There is no doubt that in the 21st century the impact of the media on our lives is much more pervasive than at any other time in history. Previous generations could access the media through traditional channels like radio, television and newspapers.
Today, mass information is available through every conceivable medium. The buzz word of the modern age is ‘viral’ and, bearing in mind its origin, it’s a very apt description when used to describe the growth and use of the media in our society. For example, the viral spread of an Internet message involves a convergence of different methods of online communication, including blogs, social networking sites, and mass media coverage. This is a powerful and effective way of reaching a massive number of people.
So, it is self evident that information is delivered to us using a plethora of channels - newspapers, television and radio are just the tip of a very large iceberg. It is now regularly accessed through smart phones, computers and various wireless devices.The average person uses technology extensively and provides the modern media with an easily accessible audience to constantly influence with whatever the current message may be.
Fifty years ago Christians concerned about the influence of the media in their life would find it relatively simple to exercise control. They would do so by not buying newspapers, not listening to the radio or watching television. In this way the vast majority of the impact of the message could be avoided. Even today, this might be a means of limiting media intrusion for many, but, for a lot of people, this would not be a realistic solution. Refusing to access the media might limit many Christians in their secular jobs, as most are expected to use technology as a regular means of communication and in keeping up to date.
I would make one further point about the media before I get into its impact on the life of the Christian. In my view, the mass media has three main aims:
Advocacy - Marketing, advertising and communication -political and social.
Entertainment - It uses all mediums for this from electronic all the way through to the printed page and Public service announcements.
I don’t think any Christian would disagree that this world is going in the opposite direction to the message in God’s word. Paul reminds us about people, ‘whose minds the god of this age has blinded … lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them’, 2 Cor. 4. 4 NKJV. The message and the influence of the mass media is, therefore, normally contrary to what we find in God’s word.
When we see the moral decline of the world we live in - the immorality, the greed, the promotion of self and celebrity, the rejection of God’s word as outdated and irrelevant - is it any wonder that the media represents this view?If we bear in mind the content of the mass media and its aims, is it a good idea to allow it to have a real influence in our Christian life? This is the question I will seek to answer in the remainder of this article.
I would like to focus on two areas to explore this question. The first is time and the second is influence.
One of the most precious commodities we have at our personal disposal as Christians is our time. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week and fifty-two weeks in a year. When you add up all the things that take this time away – work, sleep, family responsibilities, study etc. – what we have left is extremely precious.
What does the Bible have to say about our time and what we should get involved in?No matter where you look - in the Epistles, the teaching from our Lord Jesus, the Old Testament -the words used to give advice to the person looking to live for God are all about activity and sacrifice. We are encouraged to strive and run like the athlete aiming for the prize. I don’t think for a minute Sir Steve Redgrave got his seventeen gold medals because he pottered about on the lake every Sunday afternoon!
Second Timothy chapter 2 is a great section which gives us a picture of what we should be doing with our spare time. Paul uses the example of the soldier, the athlete and the farmer to demonstrate how we, as Christians, should be seeking to live for God. I will use verse fifteen as my text for this article. ‘Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth’, 2 Tim. 2. 15 NKJV.
Economists use the term ‘opportunity cost’. They use this to refer to the option which was not taken up when a decision for a certain course of action is taken. For example, if I have one million pounds to invest and the choice is between building a new hospital wing or a school. The opportunity cost of me deciding to build the hospital wing is the cost of the school that I’m notable to build.
The opportunity cost of me spending more time with the world’s mass media is the time lost doing things that assist my growth as a Christian. The cost to me is the time lost which I could have spent with my Lord and Saviour.
Even more damaging is the influence of the world’s media on the life of the Christian.
It is clear from any study of God’s word that sitting on the fence is not an option for a Christian. Jesus said, ‘No servant can serve two masters’, Luke 16.13 NKJV. The more we spend focusing on the message and the direction given by the media through whatever channel we pick, the more we will be influenced by its message and the impact on our life will be detrimental.
Let me pick one example. The world laughs and mocks the view that sex is something that should only take place between a husband and a wife. Every other kind of lifestyle and sexual practice is promoted on our TV screens, our magazines, Internet and in the written page. I don’t watch any‘soaps’ but I would be surprised if any ‘soap husband and wife’ has not had a story about extra martial affairs or worse in the plot at some point. All this conspires to tell us that anything goes and that nothing is wrong as long as everyone consents. It’s an influence which, I believe, has, at its heart, the goal of attacking the biblical view of marriage.
The more time we occupy ourselves with this kind of material the more we’re influenced to conform to the world; the more we are pressured to go with the majority view.
Many reading this might disagree and think this doesn’t apply to them. Let me take a great example of the corrosive influence of the world in contrast to the purifying influence of the things of God.
If you were able to speak with Lot on the day he chose the well watered plain of Jordan and explain that as a result o fhis choice he would end up:
I think his choice might have been altered. If there was ever an individual who was influenced by the ways of the world and did not realize it until it was too late, it was Lot.
We are living in days where this world needs men and women of God to shine like beacons of light in a very dark place. We are to be like salt, preserving the world we live in from great evil. Someone once said about our society, ’The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today … is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is simply what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable’
One word of caution before I finish with a challenge! Our response to the world and its media which is very anti-God is not to condemn the world. That’s not our responsibility. We are to be marked by love - we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. Of course, we should make a stand against anything that is against scripture but we need to ensure we are marked by love and not a superior hypocritical spirit. This was the Pharisees’ mistake.
So far, this article could be read as an attack on the mass media and its influence. You may argue that news, for instance, enables us to know what is going on in the world? You would be correct. You might ask - Is it wrong to pray (personally and collectively) for trapped miners, the victims of a tsunami, the dangers of destructive wars breaking out? Again you are quite right as we are told in scripture to pray forkings and all in authority. What, however, I am advocating is the spiritual maturity to use the media, as opposed to abusing it, The question for me, as I conclude this study, is how much I allow the media, through its various channels, to steal my time and influence, my thinking.
How much time do I spend in God’s presence in prayer and reading His word? If I were to record how I spend my time, would I be embarrassed to share the findings with anyone else? If being a Christian was a criminal offence and the evidence was reading, praying and spending time with God alone, would there by enough evidence to convict me?
How much do I know about the sports, television programmes, celebrity and current affairs of this world in comparison to knowing God’s word? How much of my time is spent with rubbish compared to time spent on my knees praying for my family, colleagues, friends and contacts.
How much do I let the mass media impact upon me? If, like me, after writing the last two paragraphs you can feel tears running down your cheeks, the answer is too much!