Navigating Our Online World

April 30, 2023

Series: Chatroom

Book: Colossians

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Scripture: Colossians 4:2-6

As disciples of Jesus who are being renewed by the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds, we have to look first into our hearts and make sure our thoughts, attitudes, and wisdom are aligned with Christ before we hit reply.

Well, we are halfway through our chat room series where we’ve been looking at online interaction and how to engage it for the glory of God. And I hope it’s been helpful to you. I’ve tried very hard to not make this series sound like an old man shouting at children to get off of his lawn. Sometimes that’s how I feel about online stuff, but hopefully it’s been helpful to you. Many of you have come to me with situations that you’ve encountered online, and you’ve asked me questions about what to do or what should you have done in that situation. And frankly, I don’t know all of the answers. I know we need to be guided by biblical principles and we need to be guided by kingdom values. I know that. I know we need to be salt and light in this big public room that is the Internet. So my hope has been that these commands from our Lord that we’ve been exploring will give you the wisdom that you need to navigate your unique situation. And the next two weeks, Pastor Brian and Pastor John will be preaching to round out this series. If you think of it this week, over this next week, you can pray for Jamie and I. We will be in Kazakhstan at the Almaty Bible Institute, where I’ll be doing a little bit of teaching. We’ll be spending some time getting to know our partners there and learning more about the ministry and what the future of that could look like for us as a church. So pray for us.

Pastor John will be on the stage here next week speaking on one of the biggest dangers that we find on the Internet – sexual sin and pornography. We want to give you a little bit of a heads up to that so that you can make a decision in case you want to do something different with your family next week. Now, I want to encourage you, if you have students who are middle school and older, we want to really encourage you to be here and to be part of this series. We believe this will be very appropriate for them. If you have kids who are younger than that, we definitely want to invite you to still bring them to worship. It won’t be graphic. They’re certainly welcome to be here, but we do want you to know that that’s going to be the topic so you can make a decision for your family. Pastor Brian after that will be closing out our series looking at opportunities for engaging online. Following this series, once we’re done with this, the preaching team and I will embark on a on a summer long series in the Psalms entitled, you guessed it, Summer Psalms. I heard a groan. Yes. And then in August, we are going to resume our journey through the Gospel of Luke, looking at Jesus’ authoritative teaching, and his miracles and his parables, which is going to be a wonderful time for us.

This morning I want to focus our time on the attitude that we have when we get online. What’s happening in our hearts. At our first week, we looked at the importance of our Christian reputation in the community with non-Christians. Last week we looked at the content of our posts and our comments, whether they were salt and light. This week we’re going to look at our attitude. The activity that happens in your heart right before you post or comment on anything is the most important determining factor of how those words will be received. The outcome of your words, whatever your words accomplish, whatever’s happening in your heart before you post is the determining factor. What is the intention of your heart? What is your attitude? Jesus tells us in Luke chapter 6, he says, The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good. And the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil. For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. The words we produce are the overflow of what’s inside us. You’re not going to produce anything online. You’re not going to type anything that didn’t start right here in your heart. As disciples of Jesus, who are being renewed by the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in our minds, we have to look first into our hearts. We have to make sure our thoughts and attitudes and wisdom are aligned with Christ before we hit reply,

If you have your Bibles, you can open them to Colossians, chapter 4. We’re going to begin in verse 2 this week. This, by the way, this passage of scripture that we’re going to look at today is one that I would suggest you use to establish your entire philosophy of ministry with engaging non-Christians. I don’t think that there is a passage in scripture that is clearer on the topic of how do I relate to the community around me, to the non-Christian community around me, than this passage that we’re going to look at. There’s probably not anything any more clear or more succinct in all of the Bible. Now we have examples of this passage at work in the Bible. So we have Paul’s example, for instance, in Acts 17 that we just heard read. But this is the teaching. So what we read in Acts 17 is Paul, doing what he teaches here in Colossians 4. He asks for prayer in this passage that a door of opportunity would be opened. And then he tells us to make the best use of our time and then to season our words with salt. And this is a great threefold strategy for assessing our hearts before we tweet or Snapchat or email or talk to people face to face. Using this strategy, this threefold strategy, will help us do the thing that God has called us to do – to fulfill his mission.

