September 9, 2016

The Blog in Our Eyes

by Nathan Busenitz

What principles should guide Christians who interact on blogs (and other social media)?

Eye Chart

This article was originally published several years ago on Pulpit as a multi-part series. I’ve updated it slightly and republished it here because I believe it is still a helpful reminder for those who regularly communicate online – either through blogs or other forms of social media.

At times, the blogosphere can be notoriously nasty — a breeding ground for slander, gossip, misinformation, bickering, name-calling, arrogance, and quick-temperedness. Even Christian blogs can sometimes deteriorate into something between a tabloid and a talk show, built on a few provocative tidbits of juicy news and the massing of ignorance in response. Armed with anonymity and eager for an audience, bloggers (meaning both those who post and those who comment) often shoot first and ask questions only after they’ve trashed other people and embarrassed themselves.

So how can we, as believers, stem the tide and honor the Lord in the way we interact online? In answer to that question, here are ten practical principles derived from God’s Word.

Let’s start with the most foundational . . . 

1. Have Your Quiet Time First

As believers, we are to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), being controlled and characterized by Him as we walk in His power (Gal. 5:16, 22–23). This begins with “letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16), daily renewing our minds with the truth (cf. Eph. 4:23), taking up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17), and recognizing that it is through “the pure milk of the Word” that we “grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). If we are to be Spirit-filled as we engage others in online dialogue, discussion, and debate — we need to first immerse ourselves in prayer and in the Word (cf. Pss. 1:2–3; 5:3; 19:7–14; 119:9–11).

This principle applies to blogs in at least two ways. First, we need to remember that blogs, as helpful as they are, should never be a substitute for one’s personal time of private devotion, Scripture reading, and prayer. If we are to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led every day, we need to daily go to the book that the Spirit inspired (2 Pet. 1:20–21) and empowers (cf. Is. 55:11; Heb. 4:12). Even the best of Christian blogs (or books for that matter) can never compare with the very words of God.

Second, there is much about blogging that appeals to our sinful flesh, especially when a good argument is afoot. Pride, anger, impatience, and ungracious speech would quickly fill any list of common blogging sins. That’s why it is vitally important to renew your mind before interacting with others online.

2. Stay Within the Lines

The pages of Scripture are filled with instruction regarding how we ought communicate with other people. Those commands apply to online interactions just as much as they apply to real-life relationships. We must be careful, then, not to say something online that violates the biblical standards for godly speech.

Blogging is, after all, nothing more or less than speech, meaning that all of the biblical directives regarding our tongues directly apply to our fingers when blogging. Many verses could be cited in this regard. Perhaps the most general is this: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19), and the most sobering is this: “I tell you that for every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36).

Whether it’s characterized by gossip, slander, retribution, quick-temperedness, crudeness, falsehood, pride, or any other violation of the second greatest commandment (cf. Mark 12:30-32), it’s inappropriate. If it violates the biblical paradigm for godly speech, it doesn’t belong in our posts or in our comments — no matter how funny, how provocative, or how timely it seems to be. A quick study of passages like Proverbs 12:17–18; 15:1; 16:23–24; 17:27–28; 20:19; 29:20; Eph. 4:29; 5:4; Titus 2:6–8; and Jas. 3:8–10 is a great starting point for any blogger concerned that his or her words both online and offline are honoring to Christ.

To be sure, applying the biblical mandates for sanctified speech is difficult in any circumstance. But it requires special effort and care in the blogosphere, where tone is difficult to accurately convey, and non-verbal cues are utterly absent. This means we must work even harder at seasoning our words with grace, and not being (or sounding) quarrelsome.

The bottom line is this: If it violates a biblical principle, don’t post it. Sin is still sin, even if no one knows the true identity behind your anonymous pseudonym. After all, God knows, and in the end, His opinion is what matters.

3. Consider the Consequences

It is also important to realize that words have consequences. The book of Proverbs compares wicked words to things like sword thrusts, war clubs, firebrands, arrows, and death (Prov. 12:18; 25:18; 26:18–19), noting that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). James picks up on this theme in chapter 3 of his epistle, rebuking those who praise God and slander others from the same set of lips (cf. vv. 8–10). Listen to what he writes in verse 6: “The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” That is sobering stuff! And as we saw earlier from Matthew 12:36, our words have consequences that are not only temporal (cf. Gal. 6:8–10), but eternal (cf. Rom. 14:12).

