Turn to Matthew 22:34, and some of the most familiar but important words of the New Testament. In honor of my own infotainment documentary tonight, I’ll be reading from the 1611 King James Version.
But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
I do make it my aim to love my neighbor. But sometimes they make it so hard…
The most troubling and pressing question of the COVID crisis for me as a Christian has been this: why is it that so many Christians I do love, people who share my doctrinal commitments and my love of Christ and his word—why is it that they trust voices I distrust, and vice versa? When the big COVID wave hit us, why did we react so differently to it? I felt like Rey and Kylo Ren who, moments ago, were standing facing each other only to discover that there was a hidden crack between them that has now widened into a chasm. It’s already disturbing to be divided from fellow believers whom I love, or it ought to be; but it’s even worse to feel that you don’t know why you’re divided.
I’m going to do my best not to reveal what side I’m on in the major political disputes of the day that are dividing American Christians: masks, vaccines, church closures, worship restrictions. I think if I did, I would split this room right down the middle, right down this center aisle.
The people on the left of that aisle are leftists: liberals. I can just tell by looking at you. You read the New York Times and you listen to NPR only the left speaker in your car. You also practice sneering in the mirror every morning. You’re Never-Trumpers who couldn’t decide whether to dress as ::David French or Ross Douthat:: at Halloween (for the eighth graders here, those are prominent never-Trumpers). You got an extra COVID vaccination in your other arm just because the moral superiority you enjoyed after the first dose felt so good. You don’t love your neighbors unless those neighbors live on your left. Don’t deny it.
And you people on the right side of the aisle are rightwing Fox News fanatics; I can just tell by looking at you. You do your hair like Tucker Carlson, and you are planning to have three girls and name them all after Donald Trump’s wives. You can’t wait to say, “Ivana, Marla, Melania, it’s time for dinner!” You think masks have all been infected with COVID by the World Health Organization, which when written out in Chinese characters spells WUHAN. You think vaccines and lockdowns were invented by communists—and by King George III, who wishes to bring America back under the tyrannical thumb of Great Britain so he can tax our tea. You don’t love your neighbors unless they live on your right. Don’t deny it.
Ok, you can deny it. I’m using hyperbole, not unlike Jesus did a few times, to bring up the issues that have divided American Christians while avoiding saying what I actually think. Remember: you still don’t know what side I’m on in any of the disputes I’ve just alluded to!
But you do know that, in the words of a pastor friend who wrote a book about social media, “I have never witnessed a time when professing Christians have been at such odds with one another.” Evangelical writer Peter Wehner just last week wrote a long article in the Atlantic titled, “The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart.” I’m neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I work for a for-profit business—and I think he’s right.
We have never needed to love our neighbors as ourselves more than at this moment.
Loving others through social media technologies
During this series Refresh, kind of a back-to-basics course on various topics, Dr. Pettit actually asked me to talk about technology and social media. And I’ll bet you anything you are expecting a critique, or at least a lament. But you’re not going to get either one. I actually asked my friend Kerry McGonigal to poll some of his undergrad classes, and I took tons of notes on what they said. It sure seems to me that at least Mr. McGonigal’s students already know what the downsides of social media are: the hyper-partisanship, the echo chambers, the time-wasting, the flaming, the mobbing, the canceling, the pornography, the cat videos. They named all the problems, plus some I didn’t think of. I was really impressed. And if you think you need more help on the dangers of social media, listen to Dr. Pettit’s ::amazing message:: from yesterday. And go read an excellent book I asked them to get copies of at the bookstore, Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family. Highly, highly recommended.
Without minimizing or denying any of these dangers, I want to show in these two days how we can use social media technologies positively, constructively, to love our neighbors. I have done a ton of writing for two large biblical worldview textbooks put out by BJU Press. I believe strongly that everything in God’s good creation is good before it is bad, that Satan cannot create anything but only bend what God has already made out of its intended shape. I believe that “technology” is just a word we use for the tools for dominion over God’s good creation that were invented after we were born. These tools, or the potential for them, were placed in creation by God. So they are, along with all creation, “CFR”: created, fallen, redeemable. Like all creation, social media technologies are fundamentally good, but like all creation, they are twisted by the fall; and like all creation they can and will be brought under the lordship of Christ. Every knee will bow to him, even Mark Zuckerberg’s.
