By Brad Harrub, Ph.D.
Twenty years ago I would not have ever considered writing about social media—as it did not exist. Today it impacts almost everyone under the age of fifty. Even many people in their 60s and 70s are jumping on social media to keep up with their grandchildren. Facebook has 1.86 billion monthly active users. In the first quarter of this year Twitter averaged 328 monthly active users. This is a massive influence in our culture—and yet, the church has been slow to respond to it.
How is it impacting your children or grandchildren? A study in March 2017 revealed that frequent use of multiple social media platforms caused feelings of social isolation. Think about that for a moment. We are the most connected generation of all time—yet we are more isolated that ever before. Many young people have lots of “Virtual” friends, but few real friends. Research published December 10, 2016 showed that using social media is associated with depression and anxiety. Add to this that suicide in young people is up 13% since 2010. Most scholars point to social media as the causative factor for this dramatic increase.
Here’s what I intend on teaching my children about social media.
Your mom and dad grew up in a simpler time. We weren’t bombarded with dings and vibrations from a phone alerting us of every new Instagram or Facebook post. We had friends-real friends, who we rode bikes with-friends who were not constantly putting only their very best highlight reels out there for everyone to see. Social media is amazing in that you can instantly be connected to hundreds or thousands of people. You have information at the tips of your fingers. However, these conveniences can be intensely distracting and can get in the way of our duty to glorify God. Allow me to share several lessons I hope you will learn regarding social media.
Lesson One: Be careful—social media is addicting. Make no doubt about it, social media has been engineered to be as habit forming as crack cocaine. If you are going to use it then you need to have discipline and war against spending endless hours surfing your friends posts. “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
Lesson Two: Constantly ask yourself: Is this the best use of my time? You have responsibilities. As a servant for Christ you have additional responsibilities. Set limits and have some time you turn it completely off. James wrote “whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
Lesson Three: Walk in the Spirit not the flesh! Be careful as social media feeds the flesh. It enlivens your emotions and carnal nature. It is easy to step into social media and get swept away by the flesh. Paul warned, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:16-17).
Lesson Four: Do not miss out on the joy of face-to-face contact. As humans we read body language. It tells us a great deal about the tone and feelings behind a particular conversation. You can’t get that with social media. “Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face-to-face, that our joy may be full” (2 John 1:12).
Lesson Five: Look people in the eyes when they are with you. This one is a major pet peeve of your mom. When you look at your phone in the presence of others you are telling those around you: “You are not really all that important to me.” Can you imagine Jesus delivering His sermon on the Mount, while constantly checking His phone?
Lesson Six: Use social media to encourage—not discourage. Let’s be honest: Christians get enough discouragement. If you use social media please use it to encourage—be a Barnabas! “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,” (Hebrews 10:24)
Lesson Seven: They aren’t real friends. There is a whole lot more to friendship than clicking “confirm” on Facebook. Do not measure your self worth by the number of Facebook friends you have or the number of retweets you get. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). The right kind of friend will make you want to be a better Christian! Real friends invest time and energy into their relationship. Real friends listen. Real friends share common interests. Real friends tell the truth. Real friends protect us. Real friends overlook our faults. Real friends help bear our burdens. Real friends are loyal. “ As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17).
Lesson Eight: Avoid bragging. In “real life” we don’t routinely unpack our awards and trophies for friends, neighbors, and coworkers to see. But with social media everything becomes a photo op, an opportunity to brag, and everything is used to promote your image. This bragging about what you’ve done, what you’ve eaten, trips you’ve taken gets old to those around you. Solomon wrote, “Let another man praise you and not your own mouth; a stranger and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2). Jesus warned, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). If every one of your posts centers around you then you probably have a problem with bragging. Make sure your posts are humble in spirit (James 4:10).
Lesson Nine: Watch out for envy and discontent. Have you noticed that everybody else’s life looks better than yours on social media? This is because individuals normally don’t share the mundane or bad parts of their lives. As a result it is easy for someone to think that they have a much better life. Remember, you are only seeing part of the story. This “virtual” reality is unhealthy. It often causes you to start putting unrealistic expectations on your own spouse, children, and friends. Learn to be content like Paul in whatever state you find yourself (Philippians 4:11-13). Remember, covetousness is defined in Colossians 3:5 as idolatry.
Lesson Ten: Don’t allow Facebook/Twitter/Instagram to stifle prayer. You need to set aside down time to simply: “Be still and know that He is God …” (Psalm 46:10). Social media eats up time—time that you could be spent strengthening your relationship with God. In James 4:8 we read, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you …”
Lesson Eleven: Conduct yourself on social media like you would in person. Lots of people say things on social media they would never say in person, simply because they are on a screen they feel secure and hidden. It matters what your fingers type and one day you will be held accountable for every post and every text. There are Christians who post things they would never say out loud in public—but it is being read by hundreds if not thousands. You are a representation of the bride of Christ! You are supposed to be His servant. Please go back and read James 3, Matthew 5:13-16.
Lesson Twelve: Don’t allow Facebook to blind you to false beauty. Everyone looks good on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. Of course what you don’t see are the 20-30 images it took them just to get that perfect one. This false beauty may make you think you are beautiful and may encourage you to believe beauty is found in the outward appearance. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Lesson Thirteen: Be careful about what you allow into your mind. According to Jesus, the greatest command is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). Remember every time you click you are opening up a window that will influence your mind.
Lesson Fourteen: Be careful little eyes what you see. I’ve talked to you before about the seriousness of pornography and sexting. Do not send/receive images that are not glorifying to God. Ever. Period. Do not give out personal information to those you do not know.
Lesson Fifteen: Use social media to reach the lost. We all know the “Great Commission” tells us to “go” (Matthew 28:19-20). With social media you have the ability to take the saving message of Jesus Christ to places on this planet you could never physically go to. Do not take that responsibility lightly. View your social media accounts as tools to reach the lost.
Lesson Sixteen: Be careful what you idolize. For many, there is a temptation to idolize social media. Remember God is a jealous God. He will not put up with idolatry. As God was handing down the Ten Commandments He warned the Israelites, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus
20:3). Paul further admonished, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).
I hope these sixteen lessons will come in handy as you navigate the waters of social media, and I pray you will use it in such a way that it strengthens your relationship with Him.