We have talked about Game of Thrones, and nudity in TV and film in this podcast. Today we talk about drama and comedy and PG shows that seem more harmless and less obviously corrupting. It’s a question that comes to us from a listener named Blake. “Hello, Pastor John! My question is, when does humor in media become sinful? I’m a little confused about it, even from some things I have read by you. Is watching secular comedies like Friends and Seinfeld, etc., sinful? I’m rather confused over what is acceptable humor for Christians. If it is wrong to watch these shows, please let me know why.”
Six Questions to Ask Before You Binge on Netflix
The first thing to say here is that I’ve never seen either of those programs —Friends or Seinfeld. I’ve heard of them but never seen one. Which means that my comments, I hope, have the advantage of not being a response to any particular TV show. Rather, they can be seen as an effort to bring biblical reality into view when deciding what we will be entertained by.
What’s Wrong with It?
Another thing I should probably say here is that my whole approach toward what Christians view or listen to or are entertained by is not governed mainly by the question “What’s wrong with it?” That seems, to me, to be a very different approach than the way the New Testament (the way Paul, especially) approaches questions of right and wrong.
I always get the impression that the question “What’s wrong with it?” is rising from a heart that is basically governed by a desire to minimize wrong rather than maximize holiness or faith or spiritual power or worship or zeal for the lost or missions or justice. Basically, what I’m going to do, in answer to this question, is try to simply reorient our minds about what we should think and feel when it comes to entertainment.
I could, I suppose, go to particular verses (they’re there for a reason) and point out things that are wrong that you might find in TV programs and therefore avoid — like obscene talk inColossians 3:8 or filthiness, foolishness, and crude joking from Ephesians 5:4. The problem with that approach, right now on this podcast, is that it’s going to leave thousands of Christians right where they are in the immaturity and worldliness of their passions, which is the main issue.
I think most Christians are so in the grip of the spirit of the age and in the grip of popular culture and popular entertainments that the kind of radical reorientation I’m talking about is almost unthinkable for them. For me to pitch into that mindset, a few little warnings from Bible verses that disapprove of certain things seems to me almost useless.
Here’s my effort at reorienting our thinking. For this to happen, it would be a great work of God, not me. It would be a miracle if it happened to a few listeners. I certainly need it to happen more deeply in my own life as I try to navigate these cultural waters.
What I want to ask is, What are you longing for most earnestly and with the greatest passion in your life? What are you longing for? Let’s just say in your relation to Christ — in your personal walk and relation to Christ — what are you longing for?
Are you longing for greater intimacy? Are you longing for greater depth? Are you longing for greater power? Are you longing for greater clarity as you see his glory in the Scriptures? Are you longing to hear his voice with greater confidence as you read his word? Are you longing to discern his will more confidently? Are you longing to walk more closely with him in a real living relationship, as a real person? Are you longing for his smile of favor rather than his frowns of discipline?
Do you even think in these terms? Do you go to bed with these longings? Do you wake up with these longings governing your life? Do you devote time, perhaps on the Lord’s Day, to seek his face in intensifying these longings? If not, that’s the issue.
This is ten thousand times more important than what particular shows you click on. This will govern that. But if this is missing — if the growing intensification of these longings in your relationship with Jesus is missing — no answers will make any difference about your entertainment habits.
Questions for the Heart
Let’s just pose the question a little differently.
What are you longing for in your relationship with other people? Do you long to represent Jesus with greater compelling forcefulness? Do you long for a greater love for people and a greater zeal for their salvation? Do you long to have greater boldness and encouragement from God in your own representation of Christ? Do you long to be a means of other people’s holiness and purity and power?
Do you long to bring the word of God from your encounter with the risen Christ into the lives of other people with effectiveness? Do you long for readiness to speak hope-filled words into the face of those who are dying or suffering or coming out of divorces?
Do you have the aroma of Christ about you and do you long for it in your conversation with others so that they say, “There’s an aroma about you that’s different”? Do you long to be able to inspire others by your own example in a life of more consistent and deep and satisfying prayer?
If not, what’s the point of talking about shows being right or wrong? If we don’t have that, we don’t even have in place the mindset that can make those kinds of judgments possible. Now, once those kinds of longings are pursued and you have a new passion and you’ve been moved from being a nominal, minimalist, “get by,” cultural Christian to an authentic, passionate, earnest, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated lover of Jesus, then you will begin to ask questions like, Does this show build up my faith? Does it weaken my faith?
Or you might ask questions like this: Does this show make Christ more clear and precious to me, or does it make things more cloudy and make biblical realities more unreal? Does the show make the Bible and immersion in Scripture and meditation more desirable to my heart or awkward to find time for? Does this show leave me with a disinclination to pray and seek God’s face and long for his power? Does this show dampen my zeal for missions and my desire to see salvation come to the lives of the people around me — not to mention the people in Hollywood?
Does it leave me with any desire for a great revival in my city — to see people brokenhearted for the sin represented in a lot of these shows? Does this show sweeten my experience of corporate worship with God’s people and make it more authentic?
Does this show heighten my sense of desire to be a risk taker for the cause of justice and the advancement of God’s righteous rule? Does it help me want to get in a boat or a plane and go to some hard place and die for Jesus? Does this show make a better, more natural conversationalist about spiritual realities like heaven and hell and the Holy Spirit and the gospel and faith?
That’s my response to the question of whether a person should watch any particular show or movie or video. My calling in the world is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all people through Jesus Christ. “Spread a passion for the supremacy of God” — that’s what I’m after. I’m after the kind of passion for his supremacy in everything that functions as a radical litmus test on what we find amusing and entertaining in media.
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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.
(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)