Reading people’s comments online is an interesting and sometimes troubling study in human nature. And reading comments by professing Christians on Christian sites (as well as other sites) can be a discouraging study in applied theology.
The immediate, shoot-from-the-hip nature of comments on websites and social media is what can often make them minimally helpful or even destructive. Comments can easily be careless. That’s why we must heed Jesus’s warning: “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36). This caution makes commenting serious business to God.
How Should We Comment?
Seldom: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).
The Bible counsels us to restrain our lips (which in the twenty-first century includes thumbs) because a fool has many words (Ecclesiastes 5:3). We are wise to heed this counsel. It’s also helpful to remember that our sin nature gives us all an exaggerated sense of self-importance. But gospel humility leads us to esteem others higher than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Perhaps our opinions aren’t needed after all.
Slowly: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
If an article or post makes us angry, we should almost never write in the heat of irritation. In that frame of mind it is very difficult to “be gentle [and] show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2). It is best to wait and pray. An hour or a day will likely yield a more gracious comment, if one is needed at all.
Graciously: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).
All things that are said outside of the Bible by fallen humans, especially quickly written social media updates, are limited, deficient, and defective. And all of us read things through the filters of our experience and perspective. We all say and interpret things wrongly. Therefore, we can be gracious and patient, seeking to assume the best of people.
When Should We Comment
For the Christian, the purpose for speaking anything to anyone at anytime, whether with lips or hands, is “that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). So, if we discern that we should comment on someone’s post, our motive should be to give them grace. When we do decide it would be good to comment, here are a few suggestions of ways to give grace:
As you interact with others online, be gracious and patient, seeking to assume the best of people.
Thank: Giving thanks may be the best and most frequent reason we should comment. If a writer increases our understanding or encourages our souls or helpfully exhorts or warns us, expressing our gratitude is appropriate for us and life-giving to the writer. The piece doesn’t have to be perfect. If we’re helped, we can thank; if we’re not helped, we can say nothing.
Encourage: We humans generally find it easier to criticize each other than to encourage each other. Often this response is sinful pride infecting our critical-thinking skills. There are easily a hundred critics for every encouraging person. As gospel people who seek to give grace, Christians can use comments to encourage and build up a writer and other readers (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Look for and identify the grace in an article or post.
Clarify: If a post is confusing or sounds errant to us, giving grace is to first ask clarifying questions, rather than immediately jumping to conclusions. A kind, insightful question might reveal a writer’s mistake or a reader’s misunderstanding.
Correct (Gently): Giving correction should be quite rare. In general, I think too much time is wasted on crafting critiques in comments and then defending those critiques from opponent commenters. But occasionally a glaring factual or doctrinal error may be important enough to warrant a correction. In such cases we must remember Paul’s instruction:
The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24–25)
Authentic humility in heart and tone is essential. Wait and pray until you can comment in a way that matches Paul’s exhortation. And do not be sucked into time-consuming “irreverent babble” with other commenters (2 Timothy 2:16). Leave the comment in faith and don’t take offense if it doesn’t receive a response. If you know the author personally, avoid correcting them with a public comment. Write or call them privately.
If we discern that we should comment on someone’s post, our motive should be to give them grace.
Do Not Start Fires
In closing, let us remember this sober word from the apostle James:
The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (James 3:6)
James wrote this warning to Christians. Christians set fires in comment threads. Let us not set fires through careless words for which we will be held accountable. Rather, let us restrain our lips/fingers, and when we do speak, may it only be to give grace to those who hear.