“I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but not everything is constructive. (1 Corinthians 10:23, N.I.V.)
A Christian woman once gave the great preacher F.B. Meyer a novel. The book was one of the best-sellers of the day and was creating a lot of buzz. As the woman handed it to Meyer, she assured him that he would enjoy it immensely.
As busy as Meyer was, he didn’t have a lot of free time to read fiction, but he took the book along one day as he boarded a ship. Once he was settled, he made his way up to the ship’s deck, found himself a deck chair, and settled in to read the novel. But he only got about fifty pages into the book before he threw it into the depths of the ocean. Why did he do that? He said of the book, “I thought it would injure the fish less than me.”
The difference between that Christian woman and F.B. Meyer was that Meyer’s spiritual sensitivities were a great deal more heightened than her’s were. What didn’t bother her, bothered him. What she saw as harmless fiction, he saw as beguiling temptation. What she considered entertainment, he considered filth.
I can only imagine the horror that F.B. Meyer would feel today if he saw what now passes for entertainment. We have all become so desensitized to sin’s creeping corruption in our entertainment, haven’t we? If we enjoy a movie, we make excuses for its profanity. If we enjoy a television show, we downplay the murders it depicts. If we enjoy a novel, we gloss over the illicit sex that marks its storyline.
I was born in 1966, and that makes me a product of the 1970s and 1980s. To say that I know all about the music, the movies, and the television shows of that era is an understatement. Sometime back I was skimming through the channels offered by my Dish Network satellite package and happened upon one of my favorite movies from the 1980s. It was one that I had watched many times back in the days when my movie experiences equated to video stores, movie rentals, and my home VCR. This time, however, as I watched the unedited version of that movie for the first time in decades, I was absolutely shocked at how much profanity the movie featured. It was so bad that, after a while, I actually turned the channel. I guess that was me having something of an F.B. Meyer moment.
But why had I paid so little attention to all of that profanity when I had watched that movie multiple times in the 1980s? It was because back then my spiritual sensitivity wasn’t as heightened as it is now. Whereas I was an oblivious teenager back then, I now have on my resume over 30 years of at least trying to seriously walk with the Lord. I’ll be the first to admit that I have tripped up in that walk more times than I care to remember, but that doesn’t mean that an honest effort hasn’t been made. That certainly wasn’t the case back in the 1980s.
Look, I’m not saying that even now I don’t come up short in regards to the movies and television shows that I watch. (I never did read novels.) I have to say, though, that the older I get the less I seem to enjoy what I’m watching. For example, last year two new series debuted on cable programming, and each was a series that looked appealing to me. So, I set my satellite system’s DVR to record all the new episodes of both series. But something dawned on me toward the end of both of those shows’ first seasons. I realized that I was no longer enjoying either series. Rather than being entertained by them, I found myself watching them out of sheer habit. Accordingly, once each season was finished and I took some time to reflect on the situation, I gave up on each series and deleted both timers.
What bothered me about one of the series was its sex, violence, killing, and profanity. What bothered me about the other one was its depressing circumstances and killing. I guess that I shouldn’t have expected any better. After all, such material seems to be about all the entertainment industry has to offer these days. Maybe it’s not that the industry has changed but that I have changed. That’s what I’d like to believe, anyway.
1 Corinthians 10:23 is found within the context of one of the apostle Paul’s classic teachings on the topic of Christian liberty. In that verse, he explains that just because the Christian has been set free from the restrictions of the Old Testament law and has a liberty to engage in certain activities that don’t violate God’s moral law, that doesn’t mean the Christian should engage in those activities. As Paul puts it, many things that are allowable under the heading “Christian liberty” simply aren’t constructive (edifying, helpful) for the Christian life. I think this verse can be correctly applied to a whole lot of what passes for entertainment in our lives. It’s not that we are in rank sin sitting there watching that stuff or reading it, but can we truthfully say that what we are watching or reading is beneficial to our walk with the Lord? The answer is, no.
In another passage, Philippians 4:8, Paul tells us to think on (meditate on) things that are noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. While the people of the Old Testament era didn’t have the assortment of entertainment devices that we have today, David still voiced a worthy goal when he said in Psalm 101:3, “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes.” That’s a goal that we would all do well to pursue.
Of course, these days we don’t have to try very hard to set something wicked before our eyes, do we? Never before has the human race had more immediate access to depictions of wickedness and sin. Still, in the midst of it all, most of us aren’t quite ready to throw our t.v.s, computers, and smart phones over a ship’s railing. So, what should we do?
Well, I hope you will agree with me that we can all stand to be more discerning about what forms of entertainment we allow into our lives. Remember, just because we can watch it, read it, or listen to it, that doesn’t mean that the experience will be beneficial to our spiritual health. All I know is that God does seem to be burdening me these days to make some changes in what I employ as entertainment. Hopefully, I’ll have the discernment and the obedience to makes the changes He wants me to make, but I guess the jury will be out for a while on that. For that matter, seeing as how the world of entertainment is constantly evolving — or should I say devolving? — I guess that jury will be out for the rest of my life as the learning curve keeps changing. Suffice is to say that in the end, if what doesn’t bother me now bothers me in another thirty years, I’ll be able to say that I at least made a bit of spiritual progress.