About once a week, I say to myself and anyone listening: “I hate Facebook!”
It’s not that I’ve got something against Mark Zuckerberg. I am not, during these weekly laments, critiquing social media generally, though I am concerned about the losses suffered by those who spend more time in virtual relationships than in face to face ones. My chief complaint is with the lack of charity displayed by professing Christians on their Facebook pages.
I confess that I haven’t seen this for myself. I am not “very online” and have never had a Facebook account. But I frequently hear about these posts and that is almost worse. It means that the unkindness of professing Christians has been common enough to become a topic of conversation.
This is a plea to Christian Facebook users to stop writing posts that go against the teachings of Christ and his apostles. They had a lot to say on the subject of verbal communication. If a Facebook user is going to flout those instructions, at least let him or her include a disclaimer to the effect that the views shared are personal and should not be taken to represent the views of Jesus Christ or his church.
Jesus taught his disciples that the words they use are a serious matter and will be taken seriously. He told them that people’s words reveal their true selves, since it is “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Speech patterns are as good as a fingerprint. They reveal who we really are.
Because this is true, God will judge people on the basis of their words, especially their thoughtless words. Jesus taught that “everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
This includes words posted on social media sites.
In his brilliant Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his people about contemptuous attitudes and forbade them from using contemptuous speech. He told them that using derisive terms for others is enough to place a person in danger of judgment, even of hell.
Contemptuous language is not the only kind of speech that Jesus banned. He also barred his followers from using manipulative speech. It is not okay for students of Jesus to talk people in circles or make empty claims in the hopes of getting others to do what they want or think best. Jesus intended his followers to be known as truth speakers, ones who let their “yes be yes, and their no be no.”
Condemnatory speech is also forbidden. Jesus’s people must not condemn others, write them off, or despise them. Jesus promises: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” But he also warned: if you judge, “you will be judged … with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Contemptuous, manipulative, and condemnatory speech are examples of how Jesus’s followers are not to use their words. Whenever these things find their way into a Christian’s social media posts, they are a violation of Jesus’s teaching. But the Bible also includes teaching on how Christians ought to use words.
Jesus’s people are instructed to use words positively. Their conversations lead people who know them to think well of God. Words that are likely to have the opposite effect must be eschewed.
The words a Christian uses ought to “build people up, according to their need.” This does not mean they are always easy words. They are sometimes hard and even unwelcome. But they are true, transparent, and spoken (or written) to bless and help, never to flatter or demean.
A Jesus-follower should speak graciously. As St. Paul put it, “Let your conversation be always full of grace.” This is the opposite of self-glorifying, condescending, or demanding speech. The character of Christian speech is summarized this way: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…”
These instructions apply to the words produced by keyboard and keypad as well as the vocal tract. Christians must meet a higher standard in their speech.
First published by Gatehouse Media.