Wise advice for social media users:
If anyone wanted to write a book on internet etiquette, and how to proceed sensibly and wisely on the social media, they should look no further than to the Bible in general, and the book of Proverbs in particular. There you will find everything you need to know about all this – at least in terms of sound basic principles.
You will not find there any information on computers, routers, Facebook or Twitter, but you will find all sorts of sage advice and godly wisdom on how to deal with others, on how not to get into unnecessary fights and debates, and how to discern, including learning what battles you should enter or avoid.
The Bible throughout gives heaps of advice and counsel on such matters, but since I am now again reading through Proverbs, here I will just offer some very helpful passages from that Old Testament book. And here I will look at just three broad categories: the need for discernment; being slow to speak and argue; and avoiding fools and foolishness.
Far too many people, especially on the social media, seem to have no discernment. They can be far too gullible, believing everything and checking out nothing. The Christian is called to be different. We certainly should not be bearing false witness (something that happens all the time online). And we certainly should seek to be wise and discerning in terms of what we share or what we say. Here are some passages on this:
Proverbs 14:7-8 Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.
Proverbs 14:15 The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.
Proverbs 16:21 The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
Proverbs 17:24 The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.
Proverbs 21:2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.
Proverbs 23:4 Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist.
Proverbs 26:24-26 Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.
Obviously the rest of Scripture also can be consulted here. One thinks of the classic New Testament text on this, 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “test everything; hold fast what is good.”
Slow to speak
There are so many folks – believers included – who love to argue, to pick a fight, to jump right into someone else’s discussion or debate. They are pugilists who seem to get their jollies out of arguing with everyone and seem never able to zip their lip. Needless to say, Proverbs has a lot to say about such matters as well. These are some of the useful texts:
Proverbs 15:28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
Proverbs 17:9 Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
Proverbs 17:14 The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
Proverbs 17:27-28 Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
Proverbs 18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
Proverbs 18:6-8 A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.
Proverbs 18:13 If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
Proverbs 18:17-19 The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. The lot puts an end to quarrels and decides between powerful contenders. A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.
Proverbs 19:2 Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.
Proverbs 20:3 It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling.
Proverbs 23:9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.
Proverbs 26:17 Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.
Proverbs 26:20 For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
Proverbs 29:9 If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
And having shared these verses does NOT mean there is never a place to enter a discussion or a debate, or to strongly contend for truth when real error is being pushed. We of course must contend for the faith, and share truth. That is part of our calling as believers.
But even here, there can be a time and place for when we speak out and speak up. Sometimes godly wisdom will lead us to just not jump into something, but wait for a better time or occasion. Indeed, simply praying first before you launch into a discussion or argument is also very good biblical advice. We really should be slow to speak, prayed up, and discerning here.
Dealing with fools
Many of the passages listed above already mention fools. The best biblical term for the belligerent, undiscerning and argumentative social media user is a fool. And the Bible tells us to avoid fools like the plague. In addition to some of the above texts, here are some other rather general passages on fools, and how we should think about them and deal with them.
Proverbs 1:22 How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
Proverbs 10:8 The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
Proverbs 10:14 The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.
Proverbs 12:16 The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.
Proverbs 14:29 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
Proverbs 26:4-5 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs 26:11-12 Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly. Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Proverbs 28:26 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
Proverbs 29:11 A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
It should be noted that the famous – and seemingly contradictory – set of Proverbs (26:4-5) is in fact not so hard to understand. I have dealt with it at various times, including here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2018/12/27/difficult-bible-passages-proverbs-264-5/
If people – especially Christians – simply followed these bits of advice, and adhered to these admonitions, they would avoid all sort of online problems, grief and dissension. They would be a whole lot happier, and they would relieve themselves of a lot of unnecessary cyber warfare and misery.
And obviously this wisdom from Proverbs applies to all of life, not just our online life. So prayerfully and carefully meditate on these texts, and ask God if you need to more seriously take some of these to heart.