Having been asked this question on multiple occasions, even recently, I thought I would attempt to give a brief answer — highlighting ten Bible-based principles that I attempt (admittedly imperfectly) to employ in my own blogging ventures. I’m sure that additional ideas and principles could be added to these ten, and I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments section.
In any case, I hope this list is helpful both for those who blog regularly, and for those who are thinking about starting.
The blogosphere is notoriously nasty — a breeding ground for slander, gossip, misinformation, bickering, name-calling, arrogance, and quick-temperedness. Sadly, even “Christian” blogs can deteriorate into something between a tabloid and a talk show, built on a few provocative “tidbits” of juicy news and the massing of ignorance in response. Armed with anonymity and eager for an audience, “bloggers” (meaning both those who post and those who comment) often shoot first, and ask questions only after it’s too late (if they ever ask questions at all).
So how can we, as Christian bloggers, stem the tide and honor the Lord in the way we interact online? Over the next few days, we will consider ten practical principles in response to that question.
Let’s start with the most foundational . . .
1. Have Your Quiet Time First
As believers, we are to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), being controlled and characterized by Him as we walk in His power (Gal. 5:16, 22–23). This begins with “letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16), daily renewing our minds with the truth (cf. Eph. 4:23), taking up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17), and recognizing that it is through “the pure milk of the Word” that we “grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). If we are to be Spirit-filled as we engage others in online dialogue, discussion, and debate — we need to first immerse ourselves in prayer and in the Word (cf. Pss. 1:2-3; 5:3; 19:7-14; 119:9-11).
This principle applies to blogs in at least two ways. First, we need to remember that blogs, as helpful as they are, should never be a substitute for one’s personal time of private devotion, Scripture reading, and prayer. If we are to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led every day, we need to daily go to the book that the Spirit inspired (2 Pet. 1:20-21) and empowers (cf. Is. 55:11; Heb. 4:12). Even the best of Christian blogs (or books or CDs or DVDs, for that matter) can never compare with the very words of God. Before you indulge in spiritual snack food (much of which isn’t all that healthy), make sure you’ve first filled your soul with the meat and milk of Scripture.
Second, there is much about blogging that appeals to our sinful flesh, especially when a good argument is afoot. Pride, anger, impatience, and even jealousy (when another blog is getting all the hits) would quickly fill any list of common blogging sins. Such makes the importance of being Spirit-filled before going online vitally important.
So . . . until you’ve spent time in the Word and on your knees, don’t get on the web; you simply won’t be ready.
2. Stay Within the Lines
Like number one, this also should be a no-brainer for those who are believers, yet it often seems to be ignored. The point is this: Don’t say something online that violates biblical standards for godly speech.
Blogging is, after all, nothing more or less than speech, meaning that all of the biblical directives regarding speech directly apply to blogging. Many verses could be cited in this regard. Perhaps the most general is this: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19), and the most sobering is this: “I tell you that for every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36).
Whether it’s characterized by gossip, slander, retribution, quick-temperedness, crudeness, falsehood, pride, or any other violation of the second greatest commandment (cf. Mark 12:30-32), it’s inappropriate. If it violates the biblical paradigm for godly speech, it doesn’t belong in our posts or in our comments — no matter how funny, how provocative, or how “perfect” it seems to be. A quick study of passages like Proverbs 12:17–18; 15:1; 16:23–24; 17:27–28; 20:19; 29:20; Eph. 4:29; 5:4; Titus 2:6–8; and Jas. 3:8–10 is a great starting point for any blogger concerned that his or her words both online and offline are honoring to Christ.
To be sure, applying the biblical mandates for sanctified speech is difficult in any circumstance. But it requires special effort and care in the blogosphere, where tone is difficult to accurately convey, and non-verbal cues are utterly absent. This means we must work even harder at seasoning our words with grace, and not being (or sounding) quarrelsome.
The bottom line is this: If it violates a biblical principle, then don’t post it. Sin is still sin, even if no one knows the true identity behind your anonymous pseudonym. After all, God knows, and in the end, His opinion is what matters.
