Overcoming Apathy with Affections
October 17, 2012 1 Comment
This blog post was adapted from a sermon that I gave at the Harvard Avenue Student Ministry youth group on Wednesday, October 17, 2012.
One of the greatest, but also most dangerous, aspects of human relationships is that they are dynamic. A typical relationship starts off with a lot of excitement and energy as the parties discover more about each other and experience a lot of “new” things. As the relationship continues, the sparks start to die down as they parties become more comfortable with each other and focus on growing deeper with each other. One of the things that anybody in a relationship must guard against is apathy, especially as the length of the relationship grows. It may start out as a small thing, but can quickly grow into a relationship killer. Let’s see what Scripture has to say about overcoming apathy with affections.
The Danger of Apathy
At first glance, this church looks great! They are patient, discerning, enduring, and solid in a large city famous for its wealth and idolatry.
Ephesus was an important city in the early church’s history: it was founded by Paul, it reached many of the residents of Asia with the gospel, and it was home to an all-star group of leaders like Timothy and John. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this church?
Despite all the great things happening at Ephesus, they had lost something very important by the time Revelation is written 90 years after the church was planted. They had exchanged love for duty. This is the definition of apathy! Even though the church was going good things, they were doing so without passion or joy. As a result, Jesus warns them to return to that first love, or He will close the doors of the church (which He eventually did).
Apathy is still a rampant problem in the church and the lives of believers today. This often takes two forms in the believer’s life: 1) passionless participation- going to all the “Christian” activities, but only to check them off the list. (This would be like a man giving his wife roses on their anniversary, but saying “I’m only doing this because it’s my duty.”) 2) loveless learning- learning about the things of God, but only for the sake of knowledge, not action. (This is the equivalent to a man saying of his wife: “I really love her pretty blue eyes, but she is so annoying. If she could just let me look at and enjoy her eyes, and that’s it, I’d be fine.”)
How are we to overcome apathy in our Christian lives? The same way that Jesus told the Ephesian church to: remember our first love.
Three Ways to Deepen Our Affections Toward Christ
Our affections are stirred toward the Lord by making much of Jesus, honestly assessing our motivations, and taking sin seriously.
Let’s look at this “first love” in the early Ephesian church.
1. Making Much of Jesus (Acts 19:17,20)
As the gospel spreads throughout Ephesus, the transforming power of God becomes very evident. When the gospel is proclaimed, it always demands a response: some come to faith in Christ, others try to tap into the benefits of Jesus for their own purposes without genuine conversion, and still others reject the gospel completely. This all flows from the name of Jesus being more powerful and worthy of honor than any other name that exists.
For Christians, apathy kicks in when we view other names as equal to or more important than the name of Jesus. This causes leads to dysfunction in our spiritual growth. We don’t evangelize because we value our reputation and comfort more than the eternity of another person’s soul; we study theology, but only so we can boast in our knowledge or win arguments with our friends; we attend church on Sunday, but only so we can meet our social expectations; we read our Bibles, but we don’t study them.
In order to make much of the name of Jesus, you need to know who he is because your knowledge informs your worship. Doctrine alone and endurance alone isn’t exactly what Jesus is after, he wants our affections and love too. He wants doctrine and endurance to flow from our desire for him. Sound doctrine that doesn’t lead us to a deeper love of Jesus isn’t enough. Endurance that doesn’t heighten our affections for Jesus isn’t what he came to die for.
In Revelation, Jesus wants to move the Ephesians (and believers today) past truth alone into a truth that leads to worshipping the Lord for who he is, what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do in the future.
2. Assessing our Motivations (Acts 19:18)
The second thing we see early in Ephesus is their desire to be real and honest with each other.
Too often, we are comfortable pretending to be someone else around those in our church. We put on our “church clothes” and pretend everything is fine. We come to a church long enough to learn the quirks of that particular body and then adopt them as our own to fit in: we wear polos instead of suits, carry an ESV, and say buzzwords like “Reformed” or “Keep it Jesus!” Isn’t that exhausting? Adam & Eve tried that in the Garden and it didn’t work out so well for them. God found them real fast (Genesis 3:8-13).
So, we know that God knows who we really are, meaning we’re content with fooling those around us. That’s why the local church is so essential to the Christian life. It is God’s program for growing us in love through discipleship.
Discipleship involves honestly assessing the motivations of our hearts and confessing them to others just like the members of the Ephesian church did. This is why small groups like Growth Teams, Bible studies, and the ones we’re doing on Wednesday night are so essential. In them we can be open with each other in order to push each other towards holiness. Being honest with others about our weaknesses does far more to push us into holiness than our strengths do (2 Corinithians 12:9-10).
Real discipleship must be fought for: yes, it involves risk when you make yourself vulnerable, but the reward outweighs the risk. When grace becomes more than a word but something you walk in with other believers will transform your journey with Jesus Christ.
3. Taking Sin Seriously (Acts 19:19)
The final way to overcome apathy with affection is to recognize the gravity of our sin. One of Satan’s most devious strategies is to convince Christians that their sin isn’t a big deal. If he can make us think we don’t need to deal with sin, then we are prone to let it fester which hinders our effectiveness, steals our joy, and results in disappointment. Sin hardens the hearts of men and makes them rebellious to the very one who created them. Do you realize that it was our sin that Jesus paid for on the cross because it separated us from a relationship with God? God took sin so seriously that He sent His one and only Son to die in our place so that we could be redeemed.
One of the symptoms of an apathetic Christian is that he/she distorts the liberties of God’s grace and love by undervaluing the effects of unaddressed sin. Paul addresses this head on in Romans 6.
When we give our life over to Christ, we crucify our sinful desires that once demanded our affections. When you consider the reason Jesus came to die, you cannot help but love Him. This leads to dramatic change in the life of a believer. The Ephesians even went to the extent of burning the books that characterized their old sinful selves. Do we see our sin as being that dangerous?
Taking sin seriously means fighting against it to kill it daily (see Colossians 3:1-10; Ephesians 4:17-32). We are called to take sin so seriously that we are completely destroy it, leaving no opportunity for it to distract us from offering our love and affection to Christ.
Thankfully, God, in His mercy, has not left us alone in our struggle with apathy. He has given us His Holy Spirit to mold us into the image of His Son and continually stir up our affections toward Him. By making much of Jesus, assessing our motivations, and taking sin seriously we are better equipped to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Learn It. Love It. Live It.