Date: April 12, 2009
Bible Text: Isaiah 32:1-11 | Steve Damron
Series: Transcribed Sermons
In Isaiah Chapter 32 and a few other passages, we’re going to see what the Bible has to say about apathy. We are going to define it through the words of Scripture.
“Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken. The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly. The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful. For the vile person will speak villainy, and his heart will work iniquity, to practice hypocrisy, and to utter error against the LORD, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail. The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right. But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.”
Then in verse 9, “Rise up, ye women that are at ease; hear my voice, ye careless daughters; give ear unto my speech.”
In verse 11, it says this again, “Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones....” It’s saying in verses 14-15, “...the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest.” This passage is talking about having an attitude of ease.
Then we go to Ezekiel Chapter 11. It mentions the judgment that is going to come upon the people. Verse 16 states, “Therefore say, Thus saith the LORD GOD; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come. Therefore say, Thus saith the LORD GOD; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence.”
God is saying that He is going to pull them out from all these problems and in verse 19 states, “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh....” Then in Chapter 12, verse 1, He says, “The word of the LORD also came unto me, saying, Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.”
In Amos Chapter 6, we see a similar theme to Isaiah. It is the same idea: Amos is lamenting, and he says, “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!”
Apathy is an unseen thing. Why? It’s a life of ease; it’s an attitude of ease, an “I-don’t-care” attitude. It’s rampant in the church. It is a result of a backslidden mentality.
Apathy can be seen in giving. The average church member in America is satisfied to do the minimum in their giving. The average Christian will give or sacrifice if they get a bonus. If you take the bonus away, they say, “Well, I can’t really sacrifice or give anything extra.” It’s apathy.
It’s getting harder and harder to find people to lead and especially harder to find qualified leaders. When the right people are found, they give little time to their responsibility. They’re too busy; or they say, “That’s kind of an over-commitment, don’t you think?” While others sit on the sidelines, they complain about everything and won’t get involved.
In the families of an average church, you’ll see apathy. I read about a youth pastor who related the following sad story of a family that he worked with for years who had a teenage boy who was in deep sin. He had a careless and apathetic attitude, and the family was in shock at his attitude. They started blaming the school, society, the church—anything they could think of—but they still weren’t dealing with their son. The pastor went on to say that for years the boy sat in isolation. There were older brothers and sisters. Each was working and involved with their own lives and assumed that the others were talking to this young man. In fact, nobody was listening. Gradually, this young man began to lash out in rebellion. He assumed that no one would listen.
The youth pastor spent as much time as possible with the young man until the family decided to move away. The youth pastor went to the family and said, “I’ll try to help you. I’ll try to find a church with a youth pastor to help; together maybe we can do something.” He wanted to do this because he cared. The family refused the help. They chose a church that did not teach and did not have a youth program. Now there was no one. The young man later on called his old youth pastor. He had gone down a very hard road and said, “Now, I don’t know what to do; I’m so far gone.” The youth pastor had seen an apathetic attitude in the family years before. He knew that everyone was concerned about themselves and that nobody was concerned about anyone but themselves. Yet when he approached them to help, he was denied.
You know, there’s apathy in giving; there’s apathy in families; there’s apathy in relationships; and there’s apathy when we relate to other people. When we look at our church, there are a lot of subjects that could be discussed. We could talk about the deity and the humanity of Christ. We could talk about the doctrines of marriage, divorce, and remarriage; we could talk about liberalism; we could get into the ordinances Christ instituted; and we could talk about pastoral authority. All of those are good to discuss, but I think one of the biggest battles that we face in our church and in our lives is apathy.
According to Webster’s dictionary, apathy is a lack of emotion. Some people would say, “Well, you’re very apathetic.” I’m not talking about getting charismatic and waving hankies. Apathy is a lack of interest. Some synonyms for apathy would be impassiveness, indifference, and a lethargic, unconcerned attitude. We can see it defined, but how can we see it in your life?
