Philippians 4: what is Reel? Christians & the media

It seems to me that, given the restrictions caused by Covid19, this topic has never been more relevant than it is now. Feeling trapped in our homes, we’re devouring any & all available entertainment at our fingertips: Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Hulu, cable TV, & all sorts of ‘entertainment’ available on the web. I pray this message is a healthy reminder for us, because I’m likely going to step on everyone’s toes, my own included…

Phil 4:8;  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.

For one, since the “word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-­edged sword,”(Heb. 4:12), we should always expect to get cut somewhere while studying it: “dividing joints from marrow” has never been fun, but sometimes it’s essential to our healing from the fall and growth.  Secondly, the cross of Christ is, according to Paul, both “…a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…” (1 Cor. 1:23): the truth of the Gospel can be offensive to both the devoutly religious AND the devoutly irreligious.  

A confession up front: some sins are more obvious than others. When sin is obvious, the answer is clear: “RUN AWAY!”  Where that application is simple, mine will be complex – where some sins call for immediate action, I’m going to challenge you to use what the Bible “discernment.”

To give you an idea of why this subject is so confusing and even controversial, here’s an example from my own life.  I have a list of movies I have seen that I believe most all Christians should at least consider seeing at some point in their lives.  A few of the more common and unobjectionable of these would be; Ben Hur, the Chosen, and Chariots of Fire – I’m positive the elders of us are very familiar with those, but we ALL should be. But even more-so than these, I have been truly encouraged and challenged in my faith by films such as; the Big Kahuna, the Apostle, Amistad, and To End all Wars. Where I found myself encouraged by these films, some Christians could point out that the Big Kahuna contains considerable bad language and the only Christian character in the film ultimately needs to be rebuked by a non-believer!  Robert Duvall’s character in the Apostle is a Pentecostal preacher running from the law for murder.  Amistad not only contains the best presentation of the Gospel I’ve ever seen on film, but brief nudity and a scene that may be far too violent for most – I still wince every time I see it. And, I won’t lie: I absolutely LOVE Captain America & Spiderman… how they stand up for the little-guy & recognize that power comes with responsibility… I eat that stuff up!

But rather than wallow in confusion over this subject, I would like to seek out a few principles to inform our search for wisdom.

In Psalm 101:2-4 King David says…

“I will be careful to lead a blameless life- 

when will you come to me? 

I will walk in my house 

with blameless heart. 

I will set before my eyes 

no vile thing. 

The deeds of faithless men I hate; 

they will not cling to me. 

Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; 

I will have nothing to do with evil.”

Note David’s desire for purity and holiness;  I will be careful to lead a blameless life…I will set before my eyes no vile thing…I will have NOTHING to do with evil.”  But most interesting is this – notice the connection in the 2nd stanza of this poem:  I will walk in my house with a blameless heart.  I will set before my eyes no vile thing.”  

NOTICE THIS: by refusing to set before his EYES anything vile he is working to keep his HEART blameless.  Have you ever watched a movie or even a TV program and at some point in it an image is thrown at you and you are unprepared and it just hangs with you FOR DAYS?!?!  Granted, some of us are more visually stimulated than others, but this general principal is still true: what we allow past the filter of our eyes can effect us.

What is more, the “images” of film and television, and even the audio “images” we hear in music are far more than JUST pictures – they convey meaning – they tell a story: often they attempt to convince us, even if only on a minute level, that something is true or false about the world.  Every image we take in conveys a worldview!  Think about it: in film, for example, a filmmaker only has about 2 hours, generally, to tell a story convincingly – after investing so much time and energy in cutting their story down to the essentials, even every camera angle has a meaning, and every constume great significance!  And filmmakers, in spite of what we sometimes think watching some of the terribly unartistic major markets movies that are released now, are all trying to say something.  

Now, before you get wary, this is not to say, “look how evil the bad people in film are” but rather“…be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)  We cannot emphasize enough that people are not the enemy – non-believers are fellow beggars who simply have not yet found their way to the feast; the enemy is spiritual.

I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” Let’s take that verse to Philippians 4:8;

 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.”

But wait – should I not watch the nightly news because murders are often reported, and murders are not noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, OR praiseworthy, even if they are “true”?  Some people do that – they switch it off for their own emotional well-being!  Are we to hide under a bushel and not think about or, even more so, speak about anything that doesn’t make us smile? There are those who do that as well.  

What does this look like?  What is the driving purpose behind this verse?  I think it all has to do with FOCUS.  Here is why…

If you go too far we then will struggle with the apparently not so noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy in the Bible

Or, what of Isaiah 13:15-16

“Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives ravished.”

So, can you imagine this scene in an upcoming “Christian” movie?  Would this pass your criteria for a Godly film?  What of the violent drowning of thousands of Egyptians as the Lord God swept them into the sea, chariots, horses and horsemen all – the entire army of the Pharaoh(Exodus 14:27-28).  Does that image strike you as “lovely”?   As “excellent”?  Should we stop reading the Bible then, too – skip these verses?  

How about Judges 20:4-7… I’ll let you look that up on your own. It’s HARSH.

Would you see these movies?  How about if I told you that you might be doing yourself a disservice if you did not?  Remember this, 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is God-­breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”.  That includes stories such as these.

