How do people know you’re a Christian?
Certainly, I call myself a Christian.
I attend church, although not nearly as often as I should.
I share prayer requests with Christian friends, and I respond to prayer requests from friends.
But people should know I’m a Christian through much more than my most obvious Christian actions. Do I act like a Christian in all my words and deeds?
Do I act like a Christian online?
I fail daily to live up to the perfect example of Jesus. This is especially true online. It’s easy to let my sin get in the way of my living testimony.
To be honest, I know I’m not the only Christian with these online struggles.
The vitriol, the pride, the lust, the hatred–these sins and more fill my social media networks, frequently from the same people who post every Sunday and Wednesday about going to church.
My dearest, darling siblings in Christ, I speak to you as a fellow sinner:
We need to do better.
My social media followers should know I follow Christ–and not just because I call myself a Christian. They should see me share words of love, of hope, of peace, of joy. People should see my online presence and wonder what makes me different. They should want to know how I remain a positive person with an optimistic outlook even as I’ve faced so many physical and emotional challenges in my life.
This is the kind of Christian I strive to be in every aspect of my life, including online.
To do this, I’m turning to scripture.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. -Philippians 4:4-9
When Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, he most likely intended for these verses to encourage Christians to spend time thinking about the best of things, godly things.
Paul’s encouragement is still relevant today and can even be applied to online activity. While it’s fine for Christians to post secular content to the web, we should still consider Paul’s guidelines before doing so.
Before you post anything online, ask yourself these questions.
Note: All definitions below come from Merriam-Webster.
Is it true?
True: being in accordance with the actual state of affairs; conformable to an essential reality
Before you hit share or retweet on that fuzzy photo or pixelated screenshot, ask yourself if it’s true.
Fact-check it. Real Simple has a great article explaining how to fact-check what you find online.
If something is too good to be true, it probably is. This applies equally to wild political stories that match your political beliefs and to expensive free gifts from large brands.
If something is not true, don’t post it online. Don’t even bother interacting with it–no likes or favorites or reactions or shares. All of these actions only continue to spread falsehoods due to the way social media works.
Is it honorable?
Honorable: deserving of respect or high regard
Before you reply to someone else online or write out a long Facebook post, ask yourself if it’s honorable.
Even if you’re disagreeing with someone, or criticizing a public figure–are you doing so with respect? There’s a huge difference between offering heartfelt criticism on statements or actions that someone made and calling that person mean-spirited names.
Is it just?
Just: having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason; acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good
When I looked up the definition of just, the two separate meanings intrigued me. The first is very similar to the definition of true while the second is very similar to the definition of honorable.
Other synonyms for the first definition of just include fair, equitable, impartial, unbiased, dispassionate, and objective. Again, these all relate to truth.
Other synonyms for the second definition include upright, honest, conscientious, and scrupulous. Again, these all relate to honor.
Why would Paul essentially repeat himself in his letter to the Philippians?
To emphasize the importance of things that are true and honorable, things that are just.
Are the words you post online just? Have you taken the time to consider other viewpoints? Do you at least try to be objective in your writing?
While we all have our own opinions clouded by our subjective experiences, Christians should still strive for objectivity.
Do you share photos, thoughts, and links with honor? Do your online actions reflect the same morals you follow in your day-to-day life? Before posting anything online, do you first consider whether or not something adheres to your conscience?
Just because it’s easy to share a post to Facebook or retweet someone else doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
Are your intentions pure?
Pure: free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes; free from moral fault or guilt
Purity can be one of those Christian buzzwords that means whatever you want it to mean. Let’s look at these definitions from a Christian perspective.
If something is pure, it is free from sin. Pure intentions are free from sin.
As a child, I thought sin was mostly about actions. As an adult, I realize sin also includes thoughts and intentions.
If I trip and break something, that’s a human mistake, but it’s not a sin. If I deliberately break something to hurt someone, that’s a sin. The practical outcome–something broke–might be the same, but my intentions change the sinfulness of my actions.
Before you post something online, question your intentions.
Are you passionate about a certain cause and want to share factual information to educate or inspire others? Then your heart is in the right place.
Do you want to show off your superior intelligence while simultaneously disparaging anyone who disagrees with you? Then your heart is focused on your own sinful arrogance and pride.
Is it pleasing to God?
Pleasing: good in a way that gives pleasure or enjoyment; attractive or appealing
The Greek word used here is prosphiles. This word is only used in this single instance in the Bible.
Other English translations use these synonyms instead of pleasing: lovable, endearing, amiable, gracious, charming, winsome.
What might charm God? What sort of online posts would God find endearing?
To be honest, applying this part of Philippians 4:8 takes a little more thought and analysis.
One interpretation would be to only share positive and uplifting thoughts online. Feel-good stories make God smile… right?
But I don’t think God is only pleased by happy stories.
God wants Her children to love Her with all our hearts–the greatest commandment. The second greatest commandment is love our neighbors as ourselves. Following these commandments pleases the Lord.
So what might that look like online? These are a few ideas:
- sharing the Gospel
- showing compassion for anyone affected by natural disasters or violence
- raising money for a good cause
- calling attention to sin, while using discretion as to whether or not to call out an individual directly by name
- praising someone for their good works
- posting photos of God’s creation
- praising God for her blessings, while using discretion to avoid bragging
- sharing prayer requests
Some of these topics might inevitably be negative or disheartening. I wouldn’t generally consider a tragedy “pleasing.”
But how we approach hard topics can still please God. The words we choose can still please God.
Is it commendable?
Commendable: worthy of confidence or notice; praiseworthy
Before liking a Facebook status or favoriting a tweet, ask yourself if the content is commendable. Is it worthy of your praise? After all, giving a positive reaction to something on social media is akin to praising it.
Just because something is humorous doesn’t mean it’s praiseworthy. Is the joke at the expense of someone else? It’s one thing to use humor to call attention to wrongdoing; it’s another thing to mock a person’s appearance or other inherent trait.
Just because you agree with the general perspective shared doesn’t mean it’s praiseworthy. Is it based in truth? Does it do justice to the topic at hand?
Be selective about your actions online. Not everything online is commendable.
When you’re done asking yourself all these questions, you should have a better idea of how to act online. You can also ask yourself one more question…
Should I still be online?
While I’ve suggested you use Philippians 4:4-9 as guidance to what you do online, this guidance applies to so much more in your life. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice… if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
When you’re on the Internet, are you doing these things? I know I’ve spent a lot of time reading scripture, studying Greek, and looking up commentary on Philippians 4 while writing this post, all online!
But after checking out your grandchildren’s pictures, or responding to a prayer request, or posting a photo of tonight’s glorious sunset… Is the rest of your time online time well-spent? Or is it time that could be spent rejoicing in the Lord?
These are questions I offer you, not judgments. My work requires me to be online, and all my long-distance relationships encourage me to use the Internet to stay connected. But I know for me, there’s a tipping point when I’m just wasting time instead of doing anything for the glory of God or even just personal fulfillment.
Not only can I do better, I should do better. My time online should be wisely used, and my actions online should reflect my faith.
If you’re a Christian, I hope these questions will help you follow Christ at all times, even online.