We asked for your questions on technology and you have responded. We have a lot of them (and they keep coming in — and please keep them coming in). Josh in South Carolina wants to know, When is it time to give up our smartphones and revert to a dumb-phone? Arlene from North Florida asks, “Pastor John, I have heard Matt Chandler say on numerous accounts how our love (and addiction) to technology is making us angry and impatient. I’ve seen it in my marriage and in my mothering. Could my iPhone be the reason I don’t persevere in the faith? And if so, how do I keep that from happening?” So two important questions on the table.
Well first, in response to Arlene, “Could my iPhone be the reason I don’t persevere?” here is the text from the Bible that comes to my mind immediately: 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me,” Paul says, “and gone to Thessalonica.” And what is striking is that Demas is mentioned twice more in Paul’s writings before this.
“Ask the Lord to make it plain when the time has come to get rid of your smartphone.”
It says in Philemon 1:23–24, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” So, Demas is a fellow worker with Paul in the ministry. And then Colossians 4:14 says, “Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.” So, Demas is there in three epistles: in two of them he is a fellow worker, and in one of them he has left. He has deserted. “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me.”
Now, we don’t know if Demas repented. Maybe he did. I hope he did. But as far as we know, Demas did not persevere in faith. And he looks like he proved to be an inauthentic Christian. And that happens. We have seen that in real life — even in our own day. And the reason he left and made shipwreck, it looks like, is because he loved the world. Now, how does that relate to Arlene’s question? Her iPhone is somehow involved in making her angry and impatient with her children and her husband, so she is rightly asking, “Could my iPhone be the reason that I don’t persevere?”
What Destroys a Person, and What Doesn’t
And then the answer would be that the world did not destroy Demas; his love for the world destroyed Demas, it seems. An iPhone does not, will not, destroy a marriage or a mom or a soul. But love for what is on the iPhone can. And I don’t think the Lord will say to anyone on the judgment, “I never knew you, because you own an iPhone.” I don’t think he will say that to anybody at the judgment day. “I never knew you because you owned an iPhone.” But he may well say, “I never knew you, but you loved spending time on Facebook and online shopping more than you loved me.”
When Jesus said in Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell,” he was talking mainly about sexual lust, but the principle applies to any destructive allurement, it seems to me. We may have to take radical steps against something that is intrinsically neutral or good in order to fight what in our hearts is bad. Why gouge out your eye when the problem is not your eye? It is lust.
Because the eye is complicit, just like the phone is complicit and, yes, the stakes are infinite. Better to tear out your eye than to be thrown into hell, it says. And the poor eye — God made the eye, for goodness’ sake! The eye is good. This is just Jesus’s radical way of saying, “You have to do whatever you have to do with regard to dispensing with things that may be good in order to avoid what may be bad.”
“The world did not destroy Demas; his love for the world destroyed him.”
Now, this point brings us to Josh, because they are very related questions. He asks, “Is it too extreme to reject the technology and the tide of culture by going back to a very basic cell phone?” — a little flip phone, I suppose he means. And here’s my answer to Josh: It is probably not any more extreme than tearing out your eye. So, Josh asks, “Well, when is it time to do that, to pitch my smartphone?” And Arlene asks, “How do I keep my iPhone from threatening my perseverance in faith?”
Fighting the Battle on Two Fronts
My guess is that some are going to say, “Well, look, Piper, since the phone is not the problem, but the heart is the problem, it is pointless to pitch the phone.” To which I respond, “No, it is not pointless to pitch the phone.” If that is all you do, it would be pointless. But we are always fighting on two fronts in the battle for holiness. We are fighting on the internal front of the heart — the heart front to be so satisfied in Jesus, to see him so clearly and love him so dearly and follow him so nearly that nothing, not a smartphone, can control us. Nothing can control us but only Jesus. Of course that is the main battlefront. Love Jesus more, and you won’t be enslaved by your smartphone.
But biblically we are also fighting on the external front to remove or avoid stumbling blocks to our faith, see? In Romans 13:14, we read, “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Drug addicts don’t fondle needles. Alcoholics don’t keep stashes of brandy. Sexually supercharged eyes put safeguards on their computers. And smartphone junkies who are throwing away their lives or wasting money or becoming irritable and angry and impatient may go back to a flip phone. This is not unbiblical. This is not legalism. This is wisdom. This is fighting on all fronts for holiness in the power of the Holy Spirit for the sake of the heart, for the sake of the Lord, for the sake of the family in these cases, it sounds like.
So, it is totally legit, I would say, to take away any particular technology that is characteristically, chronically doing you in in certain ways. That may be a very wise move. And it starts when? All I know to say is, pray and ask the Lord to make it plain when the time has come to take that step. Talk to wise, mature, spiritual people in your church — those who know you best — and seek their counsel.
“Love Jesus more, and you won’t be enslaved by your smartphone.”
And always — I will close with this point — always put the main spiritual effort into knowing and loving and trusting Christ. Getting rid of bad influences doesn’t make anybody love Christ in and of itself. True freedom from the bondage of technology comes not mainly from throwing it away, but from filling the void with the glories of Jesus that you are trying to fill with the pleasures of the smartphone.
Fight the deceitful, fleeting pleasures of the iPhone with the true, lasting pleasures of knowing and being cared for by Christ.
Find other other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes.