“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”—Matthew 5:43-45
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky…—Philippians 2:14,15
“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”—Mom
Social media has changed the world in many ways. It has become a place where we connect with people, and a place where we tear people down. It’s a great way to share information, and a great way to spread misinformation. Like any powerful tool, it has the potential to do great good or great harm. A recent example of this in our community was last week, as the Dixie fire threatened Susanville and its outlying areas. Social media served both as an incredibly helpful place to find the updates we needed, and as a convenient place where we could all panic together.
Because social media is relatively new, it’s like an uncharted sea we’re still figuring out how to navigate. Specifically, Christians are still learning how to be Christians online. Unfortunately, many believers seem to think that social media is a place where the rules don’t apply, where we don’t have to act like followers of Jesus because it’s not the “real” world.
Take the above quotations. Jesus told his followers to love their enemies. Many of us have heard this before, and we forget that His original audience had not, and when He said it sounded like total nonsense. What makes sense to us is “love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” You see many versions of this on social media. “I love my friends and family, but if you cross me or believe differently than me, I give myself permission to treat you like dirt.” Our world thinks this is normal, but Jesus calls us to something higher.
What if He meant what He said? And what if it applies even to our virtual lives online? “I tell you, love your enemies on social media and pray for those who disagree with you.” If you are a believer, and you happen to believe, as some believers do, that “the liberals” are destroying our country, then do you love them? If they are the enemy, are you praying for them? Remember, when Jesus uses the word “love,” He’s not talking about an emotion. He’s talking about the kind of love He has shown to us, a love that wants the best for us and was willing to take action to do for us what we needed. Even at great cost to Himself. Even when we were His enemies.
A few verses later in Matthew 5, Jesus said “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?…And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (vv. 46,47). We can’t pat ourselves on the back for loving the people we like, the people who live like us and think like us. Even the people of this world can do that, without the help of the Holy Spirit. Again, we are called to something higher. If we belong to Jesus, we don’t get to have contempt for the person who is on other side of the mask debate or the vaccine debate. We don’t get to have disdain for the government officials we think are doing a terrible job. We love them. Not because they are right, but because Jesus loved us when we were wrong. Have we forgotten?
In Philippians 2, Paul says that if believers will “do everything without complaining or arguing” (and yes, that is actually what it means), we will shine like white stars in the dark night sky, because the people of this “warped and crooked generation” do plenty of complaining and arguing. They’ve got that covered without our help. What they need to see is something so different that it causes them to take notice: followers of Jesus whose attitudes are the opposite of the angry, entitled culture around us. People who have peace and hope, who treat others kindly and aren’t angry or afraid. Just imagine: “do everything on social media without complaining or arguing…”If you were to go to your account right now and remove everything that falls into the category of “complaining” or “arguing,” either written by you or someone else, how much would be left? Some of us would have very little left to say. And that would be okay. Remember what your mother said: “If you can’t say something nice on social media, don’t say anything at all.” Let’s not fuel the fires of anger, bitterness, frustration, fear, panic, or hate. The world doesn’t need any more of those things. And the truth is, you’re not changing the world, or even probably a single person’s opinion, when you share those things. On the other hand, if your contribution is something different, if it’s love for your enemies, kindness to everyone, faith in God, and hope for the future, it will shine. We will be children who actually look a little bit like their Father. And that is what the world needs, both the “real” world and the world on our screens.