“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

Matthew 6:22-23

Use of mind altering drugs is epidemic in our nation today. Cocaine, heroin, speed, angel dust, alcohol, marijuana and the like are swallowed, mainlined, snorted or smoked from the halls of high school to the executive suite. And you may add to that list of drugs the television set. It’s the plug-in drug. And, I fear, the most of us are addicted.

Statistically, only 9% of American homes had a T.V. set in 1950. But, now, over 96% of American homes have a set. It is estimated that there are at least 190 million televisions in this country alone. I can believe it! Within the past few years I visited in a family’s home that had five television sets– one in each bedroom, one in the family room, and one on the kitchen table! And have you ever noticed that wherever the television set is, it becomes the focal point of the room? Chairs all face that way!

What shall we make of this plug-in drug? Are we abusing it? Or, worse still, is it abusing us?

Let’s look at some facts and get into the Word and see.

A Powerful Influence

First of all, consider the powerful influence of the media.

If you’ll study Genesis 3 you’ll discover how Satan tempted Eve through her eyes. “She saw the fruit.” “It was a delight to the eyes.” And one thing led to another and she turned away from God. So, Do you see how the eyes are the gate of one’s life? This is what Jesus means in the text when He points out, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” Anything that catches the eye may well catch you! And inasmuch as television gets your eye it is a powerful force.

I have heard it argued that what one watches on televison has no influence on them whatsoever. Hey! I’d like to be able to believe that! Yet, I point out that advertisers of everything from cereals to cosmetics to chewing gum to luxury cars pay out millions in the belief that what one sees on T.V. is a direct influence on one’s lifestyle.

With that in mind, turn your television on and watch what happens. In the sitcom “Friends” a tight group of New Yorkers makes up morality as they go along. “Survivor” encourages rank voyeurism. The show “Frazier” is about a psychiatrist who divorces, moves to Seattle, and hosts a radio show. It’s message is that marriages may come and go, but analysis is forever. Then there’s “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” All about getting rich quick. And be sure not to miss “Charmed,” the story of four beautiful people who cast spells to get their way in life.

A common thread running through all such shows is a humanistic view of life. When people are vexed they don’t pray, they have another drink. God is more often than not ignored, institutions like the church or marriage are belittled, while everybody does their own thing and it all comes out right in the end.

Yes, it would be nice to believe that what we see on the screen has no influence upon us. But Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” And advertisers, aware of this, are willing to spend more than a million dollars for a prime time 30 second spot just to tell you about their hamburgers, razor blades or cars.

In a survey of 208 inmates at Michigan’s maximum security prison in Marquette, 90% said they improved their criminal talents by watching television. 40% said they had actually attempted crimes they first saw on T.V.. The recent “Junk Food Murder” gang in Florida admitted they got the idea for their killing after watching the horror movie, “The Shining” on cable television that very week. A police movie showed a victim soaked in gasoline and then set aflame by a match. After its screening the same crime was repeated within the month by youngsters in real life– all of whom had seen it on T.V.. A mid-western high school lad, victim of a hold-up, was made to drink liquid Drano. His assailant got the idea watching a Clint Eastwood movie.

Make no mistake about it. “The eye is the lamp of the body.” What gets your eyes gets you! Television is a powerful influence. It motivates, educates, guides, woos and wins for good or ill.

Addictive With Bad Side Effects

Yes, T.V. is a powerful influence. And, now, second, note with me television’s addictiveness, and its bad side effects. In the text Jesus said, “If you eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Let’s focus now on the “darkness” of T.V. addiction.

Ninety-three million households in this country have television sets. That’s 97% of all families. 45% of our households have more than one set. 77% of all T.V. sets are color sets. Adult women average 30 hours and 14 minutes a week in viewing time. Children ages 2 to 11 average 25 hours and 38 minutes. Adult men average 24 hours and 25 minutes. Teenagers 12 to 17 average 22 hours and 36 minutes. That’s addiction.

