Billy Graham Center
World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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The Rev. Festo Kivengere


The topic “Spiritual Indifference” is too embarrassingly close to each of us to be treated with intellectual detachment. To deal with such a problem means probing one’s own as well as others’ spiritual inadequacy. And so I no less than you stand in the searchlight of our risen Saviour, the Head of the Church.

Spiritual indifference is not in itself a cause but rather an effect. Insights regarding it may be gained by studying God” s dealings with His people, and by permitting the Holy Spirit to teach us through the Scriptures. Only the Holy Spirit can lead us from speculations about our spiritual problems to humble, honest confession of need and willing submission to His work of correction. Spiritual indifference cones to light in many ways: in our sickly relationship to Jesus Christ, in our backsliding, in our lovelessness toward the world, in our indifference toward reconciling men to God in Christ. In fact, spiritual indifference makes us “see men as trees, walking” (Mark 8:24).

Spiritual indifference is a symptom of a deeper spiritual diseased

The story of Lot (Gen. 19:15—20) presents a godly man who became insensitive to impending danger. You remember the story of God’s indignation against the sin sick cities of the plain, and of Lot’s lack of alarm. How did Lot become so indifferent, so Laodicean in his attitude? Not even the thunder of God’s judgment could seemingly shake him, Lot had become so like his environment and therefore so deafened to God’s warnings that he barely escaped the destruction that befell his fellow citizens. Here was one whose life, although he had not lost his religion, had shifted from being God—centered to being Lot—centered and Sodom-tinted. Indifference was a symptom and result of this condition. Having become spiritually insensitive, Lot was blind both to his own needs and to those of his community.

Numbers 21:4-5 records the sad experience of the Israelites who turned their backs on the Land of Promise. Redeemed from Egyptian bondage, they were to go forth to possess the Land of JYIi1k and Honey. Overcome, however, by the trials of the way they lost their vision of God’s promises and became indifferent to what He had said. “There is no bread,” they complained, “neither is there any water, and our soul loatheth this light bread” (v. 5) Within reach of God’s heavenly provision, these anemic followers of the true God chose to starve. When they thus lost spiritual sustenance, their strength to press on deteriorated and their vision failed; they lost the reality o+ God’s promises - they became indifferent to their redemption, their hope, their privileges, their responsibilities. Canaan seemed no better than Egypt. Indifference here was a symptom of spiritual starvation caused by turning aside from God’s provision to something supposedly more satisfying and palatable.

The story of Samson (Judges 15) offers another warning. By concentrating on satisfying natural desires in his own way instead of concentrating on the Giver and Controller of those desires Samson lost his spiritual, then his physical sight. When he turned away from God Samson became indifferent to the very enemies he was called to fight and subdue. Spiritual values are kept alive only when God’s Spirit is in control. And only a fresh touch from God can restore spiritual alertness to God’s holiness and to God’s enemies.

Another lesson comes from post-exilic times during the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Despair had overtaken the leaders of Judah. “The strength of the bearers of burden is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall” (Neh. 4:10). Indifference, we must remember, can come from despair, and despair may come from lost confidence in God’s ability to act in power. Nehemiah therefore said: “Remember the Lord which is great and terrible, and fight ....“ (4:14). Was weakened strength the result of forgetting the Lard? Did accumulated rubbish dim the vision of rebuilding the wall? By turning once again to the Almighty God, the builders saw despondency and indifference turn to determination, and rubbish became a challenge to renewed, united application to the task at hand.

Hosea 7:8-9 records Jehovah’s complaint against Ephraim. “Ephraim,” says the prophet, “hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned.” Moreover, without his knowing it, “Strangers have devoured his strength;” without his knowing it, “Gray hairs are here and there upon him . . .” Ephraim’s problem is not one of inactivity, for he bustles about to gain the favor of neighboring countries. In the process he is indifferent to his spiritual downfall. Ephraim suffered from a kind of introversion in which he felt remorse - but only on a horizontal level - for what he seemed to be missing. God’s people here had developed what Charles Spurgeon called “a marvelous skill in missing;” in this case they missed a proper focus upon God to solve spiritual and national problems. Indifference to spiritual decline was symptomatic of a broken relationship with the Lord and of only half-hearted measures to remedy the situation.

In Revelation 3:15-20 our risen Lord speaks of the church at Laodicea. Blind to her true condition and self-satisfied, this church considered herself in need of nothing, spiritually or physically. To her, coldness, backsliding, lack of zeal and spiritual commitment seemed no cause for alarm; she is comfortably stagnant, serenely lukewarm, totally indifferent to any spiritual feeling whatever. By keeping the Lord locked out of her life, she had become spiritually indifferent first to her condition, then to her relationship with her Saviour and Lord who should be her first love, and then to the world to which she was called to minister.

These biblical examples indicate that spiritual indifference is always the result of losing God as the center and source of spiritual vitality. When Christians and churches turn to various social and religious remedies to fill the void they vaguely feel, they are but hobbling about on crutches in doing the Lord’s work and become a laughingstock to the world.

Spiritual indifference today encounters us everywhere at close range; none o+ us is exempt from its inroads. When the Church, the Body of Christ, no longer gives pre—eminence to its Head, it inevitably loses its capacity for spiritual sensitivity and becomes indifferent to its unique commission to spread the Gospel. Christ must be central, and the Church must be totally dependent upon Him. All our elaborate programming and organization, all our discussion of faith and doctrine fall short as remedies for spiritual indifference.

Only a proper relationship to Christ can give the Church the needed purifying fire of evangelism for a soul—saving ministry. Strict orthodoxy is not the answer, not even our evangelical heritage. Unless, they are infused and empowered by the Spirit of God they will be dry and lifeless and apathetic. It is embarrassing for God’s people to be caught in spiritual in difference; it is even more embarrassing to admit this condition and to turn from it to the living God. Perhaps this fact is a major hindrance to spiritual refreshing in our time. Are we willing to come under God’s searching, revealing light? Are we determined and willing to repent? If not, spiritual apathy will continue and worsen. The Lord who alone can heal His Church waits to bless us when we humbly confess our dire need. This will happen when one or another steps out - from whatever comfortable and secure position he occupies - to stand where his Lord stood and still stands. Only at the cross are lives stripped of whatever breeds indifference toward Christ and toward His world. Here ‘only will the Church experience the fresh liberation and vigor that stirs the attention of an in different world.

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the he of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15).

May God save His people from spiritual indifference and set His Church on fire before it is too late.

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Last Revised: 11/1/06
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2006