Ever since I was little, God has been teaching me the same lesson over and over again. My growth has been slow and nearly imperceptible at times, but God has not flagged in his insistence that I learn to tame my tongue.
The process has been painful, to say the least. I have a mortifying memory of smart-mouthing a high school teacher and a number of cringe-worthy interactions with famous people. I have grossly miscommunicated myself through e-mail, offended friends and family with too much honesty, and generally embarrassed myself by over-sharing. Over time I recognized this pattern as a real problem, so I launched a spiritual offensive against it. Drawing on Scripture for help, my prayers were shaped by verses such as Proverbs 17:28: "Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues."
Thankfully, God was faithful to answer my prayers and I have witnessed growth in this area of my life. Nevertheless, my tongue has remained an Achilles heel that I have continued to monitor closely. It is also the reason why, thus far, I have not joined Twitter.
Now I am not opposed to the tool itself, which has tremendous power to encourage believers and build up the church. The reason for my hesitancy has less to do with Twitter and more to do with human nature. The instantaneous broadcasting of spontaneous thoughts presents even the most diligent Christians with risk. Several months ago John Piper posted the tweet heard round the world, bidding farewell to Rob Bell and launching a flood of controversy. More recently, a minor Twitter kerfuffle developed between two prominent Christian authors that drew responses from their Twitter followers, including Her.meneutics. Our own re-tweeting drew subsequent criticism via tweets.
The combination of human brokenness with this particular form of social media lends itself to miscommunication. The ability to tweet at all times to hundreds of people is a dangerous power, one that Scripture actually warns about. In addition to the verse I already mentioned, Proverbs 10:19, 13:3, 18:6 and 21:23 all teach that the path of wisdom is to be found in the way of silence. The more we talk, the more likely we are to say the wrong thing.
In his work Of the Imitation of Christ, medieval monk Thomas À Kempis echoes these scriptural warnings:
"Some one has said: 'As often as I have been in company, I have returned a less man than I went.' We often find this when we allow ourselves to mix freely in society, and give our tongues the rein. It is much easier to be silent altogether, than to use moderation in speech … No one is safe in speech, who is not happy in silence."
In his classic work Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster notes, "Willpower has no defense against the careless word, the unguarded moment."
Given that Twitter users post as many as 3,283 tweets per second, the high frequency of tweeting increases the potential for these "unguarded moments" that Foster described. The more we talk—and the more we tweet—the more likely we are to impart a careless word. Plus, the audience is exponentially larger and so are the consequences.
That is not, of course, a reason to reject Twitter wholesale, but it should instill us with a sense of caution. Our flesh is weak, and the repercussions of such public mistakes are far-reaching.
In addition to the increased odds of mis-tweeting, there is another reason I have been slow to join Twitter. Before I sat down to write this post, I consulted with Her.meneutics editor, Katelyn Beaty, who tweets for the blog. I asked for her response to the occasional complaints and criticisms about our tweets, and her answer was both honest and humble. She confessed, "I would be the first to admit to often writing out of a desire to be clever or to provoke response rather than to edify our followers."
I appreciate Katelyn's honesty because her words reflect another temptation with Twitter. Even with the best intentions imaginable, the performance component of Twitter can blur our motives. Twitter can easily become a stage with an audience of hundreds, if not thousands, of followers. And as most performers do, Twitter users can find themselves driven by their audience. The desire to be liked or found interesting eclipses the desire to be godly.
In all fairness, there is a wide spectrum between transparent ministry promotion and blatant manipulation or narcissism. I know Katelyn desires to to inspire thoughtful conversation, a goal that is hard to accomplish in fewer than 140 characters. That is why our broken human nature and the limited Twitter format require an extra measure of both wisdom and grace. I may not like what another person tweets, but it is also likely that I misunderstood her.
Twitter has redemptive potential, to be sure. This simple medium has become a tool in inspiring political revolutions, so the church can undoubtedly tap its potential for the glory of God. In fact, I suspect revolution is closer to the scale of vision we should have for such technology. Perhaps our use of Twitter is far too banal. But whatever our purpose in tweeting, let us do so Christianly, weighing the frailty of our human nature against our call to honor God in all things. Tweet with care.
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