3. Consider the Consequences
It is also important to realize that words have consequences. The book of Proverbs compares wicked words to things like sword thrusts, war clubs, firebrands, arrows, and death (Prov. 12:18; 25:18; 26:18–19), noting that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). James picks up on this theme in chapter 3 of his epistle, rebuking those who praise God and slander others from the same set of lips (cf. vv. 8-10). Listen to what he writes in verse 6: “The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” That is sobering stuff! And as we saw earlier from Matthew 12:36, our words have consequences that are not only temporal (cf. Gal. 6:8-10), but eternal (cf. Rom. 14:12).
When posting on the Internet, it is especially important to consider the ramifications of what we are about to say. Not only are one’s words instantly accessible to the 1 billion people who regularly use the Internet, but they are quickly (within hours) cached by search engines – meaning that it is nearly impossible to delete every trace of them even if one wanted to do so later.
The size of the online audience, combined with the relative permanence of what is posted there, makes what is said through a blog potentially more-damaging than anything that could be said in private conversation. Yet ironically, comments are often made online that would never be made in face-to-face conversation. Thus, a good rule of thumb is: If you wouldn’t say it in a face-to-face meeting with the person, don’t say it on the web.
But that’s for point 6, which we will look at tomorrow. The point here is that what we say has consequences — and what we say online has much greater consequences (potentially) since it is accessible to anyone and available permanently. This is something we should all remember before we hit ”submit.”
Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Even as believers, those who have been regenerated (Titus 3:5–8), we still battle the lusts of our sinful flesh (cf. Rom. 7:13–25; 13:14; Eph. 5:11–12; 6:10–18; James 1:14–15; 1 John 2:16–17). Because we can be driven (even subtly) by wrong motives and desires, we need to constantly examine our hearts.
Getting more specific, it is helpful to realize that of all the sinful motives we might have, the one God hates most is pride.
Pride (“haughty eyes”) heads the list of things that God hates in Proverbs 6:17 (see also 8:13). Solomon later says that, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished” (Prov. 16:5; cf. 11:2; 15:25; 16:18-19: 29:23). Though in a salvation context, Jesus repeatedly made the point that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” (Matt. 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14). After all, “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). “To this one I will look” says the Lord in Isaiah 66:2, “To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My Word.”
Pride, then, is definitely something we want to avoid.
Even in blogging, pride (“thinking more highly of yourself than you ought” – Rom. 12:3) can manifest itself in many different ways. For instance, pride is seen:
when the reason we blog is simply to gain name-recognition or be lauded for our efforts
when we envy other bloggers more popular than us
when we become emotionally defensive (of ourselves) in our online interaction
when we delight in making others look foolish
when we refuse to admit (and apologize for) times when we are wrong
or when we “take on” well-respected Christian leaders in a condescending or demeaning way (as if they would certainly see their “obvious” errors if only we could “educate” them)
Of course, the list could go on and on. The boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16) is a sin we must all continually combat.
A friend of mine once told me that he views “BLOG” as an acronym for “Boys Lusting Over Glory.” That is quite an indictment, and too often true. Thus, as believers, we must guard our motives diligently, and keep our pride in check. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than youselves. . . . Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3, 5). Remember that even when we look good on the outside, “the Lord weighs the spirit” (Prov. 16:2).
On a practical note, the best way to kill pride is to think accurately about God – regularly meditating on His character and attributes. When we see God for who He truly is (in His sovereign, awesome, holy perfection), we will also see ourselves for who we really are (in our finite, frail, sinful weakness). And when we see ourselves from God’s perspective, we are humbled. We bow low like Moses (Exod. 34:8), keep silent like Job (Job 40:4-5), fall on our face like Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:28), and cry out like David: “What is man that you take thought of him? Or the son of man that you care for him” (Psalm 8:4).
All of this brings us back to the first principle we listed in this series, for we must go to God’s Word to gain an accurate understanding of who He is.
5. Check Your Facts
Not only should you check your heart before you post or comment, but you should also check your facts.
The Book of Proverbs has much to say about bearing false witness (Prov. 6:19; 12:17; 13:5; 19:5; 21:28; 24:28; 25:18; 29:12) and also advises us to understand both sides before passing judgment (18:17). As those who dispense information we need to be careful not to jump to wrong conclusions (even unintentionally), especially when spreading “juicy” tidbits of information around the blogosphere.
