Last week I saw an article about a small college that recently conducted an experiment in which it imposed a week-long ban on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. The college administration wanted to see how important the technology had become to the students and faculty. What they found was that these tools could be useful, but that in the lives of many in that college community social media had become a bona fide “addiction.”
It was reported that one student was in the habit of checking Facebook 21 hours a day. The student would manually block all postings for three hours so as to get some sleep. For others, social media was getting in the way of their schoolwork. Still, even with the blackout on the school’s computer system, for many students the burden of not having continuous access to social media was more than they could bear, and they were compelled to continue checking Facebook and Twitter via their smart phones.
Obsession with social media appears to be a growing problem in the workplace as well. One study in April 2010 found that more business employees are visiting Facebook from the workplace than any other internet site. 6.8% of all business internet traffic goes to Facebook, twice the traffic going to the number two site, Google. A July 2009 survey reported that 77% of workers who have a Facebook account use it during work hours. Of that number, 87% admit that they had no clear business reason for using the site.
Most of us on Facebook or Twitter could probably name a person or two that we would think of as an “addict.” We might even admit about ourselves, "I'm probably on more than I should be." Should we be concerned about this? I would advocate a biblical suspicion of it. This phenomenon has all the earmarks of widespread and widely accepted idolatry.
First, let me express clearly that I do not intend to use this post to condemn the use of social media. These technologies are by no means inherently sinful. They can be very helpful. I’ve been able to reconnect with friends from my childhood that I would not have found otherwise. It has also been encouraging to see people who were at one time not even nominal believers, who have come to know the Lord and grow in His likeness. I’ve even been able to give and receive biblical counsel through Facebook. So there are good things.
But good things can become idolatrous things. As we recently discussed in Sunday School, an idol is anything that we consistently make equal to or more important than God in our attention, desires, devotion, and choices. But is it really possible for any of these forms of social media to supplant the Lord in that way?
Well, we don’t have to be crippled under the weight of a compulsive desire to post a status update in order for our use of Facebook or Twitter to be considered an idolatrous influence in our lives. All it takes is for us to allow that thing to cause us to be unfaithful in some area of our lives. Making God preeminent in our attention, desire, devotion, and choices involves seeking to be faithful to Him in every area of our lives, to be faithful in the things He has commanded. We are to be faithful in our marriages, with our children, in our work, in our service to the local body, in our devotional life, in our friendships, in our finances, in how we spend our “free” time, etc. I would suggest that if our attention to social media has caused us to be unfaithful in any one area of our lives, it has become an idolatrous lust. That may sound harsh, but if it has caused us to be unfaithful, we have chosen it over the Lord. That’s the definition of an idol.
Ephesians 5:15-16, has this to say regarding our stewardship of our time: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
The term “walk” is used here and elsewhere in the New Testament as a metaphor for our lifestyle and conduct. These verses tell us to live wisely. The following phrase tells us how to do that – by making the best use of the time. Wise living requires that we be good stewards of our time. Someone who squanders his money is easily regarded as a fool. He who squanders his time is equally foolish, and this passage tells us why – the days are evil. We live in a sinful age. There is temptation all around. Without the purposeful use of our time, we make ourselves vulnerable to a host of things that would draw us away from devotion to Christ.
Some would say they spend so much time on social media for the edifying relationships or the spiritual encouragement. I am encouraged that there are a small number of people who use their status updates on Facebook or Twitter to post encouraging quotes from the Bible or links to edifying articles or sermons. But it seems to me that the vast majority of what I witness there, even among professing believers, could be characterized as a brash display of self-centered, self-important reports on the minute details of one’s life, and/or a soapbox duel comprised of bold – and often, uninformed – philosophizing that either intentionally or unintentionally alienates the very friends with which this social media purports to connect us, and fails to rise to the standard of biblical love.
And a greater irony is that many who spend hours upon hours on Facebook, reading about and commenting on the ingrown toenail of an acquaintance from high school, have marriages that are suffering, productivity problems at work, children who have no idea what it’s like to have a parent look them in the eye when they are speaking, and no time to spend pursuing Christ in the Word. Playing in the background behind all the Mafia Wars, Farmville achievements, witty comments, and LOL’ing, there are relationships with flesh and blood people in the same room with us that are dying from a lack of care and attention.
That should cause us to question our motives for donating so much time to this. Do we find some kind of fulfillment there? Do we go there for comfort or rest? Do we log on because it makes us feel better? Is it a pleasant distraction? If the answer is yes, that’s not good. If we are going to our social media to take our minds off of our problems or to cheer us up after a horrible day or to make us feel important or liked, that social media has become a false refuge and is nudging God out of the way. 1 Peter 1:3-13 tells us that we have been born again to a living hope, and that hope is in Christ. Our sufficiency, our comfort, our fulfillment, our rest, and our right understanding of ourselves is to be found in Christ alone.
So what am I advocating? Canceling your Twitter account or taking text messaging off of your cell plan? Not necessarily. I would just encourage everyone to take a look at ourselves. If you are keeping these technologies in their proper place in your life, praise the Lord and use them for His glory. But if these social media have risen to the level of causing you to be unfaithful in some area of your life, I believe a little radical amputation would be wise. Jesus said in Matt 5:29, “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.”
But amputation is just a preliminary step. Sanctification involves removing idols from our lives and growing in our worship of Christ. So we shouldn’t just cut down or cut off our access to Facebook or some other social media. We must also replace that with time spent in the Word and time spent taking practical steps to be faithful in those areas where we have failed due to our unfaithful use of our time.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying our Christian liberty as long as it does not become an occasion for the flesh (Gal 5:13). Our greater desire should be to not to be enslaved by anything (1 Cor 6:12).
Posted by Greg Birdwell