Well, the Bible says in the last days the world will be overrun by people who will be lovers of self. Perhaps it’s not a stretch to say that in the end, people will be lovers of selfies and selfie-sticks? But really, when do our social media project a corrupt self-love at work inside of us? That’s today’s question. “Hello, Pastor John, my name is Ed, a 22-year-old Filipino. I read in the Bible, ‘But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty, for people will be lovers of self’ (2 Timothy 3:1–2). Based on this passage, do you believe vlogs, selfies, and self-focused social media are a cultural sign of this self-love emerging in our culture? What warning would you sound to Christian smartphone users tempted in this self-promotive way?”
Yes and No
Let me answer with a double yes and no — two yeses and nos.
“God gave us a self, not so that we would have something to exalt in, but something to exalt with.”
First, yes. Vlogs, selfies, and self-focused social media are often (not always) an expression of the self-exaltation, self-preoccupation, and self-fascination of these last days. But no, these new technologies are not the emerging of such final experiences of sin. They’ve always been there. The new technologies are giving new ways to express old sins.
That’s my first yes and no: Yes, these are the manifestations of the end-times self-love, and no, they’re not just now emerging.
Here’s the second yes and no. Yes, these are the last days, and we should be looking keenly and expectantly and hopefully and joyfully for the coming of our precious, longed-for, all-satisfying Lord Jesus. But no, these are not yet the very last days. But they are very much like the last days that began two thousand years ago in the first century.
Beginning of the End
Now, let me try to explain. When Jesus came into the world as the long-expected Messiah, he declared the arrival of the kingdom of God, which the Old Testament anticipated as part of the last days.
“The judge is standing at the door. Be ready. Be alert. You’re going to be called to account.”
When Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost and tried to explain the extraordinary events of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he said, “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh’” (Acts 2:16–17). In other words, these events that you’re looking at right now (AD 33) are the fulfillment of promises made for the last days.
The last days were there in the first century right after Jesus had come. Take Hebrews 1:1–2, for example: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”
The coming of Jesus is the beginning of the last days. First Peter 1:20 reads, “He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.”
Two Thousand Years of Selfies
Ever since the time of Jesus, 2,000 years ago, we have been living in the last days, looking expectantly to Jesus, who stands at the door. We know this is the way that Paul was thinking even in the very text that Ed quoted about self-love.
Paul says, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1). Then he says to Timothy, “Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:5). Whoa — I guess they’re here. They’re not just coming 2,000 years later.
In other words, Paul is talking about Timothy’s own situation. This kind of person comes in the last days. Now, Timothy is to avoid them because these are the last days, and the people are there.
You shouldn’t be surprised or swayed by them. Well, besides saying that the judge is at the door, we should be always alert and ready to give an account to the Lord Jesus when he comes. Ed asked me what I would say to people on vlogs. That’s what I want to say. The judge is standing at the door. Be ready. Be alert. You’re going to be called to account. That’s the first thing I’d say.
Longing for Happiness
Then here’s the last thing I’d say. God gave us a self, not so that we would have something to exalt in, but something to exalt with. He gave us a self, not to be the object of our joy, but the subject of joy. That is, not to be the focus of happiness in front of the mirror or the selfie, but the furnace of happiness in front of Jesus.
“Our desires are meant to lead us to God, in whose presence is fullness of joy.”
He gave us a self not as an instrument of self-worth, but as an instrument of worship. The self is and is meant to be a desire factory. The point of all those desires is that there is a joy outside ourselves that they point to.
Our self is an endless manufacture of desires for something beyond the self. This factory of desires is not the dream. This factory has a dream. It isn’t the dream. It is producing all these desires because, out there somewhere, there’s a dream.
They’re all meant to lead us outside ourselves — indeed, outside the world, because nothing in this world finally satisfies. The desires of the human self are meant to lead us to God, in whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore.
That’s what I’d say to the self-absorbed user of social media. The self was never meant to satisfy us. The self was never meant to find satisfaction in the perception or promotion of self. The self was made for God.