When I was serving as a Campus Minister & Worship Leader in Athens, Georgia there was a lecture given at the Phi Kappa house by an atheist friend of mine.  He presented a paper stating that the Bible was obscene.  He & I talked about it later & I responded that he was correct.  You see, to call something “obscene” means that it goes against our own sense of decency. The Bible was written to pry us out of our complacency, to break us of our false notions of what should or should not be, to rip the veil of this world from our eyes.  If we do not find this offensive, we are dead – and many of us are. The rough spots in the Bible serve a purpose, however…they are SUPPOSED to rattle us… stay with me

So, back to our initial verse, what does it mean to “set before my eyes no vile thing”?  What does it mean to think on things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy?  How should this affect our approach to popular media?

Well, first we NEED to keep in mind that this is NOT about legalism.  1 Corinthians 10:23 states it more clearly;  “”Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive.”  We should watch things that will be constructive and beneficial to our spiritual lives.  

I have a question for you, what, in your opinion, differentiates the violence and gruesomeness of many of the Old Testament Bible stories (and even the Cross of Christ) from, say, Die Hard? What about the meaning of those events in the larger story?  The purpose of the violence in Die Hard is mere titillation – it’s just entertainment – the satisfaction of revenge, & the fun of seeing things explode.  The meaning of the violence in Scripture serves the larger purposes of God working in history.  

Ex.: Think about it – in real life it makes a big difference if someone is killed as an act of war rather than during criminal act.  Why?  In war an act of violence takes on a different meaning – it serves a greater purpose – it’s part of a larger story.  

So, can we not apply this to the movies & television we watch & the music we listen to?  Does the violence make sense in the larger story?  If it does, might it be, from a Biblical standpoint, noble, right, admirable, and even excellent? As we’ve seen in the Gospel itself, violence can be used for redemptive purposes.  In saying this, let us also be careful – sometime movies go so far as to desensitize us.  But that said, might it actually be possible that violence in a movie COULD be constructive or beneficial to our faith – to push us to engage with a reality we might otherwise overlook?  I see no reason it couldn’t be.


So, here we have a number of guidelines to our intake of popular media.  We have the call to “flee sexual temptation”.  We have King David’s wisdom to “put before my eyes no vile thing”, and Paul’s admonition to think on thing that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy – yet these admonitions are both qualified by the fact that sometimes what we might think vile, or noble, may in fact NOT be so, so we need to seek out the meaning of the event in the larger context.  I also believe Paul’s admonition to not tempt the weaker brother comes to play here, but equally so, to not let our freedom in this area be judged by another’s conscience.  That’s a lot to think about, isn’t it?

Here is one question I ask myself before taking in any media: how these scenes might affect the actors?  In paying for a movie ticket you are, in affect endorsing that film – it’s like your “vote” for it.  Have you ever thought that they people on that screen live real lives, too?  Or at least they try?  Can I justify paying that person to play that role – is it good for them to do so?   Another thing to consider: romantic comedies – they seems so harmless on the surface, but often leave us feeling especially discontent in their relationships because of the false standards it tell us about what relationships are like.

1 Cor 10:4-5 says that we are to “destroy arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.”  A pretense in this case is a false presupposition or idea that we hold and simply accept as true that actually keeps us from the truth of God.

Lastly, whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.  Can you listen to the music you listen to, or watch what you usual watch and do it truly for God’s glory?  Can you thank Him for it genuinely while partaking?

Each one of us will likely have a different way of applying this material.  Personally, I have to be very careful about what sort of music I listen to because it affects my mood.  As far as movies are concerned, I used to go alone, but no more – it’s helpful to have others to talk to about after the experience.  I’m also far more selective about what I see and read plenty of reviews about any movie I see and even pray about it before I go. 

Here are a number of possible applications for you…


  1. Choose entertainment that upholds your values, and keep in mind that your purchase of movie ticket, music, or even a product advertised during a certain program is your “vote” for it.
  2. Never have pause about leaving a movie that is offending your conscience:  your thought life, and free time are far more valuable that your money (as the proverb says, “as a man thinks, so he is”).  Don’t risk becoming desensitized or jaded merely for the sake of being entertained. Though I don’t do it often, I have thrown away 2 CDs I purchased, & have walked out of one movie.
  3. Do not urge others to watch a film with you if they have genuine reservations – you may be causing them to stumble.  There may in fact, as I demonstrated, be films that are okay for you to watch, but not for another given our various levels of maturity, personal experiences, and temptations.
  4. At the VERY LEAST, TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU JUST WATCHED!  Ask one another questions – discuss what in the movie is true.  Ask, if something in it is false, yet attractive, why that untruth seems so appealing.  This sort of interaction with other believers not only helps us to “sharpen one another” but to “take every thought captive”.
  5. And NEVER NEVER NEVER go to a movie, or, for that matter, take in any kind of entertainment media with the attitude of just shutting down your mind and being entertained.  If you’re in so much a need for rest and relaxation that you can’t either play some sort of sport with your friends, or read a book, then take a nap.  

Please pray with me…

Lord, give us discernment by Your HOLY SPIRIT to recognize the true, the honorable, the just, the pure, the lovely, the commendable, the excellent… let us praise what’s worthy of praise, & focus on THESE things. Thank you for grace where we’ve stumbled, & calling us to a BETTER WAY for our own sakes, & for the Gospel. So be it – amen!

Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Posterous
  • StumbleUpon
  • Digg
  • Add to favorites