It’s Monday evening and you need to unwind. Sunday was busy and Monday was a Monday. The assembly Bible study is not until Wednesday. Right now you need a diversion; some “me-time,” “downtime,” just “chilling out.” Regardless of the name you give it, activities outside your normal responsibilities fall under the broad classification of entertainment.
Entertainment and its Reality
The ever-changing world around us is driven by an insatiable thirst for entertainment. What was once easily identifiable and distinguishable as entertainment a few decades ago has now become impossible to separate from daily living. Hollywood, casinos, and sporting events were entertainment. Phones were for communication and stores were for shopping. But this has changed, and the pervasive entertainment industry has made its way into the very fiber of our existence. A phone is now a media tool capable of streaming continuous on-line content. A store must now provide an entertaining shopping experience. Modern cars are bluetooth satellite-guided mini-theaters that do much more than provide transportation. Entertainment is no longer a few hours laid aside weekly for leisure time, but rather the foundational block that undergirds modern existence, meeting the felt needs of an ever evolving society bent on extracting more pleasure from every available second. Today’s offerings include food, education and sports entertainment, theatre and the arts, movies and viral videos, MySpace and FaceBook, MTV and ESPN, Xbox and Playstation, iPods and YouTube – and that’s just scratching the surface. Reality shows have reached an epidemic level and virtual worlds like “Second Life” replace reality for the socially-challenged and dependent world that anxiously awaits the latest and greatest offering. With high-speed internet and 4g wireless, 24/7 connectivity is the new standard and there is never a need to be “unplugged” from the world-wide-web of entertainment. The only constant is change, and the only limitation is time. Everything is at our fingertips, and attention spans are shorter than ever.
The economic principle of supply and demand demonstrates how the hunger of the depraved human heart for distraction and diversion has given rise to entertainment that defies both definition and description. It is so large and all-encompassing that traditional measurements to gauge its scope are sorely inadequate. Recent innovation now allows individuals on opposite sides of the planet to concurrently experience entertainment together, creating the sensation of being physically present, but, in reality, being nothing more than virtual guests. The holographic avatars that represent the participants create a virtual world that seems more real than reality itself. No longer a segment of life, entertainment is the platform upon which life and living are designed. Entertainment is king, virtual reality is the new castle of the deceived world, and through it walks the believer in his pilgrim character, in the world we say, but not of it. How shall we then live? Can we safely participate in the world’s entertainment?
One of the largest entertainment providers is the world of sports and sporting events. Be it the NBA, NFL, NHL or MMA, car-racing, or body-slamming, it has evolved into a major subsection of the entertainment world. Sadly, much of its content and many of its heroes demonstrate values that are anything but spiritually constructive. Half-time shows and corporate sponsors cater to the flesh in not-so-subtle offerings that attract fans via sex appeal. Is that spiritually healthy to me as a believer? Does that help me in my daily walk to focus on the coming kingdom? Does it provide good content for my thought-life and dreams? An open Bible confirms that this is not what we need, and yet we are often tempted to excuse its faults by labeling it as just a simple sporting event.
The entertainment offerings from Hollywood, the music world of MTV, and internet sites like YouTube are endless. Once immersed, the incessant bombardment on the mind leaves little time for spiritual living. Its character is immoral, iniquitous, and incendiary in nature, appealing to a fallen human race and designed to inflame, excite, and appeal to everything that is base and evil in the human heart (Jer 17:9). It defiles and damages our conscience, and often renders us irresponsible and unproductive in our stewardship of time. Even with controlled content, many hours are wasted and lost forever. YouTube’s “fail videos” produce spiritual failure as they consume both time and usefulness for God. How much better it would be to seek some “face-time” in healthy Christian communion rather than bury our face in hours of FaceBook, reaching out to those far away while often alienating those who are closest? How much insensitivity to sin is spawned by the repeated bombardment of alternative living and the lackadaisical attitudes to sin espoused by so much of what television and Hollywood offers? The divine declaration of guilt regarding sinners is that they not only commit the sins themselves, “but have pleasure in (watching) them that do them” (Rom 1:32). As believers, how can we do the same?
Entertainment and its Roots
While our English words “entertainment” and “amusement” are only about 500 years old, there are related concepts that take us back much further. Remember Eve? She was beguiled. Remember the armor of God in Ephesians? It defends against the wiles of the devil. Those two words, beguile and wile, are related (etymologically and in other ways) to today’s modern concept of entertainment. Dictionaries will invariably define entertainment as “any agreeable occupation of the mind, any diversion, or any amusement.” Spiritually speaking, it is the not-so-innocent endeavor of the diabolical world system to remove our usefulness for God, polluting minds and searing consciences. It renders them incapable of distinguishing right from wrong and insensitive to the eternal value of so much wasted time being entertained. The root of the word entertainment derives from two Latin words meaning “between” and “to hold,” or “to hold between two things.” It has the idea of maintaining someone in a certain frame of mind. This encapsulates the core idea behind entertainment, for we quickly realize that most entertainment is designed to achieve this precise goal; that of removing us from our reality, and placing us in a fantasy world between that which is real today and the very real eternity to which we are all going – saved or lost, ready or not.