We also need to be careful, when reading other blogs, not to believe everything we hear. Discernment should be something we apply, not only to doctrinal issues, but also to the breaking news of the blogosphere. The biblical principles of testing and double-checking (see passages like Acts 17:11 and 1 Thess. 5:19–21) are absolutely essential on the Internet (even if the rapid exchange of information sometimes makes verification difficult).
Even when the information comes from trusted sources, the temptation can be to not read articles carefully or even completely before rushing in to comment. But such rashness almost always leads to disaster (cf. Prov. 12:18; 19:2).
It was Carl F. Henry who said that, “Truth is Christianity’s most enduring asset.” Though his words primarily apply to apologetics, I think the principle extends to all of the Christian life. Believers are those who are marked by truth – both the truth of Scripture (cf. John 17:17), and truthfulness (integrity) in how we speak and live (cf. Psalm 15). If we are to appropriately represent Jesus Christ (the Truth incarnate — John 14:6) on the web, we need to have our facts straight before we post (cf. Prov. 13:16).
6. Make It Personal (Because It Is)
One of the most deceptive aspects of blogging is that it seems impersonal. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Blogging, by its very nature, is very personal.
People write blogs, people read blogs, people comment on blogs. In blogging, a person expresses his or her personal take on the actions, beliefs, or character of other persons (often particular persons) and invites third-party persons to give their personal comments in response. It’s all personal. Granted, it’s not face-to-face. It is removed from direct conversation by cables, modems, and computer screens. But insofar as it affects real people in a rational, emotional, and spiritual way – blogging is personal.
Of course, this is easy to forget when it’s late at night and only our computer screen is staring back at us. But it’s especially at those times (when we’re tired and alone) that we need to be careful with what we say and how we say it. On the other end of our barbed wit is a living, breathing human being — a person.
We may not know this person’s real name, gender, age, or physical address. But he or she is still a living soul, made in the image of God. Listen to the words of James, regarding how we speak to other people:
No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be. (James 3:8-10)
Along these lines, here are a few practical tips. First, as we noted earlier: Don’t say something online that you wouldn’t be willing to say face-to-face. If you cannot honestly imagine yourself sitting across the desk from this person and saying it to him or her directly, then don’t say it.
Second, put your name with what you say. If you are unwilling to have your real name and your real-life reputation associated with your comment, then it’s probably better left unsaid.
Third, and most importantly, remember that there is another Person who is also watching (Prov. 15:3). That fact alone makes blogging infinitely personal. As we noted under principle number 2, if God would not approve of what you are about to say, then don’t publish it for the world to read.
One final note, as a balance to all of this, let me emphasize that – while we need to “make blogging personal” in respect to what we say to and about others — we should never “take it personally” when we ourselves are the object of criticism or ridicule.
When Jesus was scorned and mocked, He remained silent before His accusers (cf. 1 Pet. 2:21-23). He commanded His followers, when wronged, to likewise turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). When we feel insulted or personally offended by a post or a comment, we are never right to respond in kind (Rom. 12:18-21; cf. Prov. 15:1). Usually, all that’s been hurt is our pride; and at that point, it’s better to walk away than stay and defend ourselves. As Solomon wrote, “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult” (Prov. 12:16).
The context of Paul’s instruction centers around doctrinal issues (in v. 14), and is directly applicable to the edification of fellow believers (in v. 16). We are to speak the truth, then, in contrast to the falsehood of erroneous doctrine; and we are to do so in love, for the purpose of building up the body of Christ.
Speaking the truth addresses the content of what we say. We are to be those who guard, echo, and uphold the truth. That means there will also be times when we need to confront error, as we contend earnestly for the faith. As those who speak the truth, we will necessarily expose falsehood.
Speaking the truth in love addresses the way in which we speak. We must not be obnoxious with the truth, or personally offensive in how we approach others. Rather, we are called to communicate truth in such a way that the body of Christ is edified. Our words, especially when aimed at fellow believers, must be characterized by biblical love.