So let’s listen carefully to how Paul navigates his opportunities with non-Christians, beginning in verse 2: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving at the same time. Pray also for us that God may open to us a door for the word to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

So let’s start with the context here. Paul is once again in prison; he’s chained up for his faith. And, of course, this is something that happens to Paul a lot, it seems, in the Bible. Philippians, he was in jail. Colossians again, he’s in jail and he’s there because he’s been preaching the gospel and he asks the Colossians to pray for him and to keep praying. Paul knows that this world is going to be a struggle for us. It’s going to be a struggle to remain committed to Christ while living in this world. He’s being persecuted. The Colossians are being persecuted. And so all of us need to stay diligent in our prayer life, asking the Lord to strengthen and to guide us. That part of the passage alone, by the way, is convicting, isn’t it, to remain faithful in prayer. It’s convicting to me when I think about how often I’m not praying, when I should be praying, continue steadfastly. Make sure it’s a part of your regular regimen. Paul is saying don’t get lazy in your prayer life. Remain in it. That’s why he says be watchful. Be watchful in it. It means to be awake and alert. Prayer is a front-line activity in the spiritual battle. And then Paul gets very specific with a prayer request. So he says, Please keep praying, Colossians, keep praying. Pray. Pray for us. Pray for yourselves. Pray, pray for the church. But here’s a specific request.

You know how when you’re in a Bible study or something and the prayer request time comes up, it’s usually a list of all the people you can think of who are sick or injured. You ever noticed that? It just becomes a very big list of sick and injured people? I don’t know how you all would Mayo folks do this? Do you all start diagnosing one another? I don’t know if that’s a thing. You must get really interested in that portion. But that’s fine. Keep doing that. Keep praying for people who are sick and injured. Absolutely. But add to it this very important prayer. Paul asks the church to pray that God would open a door for him to share the mystery of Christ. Even more specifically, he says, Pray that a door for God’s word would be opened. Not even necessarily for me, but for the word to have a door opened for it. Now, he doesn’t mention what door he’s talking about here. We know from Philippians that he would share the gospel with his guards, and then he would watch the gospel move throughout the guards. And in fact, to the whole Imperial Guard. We know that was something he wanted to do. Paul doesn’t like prison. Who would like prison? He doesn’t He doesn’t like being there. But if he’s there, in Paul’s theology and biblical theology, God puts you there. Paul said, this is no accident. I’m here and it’s because God wants me to be here. And now I got to pray for a door to be opened so that the gospel can go forward. And so, Paul, no matter where he is, he’s going to share the mystery of Christ with the people that can hear from him. Whatever opportunity Paul is thinking of here in Colossians, he wants the church to pray that God would make a way for him to take the mysterious Christian gospel, the mysterious news of Christ, and make it clear to these people. And he says, This is how I ought to speak. This is the way it should be. Now, Paul had a very specific ministry of preaching the gospel, especially to non-Jewish people groups and to planting churches. He probably had his specific calling in mind when he says, That’s how I ought to speak. He’s probably thinking this is what God has called me to. But by example, when God opens a door of opportunity for us to speak to non-Christians, what are we to do with it? What are we going to do with that opportunity? What’s the right way to communicate when God presents these opportunities? Well, we don’t have the same exact calling as Paul, but without question, God gives us these sorts of open doors for the mystery of Christ to be shared with non-Christians in our lives. And so we should pray that we would have the same boldness and clarity to preach the gospel or to take the gospel or to speak the gospel, or to share parts of the gospel when God gives us the opportunity. Now check out sometime, not right now, but if you want, at some point today, go to Acts Chapter 4. And what you’ll see there is the entire church praying for boldness. They’re all praying that they would have the boldness to be able to share the gospel with others. Acts Chapter 4:29 says Grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.

Church, God shows us our job as his servants is to pray for open doors for God’s Word, and then the boldness to walk through them and the clarity of our speech so that when we speak the truth of the Gospel, we speak it in a way that others can understand it and grab hold of it. Picture social media like thousands of doors. Okay. That’s really what it is. Online interaction opportunities. It’s like thousands of doors. Thousands of opportunities to engage with people in thousands of different ways. The prayer before you engage online is that God would open up one of these doors for his word. It may be something someone else says that gives you the opportunity to humbly to graciously come along and write something that conveys God’s truth in that specific situation. Somehow helping your friend to see Jesus a little bit more clearly. It may be that you post something that conveys godly rejoicing in your life or godly sorrow in your life, and you’re able to interact with non-Christian friends who either rejoice or mourn with you. But you do that in a way that helps to point them to your real hope and your real joy in Jesus. Having the right attitude to navigate online, sort of that preparation beforehand. Having that attitude beforehand starts with praying for opportunity and then looking for the opportunities that God provides to you. Here’s the next step of our navigation strategy. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders making the best use of the time. There’s that word again. Outsiders. We saw this in first Timothy three just a couple of weeks ago when we looked at the good reputation that we’re called to have with outsiders and outsiders here in this context just means people who don’t know Jesus, people who are outside of the church, not part of the church community. And therefore, by implication, they don’t know who Jesus is. That’s an outsider.

