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On Faith: The fruits of the Spirit online

Social media was marketed to us as a grand unifier. This bridge building platform where we would connect with our friends, our heroes, and from there, connect to every other corner of the planet.

But in many ways, social media in particular and the internet in general has become a rocky wilderness where all too often, people lash out with harsh words, mud slinging, trash talk and raw spite.

“Of course you’d say that; you’re a stupid (insert label)!” “That must mean you like Hitler!” And then there are the lies and smears that really get my blood boiling.

It’s hard not to sink to their level in those moments. That’s the power of sin at work.

In one of Jesus’ more memorable moments, he was saying, “You have heard it said that ‘you shall not murder,’ but I say to you, ‘You shall not insult.’” (Matthew 5:22).

Jesus took the commandment about physical violence and made it clear that God was concerned not just with damage done with hands, but with the slings and arrows people throw at one another verbally as well.

There is something cathartic and gratifying about telling someone on the internet how wrong they are. A few taps of the fingers and it’s done. A few zeroes and ones shot off into cyberspace. It can be so fun we lose track of the pain we inflict on others (and ourselves) in the process.

Jesus calls us to be better than that. We’re to interpret people in the best possible light, not twist their words into the worst possible meaning.

Jesus once spoke about how people reap what they sow. If we accept an invitation to join in the grand online mudfight, we’ll be stained. As it says in Galatians 6:8, “Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.”

We are called to bring the Spirit’s overflowing life to our social media use. We are called to infuse the fruit of the Spirit into the things we post and the way we comment: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

If your post or comment checks any of those boxes, you’re sowing seeds of life. Imagine if your posts and comments on social media glowed with an extra light beyond just the backlight of the screen.

The life you infuse into others will be the life you reap in return.

Brendan Johnston is pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Two Harbors.