You’ve probably heard about the guy who was asked, “What’s the greater problem, ignorance or apathy?” His response: “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” Many people today could say the same. If it doesn’t directly affect their lives, they have no interest. But is this as it should be?
Since I don’t know much about ignorance, I’ll focus on apathy – whether you care much about or not. (Wink, wink.)
Despite the shouting, arguing and carryings-on we see and hear about in our society today, in reality we seem beset with an epidemic of apathy. We get this term from the Greek: “apathy” – “a” (without) and “pathos” (passion). We might get fired up about our favorite football team, whether we’re winning (“I love my team!”) or losing (“Fire the coach!”) But rarely does such passion spill over into our everyday lives and routines.
Sadly, this applies to too many who convene within the walls of what we commonly call “the church.” We sing the songs – or hymns, depending on how contemporary or traditional your congregation happens to be. Some raise hands, or sway, or shout “Amen” at appropriate times. There are those who even dance a bit in response to the music. But soon after exiting the doors and retreating to our real lives, the apathy – without passion – resets.
This isn’t a new dilemma. In the book of Revelation, we read this listless, lethargic malady afflicted the ancient church. Addressing the church in the city of Laodicea, God says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one of the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:14-16).
Another translation says, “I will spew you out of my mouth.” I like that wording better. It pictures someone drinking or biting into something very distasteful and without hesitation, spewing it out, no matter where it happens to land. Like unpleasant food, or sour milk.
But “spewing” was the effect. The cause was the Laodicean church’s apathy, being “lukewarm” – neither cold nor hot toward things that matter to God. During worship services, or small group meetings, the men and women might have expressed their love and devotion to the Lord, but outside of those gatherings, it was hard to find evidence of Him at work in their lives.
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Tough words – but apparently directed to a bunch of folks going through the motions, whose hearts weren’t really in it.
We hear about children coming from “Christian homes” that go to college or get out on their own and, before long, disavow the faith they once professed. There’s much to be said about this, but perhaps in many instances it’s largely because their families were “neither cold nor hot” toward Christ in an everyday sense. Biblical values and virtues got lip service, but weren’t lived out on a genuine, consistent basis. Maybe kids who later reject the faith are living out that legacy.
Why is this? Even though followers of Jesus are increasingly targets of antagonism in the U.S.A., we’ve not yet approached the levels of persecution believers face in other lands. It’s easy, therefore, to feel comfortable – complacent – in our faith, never needing to count the cost and take a bold stand that might bear serious consequences. We’ve grown apathetic, “lukewarm” toward God.
I’m one that doesn’t like lukewarm food and drink. I prefer ice-cold beverages, and if my meal at home cools off, I’m prone to stick it in the microwave and “nuke” it for 15-20 seconds until it’s hot again. God feels the same way about us. He doesn’t want us to grow cold toward Him, but neither is He satisfied with lukewarm belief.
In the same chapter of Revelation, we find a verse we typically apply it to those who haven’t yet made commitments to Jesus Christ. However, the context shows it’s directed to people who already claim to be members of His family. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). I’ve seen paintings of this passage showing Jesus knocking on a door without an outside handle. Imagine Jesus needing to ask to be invited into our homes and our hearts?
How can we “heat up,” getting past lukewarm-ness? Sometimes it helps to hear someone tell a powerful story of what God has done in their life. We can read an inspiring book, or listen to heart-tugging spiritual music. But the best way is to spend time with the Lord in the Scriptures, as well as reflect on all He’s already performed in our lives.
The worst thing we can do is follow the example described in Psalm 78:9-11, which tells of, “The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle; they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law. They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them.” Let’s not be like them. Let’s say no to “lukewarm.”
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at email@example.com.