(This is the final segment of the chapter on Your Social Relationship: Jesus as Prime Minister).
Christianity was born during an era in history in which believers had little or no political power—certainly not enough to make a difference. Thus, the Bible does not advocate governmental strategies to address social problems. The Scriptures admonish each of us to be kind and compassionate on a personal level, but government action was not relevant for them at that time. The maturing church, however, did begin to service the needs of widows, orphans, the sick and other victims of tragic events. Most of these gestures were for the benefit of church members. Today’s problems, such as war, poverty, hunger and disease, exist on a global scale that the historical church did not address.
Christians are realists. We freely acknowledge that social problems exist. We have no immunity to the suffering nor are we exempt from the solutions. The danger, however, is that we would allow secularists to define the problems and dictate the solutions. As believers in Christ, if we reduce everything we face to the lowest common denominator, the problem is sin and the solution is salvation. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. 1 John 5:19 (KJV). Paul writes to the Romans, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. The solution to sin is the Savior, Jesus Christ. The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29. The primary mission of the church is to spread the gospel. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Luke 24:46-47.
That conclusion does not sit well with the world. Secularists deride the spiritual message of the church because they say it ignores the real pain and suffering in the real world. Their criticisms should not be dismissed out of hand. To the extent that we can address these problems, we should make an honest effort to do so. Christians are at the forefront of many humanitarian causes. Some support organizations that fight world hunger, some contribute to outreaches in developing countries that drill wells for clean water, some engage in agencies that care for orphans, and some provide medical services for refugees or war victims. Parachurch organizations also sponsor orphanages, homes for troubled teens, adoption agencies, charitable ministries that help the homeless and victims of poverty and disaster relief efforts.
All of these philanthropic causes are extremely important, but to make our primary mission alleviating the social ills of the world subverts our calling. We are in the business of saving souls. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26.
The gospel message is not for time only, but also for eternity. If we stop all wars, eliminate all poverty, feed all the hungry and cure all diseases, and yet do not lead people to Christ, then we will have failed in our true mission. If, however, we succeed in turning people to Christ, their lives will be infinitely better. Jesus stated this principle in forceful terms. “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.” Matthew 18:8-9.
Opportunities and Dangers of Social Media
Social networking has ballooned to such a huge phenomenon that it cannot be ignored. Irresponsible conversation, damaging comments, unfair characterizations, breaches of confidentiality, racy pictures, vicious gossip, wild rumors and every sordid type of communication gets pumped into cyberspace hour by hour through this medium. The fact that it can also be used for positive purposes compounds the problem. The evil side of man seems to always find ways to deface the good.
Chances are great that your name has been mentioned on someone’s page. Your picture may even be orbiting in cyberspace. The significance of this fact is that users form opinions about pictures they see, or about people, events and things they read of on social networking sites. You have little or no control over this information, regardless of how personal you consider it to be. It is a wild, wooly, barely regulated and volatile realm where almost anything goes. Employees have lost jobs, students have been kicked out of school, friendships have been ruined, marriages have ended in divorce, leaders have lost credibility and homes have been burglarized because of information on social media. Numbers of people have been stabbed, shot or murdered over postings. Relentless harassment, name-calling, stalking, intimidation, and threatened physical abuse, all on one outlet over multiple months, reportedly caused one teen girl to commit suicide and the same is suspected in other cases as well. In a worst case scenario, a seventeen-year-old girl was raped and murdered by a thirty-three-year-old man she met on Facebook who was posing as a teenager. Law enforcement agencies have stepped up warnings about social media, and many colleges and high schools caution students about its use. Employers now routinely ask for a prospective worker’s social media accounts as part of the hiring process.
In church circles, I am increasingly hearing stories about questionable entries on pages of church members and ministers alike. Most use it for good, or at least for harmless banter and discussion. A minority, however, post statements rooted in sarcasm, disrespect, a desire to foment division or to broadcast personal opinions that contradict the position of a church, a pastor or an organization. Some comments may simply be unwise or thoughtless mental musings. Others may not be so innocent.
Whatever the motive, it is time for the church to address the problem. While we have no illusions about ending or even curbing the use of social networking, we can make sure that people understand its potential for disaster. Most users know about common caveats: “Once you post, it’s permanent,” “unknown posters may be imposters,” “all pictures are public property in cyberspace,” and, “there are no secrets on Facebook.” But, for those in the church, more subtle guidelines come into play. Here are a few:
- Gossip and innuendo is always bad, but on Facebook, it multiplies by the power of ten.
