A few years ago, College Humor released a video satirizing sanctimonious social-media departures. I’ve thought of it often: the self-important man interrupting a party to declaim, to oddly quiet partiers, his reasons for leaving their worthless joke of a party to go do better things with his life.

I think of this video not because I regularly see people leaving social media, but because I often wish we all could. I’m worn out with the fighting, the posturing, and the signaling, along with the self-promotion, the rush to judgment, the Athenian fascination with the something new—and the temptations I feel every day to do every one of these things.

I’m also wearied by things that don’t tempt me: the conspiracy theorizing, the quack medical claims and political tribalism and apostasies and divorces. When Josh Harris took to Instagram to say words I can’t bear to repeat, I felt a punch in the gut. He helped me a lot when I was young. I still pray for him.

I’ve reached a point where, when my wife is looking at her phone and says, “Oh no!” I tell her, “I don’t want to know.” I envy my Luddite friends. And when I hear that yet another teen girl has committed suicide because she couldn’t take the online bullying, I wonder if I’m somehow complicit.

I’m just as much a part as you are of our vast experiment in whether a society so dedicated to its phones can long endure. I’m keeping my salt and light, such as it is, on social media. And I’m searching for help getting beams out of my eye. I want to post to the glory of God.

And I think Paul, in his letters to the Thessalonians, gives us divine guidance for a social-media age.

Not Busy, but Busybodies

Two of his statements help us:

Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you. (1 Thess. 4:11)

We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. (2 Thess. 3:11)

I don’t know which of my fellow Christians are walking in idleness. What I do know is the supreme power that technology provides, unique in the history of the world, to make me a busybody.

Busybodies comes from the Greek βιζ- (biz-), meaning, “not ours” or “none of our” and -βόδης (bodēs), meaning “beeswax.” (I work at Logos; don’t question my dictionary skills.) Busybodies are people who go around meddling and prying into affairs that don’t concern them, people who elect themselves overseers of things not theirs (1 Pet. 4:15).

Sometimes the Bible gives us detailed teaching about virtues or vices. Other times it plops them all into a list and lets us work out the application. “Don’t quarrel over opinions” (Rom. 14:1). “Be gentle” (1 Tim. 3:3). “Don’t be a busybody.” Isn’t it worth asking how many of our last 50 social-media posts hinge on someone else’s business?

Your Own Affairs

Paul does give more than a bare command. As we saw above, he offers an alternative: “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs.”

Gordon Fee suggests that Paul’s wording is instructively oxymoronic, something that becomes clearer in the NIV and NASB, which read: “Make it your ambition to live quietly.” Social media is full of people whose ambition is to live louder and bigger and to be more influential. The platform isn’t set up for those who aspire to the lowest seat at the feast (Luke 14:7–11). Because of inspired instructions like Paul’s, it has to be okay for some Christians to stay off social media.

So how can we “live quietly” and “mind our own affairs” and at the same time stay involved online? By thinking carefully through what counts as “our own affairs.”

My friends and family are my own affairs. I can pray for them, and I do. I can bless them by posting and commenting. I can give to their GoFundMe campaigns. And as long as I’m not neglecting my family and the people in my church, I see genuine benefit in having a wider network of friends. We give counsel and job referrals and other good things to one another.

Social media tempts me to ignore the people I can actually benefit and focus instead on opining louder or faster than the next guy.

Additionally, subjects I know something about are my affairs. I like English and Greek linguistics and British choral music. I hope I can add some value to others by speaking on those topics.

Only two controversies are my own affairs, one with non-Christians and one with Christians. I’ve made them “my business” by doing the hard work of understanding my debate partners and finding constructive ways to speak to them. I’ve tried to love them enough to form careful opinions and persuasive (I pray!) talking points—and to avoid inflammatory language.

But by these standards, climate change is none of my business. Kanye West’s true spiritual state isn’t either. Nor are Starbucks Christmas coffee cups or the legal complexities of military action in Iran.

I’m not saying these matters are unimportant; only that while I have a right to an opinion, I don’t really need to have a public one. How could I possibly add value to these conversations? Proverbs 18:13, anyone?

Social media tempts me to ignore the people I can actually benefit and focus instead on opining louder or faster than the next guy.

But maybe it’s okay for you and me to avoid the latest dustups and contretemps if we don’t know anything more about them than anyone else—if we can’t honestly think of a way our words will minister grace to our readers (Eph. 4:29). After all, we will give account on judgment day for every idle word we post (Matt. 12:36).

Mind My Own Business

A simple word in Paul’s epistles—busybodies—has given me a new angle to help me evaluate my social-media use. It’s given me a vice to avoid. And in his instruction to “aspire to live quietly,” I have found a virtue to cultivate.

I can’t end all the sins of social media, but I can lovingly and graciously and actively mind my own business.