What Does the Bible Say About Entertainment?

entertainmentYou might be surprised at the number of times the Bible touches on the subject of entertainment. On the positive side, Jesus went to parties and made time to get away from the grind of ministry with His disciples. Paul said that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17), and he obviously knew something about poetry (Acts 17:28), sports (1 Corinthians 9:24-26), and the theater (1 Corinthians 4:9). What’s more, the end of history is pictured as a banquet for God’s people in Revelation. Negatively, King Herod’s attempt to entertain his guests led to John the Baptist’s execution (Matthew 14:6-12), and the Persian King Ahasuerus’ wild party ended with what amounted to a divorce (Esther 1:1-22). How do we sort through these biblical references? Here are several principles to help you determine Scripture’s teaching on entertainment and amusement.

1. Keep entertainment in perspective. The deepest, most abiding joy comes from fellowship with God, not a fleeting source of amusement. The psalmist longed for God’s presence and said to Him, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10). The amount of entertainment available in the western world is overwhelming. Yet people still abuse substances, lead deeply troubled lives, and even commit suicide. This is evidence that no amount of entertainment can bring ultimate fulfillment. Such satisfaction can only be achieved by walking daily with Jesus as Lord and Savior.

2. Seek levity and amusement in the proper context. The fact that entertainment is not our ultimate source of satisfaction does not mean it’s evil. On the contrary, Scripture suggests that God’s people should pursue wholesome entertainment. For instance, Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine.” Ecclesiastes urges, “Eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9).

3. Don’t use entertainment to escape from reality. The author of Ecclesiastes mentions work and feasting in the same verse: “Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (3:13). The obvious suggestion is that God’s people must not pursue sources of amusement at the expense of tending to life’s responsibilities such as work and family. When King David sought relaxation at the expense of meeting his obligations, the results were catastrophic (2 Samuel 11:1-27). The Lord wants us to enjoy His gifts while we meet our obligations, not in lieu of meeting our obligations.

4. Satisfying sinful desires is not a valid source of entertainment. This ought to go without saying. Unfortunately it doesn’t, as many view excursions into drunkenness, sexual titillation, or crass humor as “harmless fun.” Along with Herod and Ahasuerus, Babylon’s King Belshazzar exemplifies the folly of entertaining oneself by satisfying sinful cravings. The very night that he indulged in drunken reveling, the Medes killed him and overthrew his kingdom (Daniel 5:31).

5. Allow interruptions to your entertainment. Though Jesus enjoyed a wedding (John 2:1-12), a banquet (Matthew 9:10), and a getaway to the lake (Matthew 14:13), He was often willing to be interrupted to meet people’s needs. It was a matter of priorities. In the same way, our entertainment is never so important that it cannot be stopped to help a friend in need or share the gospel with a person who needs Jesus.

The Bible’s advocacy of godly entertainment has played a role in the development of sports, literature, art, music and more among Judeo-Christian cultures. So the next time opportunity presents itself to enjoy a wholesome form of entertainment, think about this heritage and thank God for His good gifts.



 

What Is Meant by “The Glory of God”?

(Note:  The following video and article is presented within The Biblical Story Course under ERA 5: Israel, lesson 18, “Solomon’s Reign and Its Aftermath”.

Synopsis
The glory of God is His majesty and the honor due to His name. Israel of old and the Church today are called by God to bring glory to His name.

Statement of Doctrine
There are no rivals to God’s magnificence and righteousness. All should acknowledge His power and splendor – His glory – even as His creation proclaims it.

Biblical Support
Having been overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord at the moment of his calling as a prophet (Isaiah 6:1-7), Isaiah had much to say about it throughout his ministry (for instance, Isaiah 40:12-31). He declared that Yahweh was so great that He could hold all the waters of the earth in the palm of His hand and weigh the mountains on a scale. He alone created, without the help of anyone else. Moreover, God alone had all knowledge, needing no one to instruct Him in anything. Therefore, the Lord declared that He would not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8).1

The Hebrew word for glory (kabod) connotes grandeur, substance, and might. It manifests itself in many ways. For instance, the glory of the Lord appeared like a consuming fire at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:17) and as a cloud filling Solomon’s newly built Temple. So overwhelming was the cloud that the priests could not even enter the building (2nd Chronicles 7:1-2).2 Then, in Ezekiel 10, the sad spectacle of God’s glory departing the Temple involves not only a bright cloud, but also the image of jewel-encrusted wheels.