When posting online, it is especially important to consider the ramifications of what we are about to say. Not only are one’s words instantly accessible to billions of people, but they are quickly cached by search engines – meaning that it is nearly impossible to delete every trace of them even if one wanted to do so later.

The size of the online audience, combined with the relative permanence of what is posted there, makes what is said through a blog potentially more-damaging than anything that could be said in private conversation. Yet ironically, comments are often made online that would never be made in face-to-face conversation. Thus, a good rule of thumb is: If you wouldn’t say it in a face-to-face meeting, don’t say it on a blog (or in an email).

The point here is that what we say has consequences — and what we say online can have even greater consequences since it is accessible to anyone and available indefinitely. This is something we should all remember before we hit ”submit.”

4. Check Your Motives

Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Even as believers, those who have been regenerated (Titus 3:5–8), we still battle against our sinful flesh (cf. Rom. 7:13–25; 13:14; Eph. 5:11–12; 6:10–18; James 1:14–15; 1 John 2:16–17). Because we can be driven (even subtly) by wrong motives and desires, we need to constantly examine our hearts.

One of the most common pitfalls, in an age dominated by social media, is the temptation to be prideful and self-promoting. God, of course, hates pride (Prov. 6:17; 8:13). As Solomon explained, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished” (Prov. 16:5; cf. 11:2; 15:25; 16:18-19: 29:23). Though in a salvation context, Jesus repeatedly made the point that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” (Matt. 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14). After all, “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). “To this one I will look” says the Lord in Isaiah 66:2, “To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My Word.”

Social media (including blogging) can easily turn into a platform for self-promotion and for “thinking more highly of yourself than you ought” (Rom. 12:3). A friend of mine once told me that he views “BLOG” as an acronym for “Boys Lusting Over Glory.” That is quite an indictment, and too often true. As believers, we must guard our motives diligently, and keep our pride in check. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. . . . Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3, 5). Put simply, the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16) is a sin we must all continually combat.

On a practical note, the best way to kill pride is to think accurately about God – regularly meditating on His character and attributes. When we see God for who He truly is (in His sovereign, awesome, holy perfection), we will also see ourselves for who we really are (in our finite, frail, sinful weakness). And when we see ourselves from God’s perspective, we are humbled. We bow low like Moses (Exod. 34:8), keep silent like Job (Job 40:4-5), fall on our face like Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:28), and cry out like David: “What is man that you take thought of him? Or the son of man that you care for him” (Psalm 8:4).

5. Check Your Facts

Not only should you check your heart before you post or comment, but you should also check your facts. The Book of Proverbs has much to say about bearing false witness (Prov. 6:19; 12:17; 13:5; 19:5; 21:28; 24:28; 25:18; 29:12) and also advises us to understand both sides before passing judgment (18:17). As those who dispense information we need to be careful not to jump to wrong conclusions (even unintentionally), especially when disseminating juicy tidbits of gossip throughout cyberspace.

We also need to be careful, when reading other blogs, not to immediately believe everything we see. Discernment should be something we apply, not only to doctrinal issues, but also to the breaking news of the blogosphere. The biblical principles of testing and double-checking (see passages like Acts 17:11 and 1 Thess. 5:19–21) are online essentials, even if the rapid exchange of information sometimes makes verification difficult.

Even when the information comes from trusted sources, the temptation can be to not read articles carefully or even completely before rushing in to comment. But such rashness almost always leads to disaster (cf. Prov. 12:18; 19:2).

It was Carl Henry who said that, “Truth is Christianity’s most enduring asset.” Though his words primarily apply to apologetics, I think the principle extends to all of the Christian life. Believers are those who are marked by truth – both the truth of Scripture (cf. John 17:17), and truthfulness (integrity) in how we speak and live (cf. Psalm 15). If we are to appropriately represent Jesus Christ (the Truth incarnate — John 14:6) on the web, we need to have our facts straight before we post (cf. Prov. 13:16).