Entertainment and its Resolve
The intent and influence of the entertainment world is truly sinister. The world is held under the sway and “power of the wicked one” (1John 5:19), and he will use whatever means available to influence our thinking, our acceptance of sin, and our rejection of truth. Entertainment’s worldview has been shaped by him with this goal in mind. Many know the 16th century proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” but not too many are aware of the 18th century corollary, “All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy!” For the believer, expressions like these lead us to seek “balance” – an elusive concept that often introduces small doses of what we know to be wrong, unwise or unnecessary, into a life that should be lived 100% for the glory of God (Col 1:16; Rev 4:11). The notion of balance can be a slippery slope leading to lost spiritual footing and dimmed heavenly focus. And yet, call it what you will, balance in life is indeed needed, yet must be sought with wisdom and godly conviction. Isaac went out into the field to meditate. The Lord Jesus told His disciples, “Come ye apart and rest awhile.” In six days God finished creation and rested on the seventh. Our very make-up requires what can be described as “down-time.” Batteries need to be recharged. Burnout must be avoided. Call it diversion, rest or reflection; we need it. Life is not all about work, and relationships need nurturing, children need to be raised on more than meetings, chores, and school work. And so as responsible believers we return to the challenge, “How then shall we live?”
While much entertainment is devoid of benefit and morally deficient, it is evident that not all entertainment fits that description. Healthy and educational diversion for a family with children is crucial. Physical activity and group events are great. Rollercoaster parks, summer camps, water and snow sports aid in both physical and emotional development, affording younger believers an opportunity to develop friendships and relationships in a healthy and entertaining environment. Our real concern is avoiding exposure to the defiling aspects of the entertainment world. Paul reminded the Corinthians that they should avoid involvement with the sins of this world, but by no means were they expected to leave this world altogether (1Cor 5:10). We need to prayerfully approach entertainment options remembering that much will be ruled-out based on content and association. We move with caution remembering that lawful does not mean profitable (1Cor 6:12;10:23) and that we will give account for the management of our time. We “work while it is day” (John 9:4), but remember that there will be times when we will need to come apart and rest awhile (Mark 6:31).
Entertainment and my Response
In today’s technologically driven world we need to guard against a general condemnation of a medium, remembering that content is the issue. Televisions, computers, and the internet are wonderful inventions of creative minds. The danger lies in a careless attitude that lets down the guard and allows the subtle influences of a corruptive world system to creep into our hearts and homes.
Warnings and caution sometimes lead to an accusation of making mountains out of molehills. “Hollywood just portrays real life” is the claim, and yet secular writers now say that where art once imitated life, life now imitates and follows art. The entertainment world sets standards in activities, attire, and attitudes that run counter to the Bible. What does a believer share in common with an unbeliever, asks 2 Corinthians 6:14-16. “Love not the world” warns 1 John 2:15. The world has been crucified to me, “and I to the world” says Galatians 6:14. It would be better to govern our response by the principles of Scripture and ask, “Is there any glory for God in this activity? (1Cor 10:31). Will it grieve the Holy Spirit? (Eph 4:30). Will it be pleasing to God? (Heb 11:5). Will it afford a good testimony and set a profitable example? (1Tim 4:12).
“But it’s just killing time!” says someone. Precisely, and “killed” time can never be recovered. We must walk wisely, making the best use of our time “for the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). May God help us to number our days, that we might “apply our hearts unto wisdom,” counsels Psalm 90:12.
“It’s just harmless fun” argues another. Are we immune and unaffected by worldly entertainment? No one walks away unscathed. Just ask Lot. Even with the evidence of moral decay and debauchery ringing in his ears, he still pleads for permission to install himself in another city. “Is it not a little one?” he asks. How deceived he had become. These influences may seem innocuous, but the real harm is immeasurable. Rather than question “what harm is there?” we should ask “what good is there?” (Phil 4:8).
“Everyone does it!” claims an inexperienced youth. Is that really true? Of course not. Look around and you will see that not everyone is doing “it,” and those that are, are reaping the results. We can make our own choices, but we cannot choose the consequences. How easily we deceive ourselves. “Don’t let the world pour you into its mold,” says the John Phillips translation of Romans 12:1. Stay out of the world’s mixing bowl and melting pot. Its slurry of distasteful ingredients will only whet our carnal appetite for that which will be unwholesome, stunting spiritual growth and staining the soul.
“But” says an honest soul, “We have to do something with our free time!” Yes, indeed we do. We need entertaining alternatives for creative and developing minds, but the choices you make and the entertainment you allow will set a course for your feet (and others) that will determine a destiny. Demas abandoned Paul because he grew to love the world. Proverbs 13:20 records: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall suffer harm” (Newberry). Young people, young couples, families, and older ones all need companionship and fellowship, and there are healthy and entertaining activities that will leave us in good spiritual shape. There are also other activities and venues that will leave us drained and weakened, with an aftertaste that is anything but pleasing. Somewhere along the path of Christian living we all must learn to say no to the flesh.
May God keep us from falling, unspotted from the world, and in the love of Christ. May He fill our hearts and may our truest desire be to “know Him” and be found faithful at His coming. May we love one another fervently and look for opportunity to be together with those of like faith, raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, carefully evaluating our participation in legitimate things while not allowing ourselves to be brought under the control of anything or anyone other than the Holy Spirit of God (1Cor 6:12). May our chosen entertainment be governed by, and limited to, those things that “edify one another” (Rom 14:19), while avoiding those things that “edify not” (1Cor 10:23).