When we speak of love, we are not suggesting that we should ignore error or blindly tolerate “every wind of doctrine.” Not at all. Biblical love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). In fact, the writers of the NT reserved their harshest criticisms for those who would promote false doctrine (Matt. 23:13–26; Gal. 1:6–9; 2 Peter 2; 1 John 2:18–24; Jude). Biblical love demands that we protect fellow believers from what we know to be potential threats and dangerous trends (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14; Titus 1:9–11; 2 Peter 3:17; 1 John 5:21).
Yet, at the same time, biblical love is also patient, kind, humble, selfless, and not-easily provoked (1 Cor. 13:4-5). It is a sincere love (1 Pet. 1:22; Rom. 12:9) that is characterized by the phrase: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). It exhibits the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23) and, when exemplified in the lives of godly people is not quick-tempered, self-willed, pugnacious, or needlessly quarrelsome (Titus 1:7; 2 Tim. 2:24–25). It is not soft on false doctrine or on false teachers; but it is soft with compassion and seasoned with grace in its dealings with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
We might add here that love is not easily angered (1 Cor. 13:5), recognizing that, as a general rule, the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:20; cf. Eph. 4:26). As Solomon wrote, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29); and, “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot tempered man abounds in transgression” (Prov. 29:22); and again, “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” (Eccl. 7:9; see also Prov. 14:17; 15:1; 16:32; 19:11, 19; 22:24; 29:11).
Biblical love is courageous and forthright when it needs to be. But it is also characterized by gentleness, patience, and kindness. It is this type of steadfast yet gracious love that we should pursue in our blogging efforts.
8. If in Doubt, Wait It Out
No matter your connection speed, the blogosphere moves at a lightning pace. The breakneck speed at which online interaction takes place means that blog discussions usually only last for one or maybe two days, and that last week’s conversation is today’s ancient history. If someone hopes to get a word in, he or she better do it now. Otherwise the discussion will be over.
This (in my opinion) is one of the biggest disadvantages of blogging. (In fact, it is part of the reason we frequently do extended series here on Pulpit, to at least try to give people a few days in which to think about the same topic.) For the most part, blogs (by their very nature) provide very little time for readers to stop and think, soak in what is happening, sleep on it, and then respond intelligently.
Yet, that is exactly what the better part of wisdom tells us we should do (cf. Prov. 25:8; 29:20). We need time to process if we are going to give a thoughtful response. In light of this, it is often wise to wait (at least a couple hours) before reacting with a critical word. It is better to be a little tardy to the conversation (or even not participate at all), than to say something that will later be regretted. If there is any question about the appropriateness of a given post or comment, then let it rest for awhile.
Another practical step in this regard is to ask someone else about it first (someone with some spiritual sense, of course). To quote from Proverbs again: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Prov. 12:15). If a trusted friend (perhaps a spouse, parent, or church leader) thinks your comment crosses the line, it probably does — meaning it’s better left unsaid.
To quote again from Solomon, “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent” (Prov. 17:27-28). Or as Abraham Lincoln paraphrased: Better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.
If you’re not sure if something is appropriate, wait until you are sure before you post.
Fights always draw a crowd. And in the blogosphere, it seems there is always a fight going on somewhere. Sometimes the issues are important; often they are not.
Those who fight all the time, especially about petty issues, tend to earn a reputation for themselves as being contentious (Prov. 26:21), pugnacious (1 Tim. 3:3), or divisive (Titus 3:10). I know of a few individuals who might even think these descriptors are compliments. But Scripture wouldn’t agree. After all, “keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (Prov. 20:3; cf. 17:14). Thus, Paul rebuked the Corinthians for their quarrels (1 Cor. 1:11; cf. 2 Cor. 12:20), as did James with those to whom he wrote (James 4:1–2).
In advising Timothy on how to handle disagreements in his church (at Ephesus), Paul wrote:
Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:22–26).
I believe this passage is applicable to blogging on several levels.
First, notice what Timothy was called to pursue (v. 22) – righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who were fellow believers. We should do the same, per point 7 (discussed on Friday).