- Questioning or criticizing spiritual authority in social media equals rebellion.
- Faith-undermining and conviction-bashing are transparently wrong.
- Soliciting membership to another congregation via social media is still sheep-stealing.
- Don’t play with people by mocking or provoking them into dangerous discussions.
- Playing the devil’s advocate through “what if” scenarios nearly always backfires.
- Pastoring is largely private. Ministers should not pastor over social media.
- Barbed statements and/or sharing embarrassing stories can crush people.
- It is always wrong to malign someone’s character, spread rumors or tell lies.
- Confessions on Facebook lead to derision, not forgiveness.
- Murphy’s Law applies: Anything that can be taken wrong will be taken wrong.
- When in doubt, leave it out.
Many other examples exist of abusive and dangerous ways that social media can be used. The point is that social media is a stage, not a closet. The intimate interaction between a person and his or her computer has global publication potential. Some organizations, the Washington Post for example, simply say: “If you don’t want it online, don’t put it there.”
For believers, social networking does not exist outside the parameters of scripture, as though social media justifies acts that would be anathema in any other venue. Evil communication still corrupts good manners. Proverbs 18:8 says “The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body.” Social media is never the proper place to rant, vent or share sensitive information. If you want to use it, weigh your words carefully, post wholesome and helpful thoughts, exemplify Christ in everything you say, and use it to promote unity and strength. It is your solemn obligation to the body of Christ, and it is your right response to your relationship with Jesus Christ.
Beware of Toxic Relationships
All relationships are important. Accept as a given that each relationship into which you enter will change you in some way. Your close association with an individual may intensify your passions, inflame your anger or inspire you to nobility. If the relationship becomes especially meaningful, you may engage in radical kinds of behavior that you would never have contemplated otherwise. People have been known to kill over relationships. You may give away everything you have, you may move to some distant point on the planet, you may turn your back on your achievements, you may sacrifice cherished possessions, you may become an essentially different person, all because of the profound impact that one person makes on your life.
Not all relationships are good. If someone is bad for you, if that person brings out the worst in you, if he or she makes you feel unsafe, then you cannot afford to stay in close association with him or her. Women who suffer physical and mental abuse over a lengthy period of time, usually by a husband or other dominant male figure, are called “Battered Women.” Helplessness, constant fear, and a perceived inability to escape are listed as typical of this syndrome. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd ed.). While it may be too late for some, if you have an opportunity to leave an unhealthy relationship, you will either leave in a body bag or walk out on your own. Even the proscriptions of the scripture against divorce do not warrant a spouse to offer himself or herself up for murder. Obviously, marriage vows are important and married partners should seek out counseling to reconcile their differences before something tragic happens. A relationship that corrupts or abuses, however, needs to change or come to an end.
Enter into all new relationships carefully. Love-struck romantics often cast all care to the wind when they profess their love and commitment to each other. Unfortunately, their naiveté tanks all too quickly when they really learn what each other is made of. In pre-marital counseling, I take the lead in asking probing questions, like:
- “Are you in debt?”
- “Are you in trouble with the law?”
- “Are you on parole?”
- “Have you been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?”
- “Have you ever been committed to a psychiatric facility?”
- “Do you have serious health issues?”
- “Have you shown your prospective husband or wife your health records?”
- “Have you been honest in talking about previous relationships?”
- “Have you been a user of illegal drugs?”
- “Do you have any dependents that you have not mentioned?”
- “How secure is your job?”
Questions like these—and many more—are difficult to ask. Desperate people who want the relationship badly enough will consciously avoid asking them for fear that they will get the wrong answer. If this happens, they may forever rue the day that they put their heads in the proverbial sand and chose to be willfully ignorant. Pay now or pay later…that’s my advice.
Edify those with whom you are in a relationship. If you don’t want others to drag you down, do your best to lift other people up. This is a fabulous secret that too many people do not understand: When you add value to people around you, you will never be lonely. Lifters attract. People will feel stronger, more secure and more inspired when they associate with you. You are not only influenced; you have the opportunity to be an influencer. Accept this role heartily and with great passion. You may very well be the person who is responsible for powerful and positive changes in the world.