Sorry for the numerous questions I’m about to ask, but they all revolve around the subjects of secular entertainment and materialism so it made sense to me to ask them together.
I grew up with a love of playing video games, watching movies, reading comic books, etc. About a year ago I began to have questions about some of these things. One verse I came across was I John 2:15: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (NKJV).
From what I understand the term “world” can be used in Scripture to refer to the sinful order of the world, and given what verse 16 says that does possibly seem to be the meaning in this context, but at the same time, telling people not to love sin seems a little too obvious of a statement which makes me wonder if there’s more to this passage, if it could mean not to love anything secular or man-made. For example, watching a movie for its beautiful visuals could be considered a desire of the eyes, a desire that otherwise could be fulfilled by simply viewing God’s nature. Playing a competitive game could be an appeal to the pride of life. Am I splitting my affections and violating the greatest commandment by loving these things? Am I violating Colossians 3:2 and Philippians 4:8 if I ever think about fictional stories instead of spiritual things? (I’m very imaginative). Should all my time outside of my education and career be devoted to spiritual activities such as prayer, Bible study, and good works toward others? (Colossians 3:2, Ephesians 5:15-16, Ephesians 2:10). If I ever take time to entertain myself, am I doing so “through selfish ambition”? (Philippians 2:3 NKJV). Even if secular entertainment isn’t specifically condemned, is it even authorized in the first place (Colossians 3:17), and can it be done “to the glory of God”? (I Corinthians 10:31 NKJV). Further, if secular entertainment is authorized, can we assume that includes modern forms of secular entertainment such as movies and video games, or is that being presumptuous?
In addition, is having great affection for certain fictional characters a form of idolatry? About a year ago if someone asked me who my heroes were, I would’ve said Spiderman and Luke Skywalker. I realize now that Jesus is my true hero, but even then I never intended to make those characters replacements for Jesus; all I meant was that those are two fictional characters I look up to. Still, I hope that I wasn’t inadvertently turning them into idols, especially by having posters and action figures depicting these characters. And what about playing games/reading stories that involve magical/fantastical elements? Would that be a violation of I Thessalonians 5:22? Even the most seemingly innocent forms of entertainment such as classic Disney movies have magical elements in them.
One more thing: I possess a lot of cool material things. I understand that these things won’t last forever, but it’s still cool to have them. However, there are multiple passages in the Bible that make me wonder if I should have those things at all: Matthew 19:16-22, Luke 12:33-34, Acts 2:44-45, I Timothy 6:6-8. I guess a big part of my worries is the feeling that because so many others don’t even have the necessities of life, it’s wrong for me to have more than the necessities, especially since selling my non-necessary possessions would give me greater ability to help the less fortunate as well as give more to the work of the church (as of yet, I haven’t really done much giving to the poor since I don’t yet have a job and pretty much everything I own was either a gift or bought with money I received as a gift).
I know that was a lot to unpack, so please take your time with the answer. Perhaps a good way to summarize my concerns would be to wonder if my desire for earthly things shows a lack of contentment with the spiritual blessings of being a Christian. (Ephesians 1:3).
I appreciate your help.
"Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?" (Ecclesiastes 7:16).
There are times when people try to be more strict and more righteous than God requires. Like the Pharisees of old, they place rules upon themselves and others that God never gave. "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) -- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Colossians 2:20-23). When taken to the extreme, it becomes known as religious OCD (or scrupulosity).
The error you made was when you decided to expand what John said in I John 2. "I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever" (I John 2:14-17). John is talking about priorities. When a person puts things of this world first in his life, then he will continually make the wrong choices. When what I want becomes more important than what God said, then I'll quickly fall into sin.
In other words, the "love" John is talking about is what you hold as most important in your life. It is similar to Jesus' statement: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:37). Yet, we are expected to love our parents, and parents are expected to love their children. Yet, we cannot love our family more than God. We cannot put family interests before God's interests.
Thus, I can enjoy a movie and love watching a sunset, but know that these sorts of things are insignificant when compared to living a godly life. Exercise and competitive sports are fun, but not to the point that they distract me from doing God's will. "On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (I Timothy 4:7-8).
This doesn't mean that we can't enjoy life's pleasures. "I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor -- it is the gift of God" (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). The problem comes in when pleasure is our sole focus. "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have" (Hebrews 13:5). "And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content" (I Timothy 6:8). Agur once prayed: "Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches -- feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, "Who is the LORD?" Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God" (Proverbs 30:8-9). He understood that there is a danger in having too much as well as in having too little.
Paul twice quotes from Epimenides (Titus 1:12; Acts 17:28), which indicates that he read this work produced by a worldly man from Crete. We have no problem understanding that Paul places the word of God above secular writings, but it doesn't mean secular writing can't be read, enjoyed, or even quoted to make a point.
If you put your own interests ahead of everyone else, then you would be violating "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4). But notice that this doesn't mean that I can't, at times, make choices that I enjoy. It becomes wrong when only my interests are considered.
Idolatry is when you let something worldly control your decision-making. Being a fan of a fictional character is not wrong, but if you start making decisions by asking yourself, "What would Spiderman do in this situation?" then things have gone too far.
I Thessalonians 5:22 is often misapplied. It is saying to avoid evil in all the forms it takes on. In other words, we must carefully discern what is good and what is evil. When we find something to be good, we latch on to it. When we find something to be evil, we shun it. It is similar to the statement in Hebrews 5:14, "But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
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