I’m sure you’ve read this intro multiple times before, but bear with me… “Since the invention and subsequent explosion of the Internet, a lot of great opportunities and tools have been made available to Christians. However, with the good has also come some bad. The Internet itself is neither good nor bad, but how we choose to use it makes that determination.”

Now, before you get ahead of me, let me clarify. This isn’t another article about pornography. It’s an article about the “other” sin problem exacerbated by the Internet. That problem is the issue of how we use our words in dealing with our fellow humans. It’s an issue that existed long before the Internet, but like pornography our unchristian words have been given a platform and exposure like never before. Facebook, Twitter, email, blogs, and whatever other mediums are out there give us a forum to share any and every thought we have. Knowing how humans think, that’s destined to end badly at times, and it often does. Since Christians are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), we should be especially careful at avoiding the “other” internet sin of using our words in these three ways.

Gossip

The old saying “A lie goes halfway around the world before the truth puts its shoes on” certainly applies to gossip as well, as we can often be far too eager to pass on bad news about people we don’t like. Add in high-speed connections, email, and Facebook, and such negative talk can literally travel around the world multiple times before a person even knows how much damage his reputation is suffering. We would be wise to remember that God has always taken gossip seriously, listing it with what most consider “serious” sins in Romans 1:29, 2 Corinthians 12:20, and 2 Timothy 3:3.

When a notification pops up telling you about how awful so-and-so is, you have one duty: stop the gossip in its tracks and ask the person if they’ve dealt with the supposed offender personally. In a world where the church is looked down upon for upholding God’s Word, the last thing we need to do is give people real reasons to criticize us by tearing each other down.

Passive aggression

We’ve come to the point in our technology use that there is actually a relatively well-known term for when you speak derogatorily about someone without mentioning his or her name. (That’s a “subtweet,” for you non-Twitterers.) You’ve probably seen an intentionally vague Facebook post or two complaining about how “people” can be a certain way, obviously aimed at a person or group of people. (Been there, done that, regrettably.) Blog articles are written directly at specific people in an attempt to embarrass them or refute them without actually having to talk to them.

If you have a problem with a brother, the Bible says you should talk to him privately (Proverbs 25:8-10, Matthew 18). Airing your grievances against an unnamed person in front of hundreds of people while being just specific enough to let people know who it is solves nothing and typically leads to one of two responses. One possibility is an awkward conversation when the person realizes they are being criticized and decides to speak up, and the other is that the person silently avoids confrontation but understands how the writer feels about him/her. Neither of those are a desired outcome, and neither solution reflects the love of Christ.

Harshness

Most people don’t like confrontation and will therefore be a little less likely to speak harshly with each other face-to-face. However, once we’re not staring a person in the face it’s a lot easier to talk tough to someone. This factor of Internet interaction has led to a lot of insults and accusations that probably would have never been spoken otherwise. Anybody can be tough behind a screen, but it takes a lot more courage and a lot more love for a person to gently tell him/her in person about why you disagree with him/her.  In our interactions we must always remember Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

It seems the old classic teachings like “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” “Don’t ever say anything behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t say to his face,” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31) can disappear from our minds faster than the time it takes to load a Facebook page. Whether it’s with a keyboard, a touchscreen, or a tongue, though, those sayings still hold true and “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” is just as false as it’s ever been. The things we say and do will always have consequences, and the way we talk (or type) will affect people and leave an impression that can last for years on web pages and hard drives.

As James pointed out, the tongue is nothing to be trifled with. Its effects can be devastating, and the same is true (possibly more so) when our words are broadcast on the Internet for hundreds to see. I’ve been guilty of forgetting how much damage my words can do online, and it’s not a pleasant feeling. As embarrassing as those times have been for me, it’s even worse to speak that way when I should instead be representing Christ. Let’s use our words for good, not evil. Use the same tricks you would use to check your speech, like counting to ten before speaking or thinking a positive thought of the person you’re about to speak against. Just as we have to train ourselves to think before we speak, let’s make sure to think before we post!

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:29-31

By Jack Wilkie

Jack Wilkie is the author of “Failure: What Christian Parents Need to Know About American Education” and is the speaker for Focus Press’s “The Lost Generation” seminar. To schedule a seminar at your church, contact jack@tampaseo.expert.