THINK ON THESE THINGS
It’s astonishing what we often find ourselves thinking and talking about these days. Informal conversations at work, chatter in church hallways, and discussions around the dinner table explore subjects that, in former days, made people blush with embarrassment or recoil with shock. The moral revolution in the West, coupled with the modern media’s publication of one salacious headline after another, has profoundly affected our dialogue. It doesn’t help that many are addicted to twenty-four-hour news outlets, entertainment channels, and social media apps. The result is a growing desensitization to the degeneracy of our culture. Moreover, minds and conversations are cluttered with endless news stories of the wickedness and perversion of our time; what the Apostle Paul calls “the things of the flesh” (Rom. 8:5).
The latest headlines portray the essence of human depravity. News stories from this week include the grizzly murder of four University of Idaho students, Balenciaga’s deviant ad campaign exploiting small children, a gender-fluid (male) Biden Cabinet Member charged with a felony for stealing a woman’s suitcase, mass protests in China over oppressive totalitarian laws, seven thousand convicted sex offenders set free from prison in California, two children and three adults found dead in their home in an affluent Chicago suburb, and an NCAA division one college quarterback arrested for child porn.
These distressing headlines are just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of stories posted and discussed daily (ad nauseam) on endless platforms. The news articles (which very often don’t qualify as real news!) range from repulsive to agonizing to ridiculous, and yet we continue to give them our undivided attention. We continue to take the clickbait. We continue to make the world’s deeds of darkness the center of our thoughts and conversation. Why is that?
Could it be that many of us have unwittingly allowed the outrageous headlines of the world to capture our primary focus and attention? Could it be that the glow of our screens and the news from our feeds have diverted us from things above, where Christ is, and drawn our hearts to the things of the earth (Col. 3:1-2)?
Shouldn’t We Stay Informed?
At this point, someone might ask: “But isn’t it important for Christians to stay informed?” The answer is a resounding YES. This isn’t a veiled appeal for a new monastic movement. We mustn’t bury our heads in the sand or ignore the moral drift of our culture. Loving one’s neighbor does not mean retreating from the world, but being salt and light in the world. Like the Sons of Issachar, it’s vital that we “understand the times” so that we can boldly and accurately apply God’s Word to our generation, not least to our covenant children (I Chron. 12:32).
Even so, being informed doesn’t require us to be news junkies who are forever refreshing our browsers for the next hit of salacious headlines. When we give ourselves primarily to the “news” of the world, we will inevitably give scant attention to the “things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1-11). And we must admit, it’s easy to fall into this trap. We want to stay informed, but not foolishly or obsessively so. Most of us know when we’ve crossed that line, and when it has negatively impacted our walk with God and our witness. We will be chiefly shaped by that which we give our attention to the most.
Set Your Minds On Things Above
The Bible has some important things to say about what Christians should chiefly set their minds upon. The Apostle Paul writes: “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” (Phil. 4:8). Of course, there is nothing or no one more true, honorable, just, lovely, commendable, and worthy of praise than the blessed Son of God. He is the fairest of ten thousand. This is why Paul exhorts the Church at Colossae: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2; Heb. 12:2). And to the Romans the Apostle writes: “those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5). What does this mean exactly? John Murray explains that to
Mind the “things of the Spirit” (v.5) is to have the things of the Holy Spirit as the absorbing objects of thought, interest, affection, and purpose, and “the mind of the Spirit” is the dispositional complex, including the exercises of reason, feeling, and will, patterned after and controlled by the Holy Spirit.[i]
Therefore, to mind the things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:5) and to possess the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5), we must be vigilant about what enters our minds, absorbs our thoughts, and dominates our conversation. How can Christians set their minds on the things of the Spirit if we are always setting our minds on the things of the flesh? Does cultivating a Christian worldview require us to give our undivided attention and regular conversation to the steady stream of stories focused upon murder, twisted sexual perversion, and political corruption? Have we forgotten the principle that it is “shameful even to speak of the [works of darkness] that [pagans] do in secret” (Eph. 5:12). Just because the secular news agencies report it, doesn’t mean that we must be consumed by it.[ii]
A Better Way
I realize that there is a healthy tension at play regarding one’s volume of media intake in our digital age. People are different. Temperaments are varied. Vocations often demand a large consumption of news and media. The digital information age is here, and it’s not going away. I get it. However, rather than put the gist of this article to death by a thousand qualifications and endless nuance, I will simply offer a few suggestions for self-reflection and potential change.
1. Evaluate your news and media intake: Take a few minutes to assess the amount of time, conversation, and emotional bandwidth that you give to headline news and entertainment. Check out the daily screen time on your phone. The statistics may be surprising. Evaluate whether you are staying informed or wasting precious time on the so-called “news” that hardly deserves the title. Perhaps it’s time to place limits on particular apps, channels, and websites, especially on the Lord’s Day. An overabundance of media can be soul-corrupting. Sometimes we don’t even recognize that it’s happening to us.
2. Renew your devotion to personal Bible reading and prayer: Addiction to news, sports, and entertainment compromises personal piety. That much is obvious. It diverts the eyes of faith away from our nail-scarred Savior and His holy Word. It fosters anxiety, and quenches the peace of God in our hearts. Therefore, we must be willing on more occasions to put down our phones and tablets, and pick up our Bibles. We must recommit ourselves to sincere and undistracted daily prayer. Instead of doing so much scrolling and swiping, we need to do more reading and praying. We need to return to the spiritual disciplines of grace.
3. Commit to a regular reading schedule: Few read books anymore. Long-term attention spans are withering under the constant heat of digital media. But it’s not too late to cultivate good reading habits! Go to the website of Banner of Truth or Reformation Heritage Books and pick out an engaging Christian biography or an encouraging book on some aspect of Christian doctrine. Read a little bit every day. Recover the art and pleasure of reading good books.[iii] Don’t allow the world to colonize your mind. Isn’t it time you take it back?
[ii] To be clear, I am deeply grateful for Christian news outlets and podcasts that provide readers and listeners with a Christian perspective on the current moral revolution. Today in Perspective by GRN Council Member, Dr. Harry Reeder, and The Briefing by Dr. Albert Mohler, are two excellent examples of cultural analysis from a biblical worldview.