By Mike Willis
Recognizing that apathy is a problem which confronts each of us, we need to be aware of things which cause us to become apathetic. So long as we only treat the symptoms, the disease will rage as more and more of us become infected. Consequently, we need to seek out the causes of apathy in order to better overcome the spiritual disease. The material suggested below is not intended to be exhaustive; I am certain that other causes of spiritual apathy could be suggested by others; however, it is intended to be suggestive – to encourage us to look around us to see what is causing so many among us to become spiritually apathetic. Here are some causes of spiritual apathy:
There are particular dangers in poverty and affluence. The wise man said, “. . . give me neither poverty, nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the word? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain” (Prov. 30:8-9). The poor person is sometimes more tempted to steal for his needs more than an affluent person is. Similarly, the affluent in this world’s goods need to be reminded that there are certain dangers which accompany an abundance of wealth.
1. Tendency to forget God. Shortly before Moses’ death, he warned the children of Israel as follows:
And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildest not, and houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage (Deut. 6:10-12).
The danger of becoming preoccupied with the things of this world to the neglect of spiritual things was also mentioned by Amos.
Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came . . . . Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near; that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; that chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph (Amos 6:1-6).
Notice the prosperity of the Israelites (lie upon beds of ivory, stretch themselves out on their couches, eat the lambs and calves, enjoy the instruments of music, drink wine from the bowls, anoint themselves with ointments, etc.). Yet, they were not grieved for the affliction of Israel (i.e., the spiritual problems of Israel were of no interest to them). In our abundance, we also must be careful not to forget God or so neglect Him as to sever our relationship with Him.
2. The temptation to over-indulge. The parable of the rich man who tore down his barns to build greater barns (Lk. 12:16-21) shows the danger of affluence in the direction of over-indulging. Our affluence is presenting us with a set of problems which many of our ancestors never faced. For example, I conducted a gospel meeting in a northern city recently in which I began the meeting by preaching on the Christian’s need to put Christ first in his life. During the course of the sermon, I emphasized the need of the members of the local church to put their support of the meeting before secular activities. One older Christian woman came out expressing disagreement with one point which I made during the lesson. I had said that a Christian should not let his bowling league interfere with supporting the meeting. She said that she disagreed with that statement. So, on her bowling night, two Christian couples neglected the gospel meeting to go bowling.
That particular temptation did not present itself to my parents when I was younger because they did not have the money to spend on such luxuries. There are a whole host of spiritual temptations directly related to our affluence, such as long week-end trips which result in people not attending services anywhere, winter or summer homes which allow the member to be away from service in a local area nearly half of the year (sometimes this is made worse by attending a liberal congregation while away), and other similar problems. Some people travel so much that they cannot be depended upon to teach a class, lead singing, or anything else in a local church.
3. Trusting in riches. Paul told Timothy, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). David said, “And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved” (Psa. 30:6). This is certainly another danger of an affluent society.
Many among us have large savings accounts and/or assets totaling huge amounts. Nearly every financial reverse possible is protected by some form of insurance (life, health, and unemployment insurance). We are protected from poverty in our old age by social security (although even this is insufficient to protect us very well) and welfare. Consequently, some people begin to trust in these things rather than in God.
We need to be reminded that money cannot do some things. It cannot save us from death; the psalmist wrote.
They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (for the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption (49:6-9).
In the day of death, all of the money in the world cannot help us to live any longer. Money cannot give us the “peace that passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). Money cannot give us eternal security, salvation from our sins. Hence, we should not trust in wealth.
4. Neglect of God to chase after increased prosperity. A friend of mine who has a very successful business related a temptation which they face. He told me how often his phone rings telling him of some good deal in which he could make a large sum of money with little effort. 5However, his time is already so fully taken that to add more to his load would be to neglect his family, the church, teaching the poor, or visiting the sick. He has the spiritual maturity to turn this opportunity down. Some do not have that much wisdom.
I see brethren take second jobs in order “to get ahead.” The result is that they quit attending on Wednesday night; they never visit anyone or receive Christians into their home. Furthermore, I have never seen one of them “get ahead” sufficiently to say, “I will not do this anymore.” They never get enough. Brethren, covetousness is not a sin confined to the first century saints or to the super rich (Col. 3:5).
Affluence certainly does produce a lot of temptations. However, lest we be one-sided, let me mention that it also presents many opportunities to serve (helping the poor, supporting gospel preachers, free time to teach others and visit members, etc.). However, we would be naive if we did not see that our affluence society is presenting a number of temptations which are drawing people away from God and are causing us to become apathetic toward Christ and His work. Unlike Paul, some of us have not learned how to properly handle our abundance (Phil. 4:12).
Another cause of spiritual apathy is second-generation Christians. Inasmuch as I am from a family of Christians, I am among those tempted with this problem. Unlike those who have searched for and found the truth from a denominational background, many of us were raised by Christian parents. Those who found the truth from a denominational background recognize the preciousness of truth (Jn. 8:32) because they know the soul-damning influence of false doctrine. They appreciate the simplicity of truth as compared with the maze of denominational dogmas which they formerly accepted. However, some of the second-generation Christians lack appreciation for these aspects of the truth because they were never exposed to denominational error personally and have had little acquaintance with those who were.
