Keeping Our Online Life Hidden in Christ

Snap, post, chat, tweet, like, send—the gestures of social media, where a stubby thumb or an index finger is mightier than the sword and pen combined. Such is the world in which we live. However, one inherent weakness of social media is its inability to understand the beauty of hiddenness. In fact, there is nothing that I can think of that is more antithetical to the hidden than the proliferation of social media.

The whole premise of social media is to reach as many people as possible, the more, the better. The frightening part about this logic is that it might be changing how we think about life. Can we enjoy a concert without capturing at least a part of it with our smartphones? Can we have a beautiful engagement without a hidden cameraman in the bushes to record the proposal? In short, without some sort of digital proof can something exist? It seems to me that it is increasingly impossible to conceive of something without footage. As the internet adage goes, “pics or it didn’t happen.” We seem to only value what can be witnessed by others or shared socially.

Love of Honor
In the midst of a world obsessed with what can be observed by others, Colossians 3:3 says something very foreign: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” These words were penned in a context not dissimilar to our own. The ancient world might not have had smartphones, but the ancients cared about their public persona. Ovid, the Roman poet, reminds us that people roamed ancient streets and venues both to see and be seen.

The Colossians were just like any modern urban dweller. In some sense, they were more concerned with public recognition than we are when we consider that the love of honor (philotimia) was deeply entrenched in their society. What they did and why they did it was to gain further recognition from others. This is why anthropologists and historians of the Greco-Roman world say that honor was the pivotal value in this culture.

All we need to do is to look at the remains of inscriptions, statues, coins, and busts—all of these are ancient versions of social media—to see how important honor was. Xenophon frankly admits that the Athenians excel others not so much in singing or in stature, but in the love of honor. Likewise, Augustine in The City of God insightfully states that the Romans were able to overcome many vices by the love of honor and praise. From these references, we can see the ancients were very much like us.

The New Testament, as a Greco-Roman book, shares that same worldview. Matthew 23 offers Jesus’ shorthand analysis of the main problem of the Pharisees. Jesus point outs that they do everything for the sake of honor. They make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long to gain honor (Matt. 23:5). Likewise, they zealously proselytize (Matt. 23:15) and tithe (Matt. 23:23) to gain the admiration of men.

The problem is that this love of honor is hollow. It is selfish, self-centered, and, if left unchecked, leads to death. By the end of the chapter, Jesus essentially calls the Pharisees the walking dead: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matt. 23:27).

As one can see, this analogy between the Greco-Roman love of honor (philotimia) and our culture has some traction. Technologies change, hearts do not. Who of us does not want to be honored and recognized by our peers? Who of us has not taken shortcuts to seem like something rather than actually be that thing? I think we will all agree “seeming to be virtuous” is far easier than actually “being virtuous.”

If this is so, Colossae, Ephesus, and Philippi have more in common with New York, Seoul, and Los Angeles than we can imagine. The heart of the love of honor and recognition beats in all of these places with equal vigor. We tweet and post where they chiseled, but the intent is the same. So, when Colossians 3:3 says that your life is hidden in Christ, it was a bombshell to these ancient urban Christians, completely distasteful and undesirable—just like it should be to us.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, John Lee