If Timothy Had Instagram... (Part 2)
“Broaden your social media reach.” (1Tim.2:1-7)
Recently, we released a podcast discussing social media addiction. There are certainly a lot of challenges in navigating the fast-moving waters of our times, but should we, as followers of Jesus, be part of the online conversation or not?
Aaaages ago, I started this series on Paul’s letter to Timothy and how the principles we find there might apply to our social media usage today. We saw how in 1 Timothy 1, Paul challenged Timothy to point to Jesus and not join in the idle talk and disputes. He also directed Timothy to be an example and to fight the good fight. Timothy wasn’t supposed to isolate himself, but to be part of the conversation, standing firm in his identity in Jesus.
There are no quick and easy answers to the challenges we face with our social media usage. If we’re to follow Timothy’s example, we should avoid the idle talk, but also be engaged in the online community, standing by the provocative and often uncomfortable message of the Gospel. If Timothy had had Instagram, he would have been vocal and clear about where he stood, in both words and actions (or images).
In 1 Timothy 2, Paul took this even further, reminding Timothy that we are called to care and pray for all people. So rather than living in isolation, Paul told Timothy to broaden his reach! Timothy was to be a voice for all people. His Instagram account would need to be a hit, to reach even the realm of politics and mass media influence. The first and most powerful tool he had was prayer. Paul called Timothy to pray for all people (v1).
This passage (verses 1-7) also teaches us something about the attitude we’re to have towards the politicians and influencers of our time: we should care above all for their salvation. For God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (v4).
At the time of Paul and Timothy, those in political power were often authoritarian and oppressive, yet Paul taught Timothy to pray for them and to seek “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” I don’t think this meant ignoring or not caring about the socio-political issues of the day, but Paul did seem to point to a set of priorities, or maybe a different strategy for change. A Kingdom strategy.
While human strategy uses politics and influence to bring change, the Kingdom of God brings change by the transformation only the Gospel can produce in us. Paul focused on Jesus’ sacrificial ransom and the resulting peace with God (v5-6). His concern was that this would be accessible to all people. He knew this would bring a deep and long-term change that neither political debate nor activism could.
As far as I understand, being a public influencer for the truth of the Gospel requires being a part of the political conversation, and standing up for the principles and values we find in Jesus. But our political and social engagement can never be a substitute for the clear communication of the Gospel. Our voice of protest or political views alone are powerless and futile. If we’re to change the world, we need more than ever to be signposts pointing to the power and truth we find in Jesus.
I’ve always appreciated John Stott’s take on this - that we should be “concerned with principles and not policy”, in the sense that our loyalty lies with Jesus and the character and principles we find in Him, rather than to a particular party or program. Practically, I think the directive of 1Tim.1 to avoid idle talk also applies here, as a challenge to not be another representative of a politicised Christianity, aggressively loyal to parties and politicians, forgetting that the Kingdom’s strategy is different.
So broaden your social media reach, because we are called to care for all people, to pray for all, and to make the Gospel message accessible to all. Let’s be part of the online conversation - be it political, social, fashion, culture or just day-to-day banter - but may your loyalty stand with Jesus and your strategy be that of the Gospel of reconciliation.