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Social media services have become ubiquitous, and many Christians are asking whether, or how, to use them. “If I use social media, should I talk about my faith? If I do talk about my faith, what will my ‘friends’ think? If I don’t post about my faith, am I guilty of not ‘letting my light shine’ (Matthew 5:16)?” These are important questions! What are the benefits, and what are the consequences, of using social media?
Social media has become a massive part of our modern culture, and Facebook is presently the dominant player. Currently, Facebook reports about 845 million users, or a little more than 10 percent of the earth’s population! If Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous country in the world, with a population larger than the United States, Indonesia or Brazil! In 2011, Facebook generated $3.7 billion in revenue. Its 2012 IPO is so big that its underwriting team now includes 31 banks (allfacebook.com, March 12, 2012), “meaning most of Wall Street will have a role in the share sale” (Reuters, March 12, 2012).
Yet Facebook is far from the only social media platform. Twitter serves 300 million users, registers 9.3 new accounts every second, and is expected to cross the 500 million user mark this year. Other social media giants, such as RenRen, Youku and Sina Weibo, dominate China. (Tom Cruise has 3 million Weibo followers.) Numerous other platforms are being launched. Social media has become part of the fabric of modern society.
So, if Christians choose to use social media, how should we use this technology? And what are the possible consequences?
First, we must remember that God expects Christians to let their light shine (cf. Matthew 5:16). Christians’ actions are not separate from their faith; they are part of who we are. As such, Christians’ posts and conversations will demonstrate their love for God, for His law and for the Great Commission (Psalm 19:14; 119:159; John 4:34; 1 John 5:2-3). It is Christ, and not the general world, that Christians should care the most about pleasing (cf. Mark 10:33).
However, this does not mean that Christians should proselytize, try to coerce uninterested social acquaintances or enter into foolish arguments (cf. 2 Timothy 2:14; 3:1-5). And while Christ expects our conduct, our words (and our posts) to be “honorable among your unbelieving neighbors” (1 Peter 2:12, NLT), we need to understand that Christianity has never been popular.
As Jesus reminded His disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Although Christians should avoid contentions and foolish arguments, and although we are commanded, “Let [our] speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6), we need to remember in all our public interactions the biblical principle, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3).
Consider that, in social media parlance, a “friend” may often be an anonymous connection or a barely known acquaintance—quite a difference from the biblical and historical precedent in which a “friend” is an intimate and trusted confidante whom you know well (cf. Proverbs 17:17). A wise and mature Christian understands that a real “friend” will not be offended (or “un-friend” you) if you mention your faith, or if you stand on biblical principle.
Social media can be a very wonderful tool. It can help us keep in touch with family and friends, and it is even a way that we can let our lights shine. But, just as we should approach our use of social media with care and maturity, we should also be realistic about the possible consequences. We should always remember that it is ultimately impossible for a true Christian to be a close “friend of the world” (James 4:4). For more on this topic, please read “How the Media Mold the World” and “Facebook Christians.”
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