In 1965 liberal theologian Harvey Cox published The Secular City (The MacMillan Company)a fast-forward, prophetic view of culture in the new world. He noted two primary characteristics of this secular city: anonymity and mobility, a world of strangers on the move. The emergence of social media and it's many platforms is one very profound component of the world Cox envisioned. Today we can hide behind alter-egos to analyze, critique, attack, and sometimes praise the elements of life that flash across our personal screens. Yes, there are gifs, videos, posters, and other gimmicks of trade in this new world. But, words are the marketable currency here. In many ways they are our broadest influence.
A few days ago my research department advised me to post a Mark Twain quote about words on FaceBook and Twitter. Twain had said, "Actions speak louder than words but not nearly as often." Of course I was looking for some reaction from a social media complex constructed on words. And, though responses were limited, they were about what I expected. Our words define us. They shape opinions, not so much about what we're discussing, but more about us personally. We are often profiled and slotted by the words we use in just about every dimension of life.
Years ago a wise mentor advised me to carefully weigh my words before speaking or writing them. His counsel in this regard reflected a Christian worldview and the belief that our words should always be consistent with biblical instruction. There are, of course, hundreds of Bible directives about the words we speak. This is because our words possess the power of influence. I conclude that the biblical precepts about words apply to what is written as well as what is spoken. Because they are so numerous, I cannot list them here. But, over the years one verse has been the primary guide in weighing my words. Paul wrote---
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you
ought to answer each person.
Colossians 4:6, ESV
It grieves me when my words diminish my own personal influence and the image many moderns possess of the Christian community at large. Weighing words is especially needful in the more distant platforms of social media. The negative views of Christian faith are often fueled by the inconsistencies so evident in our rhetoric. Many FaceBook profiles, including my own, affirm a Christian worldview, church or denominational affiliation, life verses, and other bold spiritual confessions. They are often discounted by others when they are followed by posts of a destructive, vile, or profane nature. When my personal word scales are inoperative they may even compromise my most strongly held positions. It is the reason weighed words are so important.
There's truth here. If 280 million Americans are Christians, our influence on culture should be decisive and evident. It was the expectation of Jesus Christ when he taught about being salt and light. This influence should be communicated by our decidedly Christian example, and the words that link us to so many others. Jesus said,
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person
out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth
Luke 6:45, ESV
My prayer in that my words will always reflect what is in my heart. And, that translates to a continuous need to weigh my words carefully before I speak or write them, regardless of the venue.
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