What do social media technologies look like when unbent? When they are placed under Christ’s feet, at his disposal? When they are tools for me to love God and love my neighbor?
I want to spend my two days applying Jesus’ love commands by answering just one narrow question: How can I love my neighbor as myself through social media technologies?
I want to push hard on those words, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” to help us work and pray to make this impossible second-greatest-commandment real—today, on your phone and mine. That’s what we’re going to do: I’m going to attempt to paint a picture of what it could look like if Christians loved their neighbors as themselves through whatever social media technologies they use, and offer some counsel on how to get there.
How can you love your neighbor in a place full of haters?
First: Always use the hermeneutic of love.
Social media technologies bring out disagreement. You’re going to face it. When you do, always interpret others’ words charitably, according to the law of love, the law I read to you from Matthew 22. And the light of your Christian love will be evident in an often dark place. You will stand out.
It’s really significant that Jesus included the two little words “as yourself” in the second great commandment. In other words, “Love your neighbor to the degree that you already presumably love yourself.”
I spent some time among the most careful students of the book of Matthew from past and present, and they were agreed on this interpretation. Some have attempted to make Jesus be saying that we should love others more than we love ourselves, but these attempts have failed. He really specifically pegged love for others to the standard or the self-regard that everyone already has. Everybody loves himself or herself; the Bible assumes it. There is a degree to which this is good: we have worth that God gave us as his image-bearers, and we shouldn’t deny or diminish that worth. Even the God in whose image we are made loves his own pleasure. He loves certain things and hates other things, as the Bible reveals.
I wrote my BJU dissertation basically on love, and I drew heavily from one of our great evangelical heroes, Jonathan Edwards. Edwards argued in his famous series of sermons on 1 Cor 13, the love chapter, that love for others means wrapping up my neighbor’s good in my good. I also drew from C.S. Lewis, whose essay “The Weight of Glory” has had a huge impact on me. He pointed out that the virtue of “love” is not the same as unselfishness, as if the point of love is going without good things ourselves rather than securing them for others. No: the point of love for neighbor is finding my joy in their joy. Jesus unites my natural love for myself with my love for my neighbor.
So note that Jesus’ command does not go Jesus-Others-You but instead 1) God-first, and 2) your-neighbors-and-you-tied-for-second.
I’ve always felt that this second law is an incredibly high bar: love others as much as I love myself? I sometimes feel I love my wife as much as I love myself. At certain times, and when she smiles just so, I do. I love her as I vowed to love her on our wedding day, namely with the true love of delight. But so frequently my love is stuck inside myself, stuck on myself. My weak flesh doesn’t permit my love to escape the little selfishness forcefield Adam and Eve and bequeathed to us all.
During times of pitched disagreement among Christians over the politics of COVID, I have had to work and pray hard to love those I disagreed with. I have had to use the hermeneutic of love on their statements. Because that’s what I hoped they would do for me. And I saw the Lord help me do this. I can’t go into detail, because the issues are still very much active and very much personal; but I can say that the Lord placed healthy pressure on me through my circumstances to avoid the partisan tribalizing I was so tempted to give in to.
To love my Christian neighbors as myself, across the vaccine aisle and across the masking aisle, meant ascribing to them the best motives I honestly could, even when I felt they were horribly wrong. I still had hard discussions with people; I had conflict. For church leadership, the political issues surrounding masks could not be avoided or papered over. But the hermeneutic of love made those arguments productive rather than explosive. Praise God, those I disagreed with practiced the hermeneutic of love on my words, too.
One of my favorite Brits, Alastair Roberts, said recently that “The extreme partisanship of the U.S. context makes it almost impossible to have a rational conversation” over COVID. But I saw love, the hermeneutic of love, make it possible.
