As millennials, we remember the thrill of joining Facebook soon after it launched. The network was only open to college students at the time, and we each anticipated the coveted .edu email address needed to create a profile. Immediately we began posting pictures, tagging friends in posts, and sharing about our days.

Social media was the wild west of the online world, and no one was quite sure how to act. There were no blog posts about online etiquette. No podcasts about how to best execute an Instagram presence. No warnings about social-media consumption and mental health.

Today, we know that social media has pitfalls; the internet is littered with information about healthy usage. Some of it’s helpful; some of it’s not. For over 10 years, we’ve used various social-media platforms, but when it comes time to post, we always confront the same choice: will we use social media as an opportunity to honor God and love others—or to serve ourselves and our own agenda?

In many instances, these waters feel murky. Is telling people about my small business self-serving or God-honoring? Is sharing about my faith a way to glorify God or to draw attention to my own righteousness? Is commenting and liking an opportunity to build gospel relationships or a means to expand my network? Where does one motive end and the other begin? Many Christian social-media users will experience some of both. Just as social media can be a tool to advance the gospel or spread the word about something we steward, it can also be used to leverage people for our own aims.

Recently, we heard someone ask, “Will I love people, or will I leverage people?” It’s a good diagnostic for many situations, and it provides a helpful framework for evaluating our social-media conduct.

Whether you use social media on behalf of your employer, to market your own book or business, or to post pictures of your growing family and everyday adventures, we all must consider how our faith in Christ shapes our social-media use. This “love or leverage” question can help us make day-to-day choices about what and how to post online.

Leveraging Others

At its essence, leveraging people puts pressure on them to do or be something for our benefit. While Scripture exhorts us to freely serve others (Gal. 5:13), leveraging looks for ways for others to serve us. We may have good intentions—our cause may be worthy and our message important—but Christians should pause before adopting a leveraging mindset. When we see others as a profile picture that can give us something we want—sales, likes, comments, and shares—we’re tempted to use them instead of love them (James 3:16).

Leveraging can lead to clickbait titles, embellishing the truth, intentionally preying on people’s felt needs, or photographic misrepresentation. This groups image-bearers together, seeing them as stats to share—a representation of popularity, a source of networking, or a salve for “low self-esteem.” It fails to acknowledge their value as individuals.

Scripture exhorts us to freely serve others; leveraging looks for ways for others to serve us.

We might get in the habit of talking about followers like herds or handles, hoping the numbers grow and validate our worth. When leveraging followers is top-of-mind, we’re quick to ask how they can meet our desires—giving us instant feedback, answers to our questions, emotional support, and affirmation. In these moments, we’re primarily concerned with how others can serve our agenda instead of humbly thinking about how we all might serve the Lord’s.

Loving Others

God’s image-bearers are not a resource to be consumed—they’re human beings to value and to serve. Just as we don’t like being hustled or persistently peddled to, we ought to generously love others (Matt. 22:39).

Social media is meant to be just that—social. It’s a place where we can relate to others in community and share “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Phil. 4:8). And this isn’t so we can grow our platforms and gain more likes; our place on social media is ground to be given in service to the King.

Loving others on social media means we refrain from thinking of followers as “fans” and instead picture individual persons who need the grace of Christ. Even if we use social media to sell products or spread the word about a business, we can do it in a way that considers the person on the other side of the screen.

A loving mindset remembers that real people are affected by the things we share, say, and post. Our words can induce things like joy, tears, confession, or reconciliation. They can even tempt people to sin. While we can’t control the way each post is received, Christian love seeks to post content that’s genuinely helpful, truthful, thoughtfully created, and God-glorifying.

Countercultural Example

As Christians, our aim is not to be Instagram-worthy, but to share about Christ’s infinite worth. We’re not here to find our worldly tribe, but to call people to join Christ’s (Matt. 28:19–20). This won’t mean communicating about Jesus in every post, but it will mean patterning our lives after him in all we say and do.

Our aim is not to be Instagram-worthy, but to share about Christ’s infinite worth.

As new creations in Christ, we can show the world what true peace, joy, patience, kindness, thanksgiving, self-control, and love really look like—all while posting pictures of our kids, the clouds, a helpful product, or our morning coffee. There’s a lot of freedom for what loving through social media looks like. By God’s grace, our countercultural example can have an effect beyond what we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

None of us does this perfectly. The Lord knows we’ve often had to confess our desire to look successful in the world’s eyes or to hear affirmation from a crowd. But, relying on the Holy Spirit and repenting when we fail, we aim to love instead of leverage.

Whether you access social media dozens of times a day or very infrequently, this modern tool isn’t going away. And each time we log on, we have an opportunity to reflect our Father’s love. Let’s use it.