Internet Trolls in Church Clothes

How to ‘Comment’ the Truth in Love

They wander from mountain to mountain, website to website, article to article, contributing their unsolicited thoughts on pieces that their comments betray they have hardly read. They “criticize much, and meditate little.” Seated on their homemade bench, they adorn themselves in silver wigs and dark robes as they usher out humorless stares. They are the self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner.

“Saul has slain his thousands, David his ten thousands, the internet troll his hundred thousands.”

Whereas in olden days their warmongerings would have had to penetrate an editor and a publisher to reach the general public, they can now bludgeon their victims mercilessly at the touch of a button. And they do. They can club them from behind without the added bother of ever looking them in the eye, skulking back to binging on Netflix afterwards. They can be vulgar, they can be rude, they can be unappeasable. Saul has slain his thousands, David his ten thousands, the internet troll his hundred thousands.

Do We Comment Like Nonbelievers?

Now, Christians should not gasp every time the trolls, who pick fights and sow discord online, speak and type maliciously from their miserable hearts. We are not surprised when toads and mosquitoes proceed from swamps. But we should be surprised when rats proceed from the palace of the Spirit of God; when pollution continually proceeds from the river of life coming from the believer’s heart.

Some of us, like Saul before Damascus, have been persecutors of the church of God online. Instead of using our comments to sharpen our brothers and sisters, we sharpen our axes to do away with their heads. Our insults and hasty speech refuse to heed our Master’s earnest call: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). He who laid his life down for us calls us to model the drama. But too often, we do not lay down our insults — let alone our lives — for our brothers.

I am not speaking against evaluation in general, nor critique specifically. We must watch our doctrine carefully (1 Timothy 4:16); we must speak the truth in love to one another (Ephesians 4:15) — a truth that presumably is hard to hear, thus it should be spoken with love. But the spirit of faultfinding and nit-picking is not the spirit of Christ.

“Too often, we do not lay down our insults — let alone our lives — for our brothers.”

The regenerate heart has more encouragement than it has censure. Charles Spurgeon describes the unappeased believer as able to fault find with the apostles themselves,

Nothing can please them, their cavils are dealt out with heedless universality. Cephas is too blunt, Apollos is too flowery, Paul is too argumentative, Timothy is too young, James is too severe, John is too gentle. . . . Well then, let each servant of God tell his message in his own way. To his own Master he shall stand or fall.

And we must remember that if a man will stand before his Master, he should not be cut down by his fellow servant. We shouldn’t twitter about and grumble as if God has not intended for us to offer some solutions to the problems instead of just contributing to them. It does not befit us to incessantly moan with Solomon, “Oh, this post is vanity! This article, vanity! There is no new message under the sun!” Instead, let’s show the world a different way.

Come Out of Your Caves

When the world sees our comments, they should see respect and love that creates distinctions between the children of God and the children of the devil (1 John 3:10). This is not a call to free hugs, but it is a call to sober judgments, charity, and cultivating a heart satisfied enough in God to issue profuse encouragements online that prove we have been taught by God to love one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9).

In Christ, our calling is to “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom [we will] shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Who will there be to hold out the light of joy if we are known for online grumbling and vainly disputing?

Some of the wisest observations you can read today may be buried in the manure of comment sections. So, if you are a spiritual savant throwing real spiritual insights mixed with the mud, I invite you to put aside your childishness and steward your analytical giftings. I do not declare war against you; I aim to win you. We need your sharp wit, careful eye, and boldness to speak.

“May your speech be seasoned with salt, not cyanide.”

If you are the hand, do not poke the eye. If you are the left heel, do not smash the right toe. May your speech be seasoned with salt, not cyanide, so that when you do hit the proper note, the world might not hear a clanging gong. Even if you can understand all mysteries and all knowledge but have not love, you — not just your speech — are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).

Truth is not antithetical to love, but they are sisters, and must be so in our discourse; the very stature of the church depends on it:

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16)

Questions to Consider Before Commenting

How now shall we comment? Consider some examples of the kind of questions we can ask ourselves before posting.

  • Am I speaking from a soul satisfied in God or from my discontent?

  • Have I prayed for this person to whom I’m about to respond?

  • Have I labored to understand what he is saying?

  • Do I love this person (1 Peter 2:15–17) — even if they feel like an enemy (Matthew 5:43–44)?

  • Am I merely trying to one-up him?

  • How would I phrase this critique if I had to speak it to him face-to-face?

  • Can I raise my critique in private instead of in public?

  • How can I say this in a way that aims to build him up as well as the hearers?

  • Is this particular critique needful at this point in time?

  • Could I be wrong?

  • Am I sowing discord or delight?

Again, loving speech does not mean never saying anything that could offend. It does not lead to a watered-down eclecticism or silence on important doctrinal and exegetical distinctions. Jesus confronted, offended, challenged, and rebuked his disciples. But he also went to the cross for them. And we are to love — online and off — like him.