3 Musts before You Hit “Reply”
No Corrupting Talk
Ephesians 4:29–30 has powerful answers for us: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:29–30).
Paul’s application of the gospel to our speech focuses not just on our words but also on our hearts—the intention behind our reactions and responses. This is exactly where the attention needs to be. Jesus said that every word that comes out of our mouth finds its origin and formation in our heart (see Luke 6:43–45). Your reactions will only ever go where your heart has already gone. So, a commitment to wholesome talk isn’t first a commitment to a restricted vocabulary but rather to change at the level of the thoughts, desires, intentions, and choices of the heart. Paul delineates three heart commitments that will always lie behind a culture of wholesome responses to one another.
Paul David Tripp
Award-winning author Paul David Tripp instructs believers to view digital media and technology through the lens of the gospel and points them toward a biblical framework for communication.
1. Every Response Must Be Shaped by a Consideration of the Person
Only such as is good for building up. Here is an application of “love your neighbor as yourself” to our world of communication. It is a call to responses that are deeply loving. I am not posting what I am posting because it makes me happy or it satisfies some philosophical, theological, cultural, or tribal desire in me. This is a call to other-centered communication. My reaction is not done for me but out of loving consideration for you. There is something that I want for you, but it’s not that you would be simply proven wrong, put in your place, exposed for what you are, proven to be the fool, exposed as a member of a certain tribe, soundly mocked, getting what belongs to you, knocked off your pedestal, or harmed in some way. No, what this passage calls me to is the polar opposite of what the culture of reactivity does and ultimately produces.
Imagine even stopping to think of the person you’re reacting to as a person, that is, a being made in the image of God. Imagine taking the time to think of others in their world, having a normal set of responsibilities and people who love them and whom they love. Imagine considering how they have been hit with the burdens, temptations, and heartaches of life in this fallen world. Imagine taking time to think about how they will be impacted by your words.
Now imagine responding not just because you like the verbal skirmish but because, out of love, you really do want the person to benefit from and be built up by whatever it is you are about to post, tweet, or say. Imagine caring enough to want that person to learn something new, to grow in self-awareness, to have a deeper confidence in God, to be encouraged in some way, or to gain new courage or motivation. What if every reaction were preceded by this kind of other-centered consideration? What if you only ever spoke to build up? How different would your reactions be? How many previous reactions would you have to delete?
“Only such as is good for building up” means that the core character quality of wholesome communication is love. In these words is a call to intentional, focused commitment to loving communication, no matter how wrong you think people are, no matter what you think of their tribe, no matter how hurt or angry they have made you, and no matter how high you think the stakes are. When love is the expendable ingredient in our communication, there is no end to the hurt, chaos, division, and harm our reactions will produce. When you refuse to abandon this call to love and determine to only ever speak the truth in love, you will say what you need to say in a radically different manner and with an entirely different tone. The darkness of social media isn’t difficult to understand; it is the darkness of the failure to love. The human community, as God designed it, cannot function without love. Human communication cannot work without love. Without love, human interactivity becomes a war zone with a list of casualties too many to number.
We are not islands. We all need builder-uppers around us. We all need encouragement. We all need loving rebuke. We all need insight. We all need fresh starts and new beginnings. We all need to know that we are not alone. We all need gifts of patience and grace along the way. We all need love; there are no haves and have-nots. Each of us needs to be built up and each of us is called to be a builder. This mutuality of community is a beautiful gift from a wise and loving God. It seems that we have devalued this gift and viewed being right, winning the day, and putting someone in his or her place as being more valuable. The human community will continue to be harmed and our digital meeting places will continue to be dark and dangerous as long as tearing down seems more attractive than building up.
2. Every Response Must Be Shaped by an Understanding of the Situation
As fits the occasion. Before you react, consider the moment you’re speaking into. First, make sure you carefully read the whole post and pay attention to the comments that follow. If you’re in a face-to-face conversation, pay attention to the situation and location of the conversation. I have received many critical and angry comments on Twitter by people who apparently did not read the entire post because if they had, they probably wouldn’t have responded as they did. Don’t allow yourself to quickly react to a title of an article you have not carefully read.
