Greasy fingers met in a communal popcorn bowl and laughter overpowered the details of dialogue: “Hey, somebody rewind! I missed that line!” It was family movie night, and the flickering image on the screen played second fiddle to the allure of an extended bed time. With cold pizza congealing at room temperature on the coffee table, we were entertained by stories that fed our imaginations and showed up in the kids’ make believe long after the credits rolled.
Raising kids pre-internet was a dreamy business compared with the challenges young parents navigate in 2019. In the days of VHS, long before Andy Crouch’s wise and urgent tweets about “putting technology in its place,” we managed tech by setting a kitchen timer for games of Oregon Trail (played on a clunky desktop computer) and by reserving screen time for Disney movies watched en masse on Friday nights.
Born in the early 60s, I’m a member of the first generation to grow up in front of a television. Rejecting screen-life was my version of teenage rebellion. Holed up in my room, I soldiered through Algebra II, scribbled in a journal, and read huge stacks of library books against the audio backdrop of blaring canned laughter from 70’s era sitcoms. Given my background, the creeping influx of entertainment everywhere threatens to foster another kind of rebellion in middle-age that occasionally sends me into grumpy tirades about YouTube and children who don’t know how to play outside in God’s green world.
Fortunately, Paul’s letter to believers in Colossae offers me a better response. After all, he was writing in an era when entertainment would have included gladiators sparring to the death and Christians being thrown to the lions just for sport. Entertainment is just one slice of the following life, but Paul effectively debunks the idea that any part of a believer’s life is “secular.” Everything, including our entertainment choices, is subject to vast and overarching principles, pointing us directly to God. Paul urges believers to focus on “things above,” to live with a mindset demonstrating a solid connection with the eternal. (Colossians 3:1-2)
Colossians 3 offers three tests—three wise filters for my entertainment choices to help me to embrace the positive without falling into the trap of making entertainment into an idol that interferes with godly priorities and habits of holiness.
Test #1: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15 ESV)
- Does violence or intense drama in my entertainment choices send me into anxious patterns of worry?
- Am I exchanging a good night’s sleep for “just one more” episode?
- Will this entertainment choice lead to gratitude or does it awaken feelings of envy or discontent?
In The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs defines contentment as “that sweet inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Poor entertainment choices can ignite longing for an unattainable lifestyle or discontent with my own circumstances, throwing gasoline on a deadly and destructive flame.
Test #2: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . .” (Colossians 3:16)
In The Message, Eugene Peterson has rendered this verse: “Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house.”
When we give in to patterns of self-centered binge-watching of our favorite show, or when arguments over the remote dominate family time, entertainment has been given “the run of the house.”
By contrast, if Scripture is free to permeate every area of my life, it will “have the run of the house,” influencing my thoughts, my conversations, and my actions. Obviously, it would be legalistic and fanatical to insist that only Scripture be permitted through the eye gate to my brain. Even so, how much of my life am I willing to invest in words and images which may contradict my biblical worldview? Does my use of time demonstrate my commitment to the rich truth of Scripture?
The pursuit of a pure life is incumbent upon the work of God’s Spirit within the believer. He fills a life that is controlled by the Word, but I cooperate with this miraculous transformation by stewarding the content of my inner dialogue. If the Word of Christ is to dwell in me richly, I have to leave room for it. When I choose to fill the shelves of my mind and the minutes of my day with deceptively attractive fluff, when I fail to leave space and time for weighty and nourishing truth, I’m choosing poverty.
A number of everyday practices serve as boundaries—reminders to leave room between my tangled neurons for the word of Christ. On the rare occasions that I am alone in the car, my rule is silence. Scripture memory work or quiet pondering leave room for God to speak into that silence. And while it’s tempting to kick back for some passive input when I’m alone in the house, solitude is too valuable a gift to fill up with noise or Netflix—so I save the fun for family time. (And I’m learning I don’t have to love the movie if I love the people I’m watching it with!)
Test #3: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Colossians 3:17 ESV, emphasis mine)
“Everything” is a radical term. It may be a joyful thing for me to teach the Bible “in the name of the Lord Jesus” or to lead our church’s women’s ministry, or even to show up at your door with a casserole in his name. However, I resent a rules-based righteousness that measures my holiness by externals and imposes your checklist on my entertainment choices. This is clearly not what Paul had in mind, though, when he wrote, “Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” (Colossians 3:17 MSG)
Paul’s words are a call to hand over my check lists, my grumpy tirades, and my opinion of your entertainment choices and to submit every decision to the scrutiny of God most holy. At the risk of lapsing into 1990’s era WWJD jargon, I wonder: Would Jesus put his stamp of approval on my entertainment choices? As a Christian wife and mum I want to be Christ in the flesh before my family, to put him on like a sacred garment so when they look at me they see him.
Whether we use our free time to read a book, play a game, or watch a movie with our families, we are called to bring every activity into connection with Jesus. If I find this impossible or terribly challenging, it may be time to offer that particular activity up as a sacrifice.
Entertainment is still a big part of family fun here on this country hill. When we’re laughing together or sitting spellbound waiting for a plot to unfold, we’re enjoying a good gift from God. Whether we turn the gift into an idol or view it as a revelation of God’s goodness to us depends upon our willingness to connect the dots from the gift to the Giver, and then to give thanks.