By the age 18 a child has watched over 15,000 hours of television. His school has only influenced him 11,000 hours. And if that child has been in Sunday School with the ragged attendance record most families present, he will only have put in about 600 hours Bible study. The 18 year old will have been bombarded with over 350,000 commercials, witnessed some 24,000 sexual encounters, and participated vicariously in 18,000 murders.

Question: What is all of this television doing to us? What are the side effects of this addictiveness?

More and more T.V. is leading us into a world of fantasy. People believe what they see on television. Twenty years ago, “Marcus Welby,” T.V.’s fictitious medical doctor received 250,000 letters requesting medical advice in the four years of its screening. Television presents to such culpable people a world of glamours people who get into hopeless situations, but always work things out with fast cars, guns and alcohol within the hour, and go on living happily ever after. A cartoon in New Yorker magazine shows a father changing a flat tire on the freeway in a downpour. The children are looking out the car window in wonder as the dad yells, “Don’t you understand? This isn’t television! This is reality! No, we can’t change the channel!” Such is T.V.’s influence. It blurs our sense of reality. It maims our ability to bear down in the real world.

Another bad side effect of T.V. addiction is the lowering of our self-esteem. T.V. models are slender. Most of us are not. They have straight teeth, live in fancy homes and visit exotic places. Not us. And our self-esteem can fall in comparison. Witness the beautiful teenaged angst of “Dawson’s Creek’s” cast. All lovely. All witty. All fashionably dressed. All the things many of us aren’t.

Television is also a time thief! The average American doesn’t have six hours a week for church training, but he does have 25 or more hours a week for T.V. Jack Benny, the late comedian said, “T.V. is called the medium because nothing it ever serves up is well done.” Lee Loevinger said, “Television is the literature of the illiterate, the culture of the lowborn, the wealth of the poor, the privilege of the underprivileged, the exclusive club of the excluded masses; television is the golden goose that lays scrambled eggs.” And, I might add, it scrambles our values, our lifestyles, our brains! Television is a time thief because it robs us of the time we could have spent pursuing the best by over-indulging us in the purely mediocre.

Another bad side effect of T.V. addiction: It kills one’s imagination. Americans are turning from a literary society into a verbal video society. No longer do the most of us read the book. Instead, we wait for the movie. Reading bores us. T.V. entertains us. So we take the easy way out and lose our imagination in the bargain.

Further, television can infect us with passivity. We no longer initiate things. We’re content to sit back and watch things happen. In short, television is turning us from a nation of participants to a nation of spectators. Instead of going out to the game, we watch it on televison. Instead of going out to worship, we simply watch it on T.V.. Instead of going out to the theater, we turn on the tube. Poet T. S. Eliot defined television as “A modern form of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time and yet remain lonely.” In a very real sense, T.V. is not bringing us together. It is separating us into little cubicles of lonely sit-coms, documentaries and soap operas.

T.V. addiction can also cause aggressive behavior and paranoia. Vernard Eller said it so well, “Surely it makes some sort of perversion when people are entertained by the sight of other people being cut down, chomped up, knocked around, plowed under, and tromped over. Rome, before it fell had infamous gladiatorial shows. The U.S.A. has developed a film and electronic technology that enables people to be closer and more intensely involved as spectators of blood and gore than any Roman in the Colosseum ever could have been.” According to the U.S. News and World Report, “Violence on television does lead to aggressive behavior by children and teenagers who watch the programs. There is an average of five violent acts per hour on prime time and 18 per hour on children’s weekend shows. At all ages, heavy viewers of television are more apt to think the world is violent. . . trust other people less and believe the world is a mean and scary place.”

Television also makes it harder for us to learn. Reading and I.Q. tests show a pattern: The more T.V. viewing, the lower the scores. In one town that only recently began to get T.V. reception, pupils’ scores fell off sharply within two years. Look at it this way: Hundreds of hours of preparation and dozens of workers sink their talents into one thirty minute T.V. show. A pastor working alone is fortunate if he can get 20 hours of preparation into his thirty minute sermon. Educationally, there is no way a school teacher can compete with T.V.’s “Sesame Street.” Television simply spoils us. It inhibits our ability to learn from lectures, books, sermons and charts.

