Should Christians Watch TV, Movies or Video Games?

by drbeck on July 3, 2010

As a Christian, is it wrong to watch TV or a movie? What about playing video games?

These questions fall into the discipline of Christian Ethics, which deals with the teachings of right and wrong in light of the Christian faith. As Christians we look to the Bible to be our final authority in all matters of faith and morality. (What higher authority can we look to other than the One who is set apart in His perfect moral purity, His holiness, from all created beings. God’s holiness is the very definition of what is good and right in the universe.)

So therefore, when dealing with the question of ethics, “Is it wrong to do ______?”, we must look to our guide, the Holy Scriptures.

The first question we must ask ourselves is:

Is this thing we desire to do a sin?

Sin is defined by theologians as “a transgression of the revealed will of God”. Is it lawful to do the thing you desire to do, or does it break the revealed law of God?

The Bible obviously doesn’t say believers should avoid all forms of entertainment. Nor do the Scriptures imply such a thing (with the exception of the Sabbath in the OT and possibly the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, the latter being debated among believers today). So it’s safe to say the act of merely playing a video game or watching TV is not sinful.

One thing to consider here is that Television, computers, books, videos, movies, etc., are all media (plural form of medium). They are a method of simply transferring information created by someone else. The TV or movie studio, book or video game publisher, creates the information and uses a medium to communicate the information to you. So while the TV (meaning the box, cables, electronics, etc.) itself is not sinful, watching certain information coming through it can lead many to sinful desires (e.g. lust, greed, envy), which are certainly causing sin in your life.

Therefore, in general simply watching TV, going to the movies, playing videos games, talking for hours on the phone are not actions sinful in-and-of themselves.

So that settles it right?

We’ll, not quite. There’s a second question we should ask ourselves:

Is it really the best use of the time God has given you?

Paul says in Ephesians 5:16 you should be “making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” The Greek verb here for “making the most of” is exagorazo, which means “to redeem by payment of a price to recover from the power of another, to ransom, buy off.”

Peter T. O’Brien, in his excellent commentary on The Letter to The Ephesians, says of this verse:

Those who are wise will have a right attitude to time. An expression, ‘you are buying time’, similar to the one used here (making the most of every opportunity), appears in Daniel 2:8 in relation to the Chaldeans who were unable to tell Nebuchadnezzar his dream, and so attempted to gain time before their death. If the meaning is the same in Ephesians, the force would be that believers are living in the last days, and so they should try to gain time in order to walk in a matter that pleases the Lord.

So we should make the most of the time God has given us, and “taking advantage of every opportunity in this fallen world to conduct themselves in a manner that is pleasing to God” (O’Brien). Paul then goes on to tell us how to do this in the following verses of Ephesians 5.

Are we really making the best use of our time watching TV, being plugged into our cell phone for hours or playing video games?

Most Christians would agree a certain level of entertainment is acceptable and is useful in relaxing and rejuvenating ourselves. But today’s society, with it’s easy access to anything and everything with the touch of a button , has caused many Christians to completely waste their God-given time. When I look back on my early Christian years at the thousands of hours I personally wasted on computer games and TV shows (LOST!), I think of all the Bible study I could have done, great books I could have read, other languages I could have learned, fellowship opportunities I missed.

So what it really comes down to is not asking whether it is wrong to partake of entertainment, but using discernment to determine if it is wise.

The Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote in The Bruised Reed, put it this way:

We should judge of things as to whether they help or hinder our main purpose; whether they further or hinder our judgment; whether they make us more or less spiritual, and so bring us nearer to the fountain of goodness, God himself; whether they commend us more or less to God, and whether they are the thing which we shall approve ourselves to him most.

I’ll end this post with the words of John Piper’s book “Don’t Waste Your Life“(p.118-119), which is a great book by the way.

People who are content with the avoidance ethic generally ask the wrong question about behavior. They ask, What’s wrong with it? What’s wrong with this movie? Or this music? Or this game? Or these companions? Or this way of relaxing? Or this investment? Or this restaurant? Or shopping at this store? What’s wrong with going to the cabin every weekend? Or having a cabin? This kind of question will rarely yield a lifestyle that commends Christ as all-satisfying and makes people glad in God. It simply results in a list of do’s and don’ts. It feeds the avoidance ethic.

The better question to ask about possible behaviors is: How will this help me treasure Christ more? How will it help me show that I do treasure Christ? How will it help me know Christ or display Christ? The Bible says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). So the question is mainly positive, not negative. How can I portray God as glorious in this action? How can I enjoy making much of him in this behavior?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Autumn Beck July 7, 2010 at 3:30 am

You never cease to amaze me. We’ve had this conversation hundreds of times and I’m still learning! I feel so blessed to sit under your teaching daily. God has truly blessed us both!

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2 Grateful for Grace July 7, 2010 at 4:13 am

Wonderful post.

I should probably stop ‘surfing’ and reading blogs now.

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3 Lisa notes... July 8, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Followed you over from Challie’s biography reading.
Great post here! I so agree with you. We really need to be asking ourselves BOTH of those questions. Thanks for the food for thought today.

I’m going to tweet this, if you don’t mind, so my friends can read it, too.

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4 Michael Beck July 8, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Sure Lisa, feel free to retweet.

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5 Candice August 4, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Love the Richard Sibbes quote. I recently deleted a mind-numbing game off of my phone because these questions were troubling me. Thanks for the good word. I do, however, believe that coming to these realizations has to be a work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life, otherwise it feels like stifling legalism.

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6 Matthew K. November 5, 2010 at 12:19 am

I do believe that as long as you don’t spend all your time playing video games and stuff, it’s alright to enjoy entertainment. However, I believe that you’ve got the ‘lust’ thing wrong. As Augustine said, “Love God and do what you want.”

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7 Michael Beck November 5, 2010 at 2:34 pm

What Augustine said is true, if you truly love God you will want to do His will. Here’s the full quote:

For thorns also have flowers: some actions truly seem rough, seem savage; howbeit they are done for discipline at the bidding of charity. Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.

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8 Jake May 3, 2012 at 1:49 am

I assume this is a case of being sensible really. One question though, How does one make sure he is NOT secretly enjoying immorality in his heart or mind? A great concern of mine.

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