APATHY- THE FINAL DEATH BLOW
DO THE FIRST WORKS
Fully five out of the seven churches in the first few chapters of Revelation
were reproved or rebuked for some kind of apathy: Laodicea, Sardis, Thyatira,
Pergamum, and Ephesus. Thyatira and Pergamum tolerated false teachings
and doctrine that God hated; Sardis was dead to works and so was the virtual
opposite of the church of Philadelphia, and the blind, naked and ‘rich’
(but poor) Laodiceans were the virtual opposite of the suffering church,
Smyrna. But the only church that Jesus threatened to remove was the one
in Ephesus, even though Ephesus did not tolerate evil. What was so seriously
wrong with Ephesus that God would remove them?
Rev. 2: 4-5 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first
love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the
things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove
your lampstand from its place.
Ephesus did not really love God anymore. Sure, they had a zeal for rooting
out false apostles, and they did labour for Christ, but they had "fallen"
from the heights of being in truly in love with God, and they were told
to "remember," "repent," and "do the first works." This is a striking similarity
to Christ’s instructions to the dead Sardis to "remember", "obey", and
How is it that we first fall in love with God?
1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
God showed His love for us by sending us His Son to the world. He sent
His Son to atone for us as a Lamb and to find us as a Shepherd. We were
lost and did not know what real love was, until we knew God's love. Once
we know His love we begin to know Him because He is the God of love (1
John 4:16) That means we can love because we are beginning to have a heart
understanding of it, and that means we have the ability to love Him in
return. So full of love should we be that we really cannot help but love
others around us, just as we love Him, too. But if we do not remember His
love, then surely we will lose our love for God because, just as Israel
did, we forget Him. We forget that He first cared for us and is the source
of all good things (Matt 5:45; James 1:17), and we are not thankful for
what He has done for us, which is an expression of His love.
So the very first step out of the dangerous apathy in the church in
Ephesus was to no longer be apathetic about God. We can take this step
too by purposely reminding ourselves or "remembering" what He had done
for us first even before we knew Him. In fact, Paul can be found reminding
the church in Ephesus itself of this very thing in a letter to them:
Eph. 5:1-2 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for
us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Could a "life of love," be part of the first works that Jesus charged Ephesus
to return to, in His rebuke? I believe so, because while remembering God
and worshipping Him and thanking Him all day long is certainly pleasing
to God, it is not by any means the "first works" as defined by Scripture.
Worshipping Him, in fact, can be an empty religious exercise when our hearts
are far away (Isa. 29:13) Neither is our first work attaining our salvation,
because we cannot attain our salvation by any work we've done.
Belief is paramount because no one can receive a gift without believing
the Giver exists, the Giver wants to give, the Giver has the power to give,
the gift exists, and it is a valuable gift that is wanted and needed. Furthermore,
it is clear that God wants a relationship with us, and since you do not
establish a relationship with someone through anonymous gifts, God has
chosen not to be anonymous. Besides, if He had remained anonymous we would
never know this Love that is bigger than ourselves, and we could never
So, salvation is not a "work" on our part but it is something that requires
a decision and that decision is the decision to believe. As such, it is
not counted as "first works" and yet, it is a trust we are responsible
for and as such, is a necessary step so that we may have the ability
to produce these first works (or for that matter, a variety of good fruit-
Jesus said He was the Good Shepherd who laid his life down for the sheep
(John 10:11), which He did out of love. He reminded His apostles of that
when He said:
John 15:13-14 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down
his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command…
Jesus had already defined what His "command" was is in the previous verses:
John 15: 9-12 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now
remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love,
just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have
told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
There is that word, "complete" again. How do we complete Jesus’ joy in
us, and complete the deeds in the sight of God (referring back to the church
in Sardis Rev. 3:2-3)? How do we "remain in His love?" First, we connect
with God’s love by receiving Jesus’ expression of love for us and secondly
we do what Jesus commanded:
John 15:17 This is my command: Love each other.
Once we have started on this path of "completion", we can of course halt
the process or even nullify it. That is why it is important that we "have
nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness" but instead expose
them (Eph 5:11). By not separating ourselves from darkness and sin, we
risk reversing our abiding in Christ by retreating back into it (1 John
1:5-10). We cannot have one foot in the light and the other in the dark,
and expect that to fool anyone. This is like having a ball and chain on
one foot and expecting to run like the wind. Bondages like that have a
way of getting bigger and bigger, because darkness always has an endless
Jesus commended the church of Ephesus for being intolerant of lying
false apostles, but this was not enough because they had neglected the
more important things. That is, the "first works" that Jesus commanded
them to do. Although "exposing" is definitely not apathetic, is commendable,
and is an important action (otherwise, Thyatira and Pergamum would not
have been rebuked for tolerating evil in their midst), "remembering" and
completing the first works were what were the essential things.
Ephesus proves that you can leave God as your first love even while
you doing some good works and even while zealously opposing false apostles.
Thus, having zeal about some things does not ultimately please God, because
He is more interested in whether we care about the more important things.
After all, the Pharisees had zeal for certain activities and studies, yet
they had also long ago lost their focus and commitment to what was really
important. This eventually led them to become more like the devil in their
character and actions than like the God they said they worshipped (Matt.
23; John 8:42-47) We can do "second works" all day long, but not remembering
the "first works" makes us dead men inside, where it counts. It can even
make us evil.
