Something to think about...
I confess; I'm not on Facebook, I don't tweet on Twitter or tumble on tumblr. I don't maintain my own personal web page and I only use text messaging in rare instances. I do use email and tried Skype a few times. But when it comes to communication, I prefer letter-writing and talking face-to-face. Call me old-fashioned, behind-the-times or archaic, but I would rather talk with you sitting together in the same room, seeing your face, hearing your voice and feeling your presence.
Now, these are largely preferences in regards to modes of communication. In other words, there is nothing inherently wrong with texting, posting on Facebook or uploading comments through a Twitter account. One could argue that my communication would be more effective if I regularly made use of those modes. But I have been thinking about whether or not these electronic, social-media forms of communication are best. That is why I am going to address the issue in a three-part article through the church newsletter. Part 1 (this article) will briefly summarize what the nature of Christ-influenced communication should look like. Part 2 will examine the potential moral, personal and relational pitfalls and dangers of electronic social media. Part 3 will offer basic, practical guidelines for using social media in a way that brings glory to God.
But consider the following before examining the nature of Christ-influenced communication: this article itself is a form of communication, and not necessarily the most effective form. Human beings have been communicating through the written word or symbols for thousands of years and the ability to do so has had profound implications for mankind. Technological advances in mass-producing written forms of communication, beginning with the Chinese development of moveable type, ink and paper and improved by Johann Gutenberg in Germany, have resulted in an explosion of accessible information. Electronic technology in particular has made vast amounts of information available to the majority of the world and enabled groups and individuals to effectively express themselves. I am using electronic means to write this piece and it will be reproduced in printed form and distributed to a few hundred people with very little effort. But it is very one-sided communication. I am communicating something received only by those who choose and are able to read it. I know better than to think that my newsletter article will be read after dinner in every home it reaches. And even if you take the time to read it, you can only respond to it in your mind - you can't immediately give or receive feedback about its contents unless you chose to do so with me at a later time. In other words, we could accomplish much more in exploring this issue if we were sitting together in the comfort of your living room. But this will have to suffice and my hope is that even though we can't see or hear each other while you read this, that you will believe that these three articles are written with humility, love and concern. My hope is that you will understand that some of what I write is my opinion while some is God's perfect, protective and purposeful truth and that you will be able to distinguish between the two. Most of all, I hope you will at least reflect on how you communicate and be willing to allow God to change that which needs to change.
As followers of Jesus, our desire should be to grow in our knowledge and experience of God's transforming love and express our gratitude for what he has done for us by becoming more and more like him. That includes becoming like him in how we communicate. In order to evaluate the potential dangers of electronic social-media modes of communication and how to use them for good, it is important to establish a foundation and a basic understanding of communication that reflects the heart of God. Scripture (a form of communication!) has much to say about communication and much of it is practical in nature because communication is one of the most basic and practical things we do as human beings made in the image of God. What follows is not intended to be an exhaustive consideration of all that the Bible says about communication. On the contrary, it is a summary from some important New Testament scriptures that speak specifically to the issue of communication.
As Christians, our communication should be characterized by the following:
- We should communicate truth (Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9; 1 Peter 4:11). Think about truth in two ways. The first is to think about truth as it relates to honesty. Believers in Jesus should not be deceitful and should be committed to honesty. Deceit has its origins in the Father of Lies, Satan. Followers of Jesus should be committed to telling the truth, even when it is difficult. The second way to think about truth is as it relates to source. Truth has its origins in the Father in Heaven, the Most High God. He is truth and everything in the universe that is good and true comes from him. Followers of Jesus should be committed to communicating God's truth as opposed to worldly wisdom that is tainted by sinful man.
- We should communicate the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 13). It is one thing to communicate truth, but it is another thing to communicate truth with both the motive and the dynamic of love. When we communicate something, we should be motivated by love - the desire that others would benefit in some way by what they hear or see. If not, even our most seemingly impressive good communication will lack true meaning and influence. But our communication should also be done with a dynamic of love. How we communicate truth is very important and truth is best received when it is communicated in an atmosphere of love.
- We should communicate with the goal of building others up (Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 3:8). This idea is related to the previous one, but is more practical in its expression. When we communicate something to others, regardless of the mode, it should be with the goal of edifying them - building them up, encouraging them and helping them grow. What we communicate should be for the benefit of others. The apostle Paul stated in Ephesians 4:29 that what we communicate should be "according to the needs" of others. For Christians, one of the most basic reasons we should communicate anything is so that others will be blessed, edified and helped.
- We should communicate in selfless ways for the sake of unity (Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3-4). This characterization of Christian communication identifies another goal or purpose for communication: harmony. Our communication should be marked by selflessness and a consideration of the good of others. Christian communication does not seek to fulfill the selfish, perceived needs of the one who is communicating, but addresses the interests and concerns of others. The outcome of this kind of communication is unity which reflects the very essence and nature of the Triune God - Father, Son and Spirit living and loving in perfect harmony.
- We should communicate that which is God-honoring (Philippians 4:8). This idea describes the content of Christian communication. The apostle Paul challenged the Philippians believers to dwell on things that are honorable and reflect the heart of God. Therefore, we should communicate those things, prompting others to dwell on them. We shouldn't communicate things that will prompt people to dwell on that which dishonorable, is less than admirable, isn't lovely or pure.
Take some time to reflect on these summary descriptions of communication that is Christian in nature. Begin to evaluate your communication - in all of its forms. Is it characterized by these ideals that reflect the heart of God? And take some time to think deeply about how God communicates with us. He is not limited to the spoken and written word and is likely not overly impressed with what we see as amazing electronic forms of communication. How does he communicate and, just as importantly, what are the dynamics of his communication? That is something worth thinking about.