It started with e-mail forwards, before finally migrating onto our Facebook timelines. You know the drill. It will usually be a heart-wrenching picture of a disfigured victim of a disease or assault, or the picture of a baby in ICU with head heavily bandaged and tubes running all over her little face. A caption at the bottom of the picture will often say something to this effect: “Share this if you have a heart. Ignore it if you don’t care.” That is in the mainstream category. There are also the more religious ones, you know, an encouraging calligraphic quote or Bible verse, with the words, “Re-post this message if you love Jesus” as the title of the link. You were just minding your business, you only wanted to log into Facebook, check your messages and notifications and leave without posting anything. No one has to know you were online. But thanks to this guilt-tripping link, you now have to share it… or ignore it and deal with your conscience.
While many of us have trained ourselves to ignore such messages and not share them (I have never shared any), it has often bothered us why we choose to ignore them. I especially have been bothered. Not by the guilt of not sharing, but by wondering what justification I have for choosing to ignore it. I am the kind of person who tends to think about “why” I do what I do and then align this “why” with what the Bible teaches. I believe this is what every Christian ought to be. So, what biblical justification is there for ignoring such messages (when we choose to ignore them)? I suggest several approaches:
HOW DO WE SHOW OUR LOVE FOR JESUS?
To begin with, the proof that we love Jesus is defined by Jesus, not by us. My girlfriend expects me to show my love for her in certain ways. I do not necessarily always have the liberty of expressing my love in any way that I want or deem fit. What I mean is that, I cannot just buy myself the latest smartphone and then say this is proof of my love for her since I will be calling her using that phone. While this illustration is faulty, it’s parallel rightly and perfectly applies to God. We love Him on His terms and His definition of love. Not necessarily because He is selfish and inconsiderate about our preferences, but simply because God is love and love is meaningless outside of His definition. How does God expect us to prove our love for Him?
“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” [John 14:21]
“This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” [1 John 5:3]
“And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” [2 John 1:6]
You get the picture. Our love for God is evidenced by our obedience to His commands, and His commands are not burdensome. But someone may argue, “Isn’t sharing a biblical message an act of obedience to God?” That is true. But the sharing must not be conditional. If the sharing is contingent upon an “if”, then it stops being biblical. God wants us to obey Him, not out of a burden of responsibility, but out of the overflow of our love for Him. A love that actually originates from Him in the first place. (1 John 4:19)
HOW DO WE SHOW OUR LOVE FOR OUR NEIGHBOR?
The Bible instructs and exhorts us to show our love for our neighbor in tangible and practical ways, beyond merely praying for them and wishing them well. With the parable of the Good Samaritan as a precedent, it is hypocritical to show our love for those in “material” need in any other way apart from materially and yet it is within our means to do so. In the same way, sharing a photo of a child in need does not help them in any way, unless there is proof that such an act will actually directly generate funds in their aid. Well wishers must also be well diggers. Our love for Jesus is evidenced by our practical love for neighbor.
“If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” [James 2:16]
WHAT IF IT’S IN THE BIBLE?
Well, that alone is still not conclusive evidence that the act of sharing or forwarding that message or picture is an actual act of love and obedience to God. To illustrate this, I will take us to the wilderness where Satan tempted Jesus. The devil used scripture to prompt Jesus to act in certain ways. For instance, he told Jesus;
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” [Luke 4:3]
Did Jesus obey? No. Why not and yet he was genuinely hungry and in need of bread? The reason is that in doing so, Jesus would be acting in obedience to the devil, not to God. He would be turning stone into bread, not because he was hungry, but because he was responding to the devil’s taunts. Furthermore, the act would be communicating that the proof of his deity was solely contingent upon his ability to turn stone to bread. Jesus was the Son of God, not because He turned stones to bread, but whether or not He did. The proof of His Son-ship was elsewhere. The other similar temptation communicates the same message:
“And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” [Luke 4:9-10]
Jesus did not throw Himself down, not because the angels wouldn’t catch Him if He did, but because the proof of His deity was not in his ability to summon angels to help Him. In the same way, the proof of our son-ship, the proof of our love for God, the proof of our compassion and care… is not in our willingness to share photos or “like” heart-warming messages on Facebook. The proof of our right standing before God is elsewhere, at the Cross of Jesus Christ.
For the fame of His name,