Jurong Outreach

"whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ."

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Spiritual Indifference

Danny Leong

According to the Webster dictionary, the word ‘indifference’ is defined as the ‘lack of interest or concern’ or ‘lacking in importance’. Thus, in light of this definition, we can understand that spiritual indifference involves an unconcerned attitude or apathetic disposition toward spiritual matters.

Such an attitude can be seen manifested in the lives of Christians when they intentionally make decisions to ignore spiritual matters and choose to place greater concerns on the material things of this world. In this regard, an indifferent Christian is one who understands what needs to be done, but he or she is unwilling to make the necessary commitment to fulfil his or her responsibilities as a member of the Lord’s church.

Bearing in mind the meaning of spiritual indifference, it is important for Christians to be keenly aware of the various symptoms of this spiritual malady so that prompt action can be taken when we recognise these happening in our lives.

One of the noticeable symptoms of spiritual indifference is a decline in church attendance. In this respect, when there is a decline in church attendance, it could be inferred that there is a lack of hunger in listening to the preaching of God’s Word. Members of the church may allow themselves to be deceived thinking that their attendance in bible classes and worship on Sundays are not important.

And for that matter, Christians may also delude themselves into reasoning that their attendance during Wednesday Bible classes is not important since it is not mandated in God’s Word. However, when we are tempted to think along this line of thought, let us seriously ponder and take heed to what the Scriptures say in Hebrew 10:24-25, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The unwillingness of Christians to consider the needs of other brethren or the people whom they know is another symptom of spiritual indifference. An indifferent Christian would not be bothered so much to care for the needs of other people in his or her circle of life. When we do not care enough to know what the people around us are going through, it is inevitable that we would find ourselves gradually slipping into a self-centred lifestyle for sure.

The Scriptures exhort us in Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Christians are also commanded by God to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

Furthermore, a Christian who has an indifferent attitude would not be so concerned about the sad spiritual state of those people they know who are still lost in sin. Consider this question seriously: “When we close our eyes and think about those people whom we know who are still outside of Christ, what would be our honest initial response be like, keeping in view our responsibility as Christians to share the good news of our Lord with others?

This is a thought-provoking question that forces us to reflect on our priorities in our lives. The truth of the matter is this: when soul-winning and outreach efforts take a back stage in our lives, it reveals a spiritual disconnect between what we claim to believe about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16) and what is actually happening in reality. Hence, let us not allow spiritual indifference to cause us to lose sight of our important responsibility as Christians to win souls for our Lord.

Besides recognising the symptoms of spiritual indifference, it is also important that Christians be mindful of the potential consequences of harbouring an indifferent attitude in our spiritual lives. First of all, the Word of God tells us that harbouring a heart of indifference would not allow us to be pleasing to God. “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). We would remember the apathetic condition of the church at Laodicea recorded in Revelation 3:15-17. Here, when Christ rebuked the Laodicean church, it wasn’t for gross immorality or even doctrinal compromise. Rather, it was for spiritual indifference due to pride.

The Scriptures also warn us that spiritual indifference will cause us to lose our salvation. Brethren, we need to be watchful against allowing indifference to rob us of our salvation in Christ. Our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”

When one is indifferent toward spiritual matters it would be difficult for the preaching of God’s Word to touch the heart of such an individual as he or she would not have a receptive heart. As such, this would prevent Christians from obeying what God has commanded them to do, and therefore putting the salvation of their souls at stake.

Moreover, spiritual indifference would also deplete Christians of spiritual strength. “But how does that happen?” 1 John 2:15-17 warns us about putting our affections on the things of this world. As we take time to reflect on this passage of Scriptures, let us always be mindful that feelings of disinterest towards spiritual matters can gradually creep into our lives when we allow the cares and distractions of this world to choke our spiritual lives.

Our worldly aspirations and wrong priorities would cause us to gradually experience lesser and lesser energy to serve in our Lord’s church. To this end, Satan would be happy when he sees more and more Christians not serving actively in the Lord’s church.

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Let Brotherly Love Continue

“Let brotherly love continue (Heb 13:1).”

In one of many exhortations to the New Testament church, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews makes this explicit statement. It is only a mere four words in our English Bible but they are full of applicable wisdom.

The choice of words by the Spirit is meaningful. The very first word in this verse, ‘Let’, implies that the responsibility rests upon us. Christians are to put effort into brotherly love. In other words, it is up to us to make it work.

A car with the best engine in the world is no more than a hunk of metal if all it does is to remain in the garage with a canvas cover over it. It must get out there on the road or the racetrack; it must do what it has been built to do.

What are we if we do not obey the Lord’s command to let brotherly love continue? The motivation for our love for one another is the Lord’s love for us.