Your reactions will only ever go where your heart has already gone.
Second, before you react, reflect on the cultural moment. Is this a moment of cultural confusion? Is it a time of cultural grief? Are the various cultural tribes angry and at battle? Has the culture lost its way? Is it a cultural bandwagon moment that everyone seems to be jumping on? Then ask yourself, “Why do I feel the need to respond? What am I hoping my reaction will accomplish? Do I have anything to add that would clarify, advance, or calm the conversation? Is my desire to react born out of hurt and anger or motivated by loving concern?”
As a believer I should think about what kind of moment this is for the church. Is this a volatile, divisive issue for the body of Christ? How much impact is this having on my everyday Christian community? Are there threats to the gospel? How is the church of Jesus Christ being viewed, both in the way it understands and how it handles the issue? How is the current discussion and the way it is conducted affecting the reputation and ministry of the church? As a member of the body of Christ, how should I interact with the issue at hand? As a believer, why do I feel compelled to join in? Are my reactions needed? Will good result? Ephesians 4 reminds us that wholesome communication flows from a careful consideration of the moment, the situation, and the occasion.
3. Every Response Must Be Shaped by the Goal of Grace
That it may give grace to those who hear. Every reaction must be shaped by a commitment to the right process of communication, and the right process is shaped by what you want your words to achieve. Paul says everything you say, no matter when you say it, no matter who you say it to, and no matter what the topic is, must have grace as its goal.
Whenever I talk about responding with grace as a goal, I am met with misunderstanding. When people hear the word grace, they think I mean being nice, being permissive, being passive, or choosing not to deal with difficult things. It is important to recognize that God’s grace is anything but passive. Grace never calls wrong right. If wrong were right, there would be no need for the rescuing, intervening, and transformative operation of grace. Grace is not about ignoring wrong; it is a radically different way of dealing with wrong. Responding in grace requires humbly admitting your inability, coupled with a robust trust in the power of God.
Be Slow to Speak
So what exactly does Ephesians 4:29 mean for the world of communication, both personal and digital? The answer is found in James 1:19–20: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” There is so much instruction about gospel living and communication packed into this verse, which I will cover in later chapters, but here I want to focus on the three phrases “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” It’s as if Ephesians 4:29 were written as an explanation of what it looks like to be committed to listen first, allow time before you speak, and never speak out of anger. If we all were committed to having these three directives shape our reactions to one another, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and many of our personal relationships would be immediately transformed. The toxic dump of cruel, mocking, disrespectful, dismissive, and vengeful communication would be gone, the power of tribalism would be weakened, and the wisdom that is only ever attained collectively would have room to grow.
But here’s the rub. For this to happen, we all need to be visited by rescuing and empowering grace. Talk toxicity is a heart problem that is solved only by redeeming grace. I must confess, I do like to talk more than I like to listen. I do have moments when I let anger shape my words. Here’s the humbling thing we all need to confess: toxic talk is never caused by the one you’re talking to. It’s always caused by you. Likewise, wholesome talk is never initiated by the one you’re talking to. It always starts with you. Like every other spiritual need, God meets our reactivity trouble with forgiving, rescuing, and transforming grace.
We have a problem. It’s harming us, our unity, our ability to grow together, and our witness. But there is help for the taking in the powerful grace of Jesus.
This article is adapted from Reactivity: How the Gospel Transforms Our Actions and Reactions by Paul David Tripp.
7 Commitments to Make before Using Social Media
Because of who human beings are by God’s design and their lofty place in God’s economy, we should always treat everyone with dignity no matter who they are.
Introducing the ‘Reactivity’ Podcast with Paul Tripp
Join Paul Tripp in this new podcast as he encourages Christians to think wisely about their social media interactions and to be a beacon of light in an age of toxicity.
3 Ways the Internet and Social Media Benefit Wisdom
In what sense are the Internet and social media potentially valuable for wisdom? We know the many downsides to online life. What are the upsides?
Podcast: The Dehumanizing Habits That Social Media Has Normalized (Paul Tripp)
Paul Tripp discusses how we as God's people should think about the reactive culture in which we live and how to make sure we're not part of the problem.