Dr. Laurence M. Gould, president Emeritus of Charleston College, said, “I do not believe the greatest threat to our future is from bombs or guided missiles. I don't think our civilization will end that way. I think it will die when we no longer care.” George Bernard Shaw said, "The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them." Has apathy crept into our life . . . and our spiritual life?
The English word for apathy comes from a compound Greek word that means without emotion. Spiritual apathy happens when we don’t care about our spiritual lives or God anymore (through we say we do care, but our actions reveal we really don’t). Unfortunately, apathy lives and breathes in churches today. What's the difference between atheists who do not support church and members who will not support the one to which they belong? What's the difference between skeptics who do not believe the Bible and Christians who do not read it? What’s the difference between the cold-hearted pagan who shows no compassion and a hypocritical Christian who doesn’t practice benevolence? What's the difference between the world and those in the church who live like the world? Historically, no one is harder to change than a Christian who is apathetic to God and his/her fellow man.
How does apathy grow in a church?
1. When believers become stagnate in their love for Christ. The church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7) had good works and a zeal for Christ, but lost their love for Christ. The indictment against them was that “they left their first love,” which means in the Greek language to abandon, forsake, or let go of their first love. Unfortunately, they had a passion for deeds, not for the Person.
2. When believers become sluggish in their spiritual growth. Edmund Burke in 1770 said, "The only thing necessary for evil is for good men to do nothing." A sure fire way for a church to die is to do nothing about the believers’ spiritual life.
3. When believers focus on the nonessentials. Fredrick the Great, King of Prussia, won a key battle with comparative ease. When asked about his victory he said, “The enemy had 7 cooks and 1 spy, but I had 7 spies and 1 cook. They major on the minor.” A church that majors on the minor (buildings, programs, socials, & carpets) and minors on the major (evangelism, discipleship, & love) will die. Likewise, it is easy for believers to do things that are good and nice, but neglect the things that are essential (Bible studies, prayer, fellowship, & dealing with sin).
4. When believers become engrained in tradition. Are we locked in to doing certain things a certain way? Examples, hymns are the only music we should sing, or praise music is the only way to glorify God. It is easy to get locked into tradition and personal preference, and make those items “Biblical.” Thus, we act like Pharisees who tried to absolve themselves of Biblical responsibilities by inventing traditions that circumvent the law.
5. When believers take a friendly attitude towards sin. The captain of the Titanic refused to believe the ship was in trouble till water was ankle deep in the mail room. Only then was it apparent the multilayered hull had been pierced, and the unsinkable ship was going to sink. Ships could have arrived before the great ocean liner went down, but weren’t summoned until it was too late. Often there has been water (sin) in the mail room of our lives for some time. We must change our attitude towards sin and fight for our spiritual lives.
Spiritual apathy happens when we become indifferent or don’t care about our spiritual lives or spiritual growth. The lazy days of summer can be a breeding ground for apathy. Thus, we need to be aware of this situation and do everything possible to kindle our spiritual flame. If not, we risk becoming useless for God, our church, and others around us.
-Pastor Mike Kotrla