Apathy is not often discussed among most Christians, yet this state of indifference to God's interests is a real and growing danger, and all Christians must be aware of its warning signs. The first and perhaps most difficult step in combating this menace to our spiritual vitality, is to recognize its signs. The next step is to repent of it fully and to resolve, with God's help, never to repeat this error. It is a sad but Biblical prediction that some will recognize too late that they have fallen short of the mark and of the prize.
Students will become conscious of the spiritually debilitating effects of apathy. They should see how easy it is to fall into such a state while unaware. They will learn to recognize the signs of this condition and to avoid this most common pitfall.
Genesis 6:5,12; Joshua 18:2,3; Matthew 16:18; 22:2-5; 24:12,42; 25:1-13,42,43; Mark 13:35; Luke 14:16-20; 21:36; Hebrews 2:1-3; 4:1; James 4:17; Revelation 3:14-19
Question 1 - Have you ever shared a matter of great interest with someone, or tried influencing another to respond with the urgency you felt, only to be met with little reaction? Experiencing such a situation is like "talking to a wall" and can be quite frustrating.
Scripture is replete with passages regarding God's concern for man and man's quests for Hirn. It also provides numerous instances of man's indifference to the truth. Read Matthew 22:2-5 and Luke 14:16-20. What was the attitude of those in the Matthew text who were bidden to the marriage? How are the excuses in the Luke passage similar to those that people make today for putting the Gospel aside?
Response 1 - The people who were invited to the marriage showed an attitude of indifference and disdain for the invitation and toward the one who extended it. The excuses given in Luke parallel the trivial excuses offered by people today for not serving the Lord. Those who were invited to the great supper considered their own involvements of more importance than the invitation they had received. As your students discuss the questions, bring out the fact that God is intimately and specifically concerned with each individual, even to the number of hairs on a person's head. (See Matthew 10:30.) However, all too often people show little or no interest in the almighty God of Heaven. Consideration of David's words in Psalm 8:4, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" might also add to the discussion.
Question 2 - Have you ever felt so weary while driving your car that you had to fight to keep your eyes open, knowing your life depended on doing so? Christians may find themselves in a similar spiritual predicament. We are in a fight to avoid being lulled into apathy. How can we prevent the enemy of our souls from dulling our spiritual alertness and causing us to become "asleep" and off guard? What is the outcome of falling into such a state?
Response 2 - Class discussion should bring out that we can stay spiritually alert by seeking to add the various Christian graces (2 Peter 1:5-10), remembering what God has done for us (2 Peter 3:1), watching and praying (Matthew 26:41), putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11), and staying focused on our eternal goal (Philippians 3:13,14). Include the fact that spiritual indifference does not happen overnight! It is a gradual process that can be so subtle, it is not always detected by the individual involved. Point out that once a person is in this apathetic state, the danger comes in not recognizing where he actually stands before God. He, therefore, might do nothing to combat this spiritual threat.
Question 3 - If you were to ask an average individual whether or not they would enjoy being filled by the powers of darkness, he or she would probably answer with an emphatic, "No!" If you asked the same person about the alternative of being filled with. the Spirit of God and becoming fully devoted to His service, you might still get a negative response. Today, many people are not willing to go to an extreme for anything spiritual. People seemingly want a casual association with God. They want a limited form of religion, not something that requires total commitment and dependence on Him. A church of such indifference is described in Revelation 3:14-19. What made this Laodicean church so indifferent? What causes people to be indifferent today? Comment briefly on God's response to the attitude of this church, and relate His remedy for their lukewarmness.
Response 3 - The Laodicean church was condemned with the words, "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." This same spirit of self-sufficiency today makes it seem unnecessary for man to rely on God for the satisfaction of his needs. People are indifferent because the mind-set of our society is to accumulate and to succeed, making earthly accomplishments their "treasure." Matthew 6:21 says, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Another cause of lukewarmness today is that, when an individual finds the true Gospel too "narrow," he or she can always find a church that is more accommodating to their wishes or life style. The discussion should center on the fact that God detests the lukewarm state of mind and the lukewarm church. God does not see it as a condition of simple indifference but as a sin which needs to be repented of.
Question 4 - As we observe sin and violence becoming more rampant and heinous in our society, we are reminded of Noah's day when "God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth" (Genesis 6:12). In that era, the earth was "filled with violence" and every "imagination of the thoughts of [man's] heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). It seems amazing that God found a righteous family in a world of lawless people with little regard for God, but He did.
