Luther in his Small Catechism gives us the following for the Eighth commandment:
“’You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.’
What does this mean?
This means that we should fear and love God so that we do not misrepresent, betray, lie about, nor slander our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and say the kindest things we can about all he does.”
As a Lutheran church we hold confessionally to Luther’s Small Catechism. Therefore we understand his explanation of this commandment to be a faithful summary of what Scripture teaches regarding the eighth commandment. I bring this up because it seems that many Christians, myself included, have taken it upon ourselves to fight the good fight on social media.
Now I don’t want to be the first to break this to you, but the discourse on social media is often not very respectful. Also a lot of the information, the articles, the reporting, the ideas that are shared on social media are not often that accurate. I think we need to ask ourselves, how can we as Christians consider our social media presence in light of our faith, so that we do not misrepresent, betray, lie about, nor slander our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and say the kindest things we can about all he does.
James 1:19-20, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
From this passage it seems the best thing Christians can do on social media, in service of our neighbors, is to stop talking and think for a while before we say anything, post anything or like anything. Let us be a people who are slow to speak and slow to become angry. Social media is designed to get a reaction from you so that you stay on social media. They want to hold your attention so they can advertise to you. There is a reason Facebook is worth billions of dollars. The entire purpose of social media is not to connect the world; it is to gain our attention. And as human beings, what gains our attention really well is stuff that makes us angry. As Christians we should recognize this and as a result be slow to become angry and slow to speak.
I’m not saying we should abandon social media, but if, for you, all social media does is make you angry so that you can’t speak well about our neighbor, defend them, or say the kindest things you can about all that they do, maybe you should just not talk at all. From what I understand from Scripture not talking in anger is usually a pretty good way to go.
Now don’t get me wrong the world is a hot steaming ball of mess. When you go on social media you get to see every weird opinion and hear about every little news event that makes us sad and angry about humanity. But we Christians know humanity has always been that way. Our world is revealing itself to be just a big bunch of sinners who don’t agree with what is right or beneficial or in accordance with God’s will. It’s so bad its almost as if the Bible was right about human nature (shock surprise).
But as Christians we should be looking upon our sinful world with love and compassion, as Christ looked upon us with compassion. We speak the truth of sin, and we must speak it boldly, or Christ died for nothing, but we do so in love. We do so with the desire in our hearts that people would repent and believe the gospel and we do so with the desire in our hearts that life would go well for people and they would be saved from all misery. Lets not do it in a way that promotes misery.
Social media is a wonderful platform for discussing politics and that is where this really gets interesting. Democracy has given each citizen a right and genuine responsibility, in the weighing and judging of our leaders. As a judge has the legitimate responsibility to pass sentence on a criminal, so in a democracy we the citizens have a legitimate calling to assess our leaders, their leadership and their policies.
However, as in the case of a judge, the eighth commandment tells us to seek the truth in that role and to speak only where we know the facts, otherwise we might lie or misrepresent our neighbor. Even when we know the facts, the eighth commandment calls us to speak in such a way that guards that person’s reputation. How does “sharing” or “retweeting” something work against or for someone’s reputation? How often when we “read” an article, do we actually read it, before we share it? Also when we share stuff on social media, how often are we checking sources? Do we even know how to check sources for a lot of this stuff? We are commanded to not misrepresent our neighbors. Can we do that if we don’t know the sources? This is made all the more difficult in an age where the media is openly and committedly political. There is openly leftist media and openly right(ist?) media. If they begin with a bias, how do we trust those sources? I think, if anything, that should make us all the more cautious about speaking in case we misrepresent our neighbor.
Now considering politics, if we add onto the eighth commandment, the command to submit to leaders and to give respect where respect is due, honor where honor is due, out of Romans 13, we really have very little room to post or support much of what is passed around on social media regarding our current political scene. As citizens in a democracy, not only are we to weigh and judge our leaders, but we are to submit to them.
As Lutherans we understand the honor we are commanded to give our Father and Mother in the fourth commandment, really establishes the honor that is due all those in an office of authority over us. Luther in his explanation of the fourth commandment in the Large Catechism says, “Furthermore, in connection with this commandment, we must maintain the sort of obedience due to superiors, persons whose duty it is to command and to govern. For all other authority is derived and developed out of the authority of parents.” The honor due our parents is due them because of their office over us, not because they are worthy of our honor. God has established authorities over us, and we owe them honor and respect due to their office, as we owe our parents honor and respect.
So we have two callings as citizens that we hold in tension. We are to weigh and judge our leaders in our role as voters, but we are also to do so in a way that submits to and honors their God given authority over us. We have been given proper legal channels, to hold them accountable. We have elections to hold them to task for their leadership. We have the public square within which we can debate the political stances that have been taken, but let us do so in a way that honors and respects our leaders and their positions over us.
In his commentary on the fourth commandment Luther says,
The same may be said of obedience to the civil authority, which, as we have said, belongs in the category of “fatherhood” as a walk of life, and is the most comprehensive of all. For here one is the father not of an individual family, but of as many people as he has inhabitants, citizens, or subjects. Through civil rulers, as through our own parents, God gives us food, house and home, protection and security, and he preserves us through them. Therefore, because they bear this name and title with all honor as their chief distinction, it is also our duty to honor and respect them as the most precious treasure and most priceless jewel on earth.
Those who are obedient, willing and eager to be of service, and cheerfully do everything that honor demands, know that they please God and receive joy and happiness as their reward. On the other hand, if they will not do so in love, but despise authority, rebel, or cause unrest, let them know that they will have no favor or blessing.
As we consider the role of citizen and its relationship to social media, we should do so remembering our two-fold duty to our leaders, as citizens. These duties are often in tension, but they are not mutually exclusive. They can be done together, even with those we disagree with.
So while looking at the current level of political discourse, civil discourse, or even how children talk to their parents, we as Christians should recognize we have something vital to model for the world. Let us love our neighbors through how we speak about them, and to them. Let us love our neighbors as we use social media. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with and affirm everything they think or do, but we can disagree in a way that is in accord with the Word of God and in a way that is not. We could probably also stand to do a lot more affirming of those things that we agree with, rather than condemning those things we don’t.
Now I don’t say this as someone who did it or does it well. I had to stop using Facebook because I wasn’t able to handle my anger or my tongue, nor was I able to sort out what was true from what was false when I posted. I have been convicted lately by the importance of the eighth commandment in my own life, and I think it has a lot to say to our times.
We witness to our Lord and Savior when we use social media. Not just by what we say, but also by how we say it. We witness to Christ in how we treat people online, even our politicians.
1 Peter 2:11-12, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
 Warren Olsen and David Rinden, eds., Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism (Fergus Falls: Faith and Fellowship Press, 1992), 36.
 Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, “The Large Catechism: The Eighth Commandment,” in, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 404.
 Ibid., 407.