by Erin Bird
Years ago, in the pre-Facebook era, I (along with a handful of leaders from area churches) started a city-wide young adult ministry in Cedar Rapids called Watershed. We drew 80-100 young adults from over 20 different churches to a Thursday night worship gathering.
It was evident the college students and 20-somethings Watershed was drawing were not only hungry to connect with God, but with one another as well. So, to help build relationships, we started an online forum. The World Wide Web was bursting into adolescence in 2003, so it was “cool” to have a place where young adults could connect online.
However, within a year of launching, the forum was a train wreck. I was one of the moderators, and I would experience a mini-anxiety attack every time I logged on to the forum. Why? Because normally sane people turned into Internet assassins, converting their computer keyboards into weapons, writing hurtful opinionated words from behind the shield of their computer monitor.
Ever since I watched the decline of the Watershed forum, I have had a passion to see Jesus-followers live out their faith even in the online arena. So for the month of July, we are going to do a series called “How to Follow Jesus Online.” Our key passage is going to be Philippians 2:12-16a, so let’s look at this passage as we discuss our first topic - “Don’t be a Jerk.”
Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, by holding firm to the word of life. (Phil. 2:12-16a)
Let's put this passage in context.
In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul is talking about the importance of humility. In verse 4 , he defines humility as not looking out for your own interests, but for the interests of others as well. To help them see what this type of humility in real life, he talked about Jesus in verses 5-11 . So the context for our series key passage is how to live like Jesus lived, full of humility - putting others first.
That's why in verse 14 , Paul says to do everything without grumbling or arguing. When you grumble, you're complaining that things aren't the way you want. When you argue without humility, you are demanding your way, not considering the needs and interests and opinions of others.
That’s where the Watershed forum failed. A handful of the young adults forgot to put others first. They wanted to get their opinion not only heard, but accepted as the best and right way. Their posts lacked grace, empathy, and understanding, making them sound like jerks, not Jesus-followers. They weren’t posting with “fear and trembling” (verse 12) they were posting with ferociousness and tempers.
Now realize: being a Jesus-follower doesn’t mean you take your brain out of your head in order to be kind. (Jesus does after all tells us to love Him with all our mind!) I’m not asking you to act as if your point isn’t valid. But being right isn’t more important than being loving. The well-worn cliché still holds true: people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
So as you write a comment on a Facebook post or respond to an angry email, do what Paul says in verse 15 and, rather than be a jerk, be “P.U.R.E…”
Before you post, pray. Pray that your words would be seasoned with grace. Pray for those who will read your words.
Being right isn’t more important than being loving.
Before you seek to be understood, seek to understand. What is the other person truly saying? How might their experience be affecting what they are saying? Understanding where others are coming from will affect what you write and the “tone” you write with. In other words, build a bridge instead of a wall.
Before you hit “Send,” reread what you wrote. Or when someone posts an opinion that raises your ire, reread what they wrote carefully just in case you are misinterpreting what they intended to say. Rereading often slows us down just a little bit in order to help us not be an internet jerk.
When all is said and done, you will not agree with everyone, nor will everyone be won over by your eloquent words. That’s okay! Extend them grace, just as God has given grace to you.
If you act “PURE” online, you are all the closer to not being a jerk online and living like Jesus would have lived, filled with humility - even on Facebook.
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