How Much Entertainment Is Too Much?
2019 remains busy for you, Pastor John. Two weeks from now, you and Noël will be in South America, Lord willing, in Brazil and Argentina. You’ll speak at some key events in the St. Paul of Brazil — São Paulo. Then it’s down to Buenos Aires, and back up in Brazil to Campina Grande. I know a lot of APJ listeners have emailed us eagerly awaiting your arrival in each of these three cities. You are excited to go on this trip I know. And you’ve spoken in Brazil before, correct?
Traveling for Joy
I’ve been to Brazil a couple of times. I’ve never been to Argentina. My excitement about going to Brazil is because I know people there, and I love what I know. I love the spirit. I love the hunger. And I’m eager to build on our time together with the precious truths that we share. I don’t know the new friends that I anticipate making in Argentina. This has me and my wife excited. She loves to put another notch in the gun of her travels. She’s way more of a traveler than I am, and she’s never been to Argentina, and I’ve never been.
“Seek to bring every act into connection with the Lord.”
We’re eager to discover — not just build, but discover — the temperament, the tone, the hunger, the zeal, the faithfulness of our friends in Argentina. That feels like kind of a new venture for us. I’m so eager to see what comes.
I’m praying right now in my season of preparation, “What, Lord, do you want me to bring to Brazil and to Argentina?” If folks hear this while I’m still working on it, they can pray, “Oh, God, give Pastor John something — even though he doesn’t know us very well — something that we need. Something that he will receive from you, Lord.” So I’m excited. I’m excited to build. I’m excited to discover.
Amen. I cannot wait to see what the Lord does on this trip. That Campina Grande event — get this — is a massive Bible conference that replaced Carnival, which was a huge Mardi Gras–like cultural event in the city. Now it’s a city festival devoted to Reformed preaching and teaching: fifty teachers, seven nights, one hundred thousand people, food and books in huge tents. I cannot wait to get an update on that event, Pastor John.
Speaking of Brazil, here’s today’s question. “Hello, Pastor John! My name is Julio. I’m 17 years old, and I live in Brazil. I look forward to seeing you very soon! I was listening to the episode where you addressed the question of when Bible neglect becomes sinful, and a question appeared in my mind. My question is this: In the world we live in today, is it a sin to claim time for things other than reading the Bible or praying? Things such as watching a movie or playing a game are very enjoyable to me, but I wonder if God is disappointed in me for using some of my free time to do these things instead of claiming time for him. I read the Bible and pray every day, go to church almost every week, but it sometimes feels wrong to do anything that isn’t directly connected to the Lord. How do you think about this?”
Not a Fool
Jesus told a parable that went like this. It may sound a little disconnected at first, but give me time.
The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16–21)
Now I start here with this parable because I want to commend Julio for his struggle. The man in this parable had no struggle at all. He earned it. He owned it. He stored it. He had security. So he was planning to play, play, play. And Jesus said, “Fool!” He was about to lose his soul.
Most people in the prosperous West, whether Brazil or America, are falling into the ditch on that side of the road. They are not being too self-denying, not too ascetic. But Julio is struggling in the other direction. He needs help in the other direction. What kind of eating, what kind of drinking, what kind of being merry could be godly?
Working and Resting
His first question is this: “Is it a sin to claim time for other things other than reading the Bible or praying?” The answer, of course, is that it’s not a sin. Of course, you can make things an idol, but the reason you know it’s not necessarily a sin is because Paul told us to work for a living (Ephesians 4:28). For most people around the world, work has always involved eight to twelve hours a day of doing things with their hands or feet or backs or brains that are not simply Bible reading and prayer. And that’s commanded of us.
“Good gifts of the world can be avenues of knowing God better, enjoying him more, and being a greater blessing to other people.”
Jesus said to his disciples after a hard season of work, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Now we don’t know what they did, but it was a break from more intense ministry of the word. Break — as in, “take a break from that.” Paul told believers how they should act when they accept a dinner invitation from unbelievers (1 Corinthians 10:27). So he assumed they had friendly relations with others and joined in ordinary times of relaxing together.
So those are some of the reasons I say, “No, it’s not a sin to take time away from Bible reading and praying and do what appear to be more ordinary things that the world does — working, resting, going to dinner, and so on. It’s not a sin.
Fruitful Free Time
But then Julio says, “But I wonder if God is disappointed in me for using some of my free time to do entertaining things instead of claiming time for him. It sometimes feels wrong to do anything that isn’t directly connected to the Lord.”
Here’s my main encouragement to Julio and the rest of us. Seek to bring every act into connection with the Lord. And the more difficult that is, the more likely it is that the act should be replaced with something more fruitful. In other words, put everything through this grid. I’ll give you three Bible verses.
- “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s what I mean by “bringing every act into connection with the Lord.”
- “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). So bring everything into connection to the name of the Lord Jesus.
- “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
These are three tests or three ways to connect everything to Jesus: all for his glory, all in the name of Jesus, and all in the cause of loving others.
How Food and Sex Become Holy
Stir into this sifting of behaviors 1 Timothy 6:17: “As for the rich in this present age” — now, I would say that if you can play a video game, you’re rich. You’ve got something to play it on. You’re not starving. He goes on: “Charge them [charge John Piper and Julio] not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).
“The more difficult it is to connect a task to the Lord, the more likely it is that the act should be replaced with something more fruitful.”
First Timothy 4:5 says how. It’s talking about sex and food, very ordinary things that everybody participates in, either legitimately or illegitimately. Paul says, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4–5).
In other words, Paul assumes that there is a way, a necessary way, for Christians to transpose the enjoyments of good things in this world — God-given good gifts — into worshipful acts that are holy, Christ honoring, and people loving. Those very acts of food and sex make music. You transpose that music into Christ-honoring music by the word of God and prayer — by bringing them into connection with the glory of God, the name of Jesus, and love for people.
In other words, he does not assume that the handling of the good gifts of this world, which could be idols, will necessarily be idols. These can become, in fact, avenues of knowing God better, enjoying him more, and being a greater blessing to other people.
Things of Earth
Joe Rigney has written an important book about this called The Things of Earth. The whole book is devoted to trying to help us come to terms with how you bring good things into connection with the Lord without despising them or turning them into idols.
Here’s my bottom-line counsel to all of us: Seek to bring every act into connection with the Lord — to see every entertainment as a gift from God and a revelation of himself, as a path of worshipful enjoyment, and as a means of doing good for other people. Seek to bring every act into connection with the Lord.
The more difficult that is — if you feel like this act doesn’t really fit with the Lord so well — the more difficult it is, the more likely it is that the act should be replaced with something more fruitful.