“We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (1Jn 4:19-21).”

For love to happen it is not only our responsibility as a corporate body of Christ, individually we must work at it as well. It is not only my neighbour’s job to love me; it is my job to love him/her as well.

This love is a ‘brotherly’ love. It is the love exclusive to brethren in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Such holy, brotherly love can only be possible among those who are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. It cannot exist with those who are outside of Christ, whatever their claims may be. Obedience to the gospel is the acid test.

We love our neighbours as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). The love we have for others is a reflection of the love that God bestows upon mankind through His only begotten Son (cf. John 3:16). Brotherly love, on the other hand, is familial love as the children of God.

The apostle Paul explains how saints can practise brotherly love.

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3).”

Humility, patience, peace and unity are key ingredients of brotherly love. This unity is “the unity of the Spirit”; it is a unity which comes about by abiding in the doctrine of the Spirit of God—the Bible—not by finding common interests while ignoring doctrinal differences.

“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1Co 1:10).”

We are to let brotherly love continue. This clearly implies that brotherly love can be disrupted and discontinued.

There are many stumbling blocks to letting brotherly love continue. As we see from the text quoted above from Ephesians 4, humility is an ingredient of love. Conversely, pride is a hindrance.

“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith (Rom 12:3).”

The one who thinks of himself ‘more highly than he ought to think’ is usually the one who goes around finding real and imaginary faults with others. It is never hard to find faults since none of us are perfect.

Paul says, “Be of the same mind one toward another. Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly. Be not wise in your own conceits (Rom 12:16).”

The fault-finder who harbours inordinately high thoughts of himself goes about criticising brethren, sometimes accusing them of hypocrisy, sometimes accusing them of being poor stewards of God’s money, or anything else not to his personal liking.

Besides finding faults with others and leveling baseless accusations at them, he boasts of himself often, telling others of his ‘faithfulness’ and ‘activeness’ in the Lord’s work. This is to boost his ego while attempting to tear down others.

Brethren, this must not be so in the Lord’s church. Such attitude and behaviour is a major hindrance to brotherly love. Forbearing one another in love does not mean we condone sins. It means we recognise and appreciate one another’s differences and idiosyncrasies which are not against the law of Christ.

In matters of the faith, let us exercise unity in the Spirit. In matters of expediency, let us exercise love and forbearance.

Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).” Once again we are reminded of our God-given responsibility to strive to build up brotherly love. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Psa 133:1)!”

True peace is only possible in the Lord when the children of God adhere to His word in faithful obedience. Brotherly love takes conscious effort on the part of every saint. There is no time to lose. Let us keep at it.

“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently (1Pe 1:22).”

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Sorry After a Godly Manner

“For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death (2Co 7:8-10).”

Paul, in his previous letter to the church at Corinth, strongly rebuked them for their tolerance of sin. There were divisions in the church caused by partisanship. They had dishonoured the Lord by their frivolous attitude toward the Lord’s Supper. Worst, they had even boasted of the sin of a brother living in open immorality.

All these demanded reproof and rebuke from the apostle. Ungodliness must not be allowed to fester and grow in the church through condoning or reluctance to address hard issues. Church integrity and discipline must be upheld.

However, to the apostle’s joy and comfort, the Corinthian saints responded positively to his letter. There was the possibility that they might react in anger and defensiveness and lash out at him but they did not do that.

They were grieved at having their sins pointed out. No one enjoys being told where they had done wrong. It can be embarrassing and hurtful. But we learn from the Scriptures that there is a right response to that.

Paul said, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance.” Their grief led them to examine themselves and realise where they had come short. Having become aware of their sins, they determined to change and turn back to the Lord.

The apostle said, “…ye were made sorry after a godly manner.” This is the right response when we are made aware of our sins. Paul called this response ‘godly sorrow’. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation.”

The opposite of that is worldly sorrow. Such a person is embarrassed for having been called out and exposed, but he is not genuinely sorry for what he has done. Perhaps his conscience tells him he is indeed wrong, but he justifies his behaviour with excuses.

“I’m not the only one! Others do it too!” “What’s the big deal? It’s not as if I actually hurt anybody badly!” “Fine, I know I shouldn’t have done it. But nobody’s perfect, right?”

Also likely, this person, stung at having his error pointed out, reacts in anger and attacks the ones who showed him his sin. He might spread malicious lies about them, or he might criticise them behind their backs where they aren’t given a fair chance to answer his accusations. But when invited to discuss issues face to face, he dodges and evades.

He might influence others to his side and form a band to join him in his vindictive reactions. The ‘sorrow of the world’ is not genuine, heartfelt sorrow for coming short of the gospel standard, but a loss of face or hurt ego lashing out at others.