6. Make It Personal (Because It Is)

One of the most deceptive aspects of blogging is that it seems impersonal. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Blogging, by its very nature, is very personal.

People write blogs, people read blogs, people comment on blogs. In blogging, a person expresses his or her personal take on the actions, beliefs, or character of other persons (often particular persons) and invites third-party persons to give their personal comments in response. It’s all personal. Granted, it’s not face-to-face. It is removed from direct conversation by cables, modems, and computer screens. But insofar as it affects real people in a rational, emotional, and spiritual way – blogging is personal.

Of course, this is easy to forget when it’s late at night and only our computer screen is staring back at us. But it’s especially at those times (when we are tired and alone) that we need to be careful with what we say and how we say it. On the other end of our barbed wit is a living, breathing human being — a person. We may not know this person’s real name, gender, age, or physical address. But he or she is still a living soul, made in the image of God.

Listen to the words of James, regarding how we speak to other people: “No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be.” (James 3:8-10)

Along those lines, here are a few practical tips. First, as we noted earlier: Don’t say something online that you wouldn’t be willing to say face-to-face. Second, put your name with what you say. If you are unwilling to have your real name and your real-life reputation associated with your comment, then it’s probably better left unsaid. Third, and most importantly, remember that there is another Person who is also watching (Prov. 15:3). That fact alone makes blogging infinitely personal. As we noted under principle number 2, if God would not approve of what you are about to say, then don’t publish it for the world to read.

One final note, as a balance to all of this, let me emphasize that – while we need to “make blogging personal” in respect to what we say to and about others — we should never “take it personally” when we ourselves are the object of criticism or ridicule.

When Jesus was scorned and mocked, He remained silent before His accusers (cf. 1 Pet. 2:21-23). He commanded His followers, when wronged, to likewise turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). When we feel insulted or personally offended by a post or a comment, we are never right to respond in kind (Rom. 12:18-21; cf. Prov. 15:1). Usually, all that’s been hurt is our pride; and at that point, it’s better to walk away than to stay and defend ourselves. As Solomon wrote, “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult” (Prov. 12:16).

7. Speak the Truth in Love

In Ephesians 4:15, Paul tells his readers to speak the truth in love. There are two important applications of this passage as it relates to Christian communication (both online and off). These are basic points from the verse, but they are equally important: First, we are to speak the truth. Second, we are to do so in a way that is characterized by love.

The context of Paul’s instruction centers around doctrinal issues (in v. 14), and is directly applicable to the edification of fellow believers (in v. 16). We are to speak the truth, then, in contrast to the falsehood of erroneous doctrine; and we are to do so in love, for the purpose of building up the body of Christ.

Speaking the truth addresses the content of what we say. We are to be those who guard, echo, and uphold the truth. That means there will also be times when we need to confront error, as we contend earnestly for the faith. As those who speak the truth, we will necessarily expose falsehood.

Speaking the truth in love addresses the way in which we speak. We must not be obnoxious with the truth, or personally offensive in how we approach others. Rather, we are called to communicate truth in such a way that the body of Christ is edified. Our words, especially when aimed at fellow believers, must be characterized by biblical love.

When we speak of love, we are not suggesting that we should ignore error or blindly tolerate “every wind of doctrine.” Not at all. Biblical love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). In fact, the writers of the NT reserved their harshest criticisms for those who would promote false doctrine (Matt. 23:13–26; Gal. 1:6–9; 2 Peter 2; 1 John 2:18–24; Jude). Biblical love demands that we protect fellow believers from what we know to be potential threats and dangerous trends (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14; Titus 1:9–11; 2 Peter 3:17; 1 John 5:21).