Now a second way to love your neighbor as yourself through social media:
2. Mind your own affairs.
Turn to 1 Thessalonians 4. While you turn, let me keep talking about Jesus’ love command…
It is instructive that Jesus does not say, “Love everyone as you love yourself,” as if people I’ll never meet in some obscure corner of Tierra del Fuego or Djibouti need to be just as much on my mind as my own kids. Only God’s love has that kind of powerful reach.
No: Jesus says, “Love your neighbor.” I spent some time among careful students of the Gospels, and I’ve pondered this myself for years on end. What I’ve come to is that my neighbor is whomever God brings across my path. And that includes some persons the inscrutable algorithms have delivered to my social media feed.
There is a danger here, namely that I can so ensconce myself in my safe suburban enclave or my safe online echochamber that I never run across the man robbed, beaten, and left for dead at the side of the road. Don’t do that. No ensconcing allowed. Love for neighbor should drive you outward to follow the Great Commission and therefore to meet human needs.
But you still won’t meet everyone; you’ll still end up being called to ignore most of the rest of the people on the planet and love certain people you know. And I say: Love that neighbor.
Or I could put it as Paul did in one of his letters to the Thessalonians, and that’s why I had you turn there. Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:11.
Study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.
“Study” here in the King James doesn’t mean “hit the books.” The KJV translators used an older Elizabethan sense of the word, one we don’t use anymore. I call this a “false friend” in the KJV—a word you probably don’t realize you’re misunderstanding (and if you want to hear a lot more about false friends in the KJV and want to find out which Bible translation is actually the best, come see my 45-minute infotainment documentary tonight at 6:30 in the Davis room, Q&A to follow). What this word “study” meant in 1611 was “aspire to.” So: seek to, make it your aim or ambition to, be quiet and to do your own business. In other words, mind your own affairs. In love, give attention to the things the Lord has actually put on your plate—the neighbors he’s actually given you.
I think some people, by virtue of their gifts and training and interest, have a calling to be salt and to be light for Christ to strangers on social media. Speaking to a wider audience is their business. But verses like this make me focus a lot of my social media use on keeping up relationships with family and friends, the most important neighbors I have. I think verses like this also mean it has to be okay that some Christians choose to stay off social media altogether.
But if you stay on: mind your own affairs. As the wise and charitable Kevin DeYoung said on Twitter not long ago,
In our internet age, it is easy to be overwhelmed with burdens that only God is meant to carry.
I frequently tell my wife that I just don’t want to know the bad news she stumbled across on. her social media feed. I can’t do anything about it. I want to focus my love on my neighbor, and on those issues I actually have done the work to earn the right to an opinion on. If it’s a folly and a shame to a person, as Proverbs says, to answer a matter before he hears it, then positively speaking, if I really believe I can love my neighbor by speaking to a controversial matter publicly on social media, I’d better do some big-time hearing first. Do some reading. Come to really know what I’m talking about. A Christian college is a fantastic place to lay a foundation for and start to gain this kind of knowledge. If you want to speak out for Christ on abortion, go read Scott Klusendorf and master his approach—and, when you’ve got the maturity, go read people on the other side: read philosopher Ronald Dworkin or the Guttmacher institute website and hear what abortion defenders are actually saying. If you believe you are called to address controversial issues—and we certainly need Christians who do that, even as non-professionals—then self-consciously make that thing your own affair; make it your business, driven by love, to do some homework among responsible writers on that topic.
Now, a third way to love your neighbor as yourself on social media:
3. Pick the best representatives of the other side in any debate. Represent your opponents at their best.
It is extremely common in public debate today for people to engage in what’s called “nut-picking.” They take the most extreme Q-Anon conspiracy theorist and say that he or she is the true representative of the Republican Party. They take the most extreme leftist socialist commie vegan abortion doctor and talk as if the whole Democratic Party is secretly also those things, as if there are no moderates in the party.
Nut-picking isn’t love. And no matter what political party you tend to favor, remember that Jesus didn’t just say, “Love your neighbors”; he said, “Love your enemies.”
