To Post, Or Not To Post
There are lots of things we post which will primarily do good: a funny story gives people a laugh, a blog post might challenge, inform or entertain. But there are some things we post which might have a slightly more varied effect. A post about a day out with friends might do some good in letting people know what I’ve been up to; friends who live far away might be pleased to see what I’ve been doing. But it also has the potential to do some harm. How does the person who feels they have no close friends to have fun with feel when they read about my day out? A good-hearted post publicly thanking someone for their support in a difficult time might be well-intentioned, but how does it make the person who feels they have no one to turn to for support feel? Does this mean that sometimes I’m choosing not to post things I’d like to post, and which could do some good, for the sake of those it might harm? Yes, sometimes. But doesn’t that sound like what Jesus would do?
Posting in the way of love
As I’ve been thinking this through I’ve been considering it in light of two New Testament passages. First, it reminded me of Paul’s discussion of the weak and strong in Romans 14-15. The situation there is quite different. Paul seems to know that there are divisions, or at least tensions, among the Roman Christians because of disagreements over Christian living. Is it right for Christians to eat meat sacrificed to idols? Should Christians observe the Sabbath as a particularly important day? Presumably the debate wasn’t over whether these were justification issues as Paul’s response is somewhat different to what he had earlier said to the Galatians. Instead, the debate was about how those who have been justified can best honour God in their way of living. They are examples of what are sometimes called ‘disputable matters’, things Christians can agree to disagree on because they are not required of those in the kingdom of God. (This distinction is important, as it means the logic underlying what follows shouldn’t be used to undermine biblical teaching on other issues which the Bible addresses directly and which are not, or should not, be disputable. I’m not arguing that Christian ethics should be based on a form of utilitarianism!)
What’s striking about Paul’s response in Romans 14-15 is that while he does reveal his perspective (14:14, 20), his priority is not that all the believers in Rome come to agree with his position, but that they treat each other with love. He calls those who share his view to curtail what they do in order not to cause their weaker brothers and sisters to stumble and identifies this as the way to walk in love (14:15). They are to give up some of their freedoms in order to seek the good of their brothers and sisters, thus following the example of Jesus: ‘Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself’ (15:2-3).
The situation in Rome was obviously different to my thoughts about social media, but the principle of laying aside some of our freedoms in order to seek the good of others seems applicable. Do we have the freedom to post anything? Yes. But does that mean we should do so? Not if it might do harm to others. If we want to walk in the way of love, we have to consider others. We seek to please not ourselves but our neighbour, just as Christ did not please himself.
Posting in the interests of others
The second passage which has helped me is Philippians 2. As Paul encourages the Philippians to live life in a way that is worthy of the gospel (1:27), he calls them to ‘count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (2:3-4). Again, he gives the example of Jesus, noting how in the incarnation and crucifixion Jesus exhibits this principle of counting others more significant and looking to the interests of others.
Again, there is a principle here which I think is applicable to our usage of social media. In posting, we are to consider the well-being of others as more important than our own freedom to post. We look not to our own interests, but to the interests of others, just as Jesus did.
And when you think about it, when we do this, we’re just doing what Jesus has told us to do. (And I’m sure Paul was well aware of that!) Jesus’ command to us as his followers is to ‘love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another’ (John 13:34). He said this just after washing the disciples’ feet and the night before he would hang on the cross for them. He knew what it was to walk in love by seeking to please not himself but his neighbour and what it means to look to the interests of others. This is the kind of love he has shown us, and it’s the kind of love he calls us to show to each other.
So, will I keep posting on social media? Yes, but I’ll probably be posting less. Does this all mean that sometimes I’ll choose not to post things I would quite like to post? Yes, but that’s what it means to keep posting in love.