Social Media to the Glory of God

by Rebecca Zion

“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
- Jim Elliot

Right now, in this time and place, we find our situation to be largely relegated to an online presence. We could engage in the customary hand-wringing over the current state of affairs and worry about what living our lives online is doing to our brains, our bodies, and our hearts (I certainly hold some of these worries), or we can choose to "live to the hilt" the situation we are currently in, knowing full well that it is God who has put us here in this time and place with these resources available to us. It’s time we stop behaving as though our online life isn’t our real life. If this year has shown us anything, it’s that what happens online has a profound effect on “real life.” That’s because our life online is real life—the life of our thoughts. We need to be intentional to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), and that includes every aspect of our online presence, most certainly our personal social media feeds. We cannot view our time sitting alone in our homes browsing newsfeeds on our phones as something to do to fill the time until real life begins again. This is real life, right here, right now, online. We need to view our online presence as another sphere in which our primary goals and motivators should be to bring glory to God and to share the good news of the gospel with a broken and hurting world. Our online spaces are our mission field.

One of the questions that keeps coming up in Christian circles this year is, “How do we show hospitality during a pandemic?” There’s more than one creative answer to this question, but nowhere have I seen anyone mention our online spaces as being worthy of our consideration in this context, and I think they should be. My dictionary defines hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” We’ve been used to thinking of friendly and generous reception of strangers as something we do in our homes and churches, which is good and right. But those are no longer the only spaces for which we’re responsible; we also curate and manage online spaces. Right now, online spaces like our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds may be the only places we get to entertain strangers and guests. Is your feed a place where friends and strangers feel welcome? Even if they disagree with you? Are we “contributing to the needs of the saints and seeking to show hospitality?” (Romans 12:13). Are we viewing our social media accounts as a place to serve the needs of others, remaining conscious that we are ambassadors for the gospel? The reputation we build for ourselves online is the reputation that carries over into our in-person relationships, and by extension, is the reputation we build for the Church. We need to be strategic and intentional to live our online lives in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called (Ephesians 4:1).

Viewing social media as a tool to glorify God and serve others is not an ethos I have always held. It’s not something I claim to be good at even now, but it’s a conviction that has been growing in my heart for the last four years, ever since I first started to become aware of the hold social media had on me. I started taking regular breaks from Facebook to see what it did for my heart, and I discovered immediately how much easier it was to find joy in the Lord without all the clamoring voices from my feeds clogging up my mind. But I also had a number of people reach out to me personally during the time of my absence because they missed hearing from me, and it led to some actual personal relationship-building with people I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. I even had a few people reach out and ask me specifically about the gospel (when does that ever actually happen in person?). So while my initial intent was to delete all my accounts entirely, I started to wonder if I might be able to use them as a tool to build personal relationships and gospel connections instead of abandoning them completely. I have seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix (and if you haven’t, you should) but the big idea it presented is that social media is designed from the ground up to addict you, in a way that no other tool of human invention ever has. Where I think the film fell short is that the problem was presented as a sort of Greek fatalistic tale of Pandora’s box that can’t be retracted or controlled. As Christians, we can’t accept fatalism because we believe the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness therein (Psalm 24:1), and that what man intends for evil, God means for good (Genesis 50:20). I think social media can be redeemed as a tool for the gospel, through hospitality, as long as it’s done carefully and intentionally. This happens on two levels: your consumption and your content. God will absolutely hold you accountable for what you do with your eyes and what you do with your words. The spoiler alert here is that I am convinced less is more, both in your consumption and your content.

Your consumption of social media (what you read and watch) deeply impacts your ability to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and your content (what you say and post) primarily impacts loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37). The Bible is clear that God will hold us accountable for the company we keep and the thoughts we entertain because both can drastically affect what’s in our hearts. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm,” and 1 Corinthians 15:33 tells us, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” If we allow our Facebook and Twitter feeds to be the voice we entertain every idle moment all day long, every day, we begin to absorb those values and beliefs without realizing it, and those are the values and beliefs of the world. We are unconsciously “walking in the council of the wicked and standing in the way of sinners” (Psalm 1:1). We are allowing ourselves to be the virtual companion of fools, and we will suffer harm.