Second, notice what Timothy was to avoid (v. 23) – “foolish and ignorant speculations.” Instead of spending his time in unprofitable debates, Timothy was to focus on what mattered – the truth of Scripture. As John MacArthur explains in his commentary on 2 Timothy:
In this Timothy passage, Paul makes clear that he is not speaking about responsible discussion of Scripture and theology, either with the unsaved or among believers. He rather forbids speculations, fruitless and unproductive debates that produce quarrels. Such speculations not only are worthless but are ungodly. They question Scripture, distort the truth, create doubt, weaken faith, undermine confidence in the Lord, often lead to compromise of convictions, and produce quarrels. Earlier in this chapter, the apostle commanded Timothy to “solemnly charge [believers] in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers” (v. 14).
Paul gives almost identical counsel to Titus, warning him to “shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9). Any church member who persists in such “unprofitable and worthless” behavior is to be severely disciplined. “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning,” the apostle continues, “knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (vv. 10–11).
Third, notice how Timothy was to behave (v. 24) – he was to teach the truth in a way that was not quarrelsome, but was marked by kindness, patience, and gentleness. Certainly, Timothy was to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3), but he was to do so in a way that was honorable and above reproach.
Fourth, notice what Timothy’s goal was to be (vv. 25–26) – the repentance of those who opposed him. In dialoguing with those who disagreed Timothy was not only to guard the truth (2 Tim. 1:14), but also to lead those in error to repentance. He was to win people (not just arguments). I believe the flavor of many online “debates” among Christians would dramatically change if this end goal were sincerely embraced.
To sum up briefly, Paul’s words to Timothy provide helpful parameters for dealing with other Christians online. 1) Seek to edify. 2) Don’t waste time debating unimportant issues. 3) Be gracious. And 4) work hard to win people.
As a corollary to this, the question was asked on Friday as to whether or not blogging is a useful medium for engaging non-Christians with the gospel. On the one hand, blogging has many limitations, which (in my opinion) make it a less preferable medium for evangelism. But, on the other hand, we are called to always be ready to make a defense for the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). If the opportunity to share Christ arises, we should be good stewards of that opportunity.
We must remember, again, the goal is that those with whom we interact might be brought to repentance. They should not be treated as our enemies, but as our mission field.
10. Maintain the Family Honor
Growing up, the phrase “Maintain the Family Honor” was one my dad employed often – usually as a parting word of wisdom to my brother and me as we went off to spend time with friends. Over time it got shortened to “MFH,” but we always knew what it meant: Don’t do anything stupid that would bring shame to the family.
As those who have been adopted into God’s family (Rom. 8:13–17), we are likewise called to maintain the family honor. We are to be a fragrant aroma to God (Eph. 5:2); and salt and light in a dark world (Matt. 5:13). We are to walk in love as Christ walked (Eph. 5:2), recognizing that the world will know us by our love for one another (John 13:35). We are to exhort one another (Rom. 14:15), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), edify one another (Rom. 14:19), and speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15). And we are to do all things for the glory of our King (1 Cor. 10:31).
There really is no need to belabor this final point, a point which (in reality) sums up all that has been written before. In everything we do, including blogging, we are to bring honor and glory to our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
If what you are about to say will bring disgrace or dishonor to the name of Christ, please don’t post it. When you do, you bring shame not only to yourself, but to all who call themselves Christian. Our prayer, as online representatives of Christ, should be that we would never do anything, by His grace, to bring reproach upon the matchless name of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Other Blogging Questions
This series has really only addressed the way in which we interact with others on blogs (both in our posts and comments). In large part, it has focused on the content, tone, and motivation of those who blog. But it has certainly not answered every question.
Many other issues could yet be addressed. For instance, Why and how should someone start a blog? How much time is appropriate to spend interacting on blogs? How can individuals and ministries most effectively use blogs? Should they really rely on blogs at all? Are blogs a legitimate supplement for local church instruction and Christian fellowship? And so on…
But, at least for now, I will leave those questions to be answered by other bloggers. For me, just doing this series has been challenging and convicting. Now the hard part begins — in trying to personally appropriate a standard I’ve just publicly proclaimed.