Netflix and Zeal: 6 Things to Consider When Choosing Entertainment

Early last month, social media was abuzz at the news that Netflix was now available globally. I could understand the excitement; I myself, in search of legitimate entertainment, had tried to sign up in the past only to be greeted with some generic “not available in your area” page.

So this was good news. If other media companies follow suit, we’ll soon be able to stream a variety of quality content without resorting to … well … ungodly means.

As the internet celebrated though, I found myself increasingly reluctant to join in. For some reason, when everyone seems to be running in one direction, I often feel the need to question it and consider the other. Yes, it’s  great that I now have access to Netflix, but, what are my guiding principles concerning what I watch or don’t watch?

I know I’ve had some guiding principles, even without having articulated them to myself. There are certain DVD’s I stopped halfway through the movie—and snapped in half. Talk of zeal! But it’s not until recently that I actually thought through what my considerations are when choosing a movie, or what I look out for while watching one.

So I invite you to consider my checklist and urge you to make your own. The text that comes to mind is Psalm 101:2-3:

I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house;
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.

I must say that it’s important to not take that passage out of context; David wasn’t writing about television, or entertainment for that matter. Rather, he says that in his household, nothing evil will be tolerated or celebrated, whether that be idols, or worthless servants, or art. Anything and everything that he “set before his eyes” had to be “worthy of praise.” So my application in this case must be noted to be only a small subset of what the Psalmist had in mind.

Alright then, shall we? Here are the 6 things I consider:

1. Blasphemy

I’ll start by reminding you that in Matthew 5:20, Jesus holds us to a higher standard of practical righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees. And do you know what they did when they heard blasphemy?

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him,“It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

— John 10:32-33

Again, we must be careful to note that they were zealously following the letter of the law given specifically for the nation of Israel as found in Leviticus 24:16. Don’t go stoning your television yet. The point here is that we must be both jealous and zealous for the honor of God’s name. If I feel that a series or movie is bent on dishonoring God’s name (using it as a cuss word, mixing it with cuss words, claiming deity with direct reference to the Bible, etc.) I avoid it.

Admittedly, I am more sensitive to blasphemy against the 2nd person of the Godhead because worldly actors could refer to any number of false gods as “god”, but only Jesus is the exact imprint of the true God (Hebrews 1:3).

It’s because of blasphemy that I won’t be going to watch X-Men Apocalypse. The trailer alone already has my blasphemy filter full.

2. Nudity

Have you ever wondered where the idea of wearing clothes came from? It’s certainly not from the theory of evolution; there is no evolutionary value whatsoever in losing nice, gorilla-like body hair and starting to wear clothes. The answer is found in Genesis: after Adam and Eve sinned, these marred image-bearers of God experienced shame for the first time. What was beautiful and perfect in the presence of God and others was now shameful and in need of covering. And guess who made the first clothes line? God.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the more people are opposed to God, the more they flaunt their nakedness. There is a straight line from indecency to a lack of the fear of God. Just read Ezekiel 23 if you think God is naive and unaware of this nature.

The worst kind of degradation of the image-bearers of God today is when men and women (and especially women) put their naked bodies in front of a camera—and consequently on screens all over the world—in the name of entertainment. It may be tempting in the moment of viewing, but it’s utterly disgusting when you think about it. They will be judged for playing the visual whore. But you and I will also stand before God and answer for every lustful look.

If I know there’s nudity, I don’t go looking for coals to put into my bosom. If there’s even just too much indecency, there’s really nothing to lose by foregoing such entertainment.

3. Violence

We definitely ought not to love violence (Psalm 11:5 is a typical reference with regard to practicing violence), but there is a certain kind of violence that is acceptable. Commendable, even.

Didn’t you cheer in Sunday school when Goliath fell? Don’t we strain with Moses as he tries to keep his hands lifted in prayer overlooking the battle against the Amalekites? Don’t we cheer along with Israel when the walls of Jericho tumble and the conquest of Canaan begins? Man, I get the chills whenever I come across Joab’s battle speech in 2 Samuel 10:11-12!

Whenever evil men arise with ill intent, it is “good” men who must rise to the occasion. It is good men who must fight back. It is good men who must protect the innocent and the weak. And I love movies and series that try to portray the epic struggle that unfolds when heroes seek to meet evil in its element and overcome it with good, even when the only good they can bring to the table is restraint. Fighting evil without becoming evil is the stuff of legend.

This, however, is not what you would find in a horror movie for example, or in movies that are all about gore. Violence for the sake of violence is perversion.

When I first watched Ip Man, the movie didn’t even have subtitles! But I was riveted by the story of a man of strong character, honor, discipline, and restraint. A man who loved his wife and son, his culture, and his country. And who was ready to fight for these things. Feel free to disagree, but I think that measured violence for a noble cause is an inspiring example of common grace.

4. Language

Yes, we live in a time where tongues run unbridled. But one thing you can be sure about is that if a movie or series is vulgar, it was designed to be so right from the concept and scriptwriting stage. The millions of dollars that go into producing a movie mean that every single scene has been scrutinized and carefully executed over and over again to be exactly what the filmmakers intend to portray.

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

— Ephesians 5:4

The more you watch entertainment that is lewd and vulgar, the more your brain subconsciously perceives it as normal behavior, and the more you begin to sound like the things you watch. It is expected that movies will reflect the world we live in, but vulgarity must not be the defining characteristic of what we choose to watch.

5. Moral (of the story)

As I’ve already mentioned, the movies and series you watch cost millions of dollars apiece. Don’t be naive; he who pays the piper calls the tune. The moneyed individuals and corporations that fund the entertainment industry are not only making a financial investment, but an ideological one too. It’s a battle for the mind, and if you go into it mindlessly, the world’s mould will be firmly impressed upon you.

So it’s essential to take a step back and ask, “What’s the point of this film?” and “Am I okay with it?”

The antics of Fast & Furious may be very entertaining, but am I okay with the glorification of grand theft auto, racing, and revenge? Are the parallel narratives (brotherhood, loyalty, family, fearlessness, and ingenuity) strong enough to warrant an IMAX ticket? It’s up to you to decide, but either way, discernment must be exercised.

6. Time

Let’s zoom out one last time and take a birds-eye view of the chunk of our lives taken up by entertainment. How many hours a day do you spend getting entertained? And in a week?

Now how does that compare to the time you spend reading God’s word? Or praying? Or meditating? Or serving other Christians? Or learning a new skill? Reading a book? Visiting the sick? Calling your family?

This is why I don’t watch news. This is why I don’t watch television. Everything I watch I choose to watch, I don’t just end up turning the TV on and going with the flow.

Are you intentional about your time and what you allow to fuel the lamp of your body? If not, please consider it. Jesus certainly cares; The Spirit certainly grieves; God will certainly judge.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

— Ephesians 5:15-17