Apathy in the Life of a Believer
It's a Sunday morning. You’re at the meeting, and the Recording Brother goes up to the podium to give the ecclesial announcements...
He greets everyone, announces that all upcoming events are by the Father’s will, and dives into the events and activities coming up shortly. Same as the last Sunday. He then starts talking about the help needed. He mentions speakers needed for the upcoming Bible class schedule and volunteers to bring food for a study weekend next month, etc. Stuff for other people to do, obviously.
After finishing up there, the brother then dives into the usual list of physically and spiritually needy brothers and sisters. It’s the usual names mentioned. You’ve heard their names in the announcements for weeks now. You yawn, glance at your phone, and wonder just how long he’s going to stay up there yammering away (see Amos 8:4-6 for a Biblical example of this mindset).
The world is constantly pushing us to care about ourselves
This is apathy. Perhaps you did not recognize it by this term and just know the results of its effects. Maybe it’s a small feeling that you know is wrong, but in the grand scheme of things, you dismiss it as a minor issue. Or maybe you didn’t even realize it was an issue. However, it is a danger, and the danger is genuine to us as believers living in the last days before the return of our Lord.
The world is constantly pushing us to care about ourselves: pursue this career, make this amount of money, and buy that new thing. We are driven into more and more connections with people and activities around us. Sometimes these activities are seemingly harmless. Yet further connections outside can decrease those within ecclesial life, leading to a disconnect from what truly matters. Left unchecked and unrecognized by the individual in question, apathy can grow from a minuscule blight in the life of a believer into complete spiritual stagnation. It can quite literally ruin our lives without us even knowing. Therefore, it is vital we identify the dangers of spiritual apathy, to define apathy in ecclesial life, and draw out spiritual methods from the Bible to combat apathy in our own lives as we strive together toward that glorious day of Christ’s return.
Apathy can quite literally ruin our lives without us even knowing.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “apathy” is defined as a “lack of feeling or emotion or a lack of interest or concern.” The English word apathy is derived from the Greek word apatheia, meaning without feeling or emotion or just plain indifference. Spiritually, the term apathy takes on a slightly different meaning. Spiritual apathy often places our care on things below rather than those above, but it’s not always as easy as that.
Spiritual apathy is a lack of action in spiritual matters. It’s getting stuck in the same old rut, performing service sometimes more with our lips than our heart. In question are our priorities, habits, and, most importantly, our actions (or lack thereof). What are we doing or not doing? Are we lazy? What are our priorities? Are we comfortable working in the Ecclesia? What are we concentrating most on in our lives? These are all vital questions that require real introspective work. They also bring up the question: How can we combat these feelings?
As with all things, the answers to our problems can be found within the inspired word of God. As Bible students, we are commanded to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15). So, let’s search: what does the Bible have to say about apathy? How can we combat it in our lives?
Sometimes, apathy can stem from sheer laziness. Perhaps we have gotten used to chugging along on our work grind, coming to the meeting and Bible class, rinse, repeat (I certainly have found myself here multiple times). Maybe the idea of adding a large workload in spiritual life has become nauseating. We may say, “Never! I would never think that!” However, it’s an incredibly easy feeling to have. Solomon wrote, “The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.” (Prov 26:13).
This frame of mind is perhaps one of the easiest forms of apathy for us to slip into. Like the slothful man in Proverbs, we can develop a thousand excuses to not do the work. We can start thinking, “Well, I believe in the gospel message; I attend all of the ecclesial functions, isn’t that good enough?” This is what many Christian denominations choose to believe, and we can see how tempting that is. However, some Bible reading shows just how dangerous this frame of mind is.
Take the parable of the talents, for example. Jesus, in Matthew 25:24-26, 30, at the end of the parable, states:
Not all the servants were given the same talents, and not all yielded the same results. Yet we can see what happened to the servant who chose to do nothing. Likewise, we are given abilities. Some more, some less. But our Heavenly Father desires action. In the chapter prior, Matthew 24:45-46 says, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.”
Like the servant who provides for the household, we will be rewarded at the return of Christ for our actions and judged for our inaction. James drives home this principle well in James 2:14-17 (ESV):
Faith is not enough. We cannot just sit around letting others perform work in the ecclesia. To do so would be to render our faith worthless.
We must act! Action is the only surefire way to develop our faith, as the Scriptures show. Sometimes, this can be uncomfortable. But we know of many individuals in the Bible who felt the same. Moses is a case in point. In Exodus 4:10, he says to the Angel,
Leading his people did not make Moses comfortable. Yet it was a work that needed to be done, and he did it faithfully. There are numerous roles in the ecclesia, each of equal importance. Be it speaking, playing the piano, or anything else; a role is there for all of us, so long as we answer the call and act.
Another major area that can cause apathy in our lives is our priorities. Is God truly first in our lives? If anyone asked, we would answer yes. But do our actions really show that? Could a stranger notice our devotion to the Truth from a short conversation or by observing what we do? It’s remarkably easy to get so wrapped up in our own lives that we become isolated from ecclesial life and from what’s truly important.
The scriptures hold countless examples of this sad truth. A prime example of this is King Solomon, a figure we are undoubtedly familiar with. He began his reign so perfectly; a stunning figure of Jesus ruling in the Millennium, building a remarkable temple to God, dealing out wise judgments to all that came before him. Yet in his power and riches he got caught up in the pleasures that surrounded him. He let his priorities shift from his God to his countless wives, resulting in the division of Israel and Judah. Solomon wrote,
Solomon became indifferent to the things of the Spirit, and turned to the things of the world, and he found it to all be vanity.
Haggai the prophet witnessed a similar issue in the days of Jewish exile in Babylon:
The issue here was a matter of priority. The people were so busy building up their houses and doing business that they did not think to give time to God’s house. Are we dwelling in “ceiled” houses? Do we truly prioritize spiritual life over everything else, as we are instructed to do?
Spiritual apathy is a real danger to us. However, we should not be discouraged by this, but be uplifted that our Father has provided His inspired word that’s full of ways we can identify and combat these feelings! Most importantly, as believers, we need to remember that our Lord and Savior is returning soon. We can see this in the signs surrounding us. Will we be found ready and waiting, our lamps filled with oil, working diligently in service to our Father, or will we be caught with no oil in our lamps, apathetic to what’s truly important?
(Ann Arbor Ecclesia, MI)