If there is a lack of interest, you are apathetic. If it’s Thursday night and you start thinking of ways to get out of church, you’re apathetic. If you do not enjoy studying God’s Word or reading God’s Word, you are apathetic. When was the last time you picked up the Bible and perused some Scripture until it got a hold of you and you were excited about what God gave you? If it’s been a long time, you are in the middle of an apathetic Christian life. If you don’t care about prayer or if you have a lack of interest in it, then you are apathetic. If you don’t care about souls, you are apathetic. We had 133 visiting adults from our bus routes this Easter Sunday, and they sat right here. If at some time during this week you didn’t say, “God, there’s going to be a lot of adults sitting here—open up their hearts,” then you are apathetic. You don’t care. You say, “Well, I have my life.” That’s exactly my point.
Spiritual apathy can be manifested in a couple ways. It can be manifested in a decrease in attendance at church services. You say that you come to church enough. Okay, you’re a good Lutheran. Join the Catholics, but we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to other denominations. We are not supposed to look at other people. We should compare ourselves and align ourselves with the Bible. Does your life line up with it? A decrease in attendance and coming to church without proper preparation is a sign that you are apathetic.
As I was talking about Easter Sunday, did you think about how much you prepared your heart? As you were preparing for this weekend for the bus route, how much did you prepare? I’m not talking about just knocking on doors. I’m talking about prayer and soul-searching and taking time during the week to let God prepare you for His Word. If you walk into the church service and it’s just “ho-hum,” then you’re apathetic. If you can go through a church service and still be “ho-hum,” then you’re apathetic. I’m not saying that the hankies should come out.
But come here on a Saturday night. As practices start at about 6:00 or 6:30 every Saturday night—6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00—I would say there’s probably six to ten groups practicing so they will stir your heart up. Then you sit there and say, “Hmm, they missed a note. Boy, that wasn’t as good as I’ve heard before.” You’re apathetic! Nothing can stir you. These people aren’t practicing and doing offertories to please you. They’re doing it to praise and worship God, and as they sing the song “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” do you believe it? Do you say, “Um, Amen. It’s okay”?
What kind of God do you serve? My Lord and Savior cried out on the cross. He said, “Lord, remember this man. I thirst.” He cried out, “It is finished.” It was so loud, the temple veil rent from top to bottom. He had emotion on the cross. We sit in our pews, “Hmm, wow.” Have you thought about the words? Have you let them impact you? Or is it just, “Well, Preaching Conference is coming up; I’ll say Amen then.” It’s a show. It’s empty.
When you try not to attend Sunday School, or skip church services, when you have a lack of interest towards visitors, you are spiritually apathetic. When you have a lack of spiritual hunger, you’re apathetic. Quite often, apathy is developed when you find something else to be more important. That is the reason—when something else is more important than spiritual matters—you have fallen into apathy. Why is apathy a sin? Because it weakens and destroys local churches. All across America you walk into a church, and it’s dead. One preacher said that, in most churches, if you walked in with a bucket of cream by the time you walked down to the altar, it would be ice cream. That is how cold it is in most churches.
As your heart becomes cold, it destroys somebody else. Somebody else is excited about their bus route because they had a great Sunday with visitors or people saved. You come up to them and say, “Well, huh. You’ll have your down day.” Yes, we all have down days, but we should be excited when someone else sees God move in their ministry. Somebody is excited because somebody got saved. “Did they really? Did they really get saved? How long will they last?” Well, they’ll last a lot longer if they don’t get around your apathetic attitude.
Let’s turn to Revelation Chapter 2. This is the Cure for the Common Cold Heart. These lessons are from a forgetful church. What are the cures for the common cold heart? Let’s read in Chapter 2, starting in verse 1. “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”
This was written to the church of Ephesus. Ephesus was not only a beautiful city, but it was the chief city of the province of Asia. It was a religious and commercial center of the entire area which influenced east and west Asia and Europe. When Paul landed in Ephesus, he looked down what would’ve been known as Harbor Boulevard. Harbor Boulevard was all white marble. Can you imagine? Harbor Boulevard is wide and is all marble. That is where Paul walked. As he moved into the center of the city, he saw all sorts of markets and gift shops. There was a large market on the right as he went up the boulevard. Ahead of him, as he went up the side of a mountain, was a theater that could seat 20,000 people. Off to his left was the Great Amphitheatre that could seat over 100,000 people. It was at that amphitheatre that Paul was run out, and they cheered for hours, “Great is the goddess Diana.” It was a great metropolis, and they believed that at certain times there were over 2 million people that were around this city of Ephesus. But the city had a temple and the temple was to Diana. It was one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was the largest Greek temple every constructed. In it were over 100 external columns, 56 feet in height. The doors were of cypress. This temple served as the bank of Asia. It brought in a lot of money, but it was a wicked, wicked place. The goddess of Diana was a goddess of fertility; and, as you can imagine, then there were all kinds of wickedness associated with the worship of this goddess. However, Paul came to Ephesus and planted a church. You read about it in the book of Acts. You’ll notice as he writes that the Ephesians have a good testimony. Their pastor was John. They believe that the Apostle John ended up taking over the pastorate of the church of Ephesus. At a certain time, he was exiled from Ephesus and taken to the Isle of Patmos. While exiled on the Isle of Patmos, John is taken up and has a vision.
