Article Mar 20, 2017

4 ways to think through which social media hills to die on

We are a society of advocates.

Scroll anyone’s Facebook page, and you are likely to find passionate posts about a variety of causes. We wear pink bracelets, pin on yellow ribbons and hammer out (or comment on) passionate blog posts. As Christians, we feel a pull to stand with conviction, but with genuine believers on both sides of nearly every issue, it can be tough to know where the battle lines should be drawn.

With so many ways to express ourselves—and so many of us jockeying for position—I want to blow the whistle and call for a time out. Our mommas’ advice to think before we speak still stands. Join me in pressing pause on social media for a moment to make space to re-think. Let’s lay aside our pet causes, walk away from hashtag activism for a spell and think through what really matters (in this world where everything seems to).

Social media is here to stay, and it will forever change the way we gather information and interact with the people in our world—for better and worse. Let’s look past the screen and consider how our rules of engagement are impacting others.

Sweet or salty?

During Jesus’ most famous sermon, he gave this well-known description of his followers.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matt. 5:13).

Salt sits next to the ketchup as a condiment on our tables, but if we had been sitting on the hill when Jesus preached these words, images of french fries would not have come to mind.

Throughout scripture, we see salt used as a preservative (Exod. 30:35; Lev. 2:13). Is Jesus calling Christians a preservative here? Is our witness the thing that keeps the culture from decaying? Our witness to the truth does have a preservative effect, but the Bible promises that things are going to get worse (2 Tim. 3). The cultural tide will never truly turn before Jesus returns.

The Bible also describes salt as medicine (Ez.16:4). Are we supposed to act like medicine, then? In some ways. We are called to give comfort to the afflicted (2 Cor. 1:6), but God is the Great Physician. Healing is ultimately his job.

Salt has a third use that Jesus’ listeners on the mountain would have known well. It purifies. We see this in 2 Kings 2:18-22 when Elisha’s first task after taking over for Elijah was to clear a stream filled with toxins. The purifying agent he used was salt. Our influence works the same way. As Christ followers, we can purify our homes, neighborhoods and churches by continuously pointing to the gospel with our words and actions.

When Jesus spoke about salt losing its taste, he wasn’t referencing losing our salvation (we can know that from the rest of scripture), but rather, losing our influence. Contaminated salt doesn’t promote purity. Yet, there is more to this metaphor. The throwing out and trampling Jesus mentioned might well have been literal. Impure salt does have a function. While not much good for purifying or healing, it does kill plants. Fruit crops are especially sensitive to it. Impure salt eliminates fruitfulness. Two thousand years after this sermon, that will preach!

Being salty doesn’t mean being spicy or gritty. It should not be our primary goal to act as a cultural irritant. Our influence should have a purifying effect on those around us. Instead, when our methods or motivations are off, we may very well kill kingdom growth.

That sobering image is backed up by another one of Jesus’ gardening metaphors: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matt. 12:33). What fruit will we be known by?

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37). Jesus’ words here bring us to a fork in the road. How does God’s inspired Word apply to how we talk in a virtual word? Surely, if every word matters, so does every like, share, comment and post. It’s not just noise, or venting, or over sharing. It’s choking out the fruit.

Knowing which hills to die on

So, what makes a mountain and what makes a molehill? When should we be silent, and when should we shout it from the rooftops? Here are four pivot points to help us think it through.

1. The gospel is primary

Jesus’ final words to his followers were shockingly simple: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

Share the gospel. Teach the Word. Make disciples. If we stuck to these three big ideas, how would it change the rhetoric? It would be so convenient if Jesus took a stand on all of the issues of our times. It would be great to be able to quote chapter and verse for my position on every hot topic. But Jesus was not a political candidate running for office interested in building a platform by checking red or blue boxes. If we really read his words without an agenda, we see that he was obsessed with the kingdom, salvation and sin. He talked about little else. Perhaps it’s time to stop war dancing around the issues and start talking about what Jesus talked about. Yes, some of these issues will involve clear lines of sin and need to be talked about, but we have to be ever-so-careful to watch our tone and the content of our conversation.

2. No one belongs under the bus

You know that Christian leader who really blew it? Or the one who just released a book that’s causing a stir? Does the Bible writes us a permission slip to slam them?

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). It’s counter to our current sub-culture for sure, but what might happen if we defended the truth with grace and saw encouraging the body as our job instead of policing the blogosphere?

3. Be winsome

Winsome is a word I’d like to give vocab quizzes on in every Christian home in America. Officially, winsome means “attractive or appealing in appearance or character.” Unofficially, it means to be nice. It’s a word that peaked in the 1900s, but winsome needs to be brought back.

While there is room for humor and wit among the people of God, there is not room for snark, insults, attacks or mudslinging. I am officially the pot calling the kettle black on this one, but I want to raise the bar in my own conversations. Join me?

4. It’s okay to stop clicking

Proverbs 17:28 offers this nugget of truth: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” I like the Mark Twain paraphrase, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Tony Reinke reminds us that Jesus called us to be salt and light, not salt and like. We don’t have to confront everyone we disagree with. We don’t have to give an opinion on everything we read. It may not be good for your metrics, but it will be good for your influence to pray more than you Tweet, ponder more than you post and wait before hitting “send.”

My own heart can’t bear the weight of every issue any longer. I know which hills I am willing to die on, and I will not charge onto the battlefield anywhere else. It’s true that this makes me a less circulated writer and thinker, but it makes me a more sane follower of Christ, and hopefully a saltier one too.

What hills are you willing to die on? Where has God asked you to take a stand, and how can you do so in a way that clearly points others toward him?

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).