Many times internet communication can prove less than profitable. From a quick response, to excessive sarcasm, to adopting the posture of secular broadcasters, there are many temptations to avoid, sins to mortify, and edifying habits to cultivate. As someone who has fallen to the temptations, been ensnared by the sins, and who wants to cultivate the virtues, I believe that the Westminster Larger Catechism’s explanation of the Ninth Commandment provides a useful set of guidelines for all communication, not simply internet dialogue. However, in this post, I would like to highlight a few salient points from the catechism, as it reflects the teaching of Scripture on this point:
- Seek to preserve and promote the good name of others as well as your own.
This is particularly important in passing along news stories. Do I choose stories that promote a good name for others, or single out stories particularly suited to blacken the names of others?
- Seek to appear and stand for the truth.
When we see truth (about a person, or about a proposition) coming under attack, we are required to defend it. Our defense should not be with zeal divorced from compassion, but with knowledge, mercy, and a desire for the glory of God, not a desire to see our name lifted up in pride.
- Loving, desiring, and rejoicing in the good name of our neighbor.
What about when we disagree with someone else? Do we accentuate their moral failings to highlight our disagreement? Rather, we should rejoice to hear good news, and be ready to speak about it. On the other hand, we should be sad to hear bad news, and be ready to keep it to ourselves.
Do I assume the best about other people’s intentions, or find myself quick to judge their words or posts, without having all of the facts? You lose nothing by assuming the best about other people’s written communications, and gain nothing by assuming the worst.
- Be ready to receive a good report, and unwilling to receive an evil report.
Try to circulate stories that demonstrate virtue in some form. Don’t pass along stories that accentuate the vices of humanity.
- Discourage gossip and slander.
This speaks for itself.
All of these practices serve to promote harmony, love, and peace. But our hearts are darkened by vanity, hatred, and strife. Our tongues are quick to curse, and quick to speak. But Christ died for the sharp tongue as much as for the murdering hand. We must turn to the fountain of forgiveness in Jesus’ blood, and find power in His Spirit to walk uprightly. The gospel cleanses our faults, and turns our cursed tongues into instruments for blessing:
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: 9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile.