Devotion to leisure did not appear with the onset of television, but has long been a struggle for Christians throughout history. In the Roman Empire, the rulers knew they could stay in power if they pacified the populace with enough food on the table and enough public entertainment. Juvenal, an ancient satirist, called the Roman policy "bread and circus." If you keep bellies full of food and minds occupied with shows and games, you keep control. One of the ways the Caesars solidified their power was through mass entertainment.
The early Christians did not deny that sports and entertainment could have a legitimate place in a person's life. In his letters, the apostle Paul included athletic metaphors mentioning the value of bodily training and the rules by which an athlete must play. Paul spoke of himself as running the race of faith and straining forward to "the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
However, Christians also saw how love for the arena and the theater could become idolatrous. As they witnessed the pagans' worship of sports and entertainment, Christians subverted leisure by standing against the decadence and wastefulness of the entertainment mind-set.
The early Christians subverted leisure as they imitated Christ, the Son of God who lived according to his Father's timetable. Jesus came not to be served and pampered with the luxuries of this world, but to fulfill his kingdom mission. He also instructed his followers to seek first the kingdom. Christians recognized that a life of perpetual leisure competes with a life that is on mission for God.
The Christian's life is not grounded in leisure; it is grounded in the cross. If we have truly been set free from the bondage of sin and death, then we have been set free from the slavery of perpetual leisure that would have us live only for ourselves. We have been delivered from the desire for constant entertainment and the never-ending pursuit of our own pleasure. God has given us freedom from leisure, and he has also given us a task. We are called to proclaim the good news of God's kingdom. As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus has sent us.
Therefore, the way we spend our free time reveals what we believe about God. If we are imaging God rightly by following his instructions for resting and working, we will not allow leisure to take the throne of our lives. As we put leisure back in its proper place under the lordship of Jesus, we will make different choices when it comes to our leisure activities.
There are three main ways that we as Christians can subvert leisure and entertainment. First, we must think seriously about the choices we make regarding our free time. Next, we must purposefully structure our free time in a way that glorifies God. Finally, we must turn our focus away from the things that entertain us to the people that God has entrusted to us.
Holy Subversion, Trevin Wax