how we as Christians should conduct ourselves digitally doesn’t give us an excuse to ignore the importance of learning how to honor God in this area of our lives.  Many of us have learned the hard way that if we don’t put social media in its proper place, it will quickly take over our lives.  Some of us have become addicted to social media — unable to handle more than a few minutes without checking our phones, and unable to imagine life without Facebook friends.  Some of us have participated in ungodly behavior online like gossip, slander, and sensuality, justifying our digital compromise because it’s “not real life.”   And nearly all of us have missed important opportunities to reach out to people around us or show sensitivity to family members because our phone was in our face.

Digital communication is not harmful in and of itself.  In fact, it can even be a blessing when used correctly.  A fire crackling in a fireplace is a helpful and pleasant thing, as long as it stays within its proper boundaries.  But the moment the flames leap outside the fireplace, the entire house is in danger of burning down.  Social media is similar.  When used in a Christ-honoring way, it can be healthy and good.  But when there are no godly boundaries in place, digital communication can quickly get out of place and wreak havoc upon our lives. 

Adopting a Digital Code of Conduct

Even though there are no specific guidelines in Scripture about how to handle the area of social media, there are many biblical principles that give us a clear picture of how we can honor our King in our digital lives.  Personally, I’ve adopted a “digital code of conduct” — a predetermined list of principles that help to govern my decisions and actions on social media.  Even when I encounter “new and trendy” digital fads, these principles help protect me from being swept away by the culture’s relentless pressure to let down my guard in this ever-present area of life.

In this article, I’d like to share some of these principles with you, encourage you to develop your own “digital code of conduct,” and determine, by God’s grace, to honor Him in everything you may choose to tweet, text, post, pin, or read online. 

Principle #1
Choose Your Words Wisely

Written communication used to take a bit of time, thought, and effort.  Stationery had to be purchased, and a letter had to be written by hand, placed into an envelope, addressed, stamped, taken to the mailbox, and the little red flag raised.  There was time to actually stop and think about what was being communicated through the correspondence — even to scrap a letter, throw it in the trash, and start over if the writer didn’t feel it was quite right.

But not anymore.  We’ve all become used to the instant gratification of texting, tweeting, and posting our thoughts and ideas for all the world to see — at a moment’s notice.  As quickly as a thought enters our mind, we can make it public.  We now have the “luxury” of never having to deliberate over our written words.  There is a certain convenience of not having to buy stationery and stamps.  But the “instant communication” era in which we live also presents some dangerous pitfalls.  It’s all too easy to send meaningless words out into cyberspace without pausing to think about whether they are truly God-honoring.  When we don’t take the time to weigh our words, it’s all too easy to spew out emotional tirades, criticism toward others, or idle banter that glorifies pop-culture and worldliness. 

Proverbs 29:20 gives us a serious warning about being careless and unguarded with our words:  “Do you see a man hasty in his words?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.”  And Jesus reminds us of this principle again in Matthew 12:36: “…every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (KJV).  Those are sobering verses to consider in light of how thoughtlessly we often treat our tweets, texts, and posts!  If we want to honor God in our digital communication, the first step is to learn how to weigh our words in light of eternity.  

Though Facebook is not wrong in itself, I believe we also need to face the fact that most of what takes place on social media has no eternal value, and much of it is downright dishonoring to God and others.  And sadly, we as women are often at the forefront of this unhealthy online communication.

In 1 Timothy 5:13, Paul warns against the ungodly behavior of certain women in the church:  

“…they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.”  Now let’s imagine this verse with a slightly modern twist: “…they learn to be idle, wandering about from Facebook page to Facebook page, being gossips and busybodies, posting things which they ought not.”  

In 2 Timothy 2:16, Paul commands, “…shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.”  The term “idle babbling” here means “empty discussion, discussion of vain and useless matters.”  What a perfect description of much of our online communication!  Bantering about frivolous topics and posting about pop-culture trivia may seem harmless, but we must remember that one day we must give an account for every single idle word we speak and post.

So what kind of words should we be posting on social media?

In Romans 14:19 Paul exhorts us, “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”  The word “edify” here means “to build someone up in their faith, to promote another person’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, holiness, and so on.”  And in Ephesians 4:29 he tells us, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

We can only glorify God with our words when we use them to edify other people rather than to simply fill space, make ourselves heard, or engage in gossip and worldly banter.  Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”  Just as the wrong words can pull both us and our readers away from God, the right words can draw us closer to Him.