There is also a strong moral component to God’s grandeur. When, on Sinai, Moses asked to see God’s glory, the Lord said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you . . .” (Deuteronomy 33:19).

Frequently in Scripture, the glory of God is presented as the aim of His action in the world. For instance, it says He created people for His own glory (Isaiah 43:7), and He restrained His anger and redeemed His people so that His name would be magnified (Isaiah 48:9-11; cf. Isaiah 43:25; Ezekiel 20:9). Accordingly, a central part of Israel’s worship was to give God the glory that was due to His name.3

Historical Interpretation
The Westminster Shorter Catechism of the seventeenth century begins with the question “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”4 In the eighteenth century, Jonathan Edwards developed this theme, saying, “God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”5 Today, another pastor-theologian, John Piper, has drawn on Edwards to suggest a new answer to the Westminster question: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”6

BibleMesh
The Old Testament prophets spoke of a day when acknowledgement of God’s glory would extend beyond the nation of Israel. Then “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14; cf. Isaiah 11:9). The fulfillment of this prophecy began when Jesus Christ, who was the “radiance of the glory of God,” came to earth (Hebrews 1:3).

One day, this radiance will be so great that there will no longer be need for a sun or a moon, for God Himself will provide all the light needed (Revelation 22:5). The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb will join the heavenly multitude in crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory . . .” (Revelation 19:6).

For Further Study
John Piper, “What Is God’s Glory?” Desiring God Website, http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-gods-glory (accessed August 12, 2014); John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998); C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001); Jonathan Edwards, The Glory and Honor of God (Nashville: B&H, 2004).

 

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Endnotes:

1Though God’s glory is utterly unique, He does confer significant dignity and splendor upon humanity, which is made in His image. As it says in Psalms 8:5 regarding “the son of man,” “you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.”

2 This was a wonderful moment of recovery, for the Ark of the Covenant was once again in the Most Holy Place. When the ark, with its attendant glory, was captured by the Philistines (1st Samuel 4:1-22), Israel was stung by a sense of disgrace and weakness. Upon hearing the terrible news of this loss, the daughter-in-law of the priest Eli gave birth suddenly and named the child “Ichabod,” meaning “the glory has departed.”

3 See Psalms 29:1-2; Psalms 96:3, Psalms 96:7-8; Psalms 108:5; Psalms 115:1.

4 See “Westminster Shorter Catechism (1674),” Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website, http://www.ccel.org/creeds/westminster-shorter-cat.html (accessed September 9, 2009).

5 Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies, vol. 13 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Thomas Schafer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 495, Miscellany #448; see also #87, p. 251-252 and #332, p. 410. For an online discussion of the significance of this passage, see John Piper, “A God-Entranced Vision of All Things,” Desiring God Website, http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByDate/200…(accessed September 9, 2009).

John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 18.

 



 

The Bible and Sixteenth-Century Culture

Andrew Pettegree is a history professor at the University of St. Andrews and founder of the St. Andrews Reformation Studies Institute. In a recent work entitled Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion, he reflects on the profound cultural impact of the Christian Scriptures in sixteenth-century Europe. In particular, the work addresses the means of persuasion: how it was that people became committed to distinctively Christian living. The primary means of this persuasion was the distribution of the Bible.

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[I]t is hard in any survey to do real justice to [the Bible’s] primacy and influence. But this was a remarkable and many-faceted book, a success in so many of the categories of print that sixteenth-century readers found so fascinating. It was a travelogue and a work of history; a work of literature and poetry; it provided the model for much of the most successful drama of the age; it was a work of prophecy in an age obsessed by prophecy; it was a treasure trove for botanists, grammarians and etymologists, and a foundation text for students of the ancient languages; it was a work of jurisprudence, perhaps the sixteenth century’s most influential legal text; it was certainly the century’s most influential work of political thought. It provided role models for rulers and priests, for fathers and mothers, for soldiers and martyrs.

