“What shows are you watching right now?” I hear this question a lot these days, even amongst fellow believers. In an entertainment-saturated society, I should not be surprised. Or should I?
It is interesting—no, disheartening—to hear that many believers’ answers are often not very different than the average non-Christian’s. It matters little whether it’s a similarity of content or sheer approach (e.g., bingeing). When it comes to consumption of media, both quality and quantity of intake matter immensely.
At first blush, it may seem as if watching television (or movies) does not have a moral value in and of itself. We usually appeal to a show’s content in the assigning of moral value, qualifying our choices by judging content on a “sliding scale” of sorts: “Well, it’s not as bad as that show… At least I’m not watching XYZ….”.
However, consuming media inherently entails a moral status. The very act of choosing one activity over another has direct moral implications.
The father neglecting time with his children in favor of sports and a beer, the student foregoing investment in her studies to “catch up on her shows”… every choice for something is a choice against all others.
What are you passing by, giving up, or ignoring because you are choosing television instead?
While I cannot draw hard and fast lines for each individual—“you may watch this, but not that”—I will highlight three main reasons why it is vital to carefully consider what and how much media you take in. These reasons include self- and others-care, the call to pursue holiness, and stewardship.
An Issue of Caring for Yourself and Others
You are probably familiar with Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” (1 Cor. 10:23) The NIV renders the quoted phrase this way: “I have the right to do anything.”
In this context, Paul was speaking specifically of not causing others to stumble (i.e., “others-care”), but his statement holds true for the individual as well. Freedom to partake in something does not automatically assign it redemptive or beneficial value.
Moreover, in this passage (and in 1 Corinthians 6) Paul was likely quoting a common saying with which his audience was familiar (think, “What happens in Vegas…”).
Thus, Paul is confronting the jargon of the day by offering a counter-argument, showing that the world’s way is not necessarily “helpful” for self and others; not all the world’s ways “build up.”
Hindering the Pursuit of Holiness
We are commanded to pursue holiness, to be holy as Christ is holy. Deliberately consuming content that hinders this cause presents a problem. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
Logically, how could regularly partaking of worldly things help us, as Christ followers, to become more holy? Those of us on par with the national average are likely consuming far more television than we are reading the Word, actively engaging in ministry, or otherwise hungering after things of the kingdom.
Holiness is about being set apart. We cannot expect to be set apart if our practice follows suit with the world’s. In Romans, Paul exhorts the church in Rome to “not be conformed to this world,” but to “be transformed” (Rom. 12:2).
Who we are is inextricably tied to what we do. Are we choosing activities that will transform us more into the likeness of Christ?
A Stewardship Issue
Time is a precious resource God has entrusted to each of us, and it so quickly slips through our fingers. The ways in which we spend and invest it matter deeply. We ought to see it as something God has given us to steward.
There are numerous metaphors in the vernacular comparing time to a sort of currency. Folks say, “Time is money.” We invest time in a project or relationship. Time is spent on various tasks. It can also be wasted or well spent.
In light of this, how are you investing or spending your time, especially in the arena of entertainment?
In Ephesians 5, Paul exhorts the church in Ephesus in how they ought to live. “Be imitators of God…[a]nd walk in love.” Moreover, “Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:1-2, 8).
He frames this last exhortation as a logical and intentional response to a positional transformation: “[A]t one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” His response is a call to make this reality more than just positional, but existential: “Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).
His sentence continues in verses 9 and 10: “(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
As bearers of the divine image, who have been entrusted with the task of stewarding God’s very creation, Paul’s exhortation to “discern what is pleasing” is a call to thoughtful stewardship.
A few verses later, he again exhorts the Ephesians, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).
As noted above, hard and fast lines cannot necessarily be drawn here, but this is no reason to abandon the concern. What are your choices reflecting back to you? Are you “making the best use of the time”? Are you walking as a child of light?
In light of biblical stewardship, care of self and others, and the pursuit of holiness, we ought to be driven to consider our media intake with the utmost care. There is far too much at stake to not do so.