The author of the book Jayne Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, once said "I feel monotony and death to be almost the same". Victor Hugo wrote something similar in his novel Les Miserables "There is something more terrible than a hell of suffering -- a hell of boredom." And so for them, entertainment is salvation from death and a fate worse than hell. But is it? The title of the talk in this series suggests it's actually a false idol, a false salvation. In preparing for this talk, I've read of some major names in Christian history condemning attending the cinema, theatre or even a Shakespeare recital. So what is the story here? What does God have to say about entertainment? If it's an idol, when is it an idol, and what should we do about it if we find ourselves in that place?
Before we go any further, let's make sure we're on the same page in terms of how entertainment fits into life.
We can divide life into work and rest (and don't interpret too much into the fact I have a woman working and man laying about doing nothing), and then rest can be divided into sleep and leisure. Leisure can be divided into active leisure – like reading a book or doing crazy things like exercise – or passive leisure, where you watch others being active – like watching sport or a film. Entertainment is passive rest. And the question is, do we idolise it?
Well, if time spent on something is an indicator of how much we value something then the fact that the average brit watches TV for nearly 4hrs a day says something important. Add to that the more than 22 hours on the net each month and you've got TV and internet accounting for more than 50% of our non-work, non-sleep time.
If you took UK internet usage in Aug this year, and condensed it down to 1 hour, it would look like this:
Apart from the somewhat unentertaining category of "other" which is government, food, education, etc., social media would consume 14 mins of our hour, etc. If you merged entertainment, sports and adult you get nearly ¼ of our hour on our entertainment.
So entertainment plays a massive role in how we spend our time. These are averages of course, and lots of people spend lots more time than this on entertainment. But does that mean it's an idol? We spend a lot more time than this at work, and it doesn't mean it's an idol. Does that mean it's replaced God somehow, and is now what we serve? That's what a false idol would be. Well, we can only know the answer to that question by knowing what God has to say, so let's look at the bible.
We're going to look at a short passage in 2 Timothy 3. Please turn to 2 Timothy 3, where the Apostle Paul is speaking to his protégé Timothy and he's about to tell him just how difficult it is to be a Christian.
And one of the things he tells him makes up my first point: "That we can love pleasure or love God, but not both".
1. We can love pleasure or love God, but not both, v4b
Read with me from v1.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.
So Paul tells Timothy there will be terrible times in the last days, by which he means the days Timothy lived in and the days we also live in – the days before Jesus returns. And did you notice Paul talk about the idol of entertainment? Ah, well he doesn't use the word entertainment, but he uses the word pleasure – did you notice that at the end of v4:
"people will be … lovers of pleasure". Lovers of pleasure – and certainly our internet time, if not just common sense, suggest that entertainment is right up there as something that gives the human race pleasure. People are lovers of entertainment. Who doesn't want to be entertained in life? If I walked into any one of your houses it would not take me more than a few seconds to find something that entertained you. You know, had a big week at work, or at home with the kids, plonk yourself down in front of the telly and find yourself torn between watching that Top Gear episode on Dave that you saw on BBC three years ago, or Jason Donovan on Strictly Come Dancing, but are saved by your Virgin Tivo box which lets you watch one while recording not one, but two other shows at the same time. Or you zip off to the cinema or theatre; spend some time on www.bored.com; save some Angry Birds on your computer or phone; check out a comedy cat playing the keyboard on YouTube; or just simply watch some sport. Actually only doing one of those things at time seems so last decade – we're expected to be taking in at least two forms of entertainment at a time now – so if you are on twitter please do tweet your comments on this sermon to hashtag IdolofEntertainment. [That is a joke].
But Paul doesn't list a particular entertainment here – he's just saying people will love pleasure in general. He means that motivational desire for pleasure – that eager desire for entertainment. He's talking about hedonistic desires –about people who are committed, one way or another to their own pleasure.
What's the problem? Well there's two that Paul gives here.
The first problem is when we love pleasure more than we love God.
Problem 1: when we love pleasure more than God (v4)
Look with me back at v4:
"they will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God"
So if we ask the question of the passage, "is entertainment an idol?" the answer is yes if we love it instead of loving God. As Jesus said about possessions, either you love the one and hate the other, or hate the one and love the other. You can't serve two masters. To love pleasure is to dethrone God, that's what this passage says.
And leisure time is a good test of which master we serve. Are you more likely to have a quiet time on a Saturday when you feel the day is yours, or less likely? Do you check your moral integrity at the door when you watch a movie with significant sexual content? Do you discern with wisdom the messages being sold to you in a romantic comedy or Friends rerun? Or what about your wallet –do you spend more on your Sky and LoveFilm subscription, movies and theatre per month than you give to the work of the church? You cannot serve two masters.
