“‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12, ESV).
“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23, ESV).
Both verses appear in the context of honoring God and not giving over to idolatry—including sexual immorality (chapter 6). Paul hints at becoming mastered, or under compulsion, or even addicted. A lot of stuff we indulge in places us under compulsion and easily leads to addiction. This includes porn, drugs, and gratuitous violence to be sure. But it also includes simple, mostly innocent things like sugar, exercise, cartoons, and action films.
Anything that gives us an isolating comfort or an unnatural spike of dopamine can become addictive. And it needs to be held accountable to our worship of God. Does Game of Thrones do this for you? It might or might not. But it’s a good question to ask.
Here’s another way of putting it: If giving something up for a while (fasting) would seem really hard, then you might be under its compulsion and might need to be without it for a while.
Next, Paul opens the net wider, pulling in the community in which we live and serve. Our passion, he said, should be to love and serve the world around us and support our neighbors. If watching or reading something subtly shifts our priorities consistently away from serving others to serving ourselves, then we need to pull back on it.
I think you can add this to serving your partner too. Does my wife want me to be entertained by another woman simulating sex acts? Is she served by me spending time enjoying the intimacy of private relationships with someone who is not her? Does this serve her or serve our marriage in any legitimate way? For us, it would not.
3. Can you honor and worship God with it?
Staying in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul says everything we decide to do should honor God as an act of worship: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (v. 31, ESV). This idea is repeated in Colossians: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17, ESV).
So, crux time should be asking yourself whether or not you’re able to engage with God at the levels of honor, worship and self-sacrifice, for the building up of His glory, as you engage with something. Again, I decided I wasn’t able to do this by watching Game of Thrones. However, I also decided it was doable for me reading Harry Potter. What do you think?
4. What if I’m just a ‘stronger brother’?
This comes from 1 Corinthians 8, which is one of the more woefully mismanaged and misapplied Bible verses. Paul is saying that those of you who have accepted grace enough to understand what food will and won’t affect your salvation should eat away. But not if it causes others still working through that process to struggle. The focus is not on you but on your ability to love, serve, and help those who are working through different issues.
Frankly, it’s not for us to decide what we can get away with based on how “strong” we think we are in comparison to others. The focus of that passage is on serving others. Deciding how much your faith can “tolerate” before it corrupts is just a spiritual car crash waiting to happen.
5. What if I’m just trying to be relevant?
The peripheral things that we think make us relevant actually give our relevancy a shelf life. Things that make us genuinely relevant don’t require us to expose ourselves to corruption, but more to the Holy Spirit.
Why this matters
We shouldn’t ever choose to do something because we can “get away with it.” Instead, we should choose it because it draws us closer to God, builds up others, and helps us honor Him. This, honestly, might include Game of Thrones for you. I, personally, cannot imagine how it could. But I know myself and not you.
Sometimes sacrificing something we enjoy is just the right thing to do if it means giving God that extra devotion, love, worship and time. The question should never be “Can I watch/do/read…?” but should always be “Will this help me worship Him?”
This article originally appeared here.