God’s People in the Age of Entitlement
Just as history has termed the 17th century “The Age of Enlightenment,” the times of Malachi may accurately be called “The Age of Entitlement.” As if casting a shadow into the distant future, the attitudes rampant in Malachi’s day were remarkably similar to what our Lord showed John concerning the church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22). Their defining characteristic was a nauseating level of lukewarmness, or what we might call apathy.
As we observe the apathetic Laodicean symptoms in Christendom all around us, it is essential that we begin with an honest and severe introspection. If we open our eyes, there are many similarities in the attitudes of God’s people in Malachi’s day, the Laodicean period, and today. Before observing and remarking on what we see, may we first pray that the Holy Spirit would enable us to “see if there be any wicked way in me” (Ps. 139:24).
In human history, apathy and entitlement are symptomatic attitudes of a declining society. In his book “The Republic,” Plato states that “The price of apathy toward public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” More recently, Professor Alexander Tytler’s “Cycle of Democracy” shows that whenever the citizens of a democracy embrace a sense of entitled apathy, the system soon collapses.
While this article is not about man-made systems of government, this is equally true among God’s people and in our Christian affiliations. Whenever I start asking myself “What’s in it for me?” with regard to my Christian walk, my witness for Him, my worship, or my assembly, I have crossed into the danger zone of Laodicean apathy and entitlement.
Practical symptoms of such a condition may vary. Evangelistic fervor, in-depth daily study of the Scriptures, personal and collective devotion, and many other normal attributes of what should be normal Christianity become less common than what our Bibles describe. The thinking and living described in Scripture become lofty yet unattainable ideals in our estimation. They are wonderful aspirations which we agree to in principle but are out of reach if measured by observable practice.
Malachi is fundamentally a record of the Lord God interviewing His people and resembles what we currently call a “Performance Evaluation” between an employer and an employee. Following their liberation from the Median-Persian empire, Jerusalem’s walls and temple had been rebuilt, the devotional calendar had been implemented again, and Israel had been reestablished as a nation. Under the leadership of godly men like Nehemiah, Ezra, Zerubbabel, and others, the nation had been restored to a measure of her former glory. They were given a fresh start.
Sadly, tragically, it did not take long before that zeal faded, and spiritual decay set in once again. A quick recap of what they were saying and doing reveals that they were collectively questioning and dismissing God’s persevering love and preserving grace, as follows:
1:2 Why do you say that You have loved us?
1:6 Why should we honor you as a Father or a Master?
1:13 Why should we tire ourselves with the ceremonies of worship?
1:13 Why are our offerings of leftovers unacceptable?
3:7 Why should we repent about anything?
3:8 Why do You say that we have robbed You?
3:13 Why do You say that we have spoken against You?
This is obviously an ungrateful entitlement of the worst extreme. I must first ask myself the disciples’ question: “Lord, is it I?” (Matt. 26:22). Do I also find myself drifting with the outgoing tide of complacency and entitlement? We may each sense the external and internal pressures to be half-hearted in our worship and service, and to expect much more from our God than we are willing to consecrate to Him.
How could we not be, when this mentality is all around us? Is there nothing I can do to avoid being swept away by this evil tide? It is a time proven fact that spiritual intimacy is the best cure for fleshly apathy. It is very difficult to be indifferent and complacent when in an intensely close relationship with someone. Whatever is momentary in our lives, staying close to Him soars far above and beyond it.
As King David dedicated the provisions for the house of the Lord he said: “I have set my affection to the house of my God” (1 Chron. 29:3). Several hundred years later, when the angel was giving Ezekiel a tour of the millennial temple, he began with these words: “Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall show thee” (Ezek. 40:4).
It was essential to David’s service and the prophet’s appropriation of the things he would see that they both would have to set their affections on every detail. When the shepherds of Bethlehem came to where our Lord was born and spoke of what they had been shown, we read that “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Note that she pondered them in her heart, not her mind. It is no surprise therefore that the apostle Paul would urge his readers: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).
Whether we consider Malachi’s day, the Laodicean period, or our own time, it must be honestly observed that none of us are immune from eroding affections. The ethical and moral decline of our current time seems to be accelerating. Arm in arm with this decline is an increased sense of apathy and entitlement. And as it sadly always seems to happen, God’s people follow from a distance. If any of us are on such a course, shall we continue because it has become commonplace to do so?
The glorified and glorious Head of the church said to the Laodiceans: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19).
Affection or apathy? Which direction are my toes pointed?