His instruction to the Colossians is to walk in wisdom toward people outside of the church. And what that shows us is that Paul isn’t just thinking about himself and his own calling. He’s instructing the whole church to think about their calling, to interact with people outside the church. And this is a very important point because we tend to think that there are certain people in the church who are gifted with the gift of evangelism, and they’re the ones that have to watch their interaction with others closely. And it’s true that some people in the church are gifted evangelists, but we are all called to share the gospel and to embody the transformative power of the gospel in everything that we say and everything we do and everything that we type. So we all have to watch our words. With non-Christians. Our mission requires the use of godly wisdom as we navigate all of our interactions, including the interactions that we have with people online. I find this particular point in the passage to be really helpful. This verse is really helpful to me. Walk in wisdom, making the best use of the time. So wisdom here is obviously godly biblical wisdom from God’s word. There’s so much wisdom in the Bible. There’s so much, so many instructions and ways of thinking biblically about particular situations. And so it takes discernment to know what bit of godly wisdom needs to be employed in any particular situation.

We have to have the discernment to see what would be the appropriate use of God’s word here. The connection between exercising this godly wisdom and the best use of your time is unmistakable. Do you see that? Walking in wisdom, making the best use of our time, they are tied together. So if you’re not discerning and you fail to use godly wisdom, you’re wasting your time. See that? You’re wasting the life God has given you, and the opportunities that he has opened up to you. There is so much time wasted on the Internet because of a lack of biblical wisdom. So many Christians, even they will fail to use godly wisdom, and they will fall down the rabbit hole of endless online arguing and banter. They just get caught up in it and they sort of leave godly wisdom behind and they just engage in it. These are doors of opportunity, and there’s small bits of time compared to eternity. Paul says, that when they open, Church, you need to use them well. When they’re open, you’ve got to have wisdom in using them. I’d say arguing with people online is unwise and not the best use of your time. Amen. It is not the best use of your time. I don’t understand why people do this. Jesus gave us some wisdom on this. And so you want a bit of biblical wisdom to use.

He gives us this in Matthew 7:6. He says, “Do not give dogs what is holy. Do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn and attack you. “So let’s say trample what you say and then they turn and attack you.” There are plenty of times when even a Christ honoring response or a post will be met with anger from non-Christians. And it’s just not worth having that argument through a public conversation thread. It’s not; it’s not the best medium for it, and it’s not going to do anything. Have you ever had this thought? Let me just ask you just real quick. Have you ever once in your life had this thought, wow, that angry conversation on the Internet changed my mind. Anybody? That’s because no one has ever had that thought. That has never happened in the history of time. That anybody? – wow, I’m really glad they went toe to toe on that. And they really threw each other under the bus. And they because I. Wow. I really think differently now. That’s never happened. Never happened. By the way, when you start scrutinizing your own heart and your own attitude before you engage online, you’re going to find yourself doing a lot more backspacing and deleting. You are. You’re going to read things that you type out loud to yourself before you and you’re going to say, no, that’s not what I want to say and you’re going to backspace and delete. You’re just going to start doing it more and more. You’ll start to become much more discerning about the types of conversations you want to be in. And when you become more discerning about the types of conversations you want to be in, that number will go down, it’ll go down, and you’ll start to recognize where this thread is going. And you say, I don’t want to, I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to be part of this. This isn’t going to be helpful. I’m not going be able to use godly wisdom here. I’m going to be heard wrong here or I’m not going to be able to control my own emotions on this. And so I’m just not going to engage anymore.