Paul said, “…the sorrow of the world worketh death.” Do note the vast, unbridgeable difference between these two responses. One leads to repentance unto salvation, the other leads to death.

We find in the Psalms many expressions of godly sorrow. One psalmist cried, Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand (Psa 130:1-3)?”

Another psalmist wrote, “Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves (Psa 88:6-7).”

These men exercised godly sorrow. They were aware of their sins, they realised they had actually sinned against the Lord and it evoked in them a sense of grief at having disobeyed their God to whom they owed everything.

Do we sorrow like this when we sinned? Or do we react in hurtful pride, which is the sorrow of the world? Do we realise we have actually sinned against the Lord first and foremost? “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight (Psa 51:4).”

“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of.” Let us observe further the godly response of the psalmist.

“But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning (Psa 130:4-6).”

The psalmist did not wallow in self-pity and lose all hope. Rather, he turned to Jehovah in faith, trusting in His mercy and readiness to forgive. His focus was on the God who is mighty to save. A major key we must learn is humility.

What stops so many from exercising godly sorrow is often nothing more than ugly, self-seeking, conceited pride. Such pride tells one that he has done no wrong, that he is justified in his conduct, or that he isn’t bad enough so to provoke the Lord to wrath.

This is adding sin to sin. Let us learn from the Corinthians and psalmists who sorrowed to repentance and were made sorry after a godly manner. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

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Confronted for Sins

David. The Jews at Pentecost in Jerusalem. The Jews during the trial of Stephen.

What did they share in common?

David had become complacent. “…at the time when kings go forth to battle…David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel (2Sa 11:1).” David stayed home, and one evening he “arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon (2Sa 11:2).”

He sent for the woman named Bathsheba, who was the wife of the valiant soldier, Uriah the Hittite. David seduced the woman. He thought it would be a one-off affair and none would be the wiser. After all, he was the warrior-king. He was the all-conquering hero. He could have anything he wanted.

David probably did not give the affair any further thought until he received a message from her that she was expecting his child. Now things were getting complicated. David had to deal with this discreetly.

He sent for Uriah from the frontline. He tried to persuade him to enjoy the company of his wife but the soldier wouldn’t. Next David tried to intoxicate Uriah but that failed too. It was then David decided to have Uriah murdered.

On the day of Pentecost, Jews from all across the known world gathered in Jerusalem. Fifty days earlier, Jesus of Nazareth was murdered by the chief priests and political leaders, with the consent of the mob who cried ‘Crucify Him (Lu 23:21)!”

At about 9 in the morning, a strange phenomenon took place among the crowd. Twelve Galileans were extolling ‘the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:11)’, not in the native Aramaic language, but in the languages of the foreigners.

As some marveled and others mocked, one of the men, Simon Peter, began telling them of the man who was crucified less than two months ago. He proclaimed that this Jesus was in fact both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

Stephen was a man full of faith and power, and did great wonders and miracles among the people (Acts 6:8). He was falsely accused by malicious men of blaspheming against Moses and the Law (Acts 6:12-14) and hauled before the Sanhedrin.

Stephen recounted the history of Israel in brief. Upset by his testimony (Acts 7:54) and further provoked by what they deemed to be blasphemy of the worst kind (Acts 7:55-56), the Jews “cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him (Acts 7:57-58).

So what did David, the Jews celebrating Pentecost at Jerusalem and the Jews during the trial of Stephen have in common?

They were confronted for their sins. They were told where they had done wrong. They were urged to repent.

To David, the prophet Nathan said, “Thou art the man (2Sa 12:7)!”

To the Jews at Pentecost, Peter said, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36)!”

To the Jews at his trial, Stephen said, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers (Acts 7:51-52)!”

In this age we live in, it appears that sensitivity to people’s feelings have become more important than speaking the truth. Yes, we ought to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15), but let us not misunderstand that to mean watering down or diluting the truth.

We are almost too afraid to hurt one another’s feelings or be charged with being politically incorrect—whatever that means. We are more concerned about ‘saving face’—ours and one another’s.

The Lord taught us in Matthew 18:15-20 that when Christians sin, the brethren must never adopt the attitude of the three monkeys—see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. We must confront the sinning brother or sister.

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ (Gal 6:1-2).”

“Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins (Jas 5:19-20).”

A sinner outside of Christ must be told that unless he/she obeys the gospel, they remain under the wrath of God (Rom 1:18ff) and enemies of God (Rom 5:10). They need to understand that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).

Two out of the three examples we cited above turned to God in repentance. When confronted with sin, will you be more concerned about your ‘face’—that is, pride—than to obey God?

Is your pride worth more than your soul?