The culture of finger-pointing and catastrophizing others' words has grown…
What are our options for answering the question, “Does following Jesus matter when using social media and interacting with “enemies”? This may not be comfortable.
- No. Trying to follow Jesus doesn’t apply to social media or interactions with people I perceive as my ideological enemies. I can put aside the example and teachings of Jesus in those situations and act as I think best.
- Yes. Trying to follow Jesus applies to all aspects of my life. All aspects, no exceptions.
Must it really be so black and white?
I’m afraid it must. Not that that is a bad thing. One of the beauties of the gospel of Jesus Christ is its simplicity. A child can understand it.
If we consider the wisdom of the children’s song, “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus,” can we imagine inserting a verse that starts listing exceptions to that goal?
Can we comfortably explain to our own children that treating others as Jesus would treat them isn’t necessary if A, B, C, etc. circumstances are present?
So, yes, following Jesus when dealing with our “enemies” matters. A lot. In fact, how we follow Him is a test of our faith and character.
Didn’t God the Son teach consistent faithfulness and obedience? He once said this to His followers:
“[The Father] has not left me alone, because I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:29, GNT)
Taking a Stand for What Matters Most
Political decisions and social issues dominate the news and much of social media.
Those of us who are passionate about one position or another can rightly say that Jesus stood up and spoke out against people and things who were wrong. Thankfully, the picture here shows peaceful, respectful speaking up for political beliefs (and hopefully the demonstration/rally remained that way).
But which of these is MOST important to stand up for?
- Being a witness and a light to the world who testifies that Jesus is our Savior and the Savior of mankind? (See Matthew 5:14-16, KJV.)
- The rightness or wrongness of voting Democrat or Republican?
- The rightness or wrongness of “Black Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter,” or statues coming down or staying up, or professional ball teams’ names changing or staying the same?
- The rightness or wrongness of wearing a mask to protect others from COVID-19 or not wearing a mask?
ALL of these things are important and have an impact on our society and on our own lives. ALL of these things matter. And we can stand up for our chosen position for ALL of them—as Jesus would.
But as a Christian, which matters most? Clearly, our first loyalty must be to stand up as a light for the world—with all glory to God.
How does my own behavior show what matters most to me?
What Would Jesus Do?
If Jesus were reading our social media posts and watching how we talk while watching TV, would He support these behaviors?
- Using a mean tone and insulting a person who holds the opposite views
- Getting angry, loud and red-faced while arguing with another person or while typing in social media
- Being careless or intentionally deceptive when presenting so-called factual information
- Portraying “the types of people” who disagree with you as generally “stupid,” “morons,” etc.
Can we truthfully say to ourselves that Jesus would have acted in any of the ways listed here? And couldn’t this list have been much longer, describing all of the destructive and hurtful things people are doing in the name of “standing up for what is right”?
I testify according to the personal witness that God has communicated to my soul that loving God first and treating my neighbors with love is more important than anything—and expected of us if we are to call ourselves followers and witnesses of Christ. It must come first.
How much damage is done when Christians act in unChristlike ways? How can we be a light to others and help others find the way to Jesus if we act in hateful ways? We become stumbling blocks to them and one more reason to toss the message of Jesus aside.
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. (1 John 2:9-10, NKJV)
What Can We Do to Follow Jesus Today?
Can we speak up for what we believe AND follow Jesus’s example? Of course we can.
Here are eight ways to follow Jesus and love our “enemies”:
- Think, “I love you as a person even if I disagree with you.” Jesus gave His life and suffered, even for the people who plotted against Him and condemned Him to a criminal’s death.
- Have empathy for other’s life experiences and reasons for why some have a different opinion. People crave being understood. Be willing to listen to others’ life experiences and at least validate that they have reason to feel as they do. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with their recommended course of action. Even though Jesus was sent to teach and not to be taught, He listened and showed empathy for the life experiences of others. That didn’t mean He had to be swayed by their point of view.
- Refuse to feed into the swirl of negativity and escalating anger. Notice when conversations turn darker and hateful and either stop participating or state that you will only participate in positive, constructive interactions. Jesus repeatedly showed the wisdom of remaining silent as opposed to feeding into viciousness.
- Maintain respectful language that focuses on the issues and not demeaning people who differ with you. Even when Jesus vigorously condemned wicked behaviors, which He had the right to do—being God in person, He focused on the issues and the behavior. His goal was to instruct and testify about what was right.
- Watch out for polarization, which refers to the practice of making one’s opponents seem even more extreme and dangerous and opposed to your own group’s views. Sometimes, viewpoints and ideologies are completely opposite. But often there is a reasonable middle ground that both sides would agree to. For example, in the current “Defund the police” argument, it would be helpful if all participants start by openly acknowledging that a) police are necessary and that b) police reform is needed. Throughout the New Testament, you will see how enemies of the Church used extreme statements to drum up fear about the early Christians. (Read this fascinating article about criticisms against the early church including cannibalism, disrupters of families and businesses, etc. It’s quite easy to make others seem sub-human.)
- Insist on being fair and balanced. Acknowledge the good in other groups’ or individuals’ accomplishments and intentions. The conventional wisdom today is to vilify everyone who belongs to the “other side.” They don’t acknowledge anything positive that they have ever done or said. When Jesus was challenged by a Pharisee about the greatest commandment, the man answered well and Jesus acknowledged and complimented him. Jesus didn’t body slam him, so to speak, just because he was a Pharisee. (See Mark 12:32-34, NIV)
- Remember how you feel when those who oppose you refuse to acknowledge anything good about you or your ideas. Be the first to extend the goodwill and be ready for the “other side” to step on it anyway. But there is wisdom in doing what’s right because it is right, regardless of the outcome.
- Refuse to let the things of this world tempt you into forgetting your commitment to God above all others. Jesus was laser-focused on the importance of landing our eternal souls with Him in the next life. We can do the same by “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV).
A Final Word from an Inspired Man: Martin Luther King
Few men in history deserve such admiration as Martin Luther King.
(Image courtesy of whitehouse.gov)
Ever committed to positive changes to society via love and non-violence, this man’s words and example are worth deeply contemplating:
Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. (from “A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.,” New York: Warner Books, 2000, bold added)
May you feel uplifted once again by the wisdom of Jesus and His ability to lift us out of the darkness of the world into the glorious light of His love.
Learn more about Jesus and how to love and follow Him more closely.
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