Biblical wisdom requires us to discern whether or not posting anything online is worthy of our time. I’ve had some of you come up to me in the last few weeks and tell me either that you’ve pulled yourself completely out of social media, and some have even wondered if it can be redeemed at all. And I understand that. I get that. I wonder that myself. But as I mentioned a few weeks ago, it’s not going away and it’s only becoming more involved. More people are getting involved in it over time. That decision, whether or not you want to be involved in it, that is squarely in the column of Christian freedom. Some choose to participate. Other people say, I don’t want anything to do with it. And both of those choices can be godly choices. Those both can be wise choices as long as we don’t start judging one another for the other person’s choice. The majority of us, though, will remain in some way online. And that’s just the truth. The majority will have some interaction online. And if that’s you, Paul has clearly given us a responsibility. We have a responsibility to say something that will demonstrate we have used godly wisdom. If you’re going to type, you’ve decided that the time that you’re going to use to engage this person is the best use of that time. That’s what you’re saying. And that’s a fine choice if that’s where you get to. I’m going to engage and this is the best use of time. I’m going to be wise. But now you have to ask the question, How will I make some aspect of Christ clear in the loving way I’m about to write? You have to ask that question at that moment because you’re going to make the best use of this time. So how will I make some aspect of Christ clearer in the way that I engage with this person? And if you can’t answer that question, you should probably type nothing at all. But if you can, if you can answer that question, here’s how Paul tells us to type. (Colossians 4:6): “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Here’s what gracious or here’s what wise speech sounds like online. It sounds gracious, and it’s seasoned with salt. There’s our salt again, right? Jesus talks about our role as salt. And this is almost certainly Paul echoing Jesus in his teaching here. Gracious speech is warm and loving speech. Salty speech is winsome and attractive. It’s the kind of speech everybody likes to hear. Gracious does not mean that you are abandoning what’s true so that you can agree with everyone and so that everybody gets to hear what they want to hear. That’s not what gracious means. Gracious simply means that your attitude is warm and it’s understanding which all of us should be able to do, even when we’re talking with people who are opposed to Christ. Because before we knew God’s grace, we were opposed to Christ. Before that grace was poured out on us we were opposed to Jesus. We still, by the way, struggle with sin. So we can certainly understand the sin of others when they don’t even know Jesus yet. I mean, think about your sin struggles. Can you imagine the person who’s got the same predicament you’re in? Except they don’t have Jesus Grace. They haven’t been transformed. In a sense only those who know Jesus can truly be gracious in the most literal sense of that word because we know grace.

Now, here’s the key to applying this verse, and it’s a grammar thing. Okay. Here’s the key. Paul is not saying to make our words gracious and attractive when speaking or interacting with non-Christians. That’s not what he’s saying here. He’s saying to make all of our words gracious and attractive no matter who we’re talking to. Everything that we say and type to anyone at any time should be seasoned with salt. Not sometimes. Not just when I’m at church, not just when I’m at Bible study. Not just when I’m talking to my boss. Not just when the kids are present. Always. Paul is telling us that as Christians, our approach to communication in general is to be gracious and attractive. We reflect the kindness and patience that Christ has shown to us when we speak to others. That’s who we are becoming now, in general, because we have Christ’s grace at work in us. It’s changing the way we communicate in every respect. Now, once we have this gracious and attractive philosophy of communicating with everyone, then we will know how to answer each person. Do you see that? You may know how you ought to answer each person. Do you see the if-then dynamic of this sentence? If you communicate like this in general, then you will know how to answer or respond to each person who is outside of the Christian faith. Paul is not saying turn on the grace when it comes to talking with non-Christians. He’s not saying that. In that moment, you got to switch in your mind, and you got to start becoming gracious. He’s saying, let the grace of Christ transform the way you communicate in every way in your life, in every respect, in your life. And then you’ll have the wise approach necessary to be winsome and loving and helpful to the non-Christian. And of course, the other side of that is that until the grace of Christ is transformed, our hearts and our minds to the degree that our speech is loving and gracious with everyone, we won’t be any good at giving really helpful answers to questions that non-Christians have. We won’t be ready. We won’t be prepared. There is a way that non-Christians should be answered. Do you see the word ought there? There’s a way They ought to be answered for sure. But we won’t know that answer unless our ways of communicating in general are shaped by the gospel. We won’t be able to do it. If you find yourself angry, frustrated, and disgusted when talking to non-Christians. And I see that a lot. I see people oh, I’m so angry about what’s happening in the world. Oh, I’m so frustrated. Oh, I can’t believe my family’s doing this, or my friends are doing that or it’s just so, so upset and angry and you get disgusted, and you can’t really engage with people when you see something online you disagree with or you don’t like the way things are going. And you’re if all that is true, when you when you interact with non-Christians, ask yourself, am I this way normally? Is this just who I am? A lot of people who follow Jesus have not seriously repented and applied the gospel to their anger problems in general. They just haven’t been transformed by the gospel in that area of their life. And so they’re cranky and grumpy and critical and ungracious in general. You can’t just turn on the grace when it comes to engaging the world. You can’t just turn it on. The attitude necessary is the fruit of gospel cultivation. It’s what happens in your life throughout your heart and mind. It’s the cultivation of the gospel pressed out, thoroughly massaged into all the ways that you think and all the ways that you interact as you grow in Christ. And out of that treasure, your mouth will speak and your fingers will type. And until that happens, you won’t handle attacks well. You won’t receive critique with humility. You won’t be able to walk beside people who are far from Christ in an understanding way. Recognizing where they are was once where you were, so that you can gently lead them to a knowledge of Jesus. Church, we need an army. We need an army of Christ-like attitudes, carrying gracious words to the world around us. The Internet is noise. It’s all noise. It’s billions of voices shouting millions of worldviews. Christ will not be shouted angrily above that noise. Not until he returns anyway. There will come a day when every mouth will be closed and only Jesus will be heard. And when he returns, all people will kneel. All people will hear. And they won’t have an argument because only Jesus will speak on that day. But until that day, until that day, we as his church are told to engage in the world with gracious kindness. We’re called to be kind. His word will only go forward as God opens the door. It’s not going to go forward unless God opens the door. And when God opens the door, we should be faithful to walk through it in the way that God has called us to. Our words seasoned with salt; our hearts full of grace. What Rochester needs is 600 gracious voices willing to unfold the mysteries of Christ in small ways as God opens those doors. That’s what we need.

