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Are You Mastering Technology or Being Mastered by It?

Original article can be found here

We have access to mind-boggling technology, and our culture is devoted to using it effectively. Too often, however, our technology uses us. It’s very evident with things like pornography. But even apart from porn, we often struggle to use our computers, tablets, and smartphones to the glory of God.

Thankfully, God’s Word gives Christians clear instructions for dealing with new technology. Although written thousands of years ago, the Bible is full of timeless stories that show us how to have discernment.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul gives some stern rebukes to the Corinthian church for the way they were mimicking—and in some ways acting worse than—the culture around them. In the letter, he also answers some questions that people had about navigating various temptations of first-century popular culture.

While there are many good things in the world that Christians can enjoy, Paul says in chapter 6 verse 12, “I will not be mastered by anything.” Later on, in chapter 10, Paul actually gives some examples of what “being mastered” can look like.

Let’s look at Paul’s examples and see how these apply to our use of cutting-edge technology.

4 Ways That Technology Can Master Us

Paul refers to four Old Testament stories, each of which has powerful lessons that can be applied in many ways. Although God’s people in the Old Testament didn’t have smartphones or Google, they certainly faced a host of temptations in a rapidly changing culture.

Technology can become an idol.

Technology is supposed to help make our lives better, easier, more painless, and more efficient. And it often succeeds. But too often, it takes a central place in our lives that rightfully belongs to God alone.

In 1 Corinthians 10:7, Paul alludes to the story of Israel and the golden calf. Growing impatient for Moses to return from the mountain, God’s people decided to build an idol. Then, they had a big party and celebrated their accomplishment.

When technology becomes the focal point of our lives, it becomes a golden calf. Whether or not we intend to, we can worship it just like Israel did. How do you know if technology has become an idol?

  • One pastor I know suggested looking at the “time used” feature for the apps on your phone. How much of your time is spent on social media or streaming your favorite shows?

  • Can you go an hour without checking your phone? How about a day? When is the last time you’ve gone more than a day without your favorite piece of tech?

Technology can tempt us with lust.

Verse eight says, “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” This verse refers to a dark story in the Old Testament. When they entered the Land of Canaan, the Israelites faced a culture of sexual temptation. Many of them succumbed to these temptations and were mastered by them.

Like the Land of Canaan, our technological culture today is rife with sexual temptation. One of the biggest ways that our technology can master us is through easy access to pornography. In the digital age, porn is easily accessible, we can do it anonymously, and it’s affordable too.

  • Have you fallen prey to the lure of sexual temptation through technology?

  • Aside from explicit porn, are there ways that your media consumption has desensitized you to sexual immorality?

Technology can lead us to surrender control of our lives.

Paul’s third example brings a sober warning. After escaping bondage in Egypt, the people of Israel faced many hardships in the wilderness—so much so, that after a time, they wished they were back in Egypt. They were willing to give up their freedom and return to a life of bondage!

So too, technology tempts some of us to surrender control of our lives. In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr warns that our reliance on Google is shortening our attention spans and limiting our ability to engage in patient, linear thinking. With that, many of us find it hard to concentrate when we’re reading the Bible or praying.

There are other ways that technology can take control of our lives without us realizing it. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “If the product is free, then you are the product.” This is often the case, with everything from TV to social media to pornography. Companies have learned that by providing a valuable service to individuals free of charge, they can sell advertising to companies who want to reach those individuals.

Doug Smith is one of the lead software developers at Covenant Eyes, as well as an author and speaker who warns about the dangers of technology. He shared with our podcast team the way tech companies are desperate for your attention. As one streaming service executive put it, “We’re now competing with sleep.”

If you’ve surrendered your desire for sleep to your streaming service, then you’re no longer mastering your technology.

Technology can feed discontentment.

The last example Paul gives is the Israelites grumbling in the wilderness. Why were they so willing to return to Egypt? Because they were discontent with what God had provided.

Discontentment is the fuel that pushes technological advancements—ad revenue being the most direct example. And this is one of the ways that technology exercises mastery over us. Last year’s model won’t do anymore. We must upgrade. We watch what everyone else is buying, wearing, or eating—and we want it. Technology funds itself and perpetuates its own growth based on our discontent.

How to Regain Mastery Over Technology

With these powerful forces at work trying to gain control over our lives, how can we master our tech without being mastered by it? Paul’s conclusion in 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 offers hope:

“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

We can learn from past examples.

The examples of Scripture are God’s gift to us to help us avoid the same pitfalls. Take time to read these stories and reflect on the principles for your own life, specifically with technology.

  • Exodus 32 “The Golden Calf”

  • Numbers 25:1-9 “Moab Seduces Israel”

  • Numbers 21:4-9 “The Bronze Serpent”

  • Numbers 14:1-38 “Israel Regrets Leaving Egypt”

Of course, the Bible offers many other examples as well as passages speaking directly to our need for self-control (e.g. Galatians 5:23). We can learn from all of these and learn from the stories of others who have wrestled with technology’s temptations.

We should remember our vulnerability.

Paul warns the Corinthians, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” This certainly applies to us with the temptations of technology. Don’t assume that you’re disciplined enough, smart enough, or godly enough that you won’t be tempted.

Maybe porn has never been a struggle for you on your devices. If so, that’s great, but you may find yourself spending too much time scrolling social media or the news. Compromise happens little by little, until we find ourselves surrendering control of our lives.

We can know that God provides an escape.

If you are someone who has been mastered by technology—especially if it involves porn—it can feel impossible to break free. You feel absolutely trapped and helpless to resist. Amidst all the warnings, Paul gives a powerful word of encouragement: You can be free.

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