Recent activity on Facebook–that social media platform known for congeniality, reason, and unity–has once again demonstrated how much God’s people have allowed the divisive attitudes of modern society to color and contaminate their interactions. Rather than exhibiting the noble attitude of the Bereans (Acts 17:11), the ignoble traits of politics and partisanship tend to rule the day (Rom. 2:8). As one might expect, this rarely leads to greater unity, greater understanding, or greater love. Instead, it quickly devolves into insults and arguments (Jas. 3:5), demonstrating a sore lack of quality interpretation skills. All this demonstrates why we should give attention to learning how to engage in difficult discussions rather than leaping quickly to attack someone in the name of the truth (Acts 18:26) and why posting edgy and controversial opinions often elevates opinion at the expense of unity (John 17:21). Please do not misunderstand me. We have the responsibility to teach and defend the gospel (Phil. 1:15-18), but, my friends, posting every new thought that pops into your mind or going off on a poorly argued tirade online does not qualify for what Paul had in mind (Gal. 5:15).
Anytime a Christian has a disagreement with another Christian, the goal should be unity through resolution in accordance with truth in an atmosphere of love (Eph. 4:1-6). While no guarantees exist to bring every difference into harmony, entering the fray solely with the goal of either being provocative or bringing (and sometimes berating) the other person into submission through whatever means necessary neither resolves the conflict nor encourages further study (2 Thess. 3:15). If the end in mind is truth, such an approach fails horribly. Sadly, this remains part of the problem. Far too often, the focus centers on winning an argument rather than winning a soul. More than that, social media’s algorithms (which are designed to encourage argument for the sake of user engagement) create a verbal battlefield void of all empathy to create clashes between people who otherwise might never even meet. This provides a great example of how we find ourselves claiming to use social media to reach the lost while simultaneously using it as a club to beat up the saved. Such an attitude shows that the world of social media has had a far greater impact on the church than the church has had on the world of social media (1 John 2:15-17).
We live in an era where building your personal brand has taken precedence over working with others, being a team player, or recognizing causes greater than self. This sounds like many things, but self-denial is not one of them (Matt. 16:24). Various social media platforms–whether of words, photos, or videos–encourage individuals to distinguish themselves from everyone else by all possible means. This inevitably has led to increasingly outrageous behavior as the competition for clicks, likes, and a following has created a longing for notoriety and recognition for many, turning dopamine into the legal drug of choice among the masses. It allows anyone quick access to a crowd of followers without the need for experience and wisdom. This social contagion exists in its own mutation in the spiritual world as well. And it is not just writers and preachers that fall prey to it. Christians now regularly share memes that unwittingly also share their ignorance (2 Cor. 10:12). But all it takes is a sufficient number of equally ignorant people liking the post to keep anyone on the thread from ever learning. This helps no one. Furthermore, because everything appears on a public forum now, it has become extremely difficult to take a step back, reevaluate, admit wrong, make correction, and move forward. Instead, popular culture and personal pride encourage stubbornness and denial as a display of power rather than the inner strength of humility and grace.
We seem to forget in all our interactions that broadcasting every thought we have is neither wise nor helpful and that entering every controversy with blinders on can lead to making even greater errors. This cycle of provocation followed by overreaction sparking a further overreaction in turn is unchristian behavior. I would suggest instead we heed Paul’s brief exhortation to the Corinthians: “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26).
We desperately need more wisdom among God’s people–the wisdom to realize that sometimes silence is the better part of valor, the wisdom to understand that not every disagreement demands a virtual version of World War III, and the wisdom to value all the souls involved while still standing solidly for the truth. Unfortunately, some people are too emotionally attached to their ideas to accept critical examination. Similarly, some people are too excited about arguing to bother evaluating whether they are acting in demonstrable love (1 Cor. 13:4-7). We should cultivate an atmosphere where loving the truth and loving one another exist and can flourish together rather than placing them in a cage match as if they are foes. Unfortunately, we tend to choose the easy path of validating our friends’ opinions and attacking any other differing judgment. Maturity sacrifices neither truth nor love to address sin, error, and differences in judgment (Eph. 4:15). Wisdom recognizes which is which and can exercise patience for the soul while opposing the sin.