Late winter is typically the time of year for our entertainment award ceremonies: the Emmy, Grammy, and Oscar awards are only three of many extravaganzas which not only reward artists for excellence, they also draw attention to movies, books, television shows and music that leaders in their respective fields consider to be worthwhile.
As followers of Jesus Christ, are the criteria any different for what we put into our imaginations, minds and hearts? The stakes are high for us. ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flow the wellsprings of life.’ (Prov. 4;23) What we view and listen to will come back out of us in the form of values, opinions, and judgments that affect how we treat others and view ourselves and the world. In 2015, the average American watched over four and half hours of TV every day. While the portions change from age group to age group, on average, we’re consuming over eight hours of media daily. How we choose and evaluate what we take in will have a foundational impact on our discipleship.
The Apostle Paul gives us some guidance as is wrapping up his letter to the Philippian church. These dear believers had endured a great deal of persecution for their faith, and may have been tempted to step out of Greek/Roman culture altogether. Yet Paul doesn’t counsel this. After reminding the church that ‘the Lord is near; do not be anxious about anything’ (Phil. 4:5-6), he goes onto say this:
‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’ (4:8)
Let’s use these words to ask a few questions about what we watch, listen to, and think about. True – Is it accurate? Does it measure well with God’s standard of right and wrong? Would it be compatible with the gospel message? Does it lie about God, or tell the truth about his ways? Noble – Does it have an inner majesty or completeness about it? This word was used of the number 7, and to describe the character of a good leader. Right – The meaning here has more to do with righteousness. So – Does it help make for right relationships with God and others?
Pure – Does it lead toward holiness and away from evil? Lovely – Is it considered worthy by the world at large? Does it have a ‘lovable’ nature? Admirable – Is it considered effectively done? Excellent/Praiseworthy – Does it have the approval of those who can accurately judge? Is it something that would gain praise in heaven as well as on earth?
It’s clear from the list that there is a great deal in our culture that won’t measure up to this list; in fact, there is much that needs to be actively avoided (most horror films all pornography, ‘reality’ television?). Nevertheless, Paul is clearly not ruling out all non-Christian art. The last four words in his list were more Roman than Jewish. We need to find ways to converse with others in our culture who may not share our faith, but also have a desire to communicate creatively and beautifully about who we are and the world we live in. For we will find that where there are true and praiseworthy things to think about, God is very close at hand.