I have always loved the book of Proverbs since as early as I can remember. Its isolated pithy remarks come together to form a remarkable collection of practical ways to live a good and God centred life.
Recently I was asked to share a favourite proverb at my local church – a hard task when there are so many candidates!
But the one I went with was chosen for the vividness of the image it paints, a picture so lucid that I have found it quite easy to remember and a great help to have in mind.
It comes from the sixth chapter of Proverbs, where Solomon has been warning against adultery and lusting after immoral women.
Proverbs chapter 6 verses 27 to 28 “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?”
It is clear that the answer is no, you cannot. A man building a fire in his lap would be quite the sight indeed!
But this proverb is saying that there is another type of fire, the fire of lust, that doesn’t always look like a flame but burns just as bad.
An entertaining fire
We live in a culture that glorifies sensuality, using all sorts of sordid stories in its movies and shows as entertainment. I have been so oversaturated that at times I’ve been numbed to seeing it for what it is - a deadly fire that burns.
This is the verse that, among others, lead to me cancelling my Netflix subscription nearly two years ago and drastically changing and reducing what I would put in front of me for entertainment.
When I was watching Netflix, many of the shows I was watching were full of worldly thinking about life, about love, and certainly about God.
Watching one bad scene in one movie might not seem that bad. It might not even make any noticeable difference in the short term. But over time, what I feed on will grow.
And that is exactly what I found happening to me. My thinking was changing, and instead of my mind being renewed in the image of Christ, it was filled with the thinking of the world and being shaped by it – more than I knew.
I didn’t realise the fire I was playing with - it wasn’t red hot, physically burning me. It was a slow, innocuous, seemingly innocent descent into blunted senses and a muddied conscience, all while believing the lie that everything was ok.
The Apostle Paul wrote some strong guidance for what we should watch, think and meditate on.
Philippians chapter 4 verse 8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.”
For so many years I think I held my own standard of what is right, and noble, and good and excellent. I called things good that were completely against God’s commands. I called TV shows excellent because they entertained me, gripping me from start to finish.
But the less I’ve watched, the more distance I’ve put between that time of my life, the more I have seen the reality of what I was dealing with. I’ve seen that the mindless entertainment I was watching was indeed a fire, and I’ve become aware of just how much it burned me.
I am ashamed now to think of the things I allowed myself to watch for entertainment, and it concerns me when I realise how desensitized I became to violence and sensuality.
Principles to live by
In sharing all this, I don’t want to point fingers and say you must do as I do. I don’t want to be the arbiter over what is acceptable viewing and what is not.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he didn’t give them a list of orators they can go to and a list of who to avoid - these authors and playwrights get the green tick, but anything else is off limits!
No, he gave them a set of principles that are universal across time and culture and just as applicable today as then.
So I would urge you to be mindful of keeping the command of Paul, of thinking on what is good, and pure and excellent.
Don’t fall into the trap, as I did, of using my own standards to measure things by, rather than looking to the standard of God. I would hate for you to be in the unenviable position of calling something good, that God calls evil.
I hope the image of this proverb springs to mind often in the weeks and years ahead: The image of a man building a fire in his lap, all while thinking he will not be burned.
I have found it really helpful to turn it into a question to help me poke through the cloak of innocence everything tries to wear.
Is this a fire that I am building? Am I messing around with flames here?
Is what I am watching, is what I am reading, is what I am listening to, building a fire here that will ignite more than just my clothes?
I have to question things, because that which truly burns my soul never presents as a blatant flame. If it were that obvious, I wouldn’t need all the warnings.
Thomas Devenish lives in Hobart, Tasmania with his wife and two daughters. He works as a motion designer and enjoys the diverse experiences life has to offer, from chasing tennis balls to curling up with a good book on a rainy day. Thomas Devenish’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/thomas-devenish.html