Can Humility and Social Media Coexist?
Humility in Social Media Engagement
Social media often seems to reflect the opposite values of God’s kingdom.1 Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). Social media often seems to bless the outraged.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek” (Matt. 5:5). Social media often seems to bless the narcissistic.
I’m grateful for many godly Christian leaders who model an edifying use of social media. At the same time, I worry that we as the church are often shaped by the unhealthy dynamics of social-media culture more than we are shaping it. Too often, we get pulled into the yuck, the noise, the sneering.
In Humility, Gavin Ortlund explains that humility is not just an abstract virtue but a mark of gospel integrity, casting a vision for gospel-centered humility that is ultimately self-forgetfulness leading to joy.
In particular, social media often steers us away from humility. Charles Spurgeon’s rebuke could well apply to our social-media age:
We have plenty of people nowadays who could not kill a mouse without publishing in the Gospel Gazette. Samson killed a lion and said nothing about it: the Holy Spirit finds modesty so rare that He takes care to record it. Say much of what the Lord has done for you, but say little of what you have done for the Lord. Do not utter a single self-glorifying sentence!2
I am convicted by Spurgeon’s words. How many times have I drawn attention to myself? How many times have I risked offending the Holy Spirit by breaching modesty or courtesy? Lord, I am sorry.
So what do we do? I don’t think the answer is necessarily to avoid social media altogether, though it may be for some, and all of us should consider our limitations. But I do think that in the current state of our culture, godliness in social-media use requires extra intentionality and ballast.
We will not likely drift into an edifying use of Twitter or Instagram. Things such as self-promotion and meanness are too powerful a current.
How do we build a social-media presence that is informed by humility? I’m still wrestling with what this looks like, but here are three strategies we might consider starting with.
Fight Envy with Gratitude
Social media invites constant comparison, making envy a constant danger. There will always be someone with more followers and some new crisis you feel you must weigh in on (or a joke you want to be a part of ). It’s easy for the fear of being overlooked to become a tyrant or the need to maintain your platform to become a burden.
I’ve discovered that cultivating gratitude for what we have undermines the power of envy. So focus more on using your platform for actual good than growing it for potential good. Rejoice in whatever influence you’ve been given, however small. Be grateful for it. Cultivate it like a precious garden in a desert.
It’s also healthy and freeing to regularly offer our influence back to the Lord. Lay it down before him and seek to be genuinely okay with him taking it away, if only you can have more of him.
Make Extra Efforts at Kindness
I’ve often thought that social media is one of our culture’s mechanisms for public shaming. What we used to do by locking people in stocks in the village square we now do with “ratioing” and “canceling.”
The scary thing is that people who engage in this kind of activity often get more attention as a result. It’s a sobering indication of human sin that in certain contexts we not only tolerate meanness and outrage, but we actually reward them.
In light of the state of our cultural dialogue and the nature of the medium, we must work all the harder to display kindness. Take extra steps to say something positive whenever you can. Avoid sarcasm more than you normally would. Be extra eager for opportunities to honor someone else (Rom. 12:10).
Focus more on using your platform for actual good than growing it for potential good.
I know this isn’t simple, and I don’t want to take away from the value of open disagreement and debate. And certainly, there is a time for rebuke and indignation. Some attacks or misrepresentations require a forceful response.
Still, it’s worth asking with any tweet or post: Does this feel as if it’s coming more from the flesh or the Spirit? What culture am I contributing to?
I am convinced that regular disengagement is essential to healthy usage of social media. In addition to taking sabbath breaks away from social media altogether, you might also consider:
- Delete the social-media apps on your phone—just use it on your computer (either do this always or for certain seasons, such as weekends or family days).
- Have certain places in your home where you never bring your devices (e.g., a den or study).
- Use the “Do not disturb” function as a default practice so your phone stops buzzing at you—the constant distraction is not healthy for us.
Another helpful practice is, quite simply, to mute or unfollow people who consistently drag you down. Don’t hesitate to do this. You’re not required to follow anyone (or interact with any comments) when doing so is detrimental to your soul. When I’m struggling with envy or loneliness while scrolling through social media, I know it’s probably time to disengage for a while.
If you never argue with people in real life, but you do on Facebook, it’s time to balance the two out more. Social media should complement, not compensate for, face-to-face interaction.
Those of us who go by the name of Christ must be especially mindful of how we talk to one another. Our interactions on social media play out before a watching world. Even amid our disagreements, we should be distinguished by love (John 13:35), lest we discredit the gospel.
I realize there are some people with whom it is next to impossible to have an edifying interaction. Truly, I think we often need to give greater thought to Titus 3:10 in such instances: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.” It might sound harsh, but wisdom sometimes requires total avoidance. Paul understood this, and so should we.
So much is out of our control. We cannot stop the incessant screaming and scrambling that is the internet. But we can try to reduce our own involvement in the problems and do whatever we can to contribute to a healthier culture. Here’s a happy goal to pray for: that more Christians would be recognizable on social media by the wisdom that James describes as “peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
In everything we do on social media, Spurgeon’s advice gives us a wonderful target to aim for: say much of what the Lord has done for you, but say little of what you have done for the Lord.
And here is a wonderful strategy: to fill our hearts so full of the gospel that this is what we want to do. How happy is this thought: to be so captivated by Christ’s love that we’d rather talk about him than ourselves. Truly, there is joy in that place.
Lord, forgive us where we have misused social media. Fill the deepest places in our souls with your love so that we overflow with love and joy toward others in all we do and say.
- Portions of this epilogue are adapted from my article “3 Ways to Keep Social Media from Stealing Your Joy,” The Gospel Coalition, May 2, 2020, https:// www.thegospelcoalition.org/.
- Charles H. Spurgeon, “Hands Full of Honey,” a sermon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on January 28, 1883, www.spurgeon.org.
This article is adapted from Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness by Gavin Ortlund.
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