If you use social media, you’ve watched—or, gulp, participated—as debates about politics or social issues have spiraled out of control. Before you know it, there’s a full-blown frenzy on your news feed, whether you asked for it or not!
By the end of it, you know exactly which company or candidate or cause all of your friends stand with—or despise. And—bonus!—you know who’s hurt, who’s angry and who’s been unfriended. That’s no way for anyone to live their life online!
As a Christian, you’re called to live differently. God wants you to live out your faith digitally as much as you do in church on Sundays. You have a huge responsibility when you interact on social media! You’re called to steward your words for God’s glory. After all, words are powerful. And depending on how you engage, what you say can bring people closer to God or push them away.
That doesn’t mean you always need to be in total agreement with everything your friends post. You can disagree while still showing love. And sometimes showing love means saying nothing at all, or reaching out privately rather than addressing someone publicly. Other times, it might mean offering a third perspective that doesn’t fit neatly into “for” or “against.”
It’s tough knowing how—or even whether—to participate in the digital public square when these issues pop up. But as a Christ-follower, you have to think about how you engage online. Next time your Facebook feed becomes one long dialogue on the latest social issue, think through these three steps before you join the conversation.
1. What’s your motive?
Before you type a single word—no matter how tempting it is—ask yourself why you want to in the first place. Is it because that political candidate got under your skin? Or do you see an opportunity to let the Holy Spirit speak through you?
Romans 8:8 (NIV) tells us, “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” If your desire to participate is of the Spirit, then your presence in the debate should demonstrate Christ’s love. If it’s of the flesh, reconsider whether you should get involved at all.
2. Do your words live up to Philippians 4:8?
Before you hit “Post” or “Send,” slow down and think about how you want people to receive what you say. Social media speeds up the communication process and doesn’t encourage us to think before we act—or react. Plus, we might be tempted to say things we would never say in person because we’re behind a screen.
To avoid any of that, make sure your words line up with Philippians 4:8 (ESV): “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
3. Does your tone reflect the fruit of the Spirit?
A person’s tone is sometimes hard to read on a screen. There’s so much we say with our voices, facial expressions and body language that we can’t communicate online! That’s why it’s so important that you pay attention to the implied message behind your words.
To avoid a comment that comes across as rude, mean, hateful or passive-aggressive—even if the words themselves aren’t—put it up to the Galatians 5:22–26 test. Is the tone full of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? It shouldn’t sound conceited, provoking or envious. When you can answer yes, you know you’re ready to engage your friends online without compromising your faith.
It’s not a matter of if the next social media debate will strike, but when. When it does, remember that you’re stewarding your words and your online presence for Christ. Putting everything you do on social media through that filter will ensure you represent Christ—and your faith—well.
This article originally appeared here.