“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters this should not be. My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
I recently heard a story of a Christian teenager who made a post on facebook that led to some pretty serious trouble. Her seemingly innocent post stirred up a firestorm that led to school suspensions and even sent someone to juvenile hall. This incident raised several significant issues for me:
- The world of facebook and social media have created an environment for people to say online what they would never say face to face.
- Facebook and social media have become venues where people can say anything without considering the effect their words will have on others.
- Most importantly, what people post on facebook and twitter is a direct reflection of their principles and character; often what they post and who they claim to be do not align.
In the incident with the teenager, a simple post about disliking a teacher led other students to make hateful and threatening comments about the teacher as well. One comment even suggested something about a “gun”. While the initial post did not say anything particularly hateful, the young girl’s choice to make the post at all is evidence that even people who claim to be Christian can fall prey to relying on the “safety” and “anonymity” of the internet. They feel a freedom to say things that they would not normally say. In this case, the young woman who made the post, argued that she had the right to “Freedom of Speech”. To her mind, that made her post acceptable.
I disagree. While we are blessed to live in the United States of America where we have the right to Freedom of Speech, as Christians, we are called to a higher standard of living. Praise God that in this great land we can say what we want to say about important issues and beliefs but when it comes to the things we post on facebook and other social media outlets, our Christian faith must be the higher priority. Our faith in Christ absolutely has to be at the forefront of our words and actions. How can we claim to be Christian and then get on facebook to post hateful and unkind remarks? The two do not go hand in hand.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not condemning the young woman for her mistake. I am in no place to judge and frankly, I think her innocent mistake has provided a great opportunity to address the issue. She is young, she is learning how the world works and she is discovering who she is in Christ. Her mistake was a teaching moment for us all.
In the verses from James, he teaches that the tongue, (or in the case of facebook, the typing fingers), are a very small part of the body but they have incredible power. He likens them to a ship’s rudder. While the large ship is powered by the wind and the sails, the pilot directs the ship’s course with a tiny rudder. The things that people say with their tongues or post with their fingers have great power. They have the power to tear down, cause pain or show ugliness or they have the power to uplift, encourage and inspire.
Another analogy that James uses is that of a spark. It only takes a tiny spark to set an entire forest on fire. In the case of the tongue or the typing fingers, the words that are chosen can cause a tremendous amount of damage. We have all seen ugly and unkind posts. In many cases we have seen offensive language by our most faithful Christian friends and in this most recent political climate even our political posts can have a damaging and divisive effect on people we truly love. And as we have learned, the teenage girl who posted the remark about her teacher set off a damaging uproar that led to significant consequences.
As our world has progressed to an age of incredible technology our faith must progress with it. The principles that are set forth in the Bible are just as relevant today as they were when James wrote about our small but mighty tongues. Today, through the power of the internet, our words have an even broader span. Instead of touching a small community, our words have the capability of reaching the world. This is all the more reason that our faith must be at the forefront of all we do. We have an opportunity as followers of Christ to truly be a light to the world. There has been no other time in history where we could reach this many people so quickly. With that in mind, everything we post has a ripple effect so we’d better make it good!
Your posts are powerful. Choose your words wisely.
Nuggets of Bold Faith
Try out these tips that I follow when posting on facebook and twitter:
- Consider how the post will affect others. Is the post uplifiting and positive or is it hateful and unkind?
- Consider whether someone in particular will be hurt by the post. Would you say those words if you and the person were face to face?
- Consider how the words show your faith. Are your words pleasing to God? Do they reflect who you are as a Christian?
- Consider that even if you are angry and upset with a person facebook is not the place to express your anger. If you have a problem with someone talk it out in person. Sharing it on facebook will only cause more damage.
- Consider whether what you are posting is appropriate for the public or should be kept private. If you have a deeply personal problem that you need help with, send a private message to a friend or a pastor. A listening ear is always more helpful than airing your deepest problems publicly. Keeping some things private is a way of honoring yourself and others.