We live in the age of the opinion. We like, we dislike, we comment, we tweet, we express our opinions. Social media, more than ever, has encouraged this with the reduced need for person-to-person or face-to-face contact to communicate. While I am an avid user of social media and love many of the things it brings, I have been gradually realising how free we are to express our opinions. On a recent panel discussion I was watching on television, audience members continued to express their opinion, so loudly sometimes that as a viewer, I struggled to hear the panel talking. During this, I might add, Twitter comments were scrolling along the side of the screen. So is this growth in opinion a positive thing?
Many would argue being free to voice your opinion is definitely positive. Often, it provides the opportunity for great dialogue and sharing of ideas. Yet sometimes, it becomes a opportunity to slander another with a very public audience and get more ‘views’ or ‘likes’. So what does the Bible have to say about voicing our opinions?
In Ephesians 4:17-32 we read:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do,in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
In this passage above, there are 7 principles we can use when thinking of voicing our opinions.
1. We are to live according to the new self
In verses 17-23, we read the comparison between the new self and the Gentiles. Here, Paul is exhorting his readers to not live the same way as their non-Christian neighbours, instead they are to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (v. 22). We can take this principle and apply it to the voicing of our opinions- like the Ephesians, we too are to not copy those around us, rather we are to live according to the Spirit, recognising we have been bought, justified and are in the process of being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. So many women simply feel the need to “vent” online, sharing their opinion left, right and centre in order to feel that cathartic release of having shared their opinion. Often, because we don’t have the inhibitions of actually talking to someone in person, we find it easy to let loose more than we should. Before posting, venting or sharing our opinion, we should stop and ask ourselves- “is this motivated from the flesh or the Spirit? Is this glorifying God?”
2. We are to be renewed in the spirit of our minds
In verse 23, we are instructed to renew our minds. How do we do this? We are to wash our minds with the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26) and be transformed so we can test our opinions according to God’s opinions (Romans 12:2). The Word of God is the Truth that must shape our opinions. We are not to bring our opinions to the interpretation of the Word of God and search for passages that can be skewed according to what we want it to say. Instead, as we approach reading the Bible, we should come asking God to transform our minds, convict us of sin and shape who we are. In this way, our opinions will be being transformed according to God’s Truth as revealed through His Word.
3. We are to speak the truth with our neighbours
As we are transformed and growing more to be like Jesus through His Spirit sanctifying us, we can confidently, humbly and prayerfully speak truth to those around us. In love, we are to speak the truth to those who are members of the Body of Christ (v.25) and encourage one another in righteousness. The Bible also tells us to do this first in person, on our own, then if they don’t listen, take one or two witnesses and still if our brother/sister in Christ does not listen, we are instructed to tell the church (Matthew 18:15-17). In no place, does this say confront a member of the Body of Christ (or outside it) publicly, posting it online and defaming that person.
4. We are to not sin when angry and address things when they arise
In verse 26, we are told to not let the sun go down on our anger and not to sin when angry. This means when we are hurt or angry over something or someone, we are to first see if it is sin on our part. If it is righteous anger, we are to promptly address it. We aren’t to let it simmer away and allow sinful bitterness to take root, nor are we to use it as an opportunity to gossip.
5. We are to speak grace to those who hear us, building one another up
Verse 29 shows us we have the opportunity to use our words to build and encourage one another and give grace to those who hear what we say. What a privilege and opportunity it is to open our mouths and speak! (Oh, that I may give grace to those who hear me- particularly my kiddies when they have spilt milk all over my newly mopped floor!)
6. We are to let ALL bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, malice and slander be put away
Here (v.30), we see that when we express these characteristics it can be clamour (a loud and confused noise) that doesn’t help anyone. When we are voicing our opinions to drag another down we may make ourselves feel vindicated for a moment, yet in the long-run we aren’t helping anyone and our opinion is not honouring our God.
7. Finally, we are to be kind, forgiving and tenderhearted
As we recognise the grace and forgiveness we have through Jesus (v.32)), we too will want to show kindness and forgiveness to others. We can be tenderhearted- loyal to one another, gentle and kind.
These principles are easy to write and hard to practice. So often, the opinion burning within us, urging us to share it, is motivated through sinful pride and is the flesh warring within us. Instead of blurting out the first things that come to mind, perhaps if we took time to pray through these opinions, grace may come out our mouths instead (or from our fingers!) . Instead of tearing others down, we can encourage one another to look to the Author of this grace coming from our mouths. Instead of seeing voicing our opinions as our right, we could start seeing voicing our opinions as a privilege and opportunity to glorify God and build one-another up. I wonder if we did this, whether social media would be a mission-field rather than a minefield.