A great way to evaluate whether your texts, tweets, and posts are truly edifying and “fitting” is to hold them up against Paul’s checklist in Philippians 4:8: “…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.”

Before you push “send” on your next tweet, text, or post, pause and take the time to see if they truly align with the list above.  Do your words reflect the nature and heart of God?  Do they matter in light of eternity?  Are they honoring to your King and to other people?  If not, be willing to delete them.  If you don’t have something edifying to post, it’s better not to post anything at all.

Remember, when your desire is to glorify God and edify others with your words, your digital words can become refreshing and inspiring — like apples of gold in settings of silver!

Principle #2
Choose Discretion

One of the biggest trends among Christians on social media today is the idea of being “real and authentic” with what we post and share online.  The prevalent notion is that it is healthy and good to share our struggles in a public forum, and even that it is hypocritical not to do so.   As a result, countless Christian women use their Facebook page as a public dumping ground for their emotional battles, freely venting their frustrations about their husbands, family members, co-workers, and friends.  The readers of these posts often respond with encouraging comments like, “Thank you for your honesty!” and “Your authenticity is refreshing!”

But while authenticity is important among Christians, there is nothing God-honoring about publicly venting our frustrations to the world.  In fact, the Bible says the opposite:  “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back” (Prov. 29:11). 

Clearly, there is a right way and a wrong way to be “authentic and real” with our Christian brothers and sisters.  Privately sharing our struggles with a trusted godly mentor, spiritual authority, or prayer partner can be healthy and good.  But publicly venting them, without any guardedness or discretion, is not.  

Even if we are not spewing out our negative emotions online, many of us have developed the habit of sharing too much information online; making things public that should be kept private —  like Kate, who blogged about her desires for a certain kind of man.  It’s all too easy to use Instagram, Pinterest, and personal blogs as a place to openly display our intimate dreams for the world to see (i.e. “Here is the wedding dress I want to wear someday!” or “Here is how I’m going to decorate my child’s bedroom once I get married and have kids!”).  In our “hold-nothing-back” digital world, we’ve lost the art of guarding the sacred and showcasing godly discretion.

Proverbs 11:22 paints a jarring picture of a woman who shares everything with everyone: “As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion.”  In contrast, Mary the mother of Jesus shows us a refreshing picture of feminine guardedness:  “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”  (Lk. 2:19).  If anyone had a reason to rush around the countryside and spill her guts to all her friends, it was Mary.  She’d seen and experienced many amazing and noteworthy things.  But she chose to guard the sacred things in her life, rather than openly broadcast them.  Perhaps her discretion was one of the reasons she found favor with God and was chosen for such a task as bringing up the Savior of the world!

The bottom line is this.  If you are looking for a place to “pour out your heart,” don’t turn to social media or blogging as your outlet.  Your first turn should be to God, as it says in Psalm 62:8:  “Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”  And then, if additional support is needed, find trusted godly people you can meet with privately to help you process your struggles.  Venting your emotions online is like turning your diary inside out for the world to see.  Remember that it is not just “authenticity” that God praises, but also discretion.  The two cannot be separated — especially in our digital communication.

Principle #3
Showcase Christ, Not Self

Between selfies, Instagram feeds, and Facebook profiles, it’s all too easy to allow social media to become nothing more than a digital “shrine” to ourselves. Our culture constantly pushes us to showcase more of “ME, ME, ME!”  We are encouraged to post all our likes and dislikes, share endless photos of ourselves, and flaunt the trivia of our lives to the world.

Self-glorification may be popular on social media, but it is not what we are called to as Christians.  In Luke 14:11 Jesus tells us, “…whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Let’s learn from the amazing example of John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  John’s greatest delight did not come from drawing people’s attention to himself, but from pointing people’s gaze toward Christ.  (See John 3:29.)

