Christ’s church is not a structure of brick and mortar, but a collection of sinners made holy by the blood of Jesus. Though the church for which Jesus died is guaranteed an eternal existence (cf. Dan 2:44; Matt 16:18; Eph 3:20-21; Heb 12:28), individual congregations can still succumb to spiritual decay, and eventually, spiritual death. The spiritual reality of congregational apostasy is heartbreaking and not in the ideal will of God. One way a congregation can quickly rot from the inside out is spiritual apathy.
Looking Like Laodicea
Spiritual apathy is a serious threat to the church. It was present in first-century congregations, perhaps most notably at the church in Laodicea:
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Rev 3:15-17 ESV)
The Laodicean’s apathy disgusted Jesus. They were not zealous for the Lord, but they maintained some semblance of faithfulness. We should never believe that the bare minimum is pleasing to the Lord. Hopefully, we will not fall into the trap of thinking that if we go to worship, sing the songs, stay awake during the sermon, eat the unleavened bread, drink the juice, contribute our pocket change, and bow our heads during the prayers, then we’ve given God our all.
The root of the Laodicean’s apathy was the deception of self-sufficiency. The Laodicean’s boasted of their material wealth. They had forgotten that God has “chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (Jas 2:5). We too must realize that wealth or self-sufficiency apart from Christ is ultimately meaningless. If we become so successful and seemingly-independent that we believe we do not need God, spiritual apathy will surely follow.
Congregations must remember that attendance numbers and the weekly contribution do not determine success. We, as God’s people, must always keep how desperately we need the Lord in the forefront of our minds. Without God, we are dead in our trespasses and sins, separated from Christ, and have no hope in the world—no matter how physically successful we might be (Eph 2:1, 12). However, in Christ we have access to every spiritual blessing, are heirs according to the promise, and are given the ability to walk in newness of life (Eph 1:3; Gal 3:29; Rom 6:4). We must remember the riches lavished upon us in Christ in order to fight apathy.
Apathy Breeds Complacency
When a congregation is no longer enthusiastic about or interested in spiritual matters, complacency rears its ugly head. Suddenly, there is no more desire to grow, increase, improve, evangelize, or put forward its best effort. We must be careful not to “rest on our laurels,” so to speak, and begin to believe that the faithfulness of yesteryear will suffice for the responsibilities of tomorrow. If our zeal grows cold, we will be content with giving God four hours a week when He deserves all of our time, all of the time.
Complacency Breeds Ignorance
Further, Complacency causes us to believe that the command in Second Timothy to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2:15) is more of a suggestion. With apathetic hearts, we, like the Hebrews recipients, will “need milk, not solid food,” like a child, “unskilled in the word of righteousness” (Heb 5:12-13).
Ignorance Breeds Destruction
It’s never a good thing when God’s people are ignorant of His word. In so doing we make ourselves susceptible to being “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14).
Congregations that allow their apathy to devolve into complacency and ignorance run the risk of being issued the same fate by God as those in the Northern Kingdom during the time of Hosea: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (4:6).
Spiritual apathy is a legitimate threat to the church of Christ. We must all—from elders to new converts—do our part to keep the fire of faith lit in our hearts and Christ’s lampstand in our midst. If we discover ourselves becoming apathetic and lukewarm, may we remember the words of Jesus: “be zealous and repent” (Rev 3:19). What is there that you know you can do for the Lord, but for whatever reason are not? God has done so much for us and He certainly deserves our best effort and zeal. Let’s be zealous for God and shun lukewarmness.