In his own handwriting, John starts writing letters to the churches of Asia. One of those churches was this great church of Ephesus. There were seven commendations to them. “I know thy works and thy labor.” That word “labor” indicates that they were a sacrificing church. They would put themselves into something so much that it cost them a lot. You say, “They weren’t really a bad church; they were trying to do some things.” You’ll also notice that they were a separated church. “How that thou canst not bear them which are evil....” However, we see the correction that they need. What’s the correction? He said in verse 4, “You’ve left your first love.” Now you notice, it doesn’t say that they “lost it”; it says they “left it.” There’s a story told of two girls who grew up in New England many years ago. They worked in a cotton mill. They were friends, but one of them quit working there and lost touch with the other. One day they met on the street. The working girl asked her friend, “Hey, are you still working?” The other one said, “No, no, no; I’m not working; I got married.” When that girl worked in the mill, she watched the clock. Every evening as five o’clock came, she had her coat on and was on her way out. It was hard work, and she didn’t like it. Now, she is married and she quit working? Well, if you could look at her life, you wouldn’t think she had quit working. She gets up earlier than she did when she worked at the mill. She prepares breakfast for her husband and packs his lunch. Then she throws her arms around him and says, “O, I’ll see you this evening.” All day long, she’s busy cleaning house, washing clothes, and caring for two little children. Then when five o’clock comes, she doesn’t put on her coat and leave; she starts cooking dinner. About six o’clock, her husband comes in; she’s right there, and she throws her arms around him and says, “O, I missed you; I’m so glad you’re home.” Then she stops? No. She then serves him dinner, feeds the children, washes the dishes; and that’s not all. She then prepares for tomorrow, and starts prepping because she’s got to get up in the morning to prepare breakfast and pack a lunch. But it’s all different. Why? Because she loves somebody.
When you and I come to church, and it’s only like work—punch in, punch out—and when we just can’t wait to get our coats on and get out the door because we’ve got so much to do, we’ve left our first love. It can get that way. When it does, we’ve left our first love. God gives some instruction on how to correct it. He gives some instruction in verse 5 for three simple cures for the common cold heart.
First of all, remember. Remember from whence thou art fallen. If you don’t go back and think about your salvation, you’re apathetic, lethargic, and indifferent. It could be that you’ve been saved five years, and you are apathetic and cold. There are some of you who have been saved twenty, thirty, or forty years, and you know what? When somebody talks to you about salvation, your eyes begin to tear up thinking about it. That’s good, because we shouldn’t forget what God did for us. We need to remember the pit that we had fallen into and how Christ pulled us out of that pit. Can you remember? Some of you remember where you were. The sin that bound you, had control of you; and then you found Christ and He changed your heart. And boy, life is different! It doesn’t mean that there’s never a problem, but it’s different because you can remember what He’s done. Do you do that? Do you take time at Easter to read through the passages in Matthew, Luke, and John? Does it make your heart hurt? Do you think of Christ and what He did for you? I’m even talking about a teenager or a young boy or girl who could say, “God didn’t save me out of drugs; He didn’t save me out of alcohol,” but you saw you were a sinner and you were wicked. You will be apathetic as a young person until you come to the point that God can crush you and tears come to your eyes because you remember that you were a sinner. There are so many young people who grew up here, and you’ve never thought about your sin as evil. You’ve never thought of your sin that way. You compare yourself to everybody else, but can you think of your Savior? Can you remember what He did for you? When you do that, you’ll come back to your first love and that is Christ.