Are you using entertainment to escape from the things God wants you do to but are hard or painful, like forgiving someone, or relating to your spouse, or dealing the money problems? That's one reason why games like 2nd life are so popular – they let you escape from this world into some form of online reality which, of course, isn't real at all, but it offers some relief and the hope of something better – Time Magazine reported that serious players of World of Warcraft and Second Life spend 20 hours a week playing these game. Or do you hate work, because it isn't fun? That suggests you have an idol of entertainment. Or maybe you find yourself just regularly spending an entire day in front of the TV, but never contemplating spending one in the presence of the almighty God.[pause]
You see, when we love pleasure more than we love God, it shows up in the choices we make. And when we choose the love of pleasure we've tragically traded in the glorious love of God for something that has no glory at all. While the love of God sent Jesus his Son to the Cross, where he was nailed through his hands and feet and hang there to die for us, and while that sacrifice meant that we could have the promise that nothing can separate us from that love, we so often trade it in for something more fun; pleasure. Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
I was in Antarctica for 4 months about 10 years ago. There were others there who were going to stay for the winter, with no sunlight for 3 months at a time, and only 20 people for company. And even when the sun came back they'd only get a disappointing hint of the hot sun warming you from the outside in. They'd dream of real warmth, of shorts and t-shirts of beaches and ice cream melting. I think you know what I mean. J They'd dream of something better than they had. And if entertainment seems worth loving more than God you're like one of those expeditioners – but you're not the ones longing for something better, you're the one who's forgotten there's something better and learned to live with what you have, a pale imitation of the real thing. You've given up on the sun, and learned to love the shadow; and the shadow seems good and interesting and enjoyable but it's not the sun! But for those who live in the shadow we have the knowledge that a great light has shone, and he calls you to come back to loving him with all your heart and mind and strength. He wants you to trade in the pleasure of entertainment for the pleasure of delighting in the glory of God. He desires your love, he deserves your love and he demands your love, to be your first love.
You see, the first problem with loving pleasure is that it's not loving God first.
Problem 2: hedonists don't make good Christians (10-12)
The second problem with loving pleasure is that hedonists don't make good Christians.
Look with me at v10 where Paul continues
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings— what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted
Hedonists don't make good Christians because the Christian who puts pleasure first will never suffer for the gospel. They will never follow in the footsteps of Paul, let alone Jesus. When given the choice of the hard path and the easy path, they will choose the easy path. They will abandon the godly life so they can avoid persecution.
But Paul taught the message and lived the practice of Jesus: everyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted. That is Paul calls us to reject pleasure for the sake of the gospel. Barnabus Fund told the story of two pastors in Nigerian during the violence against Christians in 2009.
When asked to convert to Islam, they refused and were beheaded. One of them, Sabo Yakubu, a father of seven, was hacked to death with a machete. The other, George Orjih, preached to the leader of the militants about Christ before his martyrdom. A fellow kidnap victim, who was later released, reported, "While we were lying there, tied up, George turned to me and said, 'If you survive, tell my brothers that I died well, and am living with Christ. And if we all die, we know that we die for the Lord.'" One eye-witness says that Orjih was singing and praying all through the ordeal and encouraging the believers not to give up, even unto death
The world is not worthy of someone like George Orjih. He loves God more than pleasure. Someone who loves pleasure will not die for Christ. Someone who loves pleasure will not love God, or serve God, as he deserves. Can you hear the preaching of George Orjih, of Paul, of Jesus, as they encourage and urge us to not give up on loving God, even unto death?
You can love pleasure, or you can love God, but you cannot love both.
So are you someone who is prepared to work hard in the gospel? Don't be the Christian who does their bit, as long as you can get home in time for the X-Factor afterwards. Don't be the Christian who resists the call to serve the 9.15 congregation in Climbers or Scramblers simply because that would mean going to bed early on Sat night instead of watching a movie. Don't be the sort of Christian who skips home group to watch football on TV. After all, Jesus didn't call us to take up our iPad and follow him. "Everyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted"; and so hedonists don't make good Christians.
My second point is that it's time to repent of loving entertainment more than God.
2. It's time to repent of loving entertainment more than God, v1-4; 5b; Acts 8
Note in v1 of 2 Tim3 Paul says " But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days." And then he goes on to give his example list of behaviour that marks those terrible times, including loving pleasure not God. But what's especially sobering as you read that list is the company that loving pleasure keeps. Read on in v2.
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
The lover of entertainment is grouped together with Paul by the most repulsive group of people, money lovers, boastful and proud people, abusive people, hate filled people, slanderers, people with no self-control, people who just love themselves. And people who love pleasure. That's quite the family portrait. Do you want your photo in there with them? Is that the sort of people you want to be associated with? Rather, isn't that the sort of thing we would want to flee from? And so we must.
Paul doesn't stop there though, since he says what Timothy should do if he encounters this family. Continue on in v4
"…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them."
That last phrase may shock you such that you need to read it again. Have nothing to do with them. Have nothing to do with people who love pleasure, who love TV, or computer games more than God.
And while Paul's speaking directly about false teachers here who are deliberately leading people astray with evil motives, his command should cause us to stop and catch our breath. The love of pleasure is so serious that some people ought to be excluded from the people of God because of it. God cannot tolerate sin being spread in his church.
