Apathy: That Is It And What Is Wrong With It?

Mike Willis
Dayton, Ohio

Each of us has been appalled at the disastrous effect which various false doctrines have had on the Lord's church. However, the local church of which you are a member is probably not presently fighting over a doctrinal issue which threatens its very existence as being faithful to the word of God. However, each of us is a member of a church which is fighting for its very existence in a war against apathy.

The general public in America has recently taken a rather apathetic approach toward religious matters. More and more Americans are becoming secularists; they are pragmatically accepting a view which rejects any form of religious faith and worship, whether consciously adopting that belief or not. The percentage of Americans who have totally ceased to assemble to worship God increases yearly; the number who assemble only occasionally also continues to rise. From a practical standpoint, if not from a doctrinal standpoint, most Americans are secularists who are apathetic toward religion and ethical matters.

This has spilled over into the church. That attitude which is beginning to permeate our whole society is beginning to affect local congregations all over the United States. One former editor of the religious periodical among us stated that he thought that apathy was posing the greatest threat to the church today. I do not know who could doubt the truthfulness of the statement.

What Is Apathy?

Webster defines "apathy" as "I. lack of emotion; 2. lack of interest; listless condition; indifference." Some of the synonyms of the word are impassiveness, indifference, lethargy, unconcern. When I am speaking of apathy, I am speaking of the lack of interest which many Christians are showing toward spiritual things such as the church, study of the word of God, prayer, heaven and hell, etc.

To demonstrate that apathy is a problem to congregations among us, one only needs to compare the Sunday morning attendance of any congregation with that of Wednesday or Sunday night. The difference between the two attendances approaches 50% in some congregations. The evidence of apathy is even greater when one compares the gospel meeting attendances with that of Sunday morning. Furthermore, many Christians show up for Bible classes without having done any preparation for that period of Bible study. There appears to be little interest among the greater majority of most congregations in visiting the sick, contacting visitors, teaching home Bible studies, etc.

Apathy is an attitude of indifference and unconcern toward spiritual things. It generally ignores spiritual matters in order to place a greater emphasis on material things.

What Is Wrong With Apathy?

Having defined what apathy is, most Christians will immediately recognize the sinfulness of it. However, in case someone is so afflicted with apathy that he does not recognize what is wrong with it, let me explain why apathy is sinful.

1. It destroys a church. We recognize, with reference to physical pings, the principle that slothfulness destroys. The wise an stated, "By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through" (Eccl. 10:18). Again, he wrote, "He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster" (Prov. 18:9). We recognize that a man does not have to tear down a house to destroy it; all that he has to do is just fail to repair the things which need repairing and soon the house will collapse. We recognize that a man does not have to burn a field to destroy its crop; all that he must do is to fail to plow it, weed it, and fertilize it to produce the same effect. The wise man's inspired comments regarding slothfulness are easily verified by observation.

What we recognize as true in the physical realm is also true with reference to the church. When brethren become apathetic and allow the work of the Lord to go undone, the church will be destroyed. Here are some things which occur when apathy sets in which destroys the church: (1) neglecting the services (this discourages the weak members and causes them to also neglect the services, compounding the problem); (2) failing to visit those who visit our services, the sick and the discouraged, and (3) neglecting home Bible studies. The result of this negligence is that few home Bible studies are conducted and fewer are converted; the weak become weaker until they eventually just completely apostatize. As the stronger members die, brethren move away, and the children of half-converted Christians decide not to be faithful to the Lord, the church in a given area dies.

The Lord warned brethren about destroying the church, the temple of God; Paul wrote, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Although the context is primarily discussing the destruction which occurs to the Lord's temple through sinful division, the application would extend to anything which destroys the temple of God. Apathy results in destruction of the Lord's church and is wrong for that reason.