Matt. 22: 36-39 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the
Law?" Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with
all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law
and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Therefore, we must remember God first loved us, and unlike faithless Israel,
we must not forget Him and turn aside to idolatry and wickedness. And we
must LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR. If we do not remember and obey the first and second
commandments, which according to the whole of Scripture are virtually inseparable,
we are tasteless salt ready to be thrown out and trampled upon and a candlestick
ready to be removed. We must first believe in God’s Love and His Expression
of the greatness of His love, which is found in Jesus, we must then abide
in His love, and also love others as ourselves. All of these are interdependent
and cannot be taken apart from one another. None of these involve apathy.
MORE ON BELIEVING AND DEEDS
In their zeal to preach justification by faith and faith alone (Rom.
5:1) Protestants can neglect the preaching of works and by doing so, essentially
become anti-action or anti-works. They can even end up with what the Lutheran
minister Deitrich Bonhoeffer faced just before Hitler easily took over
Germany’s churches: cheap grace. "Cheap grace" as Bonhoeffer called it,
produces nominal Christians who believe that they can live just about any
kind of life without fear of God, because they can attain instant grace
from Him at any time. They are saved and always will be saved, without
fear of God's wrath or displeasure.
Cheap grace promotes spiritual laziness, which leads to apathy. In Bonhoeffer’s
time, this was expressed by doctrines that essentially promoted no involvement
in 'worldly' concerns (such as government), and a submission to "authority"
regardless of the evil one submitted to and regardless of the consequences
to their fellow man. Their religious excuses for apathy helped pave the
way for an unholy alliance between Hitler and the churches there, which
resulting in unchecked wickedness throughout Germany and eventually, throughout
almost the entire world. (Although little known, the churches there did
not just remain silent while people suffered and died, they also participated
in public blasphemy as required by Hitler, or just in order to please him).
Christians who have no fear of God are like the wicked servant who behaves
in any manner he wishes to, because God has not yet arrived to call him
into accounting. His judgment comes unaware on purpose, so that he has
no chance to superficially clean up his act at the last minute in order
to 'squeak by' (Matt. 24:48-51) All the "Hail Mary, Mother of God" prayers
or the "Jesus- I- accept- you- as- my- Savior- and- please- forgive- me-
of- my- of- all- my- sins" mantras are not enough to stay the Judgment,
for God knows the heart, and God knows the heart demonstrates itself by
the life that was led. This includes the hidden life too, under the cover
of darkness or secrecy.
The Law was proven inadequate for justification (Acts 13:38-39) and
insufficient for teaching man the true source of righteousness (Romans
10:1-4). In fact, rules and regulations seemed to arouse sinful passions
instead of subdue them (Romans 7:5). The Law was then consigned as a former
‘tutor’ to help man to become aware of sin, but the thought
that it could create righteousness was summarily discarded
by the sacrifice of Jesus as Lamb. Or at least it was supposed to be. Furthermore,
the keeping of the Law too easily shut people out - the very people that
Jesus was most especially sent to give hope to and save. Over and over,
Jesus stated that 'righteousness' through man's eyes because of his works
or the keeping of the Law, was not necessarily the type of righteousness
man was meant to attain. This was all men could attain without a relationship
with Him, and it was a poor 'righteousness' indeed. Now, a miracle could
happen for both the 'righteous' and the unrighteous--they could have Life
in Christ. Now, through Christ, all were invited to the wedding
feast whether they were good or bad.
Matt. 22:8-10 "Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet
is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street
corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' So the servants went
out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both
good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Yet, the open invitation does not guarantee the stay:
Matt. 22:11-14 "But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed
a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how
did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. "Then
the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside,
into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
"For many are invited, but few are chosen."
We are powerless to achieve righteousness for ourselves by our own means
or through the Law, so Christ provided it for us (Romans 3:20-22; 1 Cor.
1:28-30). He gave us redemption as a gift (Eph. 2:8-9), and peace of being
indeed reconciled and justified by faith in His works (Romans 5:1-10).
However, we should not devalue this grace God gave us by returning to
wickedness (Romans 6:8-15). We are instead to put off our corrupted "old
self" (Eph. 4:22) and put on our new self, which is like God in character
(Eph. 4:24). This clearly includes actively discarding and shunning old
ways of the flesh or devil in favor of new, Christ-like or God-like ways.
We are to "clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness
and patience," (Colossians 3:8-12) and many other attributes. By this,
we are clothed properly for the wedding feast.
So, if we do not value this grace and gift of righteousness, we can
refuse to put it in the first place or keep it in the second place:
2 Cor. 5:21-6:1 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that
in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God's fellow workers
we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain.
Notice the word, might
in those verses above. The Lord gave
us Life so that we may "live a new life" (Romans 6:4) We still have free
will though, because God's plan for our transformation of us does include
turning us into mindless automatons. God respects us
too much to
just run rough-shod over our wills and decisions. Therefore, we are
afforded the ability to reverse the process, grieve the Spirit,
and become dead again (Romans 8:11-14). In fact, we can so oppose God
that we become accursed:
6:1-8 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ
and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from
acts that lead to death, and of faith in God,
instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection
of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. It
is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted
the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted
the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they
fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they
are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public
disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces
a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.
But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger
of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
I can’t think of a more apathetic person than a dead one, and a more worthless
person than one who has partaken of the God's of love and power, yet purposely
chooses evil instead. But if we have faith and appropriate action, or good
deeds, together, our faith is completed:
James 2:14 –24 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have
faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister
is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish
you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical
needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not
accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith;
I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my
faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons
believe that--and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith
without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous
for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that
his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made
complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham
believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was
called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does
and not by faith alone.