If you are a conservative and you don’t have a favorite liberal, anyone across the political aisle for whom you have some genuine admiration, talk to me and I can suggest a few names. I am a social, fiscal conservative. Because of my Bible, and I explain this in the BJU Press worldview books, I believe that my job is to invest in the traditions and institutions I’m handed, working humbly for reform where necessary. Despite our many sins, there are countless good things in our country’s political history, and in the heritage of the West more generally, that I think are worth conserving. That’s why I’m a conservative. It was BJU’s commitment to conserving a Christian kind of excellence in the Western classical tradition of art, music, and theater that attracted me to the school. And I hope a ton of our high school guests will come to BJU for that reason. And yet, and I’m speaking mainly to college students here, you should have a favorite liberal. I have some, and I’m gonna name a name: Nick Kristof, a legendary journalist at the New York Times. I think he’s dead wrong about lots of stuff, most importantly Christ’s resurrection, which he doesn’t believe in. But I have far more than a grudging respect for Kristof. And one of the big reasons I do is that I have seen him consistently, over 15+ years, show that same respect to conservative Christians like me. I have also seen Nick Kristof really put his life on the line for the hurting people of the world, like in Darfur and Cambodia and Tiananmen Square—and now his home state of Oregon, where he’s running for governor after 37 years at the Times. The Bible does not require me to believe that Nick Kristof is doing good only for selfish reasons, or that his support for abortion, which is indeed a terribly heinous sin, somehow invalidates any other good in him. I’ve gotten to know him over time through his writing. He has some virtues and strengths I lack, even if I disagree with his politics and, frankly, would not vote for him, in large part because of his abortion stance.
The Bible does not teach that unbelievers are demons, wholly and completely evil. It tells me that God’s good image resides even in unbelievers, that his common grace gives them good gifts, and that the effects of the fall affect even my own party or tribe—and me! It is a kind of Christian heresy to act as if your political party is perfectly good and the other one is perfectly demonic. I fear that tons of today’s news, on left and right, makes tons of money off of that very heresy.
If you are a liberal and you don’t have a favorite conservative, someone whose motivations you trust even if you think they’re simply wrong about lots of stuff, then I do kinda wonder how you ever ended up at Bob Jones University… And I also suggest that you start with one of your teachers. You just can’t tell me that every one of your teachers hates the poor or hates women or minorities or is anything like the demon that you’d expect if you drink in leftist media all day.
Christians ought to be the ones who are able to cut through our country’s many polarizations better than anyone else, because we have a standard in God’s Word to which we can hold up all political ideas. And we have a command: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Love will lead you to pick the best representatives of the other side in any given dispute. You haven’t really listened unless you’ve found the most careful and thoughtful defenders of masks and the most gracious and knowledgeable opponents of masking. If you can’t find gracious defenders of a position held by millions of people, you haven’t looked hard enough.
We have problems in this country, but I dare say—I triple dog dare say—that our problems aren’t as bad as those of Soviet Russia in the 1960s and 70s. And yet Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn helped take down one of the most violent institutions in the world, the Soviet gulag prison system, without firing a shot, by representing it at its best.
Solzhenitsyn’s brilliant move, in his amazing little book that I highly recommend, that was actually recommended to me by longtime BJU faculty member Mark Minnick, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was to depict the very best day in Ivan’s life as a prisoner in the gulag. Solzhenitsyn could easily have painted a lurid picture of Ivan’s worst day; he could even have picked an average day, which was terrible enough, as he well knew, because he had been in the gulag. He would then have left himself open to the charge of exaggeration. But by depicting the most successful day during Ivan’s unjust internment, the day when his meaningless work was actually rewarding and he got a tiny bit of extra food, Solzhenitsyn silenced critics, snuck damning truths past the Soviet premier, and delivered an incredibly powerful rhetorical blow that reverberates to this day. The book is a glory.
Solzhenitsyn had hold of a truly Christian truth, which he put like this:
It was only when I lay there on the rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not between states nor between social classes nor between political parties, but right through every human heart.
Bible Christians like us should reflect this simple, deeply biblical truth in everything they say online.