2. It causes spiritual needs to go unmet. When apathy afflicts a congregation, spiritual needs are unmet. Each of us recognizes that the gospel is God's saving power (Rom. 1:16); one cannot be converted without being taught the gospel of Christ (Mk. 16:15-16). This is the only means which God uses to draw men to Him (Jn. 6:44-45). However, when apathy sets in, the work of taking the gospel to the lost people of the world almost comes to a halt. How many home Bible studies have been conducted by the members of the church where you worship in the last month? Six months? Year? Is there any wonder that there are so few conversions? Who can doubt that apathy is afflicting us?

The same might be said of those who are weak among us. The weak need special attention (1 Thess. 5:14 - support the weak; comfort the feebleminded). Those who are caught up in sin need spiritually minded men to take the time to work to restore them (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20). However, when apathy sets in, this need goes unmet. Frequently what happens is that the congregation neglects the needs of these members until they completely quit attending; then, the congregation withdraws (or is it "washes its hands" of the matter?) from them for forsaking the assembly. Surely we can see why apathy is sinful!

3. It destroys the quality of worship. In order for worship to be acceptable to God, it must be offered from the heart of man. Mere outward ceremonies have never been acceptable to the Lord (Mic. 6:6-8). In our worship today, every item demands our fullest concentration and attention. During the preaching of God's word, every member has an obligation to strive to be learning all that he can, examining the Scriptures to be certain that what is taught is what God revealed (Acts 17:11; 1 Jn. 4:1). During the singing, the Christian is expected to "make melody in his heart" (Eph. 5:19), "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col. 3:16). During the prayer, we are to listen in order to say "Amen" (1 Cor. 14:16), being exceedingly careful not to merely offer vain repetitions (Matt. 6:7). To properly observe the Lord's supper one must remember Christ's death (1 Cor. 11:24-29). Even our giving must be done purposely (2 Cor. 9:6-7).

Yet, when apathy afflicts members, the quality of worship is destroyed! Members day-dream during the lesson, if they do not altogether fall asleep. Notes are passed, fingernails are clipped, and whispering occurs. These things destroy the quality and acceptability of our worship; they are the fruits of apathy.

4. It puts God second. Spiritual indifference occurs because something has taken priority over God in one's life. The seed of the kingdom is choked out by the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:22). Something other than God has first priority in the life of that person who is apathetic.

God will not take second place in one's life! Christ commanded, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness . . ." (Matt. 6:33). Again, He stated, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37-38). (Be sure to study Lk. 14:15-35 for other Scriptures pertaining to putting something else above one's service to God.)

If God will not even allow one to put his father, mother, son or daughter before Him in reference to priorities, He certainly will not tolerate a man putting a football, baseball, or some other kind of game before Him. Neither will He tolerate being placed second to anything on television, shopping, dining out, etc. Apathy is sinful because it manifests that one's priorities have been misplaced.

5. It damns the soul. Because apathy does all the things mentioned above, we can easily see that it damns the soul. The letters to the seven churches of Asia manifests this. (One cannot help but notice that three of the seven churches of Asia were instructed regarding something pertaining to the problem of apathy. This sin is not new.) Here are the comments made by the Lord concerning this problem:

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 (Rev. 2:4-5).

. . . I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee (Rev. 3:1-3).

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth (Rev. 3:16-17).

These quotations certainly show God's disapproval of apathy. We simply must accept the conclusion that an apathetic attitude toward Christ and toward service in His kingdom will damn one's soul in hell. Hence, that is what is wrong with apathy - it will damn one's soul in hell.


  1. What is the current attitude of most Americans toward religion and how it is affecting the church in your area?
  2. What is "apathy"?
  3. What are some evidences of its existence in the local congregation which you attend?
  4. How does apathy destroy a congregation?
  5. How does it cause spiritual needs to go unmet?
  6. How does apathy affect one's worship?
  7. What are the proiorities in your life?
  8. How can you tell where your priorities lie?
  9. What is one's "first love" as used in Rev. 2:4-5?
  10. How would a congregation have a name that it was alive but be dead (Rev. 3:1-3)?
  11. Why would the Lord prefer one to be "cold" rather than "lukewarm" (Rev. 3:16-17)?

Truth Magazine XXIV: 17, pp. 276-278
April 24, 1980