Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3&4
Facebook began in a college dorm room at Harvard in February 2004. Since then, the Facebook community has grown to over 140 million active users. Facebook describes itself as a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers. Efficient communication indeed! The Facebook Factsheet reports that 2.6 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day worldwide. These are impressive numbers, both in terms of people and in time spent.
For Christians, it is important to categorize Facebook activity in biblical terminology. Because Facebook and other similar activities take place in the online world, it is easy to think that biblical guidelines don’t apply as long as one is not engaging in obvious sin. But the Facebook founders have helpfully done the categorizing for us. Facebook is about communication – something that the Bible thoroughly addresses. James states the issue clearly:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. James 3:9-10
Communication, in and of itself, is intended to be a good thing. But as James says, the issue for Christians is the content of the communication. With Facebook, fingers are doing the work of the tongue. Instead of words flowing from your mouth they are sent from your keyboard. The important thing is that communication is taking place. And for people who have been purchased by the precious blood of Christ and given a new life with a spectacular inheritance, even casual communication is a big deal. Why? Because your communication either enhances the reputation of God or it seeks to enhance your own. As the apostle Paul says, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Now we have a biblical platform upon which to construct an understanding of Facebook and the other online social utilities. Let's look at some specifics. The first thing one is asked when logging on to Facebook is what are you doing right now? You are supposed to tell all of the people in your social network what you are doing. The Facebook Factsheet says that the average user has 100 friends on the site. So, by answering this question, you are telling at least 100 people what you are doing. Often times, the question is answered with a description of one's current emotional state–for example, Joe is sad or bummed. It is one thing to have a momentary private thought to yourself, it is quite another to express that thought to a hundred or more people without considering how your words will cause people to think about God.
Paul challenges you to consider others more significant than yourself. One way to do this is to buy into Paul’s direction in Ephesians 4:29 to speak only what is helpful to build others up according to their needs. This is the perfect complement to "looking to the interests of others." Taken positively, each status update on Facebook is an opportunity to communicate the faithfulness of God to potentially hundreds of people. Every opportunity to write on someone’s wall is an opportunity to share the riches of God’s daily care for you. People oftentimes say that they have do not have occasion to be a witness to the wonder of God to others. Well, Facebook provides that opportunity. So, instead of saying in a status update today was a bad day at work or school, you can say something like, it is has been a tough day, but God is there for me. In this way at least 100 hundred people (for many Facebook users, hundreds of people) will know of God’s faithfulness to you. You don’t have to quote catechism questions or list multiple verses to make the point. A simple expression of your awareness of God’s constant love for you can enhance his reputation to others.
If you use social networking as a chance to "be yourself" and vent or sound off or be down about life, you make Facebook all about you. This is what Paul is warning the Philippians not to do. For Paul, life was not about him, it was about Christ. If you really believe that the God is in control of the world and your life, but you fail to acknowledge that reality by making negative, discouraged updates, then you make yourself too important. In effect, you consider your assessment of things to be more valuable than God’s assessment. This also applies to the things you praise: things like being glad your team won or that you are glad to be home or that you can’t wait for the weekend. If such things are all you ever say, who will ever observe any appreciation of God's presence in your life? Who will understand that God, his providence and his word are the reasons for your joy?
The world wants to be the center of your life. There is a popular country song by Kenny Chesney that says that everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now. Communities like Facebook can and do promote this fascination with the world. Life is about me. This is, in one sense, despising the gift of God to you. Making the world the most important thing, saying what you feel at the moment, without regard to God’s involvement in your life, is, in effect, despising God’s provision. It is ignoring the intercessory work of Christ and the blessings guaranteed by the promise of the Spirit. We all succumb to this temptation at times, and, by God's grace, fight against it; but we should be aware that when we despise God's grace on Facebook, we have a large audience, and this worldview is pleasing to Satan. Don't forget what is real. Your God neither slumbers nor sleeps. You are always held by his right hand. Don’t be caught up in the word’s delusion that life is about you and how you feel at the moment.
You are engaged in warfare. You are to take every thought captive for Christ. This certainly applies to Facebook.
As James says, communication can bring honor or dishonor to God. Rethink the way you are involved in social networking. Help your children to see that Facebook is a providential opportunity to talk to many others about the wonder of God in everyday language. It is a way to speak of reality from God’s perspective in the midst of your own life experiences.
In the next post we will look more closely at how to say things that are helpful. Let me know your thoughts.