I daily pull punches that I know I could land, because I also know that at some level they are not representing my opponents in a loving light. They will make my fans cheer but give the people I’m trying to persuade good reasons to distrust me. I want to be more than fair. I want to be David, before he was king, refusing to kill Saul, out of a sense of honor toward the Lord’s anointed, even though Saul was on a mission to kill David. I want to be King Peter in Narnia who refused to kill Miraz even when he stumbled during their one-on-one bout to the death, but who gallantly let him get up. I want to be Reepicheep the mouse in Narnia, who didn’t hold a grudge against Eustace despite Eustace’s abuse but, after Eustace’s repentance, was quick to become his dearest friend. If our political and even our theological ends justify our immoral means, there is no God.
God called the Israelites in specific circumstances, after the iniquity of the Amorites was full, to be his judicial agents and go kill Canaanites. That is not our New Testament calling. In all debates, I’m trying not just to win the debate but to win my opponents. This demands that, in love, I give them a sense that I play fair—and that means interacting with the best representatives of their view.
I feel a little bit weird doing what I’m about to do, but I appeal to the Bible, which tells pastors to be examples. I invite you to watch me. If you want to learn how to be gracious in disagreement while standing for the truth, come see my infotainment documentary tonight at 6:30: Authorized: A Humorous Documentary about KJV Words You Don’t Know You Don’t Know. It’s got jokes and funny accents. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hopefully ask questions in the Q&A. Or if you’re busy tonight at 6:30, survey the comments on my YouTube channel. I interact with literally hundreds of KJV-Onlyists, some of whom don’t exactly practice the charity I just talked about (though I have definitely run into many dear brothers and sisters in that world). I love my brothers and sisters in Christ in KJV-Onlyism; I dearly love them. Love has helped me get past some of the frustrations they cause me, and has helped me see the good things they are trying to protect.
So: love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said they will know you by your love for one another.
If you weren’t aware, the 1611 KJV included the Apocrypha. So I get extra verses to preach from. Let me quote one in closing: 2 Hezekiah 45:55. “Eat thou some lunch.”
Text I didn’t use in the sermon
- Love helps you cut to the center of a debate by focusing you on its best representatives. And love will often, I think, get you the heart of a debate by giving you insight into the loves that are driving people.
- Loving your neighbor as yourself doesn’t mean being weak in the face of your neighbor’s sins. It means humbly recognizing your own, and working hard at removing the beams in your eye before becoming a speck inspector among your neighbors’ eyeballs. But once you’ve done that, you will see specks in others. And you’ll see some beams.
- Andy Crouch is a writer whose books have been very, very important to me. Especially Culture Making and Playing God. And if you need wise and balanced help navigating what technology should look like in your life, I urge you to turn to him: “I am horrified at the hours I have spent, often in the face of demanding creative work, scrolling aimlessly through social media and news updates, clicking briefly on countless vaguely titillating updates about people I barely know and situations I have no control over, feeling dim, thin versions of interest, attraction, dissatisfaction, and dislike. Those hours have been spent avoiding suffering—avoiding the suffering of our banal, boring modern world with its airport security lines and traffic jams and parking lots, but also avoiding the suffering of learning patience, wisdom, and virtue and putting them into practice. They have left me, as the ring left Bilbo, feeling “all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”
- Guy in Rise and Fall of Mars Hill (Bobby Knight episode): “The end lust for audience is still the same. Name a big church right now that doesn’t understand media. Do you know any pastors now who aren’t in podcasting, because they're not sure that what they’re putting in the world is good for the world? I don’t know any. My understanding…is that the hardest person to hire for right now in the church is the media person. In fact, they’re even firing their youth staff so they can afford to have a media team. What does that tell you? Do you care more about the person in front of you or the person on the other side of the speaker?
- Recommend Tech-Wise Family
- MAKE SURE TO INCORPORATE JOHN PIPER’S COMMENT ABOUT SPREADING GRACE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
- Tish Warren: “The literature scholar Alan Jacobs argues that we need to embrace ‘not a permanent silence, but a refusal to speak at the frantic pace set by social media.’ He calls silence ‘the first option — the preferential option for the poor in spirit, you might say; silence as a form of patience, a form of reflection, a form of prayer.’
- This, too, is love for your neighbor: to wait to say something till you have something truly edifying to say.