Yet, at the same time, biblical love is also patient, kind, humble, selfless, and not-easily provoked (1 Cor. 13:4-5). It is a sincere love (1 Pet. 1:22; Rom. 12:9) that is characterized by the phrase: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). It exhibits the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23) and, when exemplified in the lives of godly people is not quick-tempered, self-willed, pugnacious, or needlessly quarrelsome (Titus 1:7; 2 Tim. 2:24–25). It is not soft on false doctrine or on false teachers; but it is soft with compassion and seasoned with grace in its dealings with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

We might add here that love is not easily angered (1 Cor. 13:5), recognizing that, as a general rule, the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:20; cf. Eph. 4:26). As Solomon wrote, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29); and, “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot tempered man abounds in transgression” (Prov. 29:22); and again, “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” (Eccl. 7:9; see also Prov. 14:17; 15:1; 16:32; 19:11, 19; 22:24; 29:11).

Biblical love is courageous and forthright when it needs to be. But it is also characterized by gentleness, patience, and kindness. It is this type of steadfast yet gracious love that we should pursue in our blogging efforts.

8. If in Doubt, Wait It Out

No matter your connection speed, the online world moves at a lightning pace. The breakneck speed at which online interaction takes place means that blog discussions usually only last for one or maybe two days, and that last week’s conversation is today’s ancient history. If someone hopes to get a word in, he or she better do it now. Otherwise the discussion will be over.

This (in my opinion) is one of the biggest disadvantages of blogging. For the most part, blogs (by their very nature) provide very little time for readers to stop and think, soak in what is happening, sleep on it, and then respond intelligently.

Yet, that is exactly what the better part of wisdom tells us we should do (cf. Prov. 25:8; 29:20). We need time to process if we are going to give a thoughtful response. In light of this, it is often wise to wait (at least a couple hours) before reacting with a critical word. It is better to be a little tardy to the conversation (or even not participate at all), than to say something that will later be regretted. If there is any question about the appropriateness of a given post or comment, then let it rest for awhile.

Another practical step in this regard is to ask someone else about it first (someone with some spiritual sense, of course). To quote from Proverbs again: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Prov. 12:15). If a trusted friend (perhaps a spouse, parent, or church leader) thinks your comment crosses the line, it probably does.

To quote again from Solomon, “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent” (Prov. 17:27-28). Or as Abraham Lincoln paraphrased: Better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

9. Choose Your Battles Carefully

Fights always draw a crowd. And in the blogosphere, it seems there is always a fight going on somewhere. Sometimes the issues are important; often they are not.

Those who fight all the time, especially about petty issues, tend to earn a reputation for themselves as being contentious (Prov. 26:21), pugnacious (1 Tim. 3:3), or divisive (Titus 3:10). Some blog commenters act like those descriptors are compliments. But Scripture wouldn’t agree. After all, “keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (Prov. 20:3; cf. 17:14). Thus, Paul rebuked the Corinthians for their quarrels (1 Cor. 1:11; cf. 2 Cor. 12:20), as did James with those to whom he wrote (James 4:1–2).

In advising Timothy on how to handle disagreements in his church (at Ephesus), Paul wrote:

Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:22–26).

I believe this passage is applicable to blogging on several levels. First, notice what Timothy was called to pursue (v. 22) – righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who were fellow believers. We should do the same.

Second, notice what Timothy was to avoid (v. 23) – “foolish and ignorant speculations.” Instead of spending his time in unprofitable debates, Timothy was to focus on what mattered – the truth of Scripture. As John MacArthur explains in his commentary on 2 Timothy:

In this Timothy passage, Paul makes clear that he is not speaking about responsible discussion of Scripture and theology, either with the unsaved or among believers. He rather forbids speculations, fruitless and unproductive debates that produce quarrels. Such speculations not only are worthless but are ungodly. They question Scripture, distort the truth, create doubt, weaken faith, undermine confidence in the Lord, often lead to compromise of convictions, and produce quarrels. Earlier in this chapter, the apostle commanded Timothy to “solemnly charge [believers] in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers” (v. 14).

Paul gives almost identical counsel to Titus, warning him to “shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9). Any church member who persists in such “unprofitable and worthless” behavior is to be severely disciplined. “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning,” the apostle continues, “knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (vv. 10–11).

Third, notice how Timothy was to behave (v. 24) – he was to teach the truth in a way that was not quarrelsome, but was marked by kindness, patience, and gentleness. Certainly, Timothy was to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3), but he was to do so in a way that was honorable and above reproach.