The days of Noah have passed, but the nature of man remains. Jesus prophesied of the latter days, saying, "because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matthew 24:12). What evidence is there of this prophecy's fulfillment? How can we, as Christians, shake off the effects of the sin around us and remain' "on fire" for Christ?
Response 4 - Your students might discuss how society has become more evil in recent years and how the distinction between the "world" and the Christian has blurred. As long as the Lord tarries, however, God's people can keep themselves clean and unblemished, no matter what state the world is in. Mention Jesus' prayer for those who believe on Him: "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil" (John 17:15). Discussion should bring out that in order to be on fire for Christ, Christians must be ready to stand for the right, be willing to witness for Christ, and give their testimonies. See 1 Peter 3:15.
Question 5 - Spiritual apathy prevents many individuals from moving on in their Christian walk, by causing them to become content with their present spiritual condition. Striving for perfection and seeking the deeper things of God are no longer their priority. They put the pursuit of holiness on a shelf of neglect, procrastination, or total forgetfulness.
InJoshua 18:2,3,Joshua set forth an indictment to seven tribes of Israel and said, "How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the LORD God of your fathers hath given you?" In what areas do Christians tend to become slack? Read Hebrews 2:1-3.
Response 5 - Many areas of life will undoubtedly be listed. These may include prayer, study of the Word, seeking for spiritual experiences or healing, denying of self, and even aligning of priorities to put God first. If we are not progressing in these areas, then we should be concerned. We should not put the problem aside. This would be a good place to bring in the key verse.
Question 6 - To most individuals, indifference and noninvolvement are positions of neutrality that harm no one. According to James 4: 17, what are the scriptural ramifications of this attitude? How does Matthew 25:42,43 relate to this passage in James?
Response 6 - We all know of the sin of commission, but James 4:17 discusses the sin of omission. The text in Matthew makes it clear that a lack of action is an offense in God's sight. It should be pointed out that too many Christians focus their energy on avoiding the outward sins of this world but neglect to do what God requires them to do; that neglect is as much of an offense as the former.
Ask your class: When you hear a moral issue discussed, do you keep quiet rather than getting involved? Do you "stay above the fray"? Subsequent discussion could bring out that we may tend to let things pass, giving silent endorsement by not speaking out. If we do "speak out," it must be done in a spirit of love and not with hostility or bitterness. We may hesitate because of a fear of rebuff-peer pressure on an adult level but we all have a realm of influence, where people who know us might put credence in our opinion. We have a responsibility to them to actively take a stand. This must be done prayerfully and in response to the Spirit's direction. Anything less could be a symptom of an apathetic attitude.
Question 7 - Several accounts in the Bible admonish us to watch for the coming of the Lord (Matthew 24:42; 25:13; Mark 13:35; and Luke 21:36). For those with an attitude of apathy, failure to see the urgency of preparing for the eminent coming of Christ may be the greatest tragedy. Read Matthew 25:1-13, and note what you think the oil represents in this parable. Why do you think the foolish were without enough oil? How does this parable relate to Hebrews 4:1?
Response 7 - Scripture does not specifically identify what the oil represented, but it was obviously a symbol of readiness. Jesus prayed that believers would be sanctified. If we know that experience is available and do not avail ourselves of it, how can we say that we have done everything we know to do? The same is true of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus commanded His disciples to go to Jerusalem and to wait for the enduement of power; this directive was for "as many as the Lord our God shall call." Can we fail to heed that command and expect to be ready? We are told to "walk in the light." If we decide not to seek for the blessings that God has commanded us to receive, can we assume that we have the necessary "oil"? The oil was a vitally important ingredient. The foolish were without oil, because they were apathetic toward their need for it. What a tragedy to be unprepared when the Lord comes! An even greater tragedy is to think we are ready for His coming when, in actuality, we are not. The text in Hebrews says, "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it" (Hebrews 4: 1). This verse and the parable in Matthew bring out that the greatest spiritual danger lies in the false assumption that everything is fine when, in reality a person is spiritually apathetic.
Question 8 - The day is rapidly approaching—if it isn't already here—when the world attaches a greater social stigma to the life of a fundamental, evangelical Christian than to a homosexual, adulterer, drug addict, etc. If, as present trends continue, severe punishment is handed to those who worship God and who proclaim their faith in Christ, how will the churches change? Will they be filled or almost empty? What will happen to the Church spiritually?
Response 8 - There could be many differing opinions on this question. The real answer may not be known until the day such events come to pass, and nothing indicates it will not come to pass. As a general note, however, the Church has always prospered spiritually in times of persecution. Your students might want to discuss why this has been so.