This article is part of the Reactivity: Rethinking Social Media with Paul Tripp series.
In this episode, Paul Tripp talks about the difference between the love of truth and the love of controversy, which is no longer motivated by the two great commands to love God and love your neighbor.
One of the dynamics that you see in social media is what I call “the pile-on dynamic”, when there is something controversial happening—a person’s done something controversial or said something controversial—it’s just like bees gathering around honey. All of a sudden there are all these people that are just excited to jump in and be part of this controversy. And that literally happens every day on social media. Often the things that trend are things that are controversial. In order to understand the impact that this culture of controversy that’s in social media has on our other relationships, we have to understand what it’s about.
There’s a huge, significant difference between the love of truth and the love of controversy. There’s a difference between finding joy in and wanting to be part of advancing what is true and the fact that I just love the controversy; I love the battle; I love the war; I love getting in there and getting dirty. That’s a very different thing. Now, if there’s such a thing as truth (and there is), and if God is the author of truth (and he is), and the word is true (and it is), then I should want to live in truth myself, and I should want that for you. I should be concerned when I think that you’re wandering from the truth. Hear what I’m about to say: that concern is motivated by love for truth and love for people. It’s literally the two great commands: because I love God, I love his truth; because I love people, I want you to live in the truth. Love for controversy is not motivated by the two great commands. In the love for controversy, God is out of the picture. He’s left the building, and I’m surely not loving you. I love being part of this controversial moment and having my say in this controversy. It’s a hunt, and my ability to respond on social media is my gun. I’m hunting for prey. And it’s not because you’re someone I love, I respect, I honor, and I want to help; it’s that you offer me a chance to fire my verbal weapon. You see that all over the place. One person fires, and then twelve people fire, and then fifty people fire. And all of a sudden, it’s just like warfare. That isn’t community. That isn’t communication. That isn’t love for God. That isn’t love for people. It’s something entirely different.
One of the places I’ve seen this live in the local church, through my relationship with these young pastors that I mentor, is that people are listening to sermons looking for controversy. That means they could be listening politically or looking for theological controversy instead of listening and thinking, I need these truths in my life. I need to be confronted, encouraged, and motivated by the word of God, and so I listen with an open heart. Instead, it’s, I’m listening for that thing, that controversy. This is why these pastors will then get a response about some kind of point in their sermon, and the person responding has missed the entire theme of the sermon, the entire helpfulness of the sermon. All they want to do is jump on this controversial thing that they’ve identified. That’s being in church as a hunter, looking for that prey and firing shots, sometimes even in the middle of a sermon.
Here’s the delineation that needs to be made in this conversation we’re having about controversy: because there’s such a thing as truth, there’s such a thing as falsehood. I should hate what God says is false. I should hate the lies of a culture that has walked away from God and walked away from his word. But I shouldn’t find joy that I found that happening. It should break my heart. It should make me sad. It should make me weep and mourn. And when you respond out of a broken heart, you are loving, you’re patient, and you’re kind. You want to be an instrument of rescue and redirection and truth rather than, Wow! I found this moment! Love for truth will never take you there because if you love truth, you don’t love the controversies that falsehood will put in front of you.
There is no more helpful way of understanding how we should respond to controversy than in the life of Jesus. It says when he was threatened and when he was reviled, he did not threaten or revile in return but committed himself to his heavenly Father who judges all things justly. We would do well to follow that example, but there’s another thing. When Jesus was getting ready to leave earth after his work here, he prayed. And he prayed that his followers would be one as he is one with the Father. He prayed for unity. My response in these controversial topics should not be to back away from truth, but should be to promote unity at the same time. You can defend truth and care about unity because Jesus did both of those at the same time. So when you find yourself drawn to controversy and you want to respond, you need to ask these questions: Will my response be shaped by love for God? Will it be shaped by love for his truth? Will it be shaped by love for people and a desire, in relationship to them, to speak in ways that are helpful? Or will it be shaped by a love for controversy? I think those questions can be really helpful.
Well, I would leave you with this question: Are there places in your life, whether on social media or in personal relationships, where you tend to confuse love for controversy with love for truth? Let me end by praying with you.
Lord, we would confess that sometimes we really do get it wrong. Sometimes we confuse love for truth with a love for the hunt, a love for the shot, a love for the kill, a love to be part of that piling-on dynamic that makes us feel powerful and included. We just pray that you would help us to have every response shaped by a humble love for you and a humble love for your people. In Jesus’s name, amen.
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