Furthermore, some second-generation Christians were never genuinely converted in the first place. I have met more than one who was baptized to please his parents, because his friends were being baptized, or because it just seemed like a good thing to do. These people never felt genuinely convicted of their sinful condition (Eph. 2:1, 11-12). They never had a personal faith resting on the revelation of God’s word. They never had a burning desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:18). Consequently, they were never genuinely converted. Their interests in Christ and the church are, at best, rather nominal. This is another cause of spiritual apathy in the local church.
Forgetfulness of the Judgment
Others are admittedly apathetic but have no present desire to cease their conduct before God because they think that they have plenty of time to be faithful later in life. The wicked have always put off the day of the Lord. Amos said that those in his day “put far away the evil day” (Amos 6:3). The psalmists wrote.
He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it (10:11).
The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes (36:1).
And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High? (73:11).
The wicked willfully forget that God will judge the wicked and condemn them to damnation (2 Pet. 3:3-14).
Others live as though they have forever to get ready for the judgment with the full intention of someday obeying the Lord’s commandments. They are like Felix in that they look for a convenient season (Acts 24:25). They are like the rich man in the Lord’s parable who thought that he had many days but found that the Lord said, “This night” (Lk. 12:13-21). They ignore the Lord’s warning to always be prepared for the Lord’s coming (Matt. 24:42-25:13; Lk. 12:41-48).
If every member of the church were convinced that the Lord was coming back tomorrow, how many would be present at the evening services or mid-week services? How many would pass through this day without personally praying to God? How many would pass through this day without checking on the sick of the congregation and seeing what could be done to relieve them? How many would attempt to contact those who are unfaithful to the Lord?
Surely we can see that one cause of spiritual apathy is our failure to be constantly reminded of the judgment, the reward of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked.
Another cause of spiritual apathy is the lure of temporal pleasures. Some are like Demas who forsook Paul “having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). Just recently, one of my friends talked with an unfaithful member of the church who related the conversation to me. He said that the man just quit coming because there were too many things in this world which were sinful which he wanted to do. Since he was not going to give them up, he simply quit worshiping the Lord. There are not a few just like him, although some are not quite so honest with us. They would prefer to go dancing, to go mixed bathing, to social drink, to smoke their cigarettes, to commit fornication, etc. than to be faithful to the Lord. Indeed, they love this world more than they love the Lord (1 Jn. 2:15-17).
They remind me of Esau. The author of Hebrews used him as a warning to Christians; he wrote.
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornication, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. Fo ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears (Heb. 12:15-17).
How unfortunate that so many will be like Esau! At judgment, will they consider the temporal pleasure which sin gave to them (Heb. 11:24-25) worth eternal damnation in hell and separation from God? Is one moment of sin worth such an awful price? Yet, we see the number of men who are falling victim to this increasing temptation increasing every day. This is certainly one reason that brethren among us are becoming apathetic toward Christ.
Some are becoming less concerned about sin in their lives and less concerned with doing what Christ commands them to do because of wrong doctrine. Baptists have taught their members the damnable doctrine “once saved, always saved” for years. More than once, I have talked with Baptists admittedly guilty of horrible sins who thought that they would go to heaven when they die.
Since some have begun to teach loose views of sin among us, some are becoming less and less concerned about sin. The doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ is one such doctrine. The grace-unity heresy has also contributed to a loose view of sin. The result is that some who believed the use of instrumental music in worship to be sinful have found that they will go ahead and participate with those who use instruments of music in worship, despite the fact that they still say that they believe the usage to be wrong. Some have ceased worrying about whether or not church support of human institutions is wrong, whether church supported recreation is wrong, and whether or not the sponsoring church method of church organization is wrong. These loose views of sin have infected some among us and is contributing to their spiritual sickness.
Though you can probably think of some other things which are causing brethren where you worship to be less concerned about faithfulness to God than they should be, these are some of the things which I have seen as causes of spiritual apathy. May the Lord help us to overcome the temptations associated with each of them.
- Why do we need to be concerned with the causes as well as the symptoms of apathy?
- Name several temptations which come to us because of poverty and affluence. Name several opportunities which come to us because of poverty and affluence.
- What problems do you see in others around you related to affluence? What particular temptations do you face because of your affluence?
- How many children of Christians in the local church of which you are a member have become unfaithful to the Lord in the last five years? What are some causes of their unfaithfulness?
- How does one’s attitude toward the Lord’s second coming affect one’s faithfulness? When was the last time you heard a sermon on the judgment day, heaven or hell?
- What does the phrase “for a season” tell us about the pleasures of sin in Heb. 11:25? What should be our attitude toward the temptation to become worldly because of this?
- How many people have been lost to worldliness from your home congregation in the past several years? How much preaching has been done on these subjects during that time? Has anyone been disfellowshipped for worldliness during this time?
- What are your beliefs about social drinking, mixed bathing, dancing, and smoking? Can one be a faithful Christian while engaging in these activities?
- What other causes of apathy than those discussed in this lesson can you name?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 17, pp. 282-284
April 24, 1980