Thursday, May 26, 2011

Velleity: A Dangerous Spiritual Condition

According to research done at Gordon-Conwell College an average of 171,000 Christians are martyred every year. There are untold thousands of Christians all over the world who do not have access to proper sanitation, medical resources, or food. There are places where entire congregations share a single bible and divide it up among themselves so they can read it.

There is no question that we in this country are enormously blessed and that we should be more aware and more engaged with the challenges facing our brothers and sisters around the world. We need to pray that the Lord would cause us to be sensitive to these issues. Consider quickly the following commands:

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
(Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

“…Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
(Luke 3:11 ESV)

Obviously many more similar statements by our Lord and His apostles could have been brought forth. With such clear teaching why do so many of our brothers and sisters face suffering and neglect while so many of our own churches are contented and comfortable and seem to not be moved by the disparity?

One brother has suggested to me that the problem is that the American church is overcome with apathy. Many of our churches, he says, are so inwardly focused that there is simply no room for a feeling of empathy for others who are “out of immediate sight”. In fact, he says, often even the sight of those in our own communities who we may pass on the way to work or church that are suffering or in need do not trigger any feeling of care and concern.

I agree that this brother has hit upon a major problem in our churches but I must disagree a bit with his diagnosis. I don’t think it is accurate to say that most American Christians or churches are apathetic. Apathy indicates a complete lack of care, passion, concern, or motivation about the situation. I believe that what ails us is more subtle, more complicated, and more dangerous than that. When I speak with people about the suffering and want of the church around the world I almost never get an apathetic reaction. In fact, quite often the response is one of concern and care. People are troubled when they are confronted by the drastic gap between their experience of working out their faith here and that of their brothers and sisters in many other places. The problem is not apathy, but rather it is velleity.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines velleity as “The fact or quality of merely willing, wishing, or desiring, without any effort or advance towards action or realization.” It is the state of caring but not enough to do anything about it. There are many things that we find concerning but we simply make a mental note of our concern and then move on to other things. I think that this is closer to the problem we face in our churches. It isn’t that people do not care it is simply that a great many of us care but not enough to do anything about it.

This is a dangerous spiritual condition because we cannot even plead ignorance. Not only are we aware of the needs, we also recognize it in our spirit as a need. We therefore testify against ourselves if we are not moved to respond. James makes it clear in his epistle that we are responsible for both the deeds we commit and those that we omit when he says:

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
(James 2:15-17 ESV)

And more explicitly a couple chapters later…

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
(James 4:17 ESV)

Our Lord also makes repeated reference to those who are unproductive:

“…Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
(Luke 3:9 ESV)

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.”
(Matthew 5:13)

‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
(Revelation 3:15-17 ESV)

We must pray for the grace of God that we not only care but that we care enough to take action. This doesn’t just apply to the highly emotional issues such as martyrdom but in all things. Let us pray to God that we care enough to be moved to share the Gospel with those who do not know, let us be moved to share in the sufferings of our fellow brothers and sisters, let us care enough to give, and let us be moved to comfort, to teach, and to pray incessantly. Would that the Lord God be a fire burning within us so that our concern overflows from our heart to our hands and let us pray that the Spirit of God would work in us to be a blessing to others making our lives a testament to the glory of the God who has saved us.

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