I was scrolling through my facebook page the other day and happened across a post from an old friend of mine. He’d shared a news story and added a simple comment, but his innocuous remark unintentionally set off a firestorm of criticism. I personally didn’t see what the big deal was, but there were dozens of replies that ranged from wholehearted support to hostile name-calling. All along the way, my friend tried to explain his position in a futile attempt to cool the flames of hostility that, by the time I came along, had yet to die down.
You know, social media has honed itself into a sharp two-edged sword. While it’s a great way to keep in touch with friends or share your message/business with a wide audience of people, it can also lead to devastating consequences if users make an unintended blunder. Of course, many “land mines” can be easily avoided with just a little common sense. For example, everyone should know that it’s not a good idea to post disparaging remarks about your company if you have your boss as a follower, or to share pictures of yourself at a wild party the night before you beg a co-worker to bail you on a crushing deadline.
But on the other hand, it’s not always easy to predict responses to what you may see as every day/common sense topics. Even innocuous comments can now unleash an unforeseeable barrage of criticism. You’ve probably seen more than one news report about people who’ve lost jobs or had their livelihood taken away because someone was put off by unintentional words or actions. We’ve become a society of ‘the perpetually offended” where every one and every thing represents a potential affront. And sadly, often the responses of Christians are no different.
In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon speaks clearly about this sort of “knee jerk” response, warning us that “a fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.” (Prov. 12:16) Much later in the New Testament, James instructs us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19), as well as “peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (3:17) Of course, we have a responsibility to choose our own words carefully (especially when they are made in a public forum where they can take on a life of their own), but regardless of whether in person or on-line, followers of Jesus must discipline ourselves to check and restrain our reactions when we hear (and read) the words of others. Everything doesn’t require a retort or rebuke, and sometimes the best thing we can do is choose to simply give grace to those who perhaps say things that are at best, careless, or at the worst, intentionally rude and mean.
As we rely on the Holy Spirit and trust Him to give us spiritual discernment, we can then move beyond our self-centered reactions and learn to look past the caustic words of those around us to see the hurting souls who often spew out ugliness and negativity due to their own brokenness. Often those outward actions can be a signal of a deep inner wound that aches for the healing touch of Jesus.
So, if your desire is to really reach these people and let them see what the Lord has to offer a lost and dying world, it may mean we have to begin first with our OWN personal submission to God, asking Him to tame our need to defend ourselves or squelch a selfish desire to add ‘our 2 cents’ to the conversation. This other-centered attitude that stems from a heart of compassion will enable us to respond, not with anger, but with love… and not with a love that is defined by our feelings, but that which is demonstrated by actions and comes from Christ who lives within.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,
then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. ~ Phil 2:1-4