Instead, we are supposed to fill all those stolen and idle moments with thoughts of God and time in his Word. Deuteronomy 6:7-9 tells us, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets before your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” How many of us have replaced “these words that I command you today” with “Facebook and Twitter” in those spaces of our lives? We miss opportunities to teach the Word to our children because we’re scrolling on our phones as they live their lives around us. We check our feeds when we sit in our house (because we have to pull our phones out of our pockets to sit down), we read our phones when we go for walks or wait in the drive-thru line, and checking our newsfeeds is the last thing we do before we go to sleep and the first thing we do when we wake up. Our phones are the literal frontlets between our eyes, and the first and primary thing all our friends and strangers see about us (the doorposts of our houses and our gates) is whatever we’ve been posting on Facebook or Snapchat. Brothers and sisters, this is idolatry, and I am so often guilty of it. We must put God and his Word back in His rightful place in our minds and on our hearts so that we can declare with the psalmist, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97) and “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.” (119:148). May the Holy Spirit convict us of our sin and renew our hearts with a hunger and thirst for the Lord.

While we guard our consumption, we need also to mind our words and content. The content we post and share on social media is closely tied to whether or not we are loving our neighbors as ourselves. We need to be approaching the curating of our content with a posture of hospitality. We have more opportunities to show generosity and kindness online than we will ever have to show them in our own homes, especially right now. We can welcome friends and strangers into our online spaces and show love to them there, just as we can (under normal circumstances) welcome them into our homes. We can be the light that shines before others, “so that they may see your works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This doesn’t necessarily mean constantly beating them over their proverbial heads with the gospel, but it does mean we should choose every word, every meme, every news article, every thought we share, every article we “like” with careful consideration to see that it contributes rather than detracts from the mission, which is to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

The Bible is filled with admonitions to be careful of the power of the tongue, especially in Proverbs and James. God takes our words very seriously. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” Proverbs 18:21 tells us. And James 3:5-6 says, “So the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.” Words have great power, both for good and for evil. Indeed, it is through words that the very creation owes its existence, and the God we follow calls himself the Word become flesh (see John 1:1). As Christians, we should respect the power of the written word more than anyone, and yet a cursory glance at our behavior on social media shows we toss them around carelessly, like children playing with knives.

The Bible is full of instructions and advice as to how to wield our words, and the vast majority of those instructions involve restraint. For most of us, the safest approach to guarding our social media content is simply to post and share less. The Psalmist says, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence” (Psalm 39:1). James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” And Proverbs 13:3 says, “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips come to ruin.” When in doubt, don’t post it. Show restraint. Preserve your life. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of men does not produce the righteousness that God requires” (James 1:19). My righteous anger and indignation as expressed on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or wherever does not transform hearts, however much I might tell myself it might. Posting about the same topic, whatever it is, 3-5 times a day every day for six months is not helping anyone be informed, and it’s not changing anyone’s mind. It’s damaging my witness and making me the clanging gong Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s not restraining my lips; it’s bringing me to ruin.

We need instead to be the soft answer that turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). We need to declare with David, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise!” (Psalm 51:15). We need to “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (1 Chronicles 16:24). We should be comparing our memes and our articles and our posts against Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” If it doesn’t tick off any of those things, I probably shouldn’t post it. It’s not hospitable, and it’s not uplifting, and it isn’t pointing, however subtly, to the beauty and the glory of God. It’s important not to be legalistic or heavy-handed about this. We don’t have to write a theological dissertation every time we post, but we can be careful and intentional that the content we share points in at least a small way to the Gospel of hope and peace—that it is true, honorable, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise.

If transforming our relationship and attitude to social media feels like an unbearably tall order, that’s because it is. On our own strength, it’s too hard. But we don’t have to do it on our own strength. The same Jesus who died to secure our eternal future in glory died to give us victory over sin. He secured not just our salvation, but our sanctification, and he sent his Spirit to help us. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15: 55-57). We can take our feeble efforts and lay them at the foot of the cross, trusting that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 4:6).

We the Church of God’s people have been given a huge gift this year. Many of us have been given more time than we’ve ever had in our lives to read the Word and hide it in our hearts, to dedicate hours of our time on our knees in prayer to the living God. We may feel like David hiding in a cave with enemies round about us, but God is here with us, waiting for us to cast our burdens onto him. Unlike Facebook, Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). What a contrast to the stress and the anger and the fear and the arguing and the clamor that is our collective consciousness on Twitter. He’s offering us rest for our souls, and not only that, but he’s given us a captive audience of the entire internet to preach the good news of rest and peace! Everyone is stuck in their homes with nothing to do but listen to you talk about Jesus! Don’t waste this moment; live it to the hilt! Use this time online to glorify God, enjoy him more, and teach others to do the same. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:31).