That seriousness about this love of entertainment is exactly what Simon the Sorcerer ran into in Acts 8, which you may remember was our second reading.
Simon was a genuine showman – the people said "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power" – he's even got a showman's title – the Great Power. He turns to Christ, but then he sees the power of the Holy Spirit and is so eager to get hold of that and add it to his former act that he throws money at Peter to get it. He saw the gospel as an entertainment opportunity, But Peter rebukes him with these words
20"May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God."
Your heart is not right before God. Simon was so addicted to entertainment that he went as far as wanting to turning the power of the gospel into a second rate circus act. And Peter's solution came next:
22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.
And that solution still stands. Is the love of entertainment in your heart? Maybe you've even turned church into entertainment – if the music isn't up beat, if the preacher doesn't make you laugh or tell interesting stories, if it's a passage you've read many times over, if you're required to be active in listening, then you're switching off. I know that happens because a friend of mine who is a Christian from another church came to HTG and said he didn't like it because it was too boring. But as Simon found out, the gospel is not entertainment. The power of God to change people's lives is not about us getting kicks. And the solution remains the same as it was for Simon. Repent of this wickedness. Repent of your overindulgence in entertainment and your underindulgence in God and pray to the Lord; he will forgive you.
Loving entertainment is not so funny and it's time to repent of that love. That's my second point.
My final point is how to be entertained
3. How to be Entertained
This is going to be a series of dot point thoughts, and they may trigger some thoughts for our question time. First, entertainment is a valid and good form of rest from work. It's the content, and what we do with it, that matters. Like someone once said "there is no such thing as Christian music, just Christian lyrics". Second, no entertainment is neutral. All entertainment has a message. Some of it, like much of the comedy on TV, is blatant and often makes light of things that God takes seriously and so, in order to please God, we should flee from it. That means changing the channel. It means walking out on a bad movie choice. It means removing the source of an addiction and seeking help. It means escaping escapism through computer games. But a lot of entertainment cannot be condemned outright, and so that means we must do something harder than changing the channel and that is developing a critical mind that is active as we are being entertained. And this is especially true with good quality entertainment which so subtly draws us into a point of view which we may find is not that of Christ. The sitcom Friends was a classic comedy, but it was also a classic in proclaiming a non-Christian world-view in an attractive package. Every romantic comedy declares a view of romantic love that is anti-Christian. We must recognise the false teaching in our entertainment and reject it. Depending on you, you may also need to flee it. Third, we should consider how much money we spend on entertainment. Some of us may well spend more on our Sky subscription, or going to movies, that we give to gospel work. If that is the case, then I'd suggest you may well need to ring Sky when you get home. You may want to forsake the new TV for the sake of giving to the poor of Gateshead or the persecuted church this Christmas. Fourth, balance passive leisure – entertainment – with active leisure – doing something. Balance leisure and work. Balance sleep and leisure. Be balanced. Fifth, entertain others. It is better to give than receive. Heb 13:2 says in practicing hospitality we may well have entertained angels. Invite people to your house and talk. Meet up with people to study the bible. If having people to your house isn't practical, arrange to go for a walk with others, organise a book club that meets in a café, and so on. Sixth, be committed to the gathering of God's people more than you are committed to entertainment – the classic being Sunday sport. If you find that you hop between our different church service times to fit around the schedule put out by Newcastle United or a Sunday sports team, then do you love sport more than God's people? I used to be in a HG with an avid Arsenal fan who regularly missed their Wednesday night Champions League matches for HG – you could tell it was a sacrifice – but he did that because he knew HG was more important. He loved God, and God's people, more than entertainment. If he'd tried to find different home groups for different nights of the week so he could always do both, we would not have felt particularly loved. Seventh, for the parents amongst us, we need to teach our children what is appropriate entertainment. For the very young this means by protecting them from things – not everything on CBeebies is helpful to them, much of it needs gospel-minded commentary alongside it and hence supervision. For older children it means training them in critiquing the content of shows. If you're in your teens, it means being on top of what shows and movies are trying to make you think and weighing it with the gospel. It means being on your guard against pop stars, TV stars, movie stars becoming pop idols to you and so on. For instance, the way they introduce the judges and performers on X Factor, with messianic music, should ring alarm bells. Eighth, for many of us entertainment is now such an addiction, so mixed in our blood, that we need the help of people around us to break the cycle of addiction. If that is you – from computer games to lap dancing clubs – tell another believer and pray regularly with them. Ninth, Church is not entertainment, so being bored in church is a sign your thinking is wrong. Develop skills as an active listener; as we do that we will engage more with the passage and I expect, for instance, that our question times will get even better. Take notes!
But it's too late to start taking notes now, since that was my final thought.
We can love pleasure or we can love God, but we can't love both. If we choose pleasure, God rebukes us and calls us to repent. On the other hand, if we continue to choose to love God more, then we have the pleasure of delighting in the glory of God forever. Let's pray.