Not only do we need to remember, but it says, “…remember therefore from whence thou are fallen and repent....” Repent. What does that mean? Turn from your wrong doing. Don’t keep going in it. Some will say, “Well, I remember what Christ did.” And then one week later you’re still doing it. You haven’t turned from that sin. You’ve got to hate that sin. You’ve got to despise that sin and turn from it. We repent and then, notice what is says: “...and do the first works.” What does that mean? It means go back and reinstate what made you in love with the Savior. Go back and do that which made you love the Lord. When we are first saved, there is a sense of newness. You can still be in love with your Savior. You say, “Well, you’re trying to say something that’s impossible.” No, here John writes to the people at Ephesus and he says, “You’ve left it.” You may sacrifice, you may labor, you may have patience, you may be separated, you may look the part, but God dealt with John on the Isle and he said, “Church of Ephesus, I love you. I was your pastor, but you’ve left it. You’ve left what it’s all about. It’s about Christ. It’s about loving Him. It’s about sharing Him with others. It’s about serving Him with all of our heart. It’s about doing the work that He wants us to do.” It’s about bringing people to Jesus Christ and letting them see our Savior. Reinstate those things. Get back into the Word of God.
In 1764, Dr. Chandler was the one who discovered the ruins of Ephesus. Dr. Chandler gives a striking description of the old town of Ephesus. He said, “Its population consisted of a few Greek peasants living in extreme wretchedness, dependence, and insensibility. The representatives of an illustrious people and inhabiting the wreck of their greatness, some reside in the substructure of the glorious edifices which they raised and some beneath the vaults of the stadium. Its streets are obscured and overgrown. He continues on; a herd of goats was driven to it for shelter from the sun at noon when a noisy flight of crows from the quarries seemed to insult the silence. We heard the partridge call in the area of the theatre and the stadium. Its fate is that of the entire country. A garden has become a desert. Busy centers of civilization, sports where the refinements and delights of the age were collected are now a prey to silence, destruction, and death.
Is that the story of your life? You got saved. God started working and building an edifice. He started building something in your heart and in your life. It was taking shape; but through lethargy, apathy, and unconcern, all of a sudden the walls are down, and the weeds have grown up in the pathways. Now rats scurry around your house. Your temple is in disrepair, and like the city of Ephesus, they can say, “It once was. It used to be.” Is that the story of your Christian life? Then John says, “Don’t leave it; come back to God.”
R. A. Torrey was a skeptic. He became an agnostic as he went to Germany and started studying in the universities. But God broke through and became real to him. Torrey says it was because he found a love in God’s Word. His life was one of intense energy. I can remember reading his biography in college. Once he was approached by a man named Dr. Comden. This man came to Dr. Torrey and said, “I can get nothing out of the study of the Bible. The Scripture is as dry as sand. Tell me how to study the Bible so it will mean something to me.” Dr. Torrey looked at him and said, “Read it.” Dr. Comden was looking for something a little more scholarly. He says, “I do read it.” Dr. Torrey turned to him and said, “Read it some more.” And then he said, “How?” Torrey said, “Take a book and read it twelve times a day.” The man just looked at him and said, “How can I do that with my schedule? How can I read a book twelve times a day? What book am I supposed to read?” Dr. Torrey said, “Try II Peter.” Well, the man went home and later wrote that he and his wife read II Peter two or three times for breakfast. He said we read it two times for lunch, and then we read it three or four times for dinner. Soon, he was talking II Peter. The sun and the stars seemed to shout II Peter. He said, “Tear drops mingled as I was reading and marked up my Bible.” One day he turned to his wife and said, “I’ve ruined my Bible with tears and the markings. I can’t even read II Peter any more.” And his wife said, “Yes, but as the pages have been getting black, your life has been getting light.”
And maybe that’s what you need. Something simple. Go back where you left God. He’s there waiting for you. Start over again; pull out the weeds. Start repairing those walls, and what you’ll find is that it can be as good as it used to be. God wants that. Are you lethargic? Then go to God and get the cure!