In this book the print culture of the sixteenth century was displayed in all its technical sophistication. It could be a handy pocket-sized book in tiny print, or a gloriously illustrated folio. The narrative illustrations in the Old Testament brought to life some of the greatest stories of the Christian tradition; even in the austere purged editions of the later Protestant tradition the text often came accompanied by maps, technical drawings, and ingenious diagrams of belief and unbelief. It is not too much to say that in this one volume is epitomized much of what sixteenth-century book culture had to offer.

The sixteenth century placed this compendious and many-sided work directly in the hands of unprecedented numbers of people. Throughout the century and in all European vernaculars there were published at least 5,000 whole or partial editions of the Bible, a total of at least 5 million copies.1

 

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Endnote:

1 Andrew Pettegree, Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 191.

Biblical Insight: She Conceived and . . . Killed?

BabyInside“He slept with Hagar, and she conceived . . . So Hagar bore Abram a son.”
“She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son . . .”
“Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son . . .”
“She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son . . .”
“Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son . . .”
“Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son . . .”
“So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son . . .”
“She conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters . . .”
“The woman conceived and sent word to David . . . she became his wife and bore him a son . . .”
“I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son . . .”
“So he married Gomer . . . and she conceived and bore him a son.”
“Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter.”

Genesis 16:4, etc. (NIV)

Human life is created at conception. When a baby is conceived, God intends the child to be born. For a baby to die between conception and birth is unnatural, aberrant, and a wrenching departure from God’s created order.

The word “conceived” is used some 18 times in the NIV Bible to refer to the conception of a child. In every instance, the conceived child is finally born. According to the biblical narrative, this is the proper pattern—conception results in birth.

God intended the womb to be a sanctuary where human life might be wonderfully and secretly fashioned by His hand (cf., Psalm 139:13-16). He never meant it to be a place of death. In fact, the Bible pictures conception without birth as a sign of divine judgment. Consider Hosea 9:14—“Give them, O LORD—what will you give them? Give them wombs that miscarry . . .” Even Hosea’s prophetic voice fails as he tries to think of a judgment terrible enough to repay the sin of the Ephraimites. Flushed with anger, he finally prays that God would cause their children to die in their mother’s wombs.

It would, of course, be wrong to tell a couple suffering miscarriage that the cause was God’s judgment upon them. Terrible things happen to innocents in this broken world. The point of this Scripture is that such loss is mournful, something they know full well. More than anyone, they understand how abominable it is to kill an unborn child; it is high-handed rebellion against the glory and creative authority of God.

Modern society has carved a moral chasm between conception and live birth. Legal maneuvering in America has led to the declaration of unborn children as categorically different from those actually born. In essence, all legal rights to life are rendered void in the period between conception and birth. The freedom to kill the unborn at will is defined as a parental right. Scripture allows no such right, and the Church must fiercely oppose it wherever it exists in the world.



 

8 Biblical Responses to Worry

WorryMost of us know that the Bible says not to worry. Jesus put it memorably when He said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). But often that’s easier said than done. Anxiety can feel uncontrollable when finances are tight, when relationships are strained, and when there doesn’t seem to be enough time to fulfill all of life’s obligations. Does the Bible provide any specific strategies for avoiding worry? Fortunately it does. Try the following next time anxiety feels unavoidable.

Go deeper with Christ. God wants to walk with His people like He did with Adam and Eve in the garden. In fact, He “takes pleasure in His people” (Psalm 149:4). In times of great worry, depend on Jesus as a personal friend and return to your first love (Revelation 2:4-5). Experiencing His friendship is often the only force more powerful than life’s overwhelming cares.

Serve others. Ministering to others can help us get away from the self-focus of worry. Despite their own “severe test of affliction,” the Corinthians experienced an “abundance of joy” by turning their energy toward assisting someone else (2 Corinthians 8:2).

Pray. Paul advised the Philippians to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer … let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Sometimes the best antidote to troubled stewing over life’s problems is to translate the stewing into specific requests for the Lord.

Go to church. One reason God commands Christians to be part of a local church is that being with His people provides encouragement and “stirs” us up “to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Attending a worship service, small group Bible study, or prayer meeting can provide a needed lift of spirit.

