Today’s blog is a guest post by Rachel, a single girl teaching English in inner-city Memphis. This post originally appeared on Why I…, her blog where she writes about anything that pops into her head, from television to theology to her burning desire to attend Comic-Con one day.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
– Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
Growing up in a Christian home and very Bible-centered youth group, I heard this verse a lot. And normally when I heard it, it was in the context of why we shouldn’t watch R-rated movies or Dawson’s Creek. I ran across this verse again during my quiet time yesterday and realized it is so much more powerful than just an argument against secular media.
The Things We Consume
As a teenager, I hated this verse. It made me feel guilty for wanting to watch the things all my friends were watching. I didn’t want to be that kid who had no idea what anybody was talking about because they didn’t understand any of the pop culture references. It seemed like everyone around me was soaking it up, and I wanted to consume the same things they were.
No doubt about it: we live in a consumer culture. Everywhere we go, we are consuming something. Images, messages, songs, food; you name it, we consume it. And we live in a time where we have so many options. We have so many different ways to consume media – on our televisions, in movie theaters, in our cars, on our computers, on our phones!
Our culture makes it incredibly easy to be swept along by the tide of popularity and trends, without being very discerning about what we are consuming. Images and messages in the media are powerful, and we do need to be careful of what we are internalizing, but I think this verse can teach us much more than “don’t see movies with sex scenes or listen to music with curse words.”
Look at the adjectives that are used: true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise. There are so many fantastic works of art that meet these criteria! Two of the most commonly referenced movies in my youth group growing up were Braveheart and The Shawshank Redemption. Both of these movies were rated R, but just try to tell me with a straight face that they are not full of truth, honor, and loveliness, that they are not commendable and excellent works of art that are worthy of praise.
God created screenwriters, directors, producers, graphic artists, animators, painters, actors, singers, songwriters, musicians, authors, etc., and when they use those gifts well, it can bring glory to Him whether they intended it to or not. Good art is good art, solid craftsmanship is solid craftsmanship. If we look with the right mindset, we can see the beauty of the God in those works, and possibly learn something about ourselves and those around us in the process.
If I’m being honest, I’m not sure the biggest danger is “questionable content.” I think the bigger danger may be mindless entertainment. How often do you watch or read things that allow you to zone out? That have little to no artistic merit? That might be fun for a while, but are forgotten within a few minutes or hours. In my opinion, even something that is “family friendly” may not meet the bar of Philippians 4:8 if it is crass or shoddily made.
We need to be consuming things that are made with excellence, things that reveal truths about humanity and the way we function, things that give us pictures of what it means to honorable and just, things that are beautiful. We need to consume media that encourages engagement, forces us to consider different perspectives, and requires us to ask questions about the world around us.
Imagine if all the meals you ate were made with the finest, purest ingredients possible, cooked with excellence, and presented with beauty. I think if that were the case, we would all be healthier and enjoy food more constructively.
In the same way, by consuming quality works of art, we make our lives richer and deeper and nourish our souls.
The Things We Produce
On the flip side, what kind of things are we producing?
I, for one, want to be writing things that are honest and honorable and right, that are commendable and excellent. I want people to be able to read the things I write without guilt or shame. My mind dwells on the things I create – I want those things to be what is described in Philippians.
And this does not have to apply just to artists. Whatever industry you are in, whatever it is that occupies your days, how can you do it in such a way that it is something others would want their minds to dwell on? Imagine if we all ran through Philippians 4:8 and looked honestly at our work before finishing any task. How much better would our companies be? Our offices? Our homes? Our classrooms? Our blogs?
For so many years I have avoided thinking about this verse, because I did not want to have to stop consuming media that I love. But now, looking at it with new eyes, I feel like this is a verse full of freedom. Freedom to use our gifts well. Freedom to create beautiful things that glorify God. Freedom to find the beauty, the purity, the truth, and the honor in the things we watch and hear and see.
Yes, we need to be discerning. Yes, we need to guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. But how dare we reduce the inspired word of God to a “don’t do x, y, and z” rule? That may be part of it, but it is without a doubt deeper, richer, and more glorious than that.
A Side Note
Because of the current popularity of 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike, I feel the need to add a clarification here. There is a point where even artistic merit cannot redeem a work’s content. That line is probably in different places for different people, and we need to give each other grace. My line is certainly farther away than many people I know, and I watch and read a lot of things others may not be comfortable with.
I have chosen, however, to not read 50 Shades of Grey or go see Magic Mike. Many wonderful women have given excellent reasons, which I am not going to reiterate here. What it really boils down to is something a friend of mine posted on Facebook. She said, “Not going to see Magic Mike. Why not? If the movie featured women instead of men, I wouldn’t exactly be thrilled about [my husband] rushing off to see it. #mutualrespect”
And that’s really what it boils down to. I have freedom in Christ, but sometimes I need to limit that freedom, either for the sake of something better, or out of respect for those around me. This is one of those times.