Let me close with this story. I promise you that I am not always the hero of all my illustrations. Okay. Every once in a while, I get it right. I’ve gotten social media wrong on so many occasions, but sometimes I get it right. I was having a back-and-forth Facebook discussion a few years ago with an acquaintance from my distant past, someone I barely actually remembered I ever knew, and they took issue with something that I posted. Isn’t it funny how people will do that? They will. Just people you barely know from your distant past will just parachute down into your social media and just start having a discussion like, who is this? I don’t know what is going on here. Who wants to live life like that? Frankly, I can’t remember now exactly what this conversation was related to. It was it was so long ago that I don’t actually remember the topic, but it had to do with scripture. We were talking about, it might have been the nature of scripture or the authority of Scripture, something along this line. And this guy who came in was getting increasingly irritated at me. He was talking past me, you know, I’d post and he’d post something longer, you know, and this back and forth, back and forth, Everything I said he had something to say negative about it. And then when finally he ran out of things to argue his point, he turned it personal and he attacked me for my faith, calling me narrow minded or not a good Christian or something, something along those lines. And to be honest, Church, if I went back and I did an autopsy on the conversation, I probably would find some things in there that I wish I had said differently. This is why I don’t even do it. I mean, who wants to do that? Who enjoys that kind of back and forth? But that’s what I did. And I don’t remember really the outcome of the conversation. I don’t really remember what it was even about. But what I remember clearly and what I will never forget probably for the rest of my life was when the attack turned personal and my integrity was questioned and my faith was assaulted. My friend Mark inserted himself into the conversation. He hadn’t previously been part of it, but he inserted himself into the conversation. Now, Mark was a friend of mine from theater many, many years ago. This was this was many years after we had been together. We performed some shows together at the theater and we even directed a show together. We directed Steel Magnolias because neither one of us could be in it. So he was a good friend. Mark was not a Christian, and to my knowledge, Mark is not a Christian even now. He may be, but I’m not sure. He’s not really interested in Christianity, even though he hears the gospel many times when we were friends. But when Mark saw that my faith and my character was being attacked, he jumped in and he said, If I was going to learn about Christianity, I would want to learn it from Kyle. So somehow, imperfectly, I had represented Christ well enough to my friend that even though he was an outsider to the faith, he saw me as a reliable ambassador for Christ. Church, that’s what we need. Our friends online need to see Jesus in us, that they may read our good words and praise our Father in heaven. Let’s pray.

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