February 23, 2024

Matthew 6: Ancient Wisdom for the Digital Age

We live in a time where we can curate and present our lives for optimal praise and validation. Social media preys on a desire built into every human heart – the desire for approval. Wanting approval isn’t a bad thing. In fact, we’re hardwired for it. The question is, who are we seeking approval from?

Check Out the Episode:

Jesus’ offers us an invitation to true life – a life of thriving and flourishing.  He gets to the motive of the heart; why do we  do the things we do?

In Matthew 6, Jesus speaks about the desire for approval and praise. He warns against performing righteous acts merely for the applause of the crowd.

His primary concern is not making sure no one ever sees you give, hears you pray, or knows you’re fasting. The idea is more about purity of motive. Why are you praying, fasting, and giving to the needy?

It’s always important to look at the cultural context of a passage.

When we can envision the world of Jesus, it can be easier to see how His teaching might show up in our world. So, let’s compare and contrast a shame and honor culture (Jesus’) with a guilt and innocence culture (ours).

In a shame and honor culture, identity is intricately tied to community approval and largely formed by external factors like who your family is, where you are from, what your job is, etc.

There are cultural rules that aren’t written down anywhere – but those laws are reinforced by the exclusion of anyone who fails to follow them. Since shame and honor cultures are centered around the collective, there is immense pressure to conform to avoid exclusion.

In Matthew 6, Jesus mentions fasting, prayer, and giving to the needy, which were valuable in their day.

He’s saying, you’re using these good and culturally valued things good to benefit yourself rather than living to please your Father, regardless of whether that elevates you in the eyes of your community or gets you persecuted.

How does this translate to our cultural context?

In a guilt-innocence culture, individuals are tasked with defining their own identities and moral frameworks, relying on introspection and personal conviction. We have to “look inside ourselves” to see who we truly are.

We prize uniqueness and an internal sense of right and wrong. However, social media is accelerating the shame and honor culture in our lives, creating a sort of groupthink and collective conscience. When someone violates the collective conscience, they get shamed and excluded.

Validation & Social  Media

We curate our lives, seeking validation through likes and shares, perpetuating a cycle of comparison and conformity. There’s pressure for our house to look a certain way, to feed our kids a certain thing– even for our morning coffee to be aesthetically-pleasing.

Online, we can create a brand for ourselves by signaling things to other people: This is how beautiful my home is; these are the good deeds I’m doing, etc.

We get stuck in a cycle of performance and validation, but this validation is fleeting and fickle.

Who are you seeking approval from?

There are ample differences between our culture and Jesus’, but the universal, human longing for connection and approval remains.

We have a desire to know where we stand. Despite what we may say, we do care what other people think. Particularly, we care about the opinions of people we value.

We are literally hardwired for approval.

That’s why Jesus reminds us to guard our hearts. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of doing the right things for the wrong reasons in order to get validation.

We were made for God and that means we were made for His approval. And you want to know something incredible? We have it!

The New Testament reminds us we are children of God, citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and a royal priesthood. We have been given ultimate validation because of who our Father is.

Living for God’s Approval

The call to secrecy in Matthew 6 isn’t about hiding our lives but about living with a genuine desire to please God above all else.

Maybe this means you need to stop playing the game. What would it look like to step back from the relentless pursuit of external validation, disconnect from the virtual stage of social media, and embrace a purposeful hiddenness that fosters deeper, more authentic relationships?

Imagine a community of individuals liberated from the shackles of societal expectations—living for God’s approval alone.

That, Jesus tells us, is the essence of a city on a hill—a beacon of authenticity and genuine connection in a world clamoring for approval.

The invitation from Jesus is to live for the only One who can really, truly approve of you. Like Jesus said to the woman at the well: I have water; if you drink it, you’ll never be thirsty again.

Show Notes:

Watch the Message: Are Your Searching for Validation?

In this episode, Whit mentions these books,
Remaking the World by Andrew Wilson
A Secular Age by Charles Taylor
Making Sense of God by Timothy Keller
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards & Brandon J. O’Brien

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