The Ancient Paths in a Digital Age

Man with Phone and Bible

Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls. But they said, “We will not walk in it”’” (Jeremiah 6:16).

In the context of the passage above, God’s people had departed from His ways; therefore, judgment was coming against them. However, God offered them an opportunity to repent and avoid calamity – to return to the “ancient paths.” Sadly though, they were not willing to do this.

Today, while so many have turned from God, there are still faithful individuals like Jeremiah who echo this call – to return to God and His word and to follow the Lord’s ways. Even with all of the changes and advancements that have taken place in our society, this message is still just as needed.

Regarding the changes and advancements we have seen in our time, perhaps the most significant is the rise of the internet and social media. It has been noted that we are living through “the biggest communication shift in the last 500 years.”* We are now able to communicate with people all around the world and do so instantly. We have access to more information than at any time in human history. The advent of the internet and social media has been as significant in our time as the invention of the printing press was in its time. Of course, not everyone was able to read then, just as not everyone uses the internet and social media today; but its impact is undeniable.

There are many potential uses for digital communication and social media – news, information, entertainment, sports, connecting with family and friends, and so on. However, what we want to focus on here is how we can potentially use these mediums for good and to help lead others to Christ.

What Has Not Changed

As we consider something new that has dramatically changed our society, we should first be reminded of what has not changed. Just as the Lord called the people of Jeremiah’s day back to the “ancient paths,” we need to be mindful of the fundamental truths that have remained the same.

  • God’s standard – The standard by which we will be judged is His word. Jesus said, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48). This standard has not and will not change (cf. Psalm 119:89; Jude 3; Galatians 1:6-9).
  • The world’s problem – Paul identified this universal problem: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Later, he explained that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) – not physical death, but eternal separation from the Lord.
  • Man’s need – Because sin makes a separation between man and God (Isaiah 59:2), we need salvation from sin. The reason this is so vital is because when we are “separate from Christ” we have “no hope” since we are “without God” (Ephesians 2:12).
  • The solution – Hope of salvation from sin is found in Christ. After describing the “wages of sin,” Paul contrasted this with “the free gift of God [which] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). This was the reason why He came to earth – to die on the cross so we could have the forgiveness of sins (cf. Hebrews 2:14-15; Ephesians 1:7).

No matter what changes occur in the world around us, the above points will always remain the same.

Our Influence

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used three different illustrations to describe the influence we have over others – salt, light, and a city on a hill.

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

In everything we do, we are to be mindful of our influence. It is no different when it comes to our use of digital communication – both individually and collectively. We are to be as salt, light, and a city on a hill.

  • Salt of the earth – Salt is used as a preservative and to make food more palatable. In our communication, we are to encourage what is good (cf. Hebrews 10:24). In describing the characteristics of love, Paul said it “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). As we are to rejoice in what is true and right and not in unrighteousness, we are to reflect that in our communication.
  • Light of the world – In everything we do, we are to show the right example (1 Peter 2:12). This includes how we conduct ourselves on social media. No one should be surprised to learn we are a Christian after seeing how we interact with others online. We are to be different from the world – not “conformed,” but “transformed” (Romans 12:2).
  • City on a hill – While Jesus’ words have a direct application to our lives as individuals, we can apply this in principle to the church. We should strive to make the church visible to others. The church in Thessalonica was commended because they “sounded forth” the word of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Various means of communication can be used to do this – including digital communication. We need to echo the message of the gospel and direct people to the place where they can learn the truth.

Comparing Its Use

There are various ways in which we can use the internet and social media to communicate the gospel. We can consider these different ways by comparing them to different forums described in the book of Acts in which Christians had opportunities to share the message of Christ.

  • The market place – “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present” (Acts 17:16-17). In the market place, Paul found a random gathering of people. He spoke with whoever happened to be there. This is like Jesus’ parable of the sower (Luke 8:5-8, 11-15) which described the gospel being preached to a broad range of people. This type of “gathering” is what we often find on social media in general. Like Paul, we can reason with whoever happens to be present about God and His word. This can pique someone’s interest and lead to further discussion, just as it did with Paul in the market place in Athens.
  • The Areopagus – “And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.’ (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new)” (Acts 17:18-21). This came immediately after Paul was speaking “in the market place” (Acts 17:17). This was a curious group, interested in a particular topic. In using this forum, Paul showed respect to those who were gathered, acknowledged what was commendable in them, and then built upon that foundation to point them to Christ (Acts 17:22-23). Similarly, we can find those in groups or forums online who are interested in various topics and use their interest as a starting point to discuss spiritual matters.
  • The eunuch’s chariot – “So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. […] Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘Well, how can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:27-34). In this example, Philip found an inquisitive individual. He was already interested in what the Bible had to say, but did not yet understand what it meant or what he should do in response to it. Philip began where he was, even starting from the passage he was already reading, and “preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35). As it relates to our use of digital communication, this is comparable the private or direct messages someone may send us with a question about the Bible or how to handle some challenge he is facing. We can use these opportunities of direct, private communication to focus on these individuals where they are; then offer help, guidance, and answers that are rooted in the Scriptures.
  • The school of Tyrannus – “And [Paul] entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:8-10). In Paul’s efforts here, he had a far-reaching influence – so much so that his message reached all of Asia. Even though he was working in one place, the message was able to affect people beyond that immediate area through consistent effort and teaching that was publicly available. We can compare this to the websites and social media pages that serve as a platform for broadcasting the message we are wanting to spread to others. By having a message that is consistently being proclaimed from the same location, others will be able to find, hear, and learn the truth.
  • The Ephesian theater – “‘You see and hear that in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless…’ When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ The city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. Also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater. So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together” (Acts 19:26-32). Unlike the other potentially useful forums we have noticed, this one is simply an angry mob filled with confusion. Little can be accomplished among such a group, hence the reason why the disciples refused to allow Paul to enter (Acts 19:30) and why Paul left the city immediately afterward (Acts 20:1). When we find ourselves in such an environment, we simply need to shake the dust off of our feet and move on (cf. Acts 13:44-51). It is easy to find these types of angry mobs online in comment sections and certain other public forums. Once people get worked up into an emotional frenzy, it is difficult to make any progress in teaching them. Rather than spending our time in such places, it is usually wise to find others who will likely be more open to what we have to say.

Conclusion

Think of the parable of the sower (Luke 8:5-8, 11-15).** The sower scattered the seed (the word of God) regardless of the type of soil (the heart of the hearer) before him. Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Our responsibility is to plant and water the seed. After that, we leave the rest in God’s hands.

In trying to reach the lost and lead others to Christ – whether it is through digital communication and social media or in any other way – we may not personally see the results of our efforts. Any fruit that is produced may come later (cf. John 4:35-38).*** Yet we need to be consistent.

Though the following quote is about social media marketing for business, the principle applies to our topic here: “People don’t need you now, they need you when they need you – so be consistent.”**** While people are always in need of the message of Christ that we strive to proclaim, they do not always realize that they need it. However, if we have made an effort to consistently communicate what we should, pointing others to Jesus who is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), then when they do realize their need they will know where to turn.

Communication has radically changed over the last few years. There are both good and bad consequences associated with this. However, we still have a responsibility to “[hold] forth the word of life” (Philippians 2:16, KJV). It is important that we consider how to use the communication channels available to help us do this.

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* This phrase was coined by Brady Shearer of the Pro Church Tools podcast. I believe the statement accurately describes the time in which we are living with the new digital methods of communication that have become so ubiquitous.
** For more on this, check out the following article: Unlikely Converts (especially the section titled, Remember the Parable of the Sower).
*** For more on this point, read the following article: A Sermon Delivered in the Dark
**** Quote by Dave Shrein, founder of The Blocks Agency.


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