I. Naming the Challenges

a. Digital Communication Greatly Reduces the Embodied Elements of Communication

We communicate a great deal (perhaps up to 93%) with our physical bodies – in our tone of voices, gestures and body posture. 

b.  Technology Enhances the Platform For Uncivil Discourse

“Technology has, in an enhanced way, given mockers a platform to set society on fire with polarizing speech. Internet culture privileges those whose insults are click bait. It disadvantages the civil, respectful, patient dialogue that brings a diverse people together.”  – Timothy Keller

c. The Mediation of “The Screen” Makes It More Difficult To See the Humanity of Others

When we look at people and world events through the lens of our screens and devices, it is far too easy to see others as less than human – it’s all to easy to criticize unfairly, or simply scroll past people. 

II.  Wisdom and Our Words – James 3

a. Broken Tongues from Broken Hearts

9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness [the state of a human being in the image of God].10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

– James 3:9-12

b. Wisdom in our Words Springs from a Transformed Heart

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

James 3:17-18

Jesus is “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24), and it’s in letting the reality of his death and resurrection, for us, transform our hearts that we begin to live with God’s wisdom.

“Wisdom is the grace of Christ beautifying our daily lives.”

– Ray Orlund Jr., Proverbs: Wisdom That Works 

III.  Authentic Authenticity

“There’s this idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy; but that’s a wrong definition of hypocrisy,” Thoennes said. “To live out of conformity to what I believe is hypocrisy. To live in conformity with what I believe, in spite of what I feel, isn’t hypocrisy; it’s integrity.” – Eric Thoennes

I do have to recognize my feelings – we do need be honest with ourselves about our feelings.  We also may need to share how we feel with others around us in constructive ways.  But we don’t have to “express” our feelings in potentially hurtful and harmful ways.  That’s not authenticity, that’s immaturity.

Take Home: I can pray my anger to God – express it to him. Then I can address the situation, which I may be angry about, from a place, not of ‘reacting’ but in Christ-like ‘responding’.  I can be clear and direct – to address the issue at hand – but not ‘blow up’.

“In your anger, do not sin.”    – Ephesians 4:26

The emotion of anger itself may not be sin – sometimes it is warranted, even necessary.  But the “sin” is about self-gratification and carelessness, not wisdom.   

It’s all about how we respond.  Do we respond out of a trust in God?   Are we responding as if we need to ‘control’ the situation or people within it?  Or do we trust the Living God – for his pattern of peacemaking, seeking to courageously communicate with clarity and kindness? 

IV. Wisdom Practiced

“The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.”  – Proverbs 12:15-16

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  – Proverbs 12:18

Consider: how do these verses speak to how we communicate?  If we tend to speak more harshly or freely, and if we are less likely to ‘humanize’ interaction online, what might this verse lead us to in terms of practice with online messages, texting or posting on social media?

Practices for Wise Words:

1.  Have important conversations face-to-face whenever possible.  If you need to communicate something that is, or even could be taken, as negative, or critical, and especially if it could be easily misunderstood – avoid sending it in an email, text or online messenger, and especially do not post it on a social media thread.

It is all too easy to say things in a digital format that we simply wouldn’t say to someone face to face. 

Why?  Because the medium of a computer screen or phone makes it harder to see the humanity of other, and leads to missing the non-verbal communication cues.  When we speak face to face with others we are far more likely to see them as they really are, and far more likely to communicate in ways that honour their God-given dignity and worth.    

This means having important conversations face-to-face whenever possible.  At the very least, having a phone conversation.

Application for Dating:

In a New York Times article, David Brooks describes how the process of finding a spouse has shifted deeply with the advent of the digital age: “…the rules of courtship have dissolved.  They’ve been replaced by ambiguity and uncertainty.  Cellphones, Facebook and text messages give people access to hundreds of “friends.”  That only increases the fluidity, drama and anxiety.”  – In Ben Stuart, Single, Dating, Engaged, Married

Ambiguity Causes Anxiety – Clarity is Kind

2. Assume that if you send it digitally, it could be shared publically. 

“A gossip goes about telling secrets, but one who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a confidence.” (11:13)

“A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends” (16:28)

“A gossip reveals secrets; therefore, do not associate with a babbler” (20:19).

These words are a warning in two directions. One: we need to be those who keep a confidence.  And two: we need to be caution about whom we speak with about important, private matters.  In both cases, our digital world compounds these issues.

3. Using our Words Online

How should we use our words online? The apply the wisdom of heaven – they are peace-makers.  Proverbs 15:4: “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”

A. Ask clarifying questions rather than assuming you know what someone means. 

Listen intently.  Don’t jump to conclusions.  “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame” (Prov 18:13). 

B. Pick your battles.  Not every issue needs your input.  Proverbs 21:24: “The proud and arrogant person – “Mocker” is his name – behaves with insolent fury.”

“It is to one’s honour to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Prov 20:3).

“Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity” (Prov 21:23).

C. Don’t attack people – address ideas. 

The lowest, basest form of argumentation is simply to attack the person rather that address the topic.  This is called an ad hominem argument, meaning “against the man.”  That’s the wisdom of the world that functions like that, not the wisdom from heaven.

D. Seek to being healing and life through your words. 

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” For those who are called by the name of Christ, this is our calling: to use our words to bring life and healing to others – to “benefit those who listen.”  I love the proverb: “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Prov 16:24).  

Missional Implications:

“If we have love but not wisdom, we will harm people with the best of intentions.  If we have courage without wisdom, we will make the gospel ugly to other people.  If we have technology without wisdom, we will use the best communications every invented to broadcast stupidity….But wisdom knows how to spread the gospel with no embarrassing regrets”                                                                                                                     – Ray Orlund 

Life Group Discussion and Further Reflection:

1.  What have you found most helpful in the series so far?  Why? 

2.  Read Proverbs 12:15-16. How does that verse relate to how we communicate?  If we tend to speak more harshly or freely, and if we are less likely to ‘humanize’ interaction online, what might this verse lead us to in terms of practice with online messages, texting or posting on social media?

3.  Review the “Practices for Wise Words” from the message (as printed above) and the verses associated with them.  What areas do you find most challenging from that list?  How will you work to “embody new ways” this week?

4. Discuss some of the most positive and negative uses for social media and other online/information technologies.

5. Based on your discussion, if a young person – say in their mid to late teens – came to you for advice about how they interact on social media, what would be the most significant thing you tell them?   How are you trying to apply that same advice to your own life?

6. Proverbs 12:18-23 speaks of words and their connection to our hearts.  Read these Proverbs out loud.  Take a few moments to ponder them.  Discuss how each of these Proverbs, when applied to the right situations, is wise.   How have you seen examples in your life?