Another bad side effect of T.V. addiction is loss of physical exercise. A child of seven said, “I’d rather stay inside than play outside. In front of the T.V. its exciting. Outside there’s nothing to do except the same old stuff like skipping rope and swing sets.”

Safe Doses!

Well, that the power of the media and its addictiveness and harmful side effects. Now let’s consider how we in Jesus Christ’s Spirit may take television in safe doses.

The text mentions, “If your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light.” How may we keep our eyes sound on television?

A principle here is: Limit the time you spend watching television.

The real danger of television is not so much in behavior it produces as in the behavior it prevents– the visits, the walks, talks, games, family festivities and arguments through which we learn and through which our character is formed. The harm of television is that it has turned our family circles in semi-circles! A cartoon in a family magazine shows a father saying, “I’ll tell you what we did with our evenings before television. We gave dinner parties. We went to dinner parties. We read. We worked jigsaw puzzles. We went to plays. We went to concerts. We went to movies. We popped corn. We played cards. We went dancing. We took walks, bowled. We attended meetings. We took classes. We went. . .”

Don’t allow T.V. to rob your family life. Limit your viewing time. Buy a T.V. guide and plan to watch only those shows that will be worth trading family time to see.

Another principle to keep your eye sound and your body full of light: If what you have begun to watch is vulgar, change the channel, turn it off, or walk out.

Isn’t it wonderful how movies have progressed over the years? First there were silent pictures, then talkies, then color, and now most of them smell. Don’t sit there and be smeared with vulgarities. Turn it off! And to see that such programming is cut out, protest by letter to its sponsors.

Another way to keep your eye sound is to learn and practice discrimination. We learn to eat the meat and throw the bone away. We teach our children to walk on the dry patch and stay out of the puddles. So, why not teach discretion in film viewing?

A few years ago we took our youth group to see the blockbuster film, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” And we all loved it, agreeing that it was one of the most adventuresome films we’d ever seen! But then we began to discern what we saw. Biblical history was distorted, at least nine of the Ten Commandments were broken– so why did we enjoy it? A frank and revealing conversation followed about carnal appetites and personal righteousness and how to eat the meat of a film and throw the bone away. In today’s world, such teaching of discretion is a must in every family!

Another principle for a sound eye: Give the Bible equal time. Why not plan one hour of Bible study for every one hour you watch television? That can work some good stewardship of time into your habits. Not to mention working in some biblical truth.

And, now, a final principle: If you’re a T.V. addict and can’t get control of your habit, then take your television outside and smash it! Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Mt. 5:29).

Conclusion

In Acts 28:26 Paul spoke to the Roman world steeped as we are in their own media. He said, “You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes have closed. . .” And aren’t his words still true of our televison audiences?

Habakkuk, the prophet, chides us so relevantly about our television addiction saying, “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For the workman trusts in his own creation when he makes dumb idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, awake: To a dumb stone, arise! Can this give revelation? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (Hab. 2:18-20).

Vladimir K. Zuorykin, a Russian immigrant working as an engineer for Westinghouse patented his first T.V. tube in 1923. In a 1981 interview the inventor expressed amazement that T.V. has become such a worldwide force. “The technique is wonderful. The color and everything are beyond my expectation,” he admitted. But as to programming, Zuorykin said, “It’s awful what they’re doing with the subject matter. I would never let my children ever come close to this thing.” Words to the wise from the inventor of television!

But in our text is even wiser words from the Inventor of all of life. And He asks, “Is your eye on the television set sound and full of light?”

Suggested Prayer

O Lord, forgive! I have too much loved the world. Set my affections upon you and help me to recognize, reject, and resist materialism.

"The university is the clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world. More potently than by any other means, change the university and you change the world." Charles Malik, past president of the UN General Assembly

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