The Subtlety Of It

By Donnie V. Rader

The problem with indifference is that many who have it don’t know it; and those who do don’t care. Few, if any, churches exist that do not have some members who are indifferent.

What Is Indifference?

Indifference is apathy, unconcern, and disinterest. The dictionary says, “1. Characterized by a lack of partiality or bias. 2. Not mattering one way or the other; of no great importance. 3. Having no marked feeling one way or the other . . . 4. Having no particular interest or concern . . . 8. Not active or involved” (American Heritage Dictionary 655). Those lacking in diligence, dedication, and devotion are indifferent. Simply put it is an “I don’t care” attitude.

Like a cancer, indifference eats away at the life of a Christian and a local church.

God’s People Have Always Been Plagued With Indifference

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, lamented the fact that Judah, who was doomed to captivity, acted as if it was nothing (Lam. 1:1-12). Centuries later, the church at Corinth had a fornicator in their midst and had done nothing about it (1 Cor. 5:1-13). They were not even upset about it. Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Asia, was rebuked for being neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-16).

The People of God Should Be Diligent, Devoted And Zealous

We should seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33). The priority of our life should be for God to rule our heart and live right before him. In so doing, we will sanctify (set apart) God in our hearts (1 Pet. 3:15). Our service to God must be with a fervent spirit (Rom. 12:11).

Solomon wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Eccl. 9:10). If anything deserves our whole being, it is the service of God. Paul said, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Col. 3:23).

When God is served with all our soul and strength, we will not be indifferent.

The Subtlety of Indifference

Indifference is not always easy to detect in ourselves or others. Thus, part of the danger of it is that it is subtle. What makes it so subtle?

1. It develops gradually and slowly. The Hebrew writer warned that we should give earnest heed to the word, “lest we drift away”(Heb. 2:1, NKJV ). The KJV says, “let them slip.” The footnote in the KJV adds, “Gr. run out as leaking vessels.” All of these describe a slow and gradual departure.

This doesn’t happen overnight. One is not diligent and enthused one day and the next indifferent. Rather, like a leaking vessel, it leaks out a drop at a time. That makes it hard to recognize in yourself. A casual examination of self may look okay since I may not recognize much difference in what I was a few months ago or even the year before. But the little movements accumulate over time.

I may look at my actions and see little change in what I have been in the past. But again, my examination of self may be flawed. I must recognize that indifference strikes first at the heart and then manifest itself in my actions.

2. It is harder to see what we are not doing. Paul rebuked some brethren who ought to have developed into teachers, but needed to be taught themselves (Heb. 5:11-12). It was not what they were doing, but what they didn’t do. That’s not easily seen.

Overt acts of sin are easily seen by self and others. I know if I lie, cheat, curse, drink, or steal. Even sin in attitude that involves doing is easily seen. I know if I hate, lust, am bitter, have envy, jealousy, or anger. But, it is harder to detect what I fail to do. It is even harder to see that I don’t care as much as I ought to . . . that I’m not involved as I ought to be . . . that I’m not as dedicated as I ought to be . . . that I should have grown more by now.

This principle is especially true with one whose apathy has not caused him to quit altogether.

3. We focus on the signs or fruit of indifference as being the real problem. When we see the symptoms of a problem it is easy to deal with the symptom rather than look for the cause. It is like going to the doctor with pain in your arm. The pain is merely a symptom of the real problem (i.e., a pinched nerve). If the doctor loads the patient up with pain killer, he is merely treating a symptom and not the real problem.

If one doesn’t attend as he should, we preach to him about attendance. It may not seem to do much good. He doesn’t change. If one doesn’t study and grow as he should, we may preach to him about growing and studying. Again, it may not seem to do much good. Those things we are addressing (and need to address) are symptoms of indifference. The real problem is in the heart (Prov. 4:23; Matt. 15:19). The person is indifferent! He doesn’t care! He doesn’t have the respect for God and his word as he should. That’s why our preaching on attendance or other matters may not seem to generate any change. If we can cure the indifference, the symptoms will be removed.

In other articles we will consider the causes, signs and cure.