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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9, ESV).
What If What We Consume is Consuming Us?
Philippians 4:8-9 provides a framework for what we ought to stay our minds on. Things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy—these things pour back into our mental energy. This passage provides not only interesting criteria for the Christ-followers’ approach to the world around them but also a simple premise that was found in scripture long before the field of psychology: what we think about affects us. So, without further ado, here is a shortlist of three things that consume an enormous amount of our thoughts, and in short, might be weighing down our hearts.
- Movies and TV Shows:
In the modern-day battle for our defining societal values, movies and TV shows are something of a Trojan horse. In the immortal words of my friend Gianna, “watching a movie is the act of empathy.” Empathy is not only the ability to understand another’s feelings, it is the ability to share those feelings. So what are we empathizing with? What sentiments are we routinely adopting as our own? This is not a call to throw cinematic masterpieces out with the bathwater or to shun all content that isn’t rated TV-E, but rather a call for sober and routine assessments of what we consume.
For example, a movie may be comedic, but is it honorable? It may be “romantic,” but is it pure? It may be inspiring, but is it lovely? It may be emotionally moving, but before the loving and righteous standards of God, is it just? It may be entertaining, but is it something we could recommend to a brother or sister—is it commendable? It may be genuine in articulating what our culture believes, but in the light of scripture, is the message true? Is it excellent? Is it worthy of praise? Does it reveal sin for what it is, or does it romanticize it? What makes its way into our thoughts is critical, and so we are called to be critical thinkers.
You may find that almost no TV shows and no movies meet these standards. Frankly, Hollywood has standards of its own that are simply incompatible with God’s.
So what do we do? The surest solution would probably be to cancel our Prime, Netflix, HBO Max, etc., move to the countryside far beyond the reach of all internet reception, and bird-watch for the remainder of our days. While effective, this is probably not the greatest way to live out Jesus’ call for us to share and live out the gospel.
Rather, let’s bring our TV shows and movie selections before God with humble discernment. While there may be times when we need to simply cut something out of our lives, there may also be times when we can use a popular show or movie to share the gospel or to be productively aware of our culture and what it values, using that awareness to challenge others. In conclusion, we are engaged in a war that has already been won. Why run? But we do need to keep our wits about us and make sure we aren’t fraternizing with the enemy.
Aural arts are easy to think about–songs and tunes get stuck in our heads all the time. But music is fundamentally a form of worship. In a sense, we might say that all music is worship music. When what we listen to isn’t glorifying God, odds are it’s glorifying something else. That should be a serious cause for concern. Are the lyrics which become the meditation of our minds and the subconscious soundtrack of our lives—are they righteous?
As Christians, we long to love God with our whole being—our heart, mind, and strength. So much of mainstream music runs counter to this agenda, teaching our heart, mind, and strength to romanticize what is less—things like loneliness, obsessive relationships, and lust. One look at our Spotify wrap will even tell us the aura of the music we listen to—whether it was uplifting, angsty, or wistful.
We are called to be in the world but not of the world. How often does the world make a home in our hearts through music? How often do we sing along with lies just because they’re catchy? How often do we delight our hearts and minds with vulgarities?
Once again, the most effective solution is to move to the countryside and listen only to instrumental music provided by ourselves or whichever other humans are invited to come along. We would also have to sew our own clothes and grow our own food so as to avoid music which often plays at stores. It’s certainly on the table, but let’s not do this. Instead, let’s confront the content we consume.
As Christians, we should always be aware of the brokenness around us. It’s worth mentioning that music is one of the most frequent ways I connect with people. There’s something about listening to the same random artist that is an instant bonding experience. If anything, we should try to be as knowledgeable as we can when it comes to finding common ground with others. But our hearts shouldn’t enjoy what the world enjoys. Right? If our hearts desire God, shouldn’t what we listen to reflect that?
There is a weariness that comes with trying to hold onto abundant life while singing along to abundant death. While there may be nothing strictly wrong with listening to a particular album or song, if it puts us in a bad mindset or weighs us down, perhaps it’s best to purge it out of our playlists.
- Social Media:
Does this need any explanation? All that scrolling. All that comparing. All that confirmation bias. All that judging. All that oversharing. All that virtue signaling. All that blatant time-wasting. At least for me, social media is a dangerous game.
Philippians 4:8-9 calls us to “think,” but frankly, my experience with social media tends to be mindless. Systems of thought almost entirely shut down as I scroll through yet another reel of a small dog doing literally anything. But our minds were created to engage, not simply consume. Without critical engagement, it’s hard to have any standard at all for what we consume, let alone the standards of scripture.
But once again, we would be remiss to suggest Christians make a mass exodus from all social media platforms. While it’s most certainly a commendable option, I think there is a great need for Christians to be culture creators, pouring truth, excellence, and purity back into the media. Instead of going to social media to be influenced, if we aren’t already, we should be going to social media to influence what feeds others. Pun intended.
There is a time and place to delete Instagram and Facebook, but when we find it weighing us down, the solution may be as simple as adjusting the content we subscribe to, putting restrictions on how much time we spend on the app, or being intentional about whether it is on our phones where it is most easily accessible. As with all things, we should bring it before God and ask Him for wisdom and guidance.
Here is my most valid point: Jesus is someone worth thinking about. His life and ministry were true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. If ever there is doubt on what ought to be on the forefront of our minds, or where we should let our thoughts drift, let it be Jesus. And if ever there is a question as to whether something which influences our thoughts is worthwhile, we should ask Jesus to step in. What if He were in that movie? What if He were watching that show? What if He were sharing headphones with us? What if He had control of our Instagram? What if He were an active presence in all that consumes our thoughts? And if He isn’t, what on earth have we been thinking?
Julia is a college student who understands that “Distractions don’t just take our attention. When we get caught up in ourselves and the whirlwind of life, we can quickly lose sight of our identity as God’s beloved and the Love which inspires joy, hope, and healing in us. With our focus on ourselves, it’s easy–even logical, to forget why God’s love is so steadfast. Meditate with me on His love, that it is pure, decisive, and trustworthy.” There are numerous ways to enjoy our Bible studies: tune in to your favorite radio station, listen to our podcasts on our website or iTunes, listen through TuneIn, Stitcher, or Spotify online radio, or watch us on YouTube!