Fourth, notice what Timothy’s goal was to be (vv. 25–26) – the repentance of those who opposed him. In dialoguing with those who disagreed Timothy was not only to guard the truth (2 Tim. 1:14), but also to lead those in error to repentance. He was to win people (not just arguments). I believe the flavor of many online “debates” among Christians would dramatically change if that end goal were sincerely embraced.

To sum up briefly, Paul’s words to Timothy provide helpful parameters for dealing with other Christians online. 1) Seek to edify. 2) Don’t waste time debating unimportant issues. 3) Be gracious. And 4) work hard to win people.

10. Maintain the Family Honor

Growing up, the phrase “Maintain the Family Honor” was one my dad employed often – usually as a parting word of wisdom to my brother and me as we went off to spend time with friends. Over time it got shortened to “MFH,” but we always knew what it meant: Don’t do anything stupid that would bring shame on ourselves or our family.

As those who have been adopted into God’s family (Rom. 8:13–17), we are likewise called to maintain the family honor. We are to be a fragrant aroma to God (Eph. 5:2); and salt and light in a dark world (Matt. 5:13). We are to walk in love as Christ walked (Eph. 5:2), recognizing that the world will know us by our love for one another (John 13:35). We are to exhort one another (Rom. 14:15), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), edify one another (Rom. 14:19), and speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15). And we are to do all things for the glory of our King (1 Cor. 10:31).

There really is no need to belabor this final point, a point which (in reality) sums up all that has been written before. In everything we do, including blogging, we are to bring honor and glory to our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. If what you are about to say will bring disgrace or dishonor to the name of Christ, don’t post it. Our prayer, as online representatives of Christ, should be that we would never do anything, by His grace, to bring reproach upon the matchless name of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Other Blogging Questions

This post has really only addressed the way in which we interact with others on blogs (both in our posts and comments). In large part, it has focused on the content, tone, and motivation of those who blog. But it has certainly not answered every question.

Many other issues could yet be addressed. For instance, Why and how should someone start a blog? How much time is appropriate to spend interacting on blogs? How can individuals and ministries most effectively use blogs? Should they really rely on blogs at all? Are blogs a legitimate supplement for local church instruction and Christian fellowship? And so on…

But, at least for now, I will leave those questions to be answered by others. For me, just writing about these ten principles has been challenging and convicting. Now the hard part begins — in trying to personally appropriate a standard I’ve just published for the world to read.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • Vickey Singleton

    “He was to win people, (not just arguments).” Thanks so much Nathan for this blog that is overflowing with biblical texts correcting and directing how I should interact with others. Also, thanks for the very needed reminder (especially in my case) that the goal should not be to win arguments, but to lovingly proclaim Him!

  • Fibber MaGee

    Great title!
    I find this blog to be very helpful in learning to understand and articulate what I believe. The people who post here have so much to offer (whether I agree or not) and often I think my replies could have been a lot better. Ill keep working on it. Thanks Nathan.

  • Jason

    Great post! There are Christian forums and communities I couldn’t even wade more than toe deep into because I was met with the most toxic online environment I’d ever experienced on my first step. It is troubling that I’ve read blogs by militant atheists with more grace in their speech than some of those representing the church online.

    I don’t know how much is just active administrating, but I’d like to think it shows a great deal about the teaching presented that this blog and the one over at Grace To You has so many constructive, calm responses with only the occasional (and usually from a non-frequent poster) graceless, rude replies.

  • Jane Hildebrand

    I try to keep the mindset that I’m learning from, and interacting with my family. So even if you go by Fibber or 4C4 or Ira or Still Waters or Archepoimen Follower or just a first name, one day we will all share a banquet table and that should keep us kind.

    • 4Commencefiring4

      Hope real name tags won’t be required on That Day. This guy told me if I slipped him a few C-notes and used the secret handshake, I could use the side door, pick my own seat, and “No questions will be asked.”

      • Jane Hildebrand

        Well, we all get new names anyway. And if Jesus has a sense of humor maybe they’ll be our pseudo names on blogs. Poor Fibber.

  • bs

    Carl Trueman’s comment at Mortification of Spin is worth reading:
    “In the end it all comes down to this”
    Peace

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