Sing. This can be a powerful alternative to worry. Think about the Psalms of lament where King David soothed his cares with worship songs. When his own son usurped the throne and sought to kill him, David sang, “You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).

Spend time with family. Scripture has much to say about the joys of family, whether biological (Proverbs 12:4; Psalm 127:3-5) or spiritual (1 Timothy 5:1-2). To put the subject of your worry aside momentarily and enjoy time with loved ones can markedly reduce anxiety.

Seek wholesome entertainment. “A joyful heart is good medicine,” according to Proverbs 17:22. The next time you’re anxious or stressed, try watching an uplifting movie or television show, reading a book, or attending a play. Entertainment of the wholesome variety is among God’s gifts to lighten troubled times.

Meditate on an uplifting thought. Paul told the Philippians to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). The possibilities are almost limitless, and you can’t think about such things while also mulling over your stresses.

Thankfully the Bible doesn’t just give us abstract commands, but also provides concrete strategies for doing what God says. Avoiding anxiety is a case in point. The next time your stress level elevates, remember that Jesus cares about your troubled heart and provides all the strategies needed for those “who labor and are heavy laden” to experience His “rest” (Matthew 11:28).



 

Violence in the Bible—How Should We Respond?

What does the Bible teach about violence? Some critics make the case for a moral equivalency between Christianity and Islam, claiming that the Bible is no less violent than the Qur’an.1 Certainly the conquest of Canaan, as described in the Bible, was a bloody one. Some cities like Jericho were put to the sword.

joshuaIsn’t it dangerous to have such material in the Bible? Might not these stories incite Christians to acts of bloodshed or even genocide against others? The answer to this question is a very emphatic “No!”

There are a number of reasons why the conquest of Canaan, and other stories of conflict in the Bible, do not incite Christians into violent acts of insurrection, murder, and genocide.

One is that the account of the conquest of Canaan was entirely situation-specific. Yes, there is a divine instruction reported in the Bible to take the land by force and occupy it: “you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places” (Num. 33:52). However this was not an eternal permission to believers to wage war.

It was for a specific time and place. According to the Bible, the Canaanites had come under divine judgment because of their religious practices, of which, perhaps, the most offensive example was child sacrifice: “And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you” (Deut. 18:12; see also Gen. 15:16).2

The sacrificing of firstborn children by immolating them before an idol (Deut. 18:10) was a persistent trait of Canaanite religion. The Phoenicians were Canaanites, and as late as the second century B.C., the people of Carthage, a Phoenician colony, were sacrificing children to their goddess Tanit. Archeologists have found charred remains of tens of thousands of newborn infants and fetuses buried in Carthage. The practice of child sacrifice made the Romans despise the Carthaginians.

Although the Old Testament does condone the use of force to purge a land of violence and injustice, the Bible’s attitude to such violence is not that it is sacred or holy. On the contrary, King David, who fought many wars with God’s active support and guidance, was not allowed to be the one to build God’s temple in Jerusalem, because there was so much blood on his hands: “You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood” (1 Chron. 28:3).

The conquest of Canaan was indeed a unique moment in the history of God’s dealings with His people. It prefigured a coming day of restoration when evil would be erased from the face of the earth and peace would come. No serious person can suggest that the warring principles involved in securing the Promised Land are to be practiced by Christians today.

Violence is regarded by the Bible as an inherently evil symptom of the corruption of the whole earth after the Fall: “the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11). In contrast the prophet Isaiah looked forward to the day when violence would be no more: “Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise” (Isa. 60:18). Astoundingly, and in absolute contrast to the earlier kings of Israel, Isaiah describes the Lord’s anointed as unacquainted with violence: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isa. 53:9). This prophecy, of course, reaches its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.3

The key question for Christians is “What did Jesus have to do with violence?” When we turn to consider Jesus and His followers, we find a systematic rejection of religious violence. Jesus’ message was that His Kingdom would be spiritual and not political. Jesus explicitly and repeatedly condemned the use of force to achieve His goals: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).