In light of the biblical call toward humility and self-denial, many of us need to completely shift our approach to social media.  If you have been using digital communication to draw attention to yourself, flirt with guys, or become more popular, then you have not been using it in an honorable way.  It’s not necessarily wrong to share personal stories, life tidbits, or photos of yourself from time to time.  But your motive with everything you post or share should be to point others’ gaze toward Christ and not yourself.  Ask God to show you how you can “decrease” so that He can “increase” in your digital communication.  Even if you are not specifically posting something about the Bible or about Christ, your desire should always be for people to see less of you and more of Him.

Principle #4
Guard Your Eyes

I don’t personally spend much time on Pinterest or Instagram.  But recently I saw a Pinterest board come through an email that looked interesting:  “Organization Tips for Busy Moms.”  Since I’m always collecting ideas for how to help my family life run more smoothly with six kids, I thought I’d click on the board and scan it for helpful tips.  But the moment that I entered Pinterest, I was freshly reminded why I have chosen not to spend much time there.  Before I could even get to the board about organization, my eyes were assaulted by all sorts of other unrelated images — sensual photos, worldly icons, celebrity gossip, and pop-culture fads immediately vied for my attention and focus.  If I hadn’t made a swift, purposeful effort to get off the page and click immediately to the board that I was looking for, I would have quickly been swallowed up in a morass of worldly distraction and pop-culture enticements.  Psalm 119:37 says, “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.”  On social media — or anywhere on the internet, for that matter — we must be extra vigilant about turning our eyes away from the “worthless things” that dominate those platforms — sensuality, crudeness, perversity, worldly enticements, celebrity worship, etc. When we love the world and the things that are in the world, we cannot love God with our whole heart. (See 1 John 2:15.)  When we allow worldly things to entice and distract us, we become consumed by “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” as it says in 1 John 2:16, and it is impossible to keep our eyes fixed upon Christ with an undivided heart.

If you find certain areas of social media are constantly tempting you to dwell on worthless things and pull you into worldly distractions, then make a purposeful effort to avoid those pages.  And when you do encounter something sensual, crude, or worldly online — don’t even take a moment to ponder whether it’s worth taking a second look.  Practice immediately “turning your eyes away” — whether that means clicking off the page or closing your computer altogether.  Remember that the health of your soul and your relationship with Christ are not worth jeopardizing for anything — especially things as worthless and temporal as the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes.

Principle #5
Put Social Media in its Place

(i.e. don't let it consume you!)

Even if we learn how to conduct ourselves in a godly way on social media, we are still in danger of letting it consume too much of our time and focus if we aren’t purposeful about putting it in its place.  Many of us don’t feel we have enough time for prayer and studying God’s Word, but if we were to add up the number of hours each week that we spend on social media, we may be surprised to find that we have a lot more free time than we think.  Unless we put clear boundaries around the time we spend texting, tweeting, and posting, it will quickly choke out the most important things in life — like prayer, seeking God, and showing love to those around us.

Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we have been created for “good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  Sadly, too many of us are missing out on the real-life adventure God has planned for us each day because we are wasting our time in a virtual reality instead.  It’s high time that we learn to get our phones out of our faces so that we can truly see the needs of those God has placed right in front of us!

I encourage you to prayerfully consider how much time you should be devoting to social media, and to put clear boundaries around your digital life.  Recruit an accountability partner if needed, or post reminders on your computer and your desk.  Be sure that you are not making more time for online communication than for the most important things in life — like your relationship with Christ and those He has called you to serve.

When you spend time on social media, set a timer or alarm so that you don’t linger there longer than you should.  And when you are engaged in a more important activity — like prayer, Bible study, or serving others — don’t let those dings on your phone or computer distract you!  Instead, close your computer, silence your phone, and ask God for the grace to “be all there” as Jim Elliot said.

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If you willingly yield this area of your life to your worthy King, He will gently guide your every step — and every post.  He has given everything for us.  Are we willing to give everything — including our digital lives — to Him in return?   Though Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter may seem like a crucial part of life, we must remember that none of them will last for eternity.  When we leave this world, may we not look back and see a life that was wasted on temporary digital distractions.  By God’s grace, may we build our lives around things that truly matter in light of who He is.

 

"Comrades in this solemn fight ... let us settle it as something that cannot be shaken: we are here to live holy, loving, lowly lives.  We cannot do this unless we walk very, very close to our Lord Jesus. Anything that would hinder us from the closest walk that is possible to us till we see Him face to face, is not for us."
- Amy Carmichael