Ignorance and Apathy
For the last several months, I have not made any contributions to the Watchman Magazine effort. Some of it was due to illness and most of the summer and early fall have been consumed with matters relevant to my recent move to Lafayette, Louisiana. I am thankful to God for the improvement in my health and for answering many prayers on my behalf. I am thankful to so many brethren who encouraged me with their kind words and their prayers throughout most of this year. I am especially grateful to Stan and Tom for their patience with me in allowing me to stay on the masthead of this great publication while not doing any of the work. There is much work yet to do, and I intend, with God's help, to be a part of that work. Thank you.
All of us, I am sure, have heard the story of the two people discussing words. One fellow asks the other, "What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?" Since they had been discussing words for quite awhile, the other man responded in his frustration, "I don't know, and, quite frankly, I don't care!" Little did this second fellow realize that he had defined both words with eloquent simplicity and pointed application.
In Paul's writings to Timothy, he said many things that would prevent the evangelist from falling prey to either of these maladies. "Study to show yourself approved..." (2 Timothy 2:15). "O Timothy, guard what was committed to your trust..." (1 Timothy 6:20). "These things I write to you...that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church..." (1 Timothy 3:14-15). "Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine" (1 Timothy 4:13).
There is a definite relationship between these two concepts, ignorance and apathy. That relationship is a "cause and effect" sort of thing. People naturally are not and really cannot be excited, at least over an extended period of time, about something of which they know very little. There is an excitement about salvation when they first hear the gospel story, but that zeal wanes when study and trials and temptations and testing and persecution attacks the weak and uneducated soul.
In 2 Timothy 2:1, Paul exhorts Timothy, "You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." Strength is commanded. How do we get strong? Certainly not by being apathetic!! 1 Timothy 4:8; "For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (NKJV)." The comparison here between bodily exercise and godliness necessarily infers that godliness involves not a bodily exercise but, rather, a spiritual exercise. Any muscle you fail to use will become unusable due to its inactivity. The brain is just such a body part. So is our spiritual heart. They must be used in order to be strengthened.
There is a condition in the church today characterized by these two words. I have seen it in too many places, and have been affected by it in more ways than one. Apathy stems from ignorance and people remain ignorant with no stimulation or motivation to correct their lives. For example, I know an elder in a local church who has worshipped with a man in the church, who happens to be a deacon in that church, for twenty three years, who, when I asked about the residence of the elder, the deacon said he had no idea where he lived. I worshipped with that man for four years and still do not know where he lives. This same elder asked in a Bible class if it was known for sure that Saul, in Acts 9, was the man who became an apostle. Does ignorance breed apathy? And does apathy keep people ignorant? I don't think any other examples are needed, but I assure you they could be supplied.
Apathy keeps good hearted people from growing. Frustration sets in due to an inability to deal with and conquer the problems of life that a knowledge of the word would help overcome. What kind of church do you think would exist under such leadership as described in the previous paragraph? For one, that leadership was able to get me out of town. It is certainly difficult to stay in a place where the work of preaching the pure and simple gospel of Christ is negated at every turn by the elders. Such leadership makes the congregation apathetic thinking that their input is not only not welcome, but certainly would do no good. Again, apathy breeds ignorance and prevents the motivation from building up to stand for what is right.
The special people of God in Titus 2:14 are described as people who are zealous for good works. What is a good work? What is zeal and how do they relate to our topic? Zeal is a motivating fire that moves us to action. It comes by faith. In Romans 10:10, Paul said that with the heart one believes to righteousness. Faith is the motivation to do what is right. Righteousness is revealed in the gospel of Christ, Romans 1:16-17. Do we know what the gospel of Christ is? That is the same question we asked about the good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches us that "all scripture" equips us to "every good work." What good work is left out of this verse? Can we devise a "good work" that is to be found outside the scriptures? Is that man's prerogative? Do we have that right? Absolutely not! Where does that conclusion take us? Right back to a knowledge of the word and the zeal to overcome the temptations of the world which keep us from studying it the way we should. That lack of study keeps us ignorant which breeds the apathy which keeps us there.
In last month's Watchman, Larry Hafley's correspondence with a Baptist preacher points out that those purveyors of the perverted gospel of "once saved, always saved" have no motivation to work out their own salvation (Philippians 2:12) and are apathetically willing to remain ignorant, not only of the gospel of Christ but also ignorant of Satan's devices (2 Corinthians 2:11) which are actively working within them.
Is it ignorance or apathy that leads our modern brotherhood to accept the popular doctrines of a loose fellowship based on their perversion of Romans 14? What motivates brethren to be more concerned over educational credentials and the praise of men more than the praise of God which leads so many into muddying the waters about gender roles in the church and the facts found in Genesis about the origins of man? It is easy to accept the aged wisdom of a Homer Hailey under any circumstance. It is easy to accept the entertainment value of the positive approach to life as preached and taught by Christianity Magazine and its editors. It is easy to accept the educational credentials of the "Lord I Believe" program of Hill Roberts and associates of the Weatherly Heights church in Huntsville, Alabama, as so many feel inadequate to debate them on an intellectual level. It is easy to accept the Dean of Florida College when he goes to present his program on the fossil record and believe that he teaches true creation, when in fact what he teaches in that program does not sufficiently establish WHO that Creator is, nor brings the conclusion that the Creator gave His only begotten Son on the Cross of Calvary. After all, he has a PhD. When did we get to be ashamed of preaching the gospel? When did Hebrews 11:3 get cut out of the Bible? Ed Harrell used to preach against evolution on the college campuses where he was employed by citing Hebrews 11:3, and I hope he still does. When will the folks in Huntsville and Tampa start doing the same thing? Ed was right. In a sermon delivered in Pasadena, Texas, in 1985, he told the story of his encounter with the originator of the big bang theory. He recounted that as he sat and listened to this man lecture, all he could think about was Hebrews 11:3, and this man knew nothing of it. The word of God says, "by faith we understand."
If we are going to go to Heaven, and if we are going to take anyone with us, we are going to have to do the work of studying, and contending, and preaching. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul makes some final remarks to Timothy which included the charge to preach the word. He knew the people would need preaching because the people would be drawn to teachers. I have long said that the worst thing anyone could say about me was that I was a better teacher than a preacher. God forbid. If I ever lose the ability to preach, I pray that someone will make sure I sit down and quit this great work of preaching the gospel. People have itching ears and teachers tickle those ears while preachers are charged to light the fire under those who hear us so that the zeal therefrom will produce righteousness.
The conclusion, then, is an easy one. If we are going to have the zeal, which is the opposite of apathy, we must find the igniting source of the fire defined by the word zeal. Apathy is the absence of caring which produces very little if any activity. The lack of caring naturally comes about due to a lack of knowledge, interest, exercise, and effort.
If you care and don't know, we can solve that problem by studying the Bible. If you know and don't care, may I say to you that you need to repent. If, by the absence of the knowledge to care you do what comes naturally, nothing, may I plead with you to come and learn of God through a study of His word. Armed, then, with that knowledge, you will have all that is necessary to believe and obey the Lord, become one of God's children, and then live your life caring, believing, loving and obeying the Lord with zeal to the salvation of your soul. To my brethren who have compromised their knowledge or their zeal for an apathetic approach to life and an attitude that just anything will do, please sit down and be quiet. God does not need you to speak, but to repent, and God's people will be lost by your ignorant apathetic ways.
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