As Jesus goes to the cross, He renounces force, even at the cost of His own life: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).4

Jesus’ take on violence was reinforced by the apostles Paul and Peter, who urged Christians to show consideration to their enemies, renouncing personal retaliation and revenge, living peaceably, returning cursing with blessing, and showing humility to others (Rom. 12:14-21; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:20-24).5

If only Christians had maintained this New Testament position down the centuries, the world would have been a better place. The invention of “Christendom” in the fourth Christian century, and the later influence of a centuries-long struggle against the Islamic jihad, ultimately led Christians to develop aberrant theologies which regarded warfare against non-Christians as “holy” and soldiers who died fighting in such wars were regarded as “martyrs.” Thankfully this view of warfare has been universally denounced in the modern era as incompatible with the gospel of Christ.

The New Testament’s teachings on the state continue to sustain the more than 300 million believers who live in over 60 nations where Christians are persecuted. In none of these countries has persecution resulted in Christian terrorism or violent Christian insurgencies aimed at overthrowing civil authorities. On the contrary, China’s 70 million Christians remain loyal to their nation and government, despite 50 years of the most intense oppression. In Nepal it is the Maoists who have been engaging in terrorism, not the half a million indigenous Christians.

The example of the IRA, so often cited as “Christian terrorists,” actually proves our point, because its ideology was predominately Marxist and atheistic. Unlike modern-day jihadists, who constantly quote the Qur’an in their public statements, the IRA terrorists found no inspiration in the peaceful teachings of Jesus of Nazareth!

 

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Endnotes:

Written by Dr. Mark Durie, this article was first published on Kairos Journal. Dr. Durie is vicar of St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Caulfield, Melbourne, Australia. He is fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and the author of Revelation? Do We Worship the Same God? Jesus, Holy Spirit, God in Christianity and Islam.

1 For example, in November 2005 Julia Irwin, Labor member for Fowler in the Australian Federal Parliament, presented a speech in the House of Representatives entitled “Religious Tolerance.” Irwin made extended comments on the Bible, comparing it with the Qu’ran:

Those who refer to Muslim fundamentalists may choose to quote from the Holy Koran, and there are passages that might be taken to show a vengeful God. But when it comes to good old-fashioned violence, the Judaeo-Christian God is hard to beat. I will take one example from the Bible story of the Exodus . . . as Moses heads into the Promised Land . . . he is urged [by God] to hack women and children to death, rip unborn babies from their mother’s womb and level the cities.

Julia Irwin, Grievance Debate, November 28, 2005, Hansard Parliamentary Debate, Commonwealth of Australia House of Representatives, No. 20, pg. 60-61, http://parlinfoweb.aph.gov.au/piweb/Repository/Chamber/Hansardr/Linked/4403-4.PDF (accessed March 6, 2007). See also Kairos Journal articles, “The Qur’an, The Old Testament, and Violence: Part I” and “The Qur’an, The Old Testament, and Violence: Part II”.

2 Additionally, the Bible’s stories of the use of force against the Canaanites are more than balanced by the accounts of the destruction of Israel and Judah by foreign armies. These violent invasions are also described as being God’s judgment, now turned against the Israelites, because they did not distance themselves from Canaanite religious practices. Even the kings of Israel and Judah are charged with practicing child sacrifice (2 Kings 17:7-13, 2 Kings 21:6, see also Ezek. 16:21).

3 In this way the Old Testament sets the scene for the revelation of Jesus Christ, and as the agnostic Andrew Bolt pointed out, “Christianity’s biggest inspiration comes not from the Old Testament, but from the man who gave his name to the religion and made it so very different to what had been before. Jesus Christ’s words, deeds, death and resurrection are the rock on which Christianity is built.” See Andrew Bolt, “Giving Thanks Where Due,” Herald Sun, June 3, 2002, 19.

4 The Sermon on the Mount elaborates several aspects of Jesus’ non-violent ethic. Retribution was no longer acceptable (Matt. 5:38, 39), enemies were to be loved, not hated (Matt. 5:43-44), the meek will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5) and Jesus’ disciples should rejoice when they are persecuted (Matt. 5:10). The Sermon on the Mount has been read throughout most of Church history as statement on personal ethics and not as a statement on whether a state can rightly wage just war.

5 They also allow that the (most likely pagan) civil authorities will need to use force to keep the peace, and this role should be respected (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17).