Back in the college days I took just a few classes in psychology, but they left a lingering impression. While many may regard psychology to be a pseudo-science at best, I found the field to be very interesting. I particularly enjoyed learning of the various theories on why people behave the way that they do.
It was through these studies that I first heard about something called the “Bystander Effect”, which has haunted me ever since.
Social psychologists regularly perform experiments to learn more about human behavior. One such experiment involved a staged scene in which a male actor grabbed a young girl actor and ran away with her as she kicked and screamed in front of a crowd of people. Out of 6 of trials with this scene being reenacted with different test groups, only once did people step in to help the little girl!
Hence, the term “Bystander Effect” is now used to refer to instances in which individuals do not help out a victim because there are other people, usually large crowds, present.
One of the most disturbing and well-known cases of the bystander effect was took place in one night in New York, 1964.
28 year old Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was just outside of her apartment building when she was approached and subsequently attacked by a man waiting in the shadows. Almost 40 neighbors heard her screams as she was stabbed repeatedly. They watched the crime take place but did not do anything.
Nobody ran to the woman’s aid. Nobody even called the police.
Think about that: These people watched as a woman was brutally murdered but did nothing; absolutely nothing at all. When questioned about the incident later, the unmoving witnesses stated that they didn’t do anything because they thought “someone else would do something”.
This is called the “diffusion of responsibility”: when someone fails to act because they believe that someone else will. Another word for it is Apathy which can be defined as a “lack of interest, concern, or emotion; indifference”.
From a spiritual perspective, how often do we allow ourselves to become bystanders? How often do we fail to take action because we believe someone else will?
Passing by on the Other Side
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus speaks of the apathy and lack of compassion that many people display today: Luke 10:30-37 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.
Two spiritual men, a priest and a Levite, both saw the man and “passed by on the other side” rather than show compassion to the injured man. Do we do the same?
How often do we pass by someone in physical need? James 2:14-17 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
More importantly, how often do we pass by an opportunity to share the Gospel? We know that sin leads to death (Romans 6:23), yet we fail to share the soul-saving Word of God with the sinful. If we truly loved our neighbor, wouldn’t we care about their spiritual welfare?
Also, I think we pass by on responsibilities within the work of the church and expect others to do all the work.
Are we focused on serving or being served?
A Preacher’s Responsibilities
Oftentimes, I think we fail to do the Church’s work because we assume it is someone else’s job, namely: The preacher’s.
We don’t visit the sick because we think it is just the preacher’s job.
We don’t comfort the grieving because we think it is just the preacher’s job.
We don’t talk to members who have left the congregation or the faith altogether because we think it is just the preacher’s job.
If I’m not mistaken, the preacher’s primary job is to preach!
I’m not saying that a preacher shouldn't be involved in visiting the sick, comforting the grieving, or talking to those that need encouragement, but it seems that all too often the preacher gets unrealistic expectations placed upon him. Many congregations expect the preacher to do ALL of the work and then blame him for the congregation falling apart. And then we wonder why so many young men are afraid to take on the responsibility of becoming preachers!
Failing to Preach the Gospel
Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
I don’t think Jesus said this just to one of the Apostles, “OK, now Peter, you go do all the work…” He was talking to all of them!
Likewise, I don’t think that Jesus was just addressing the Apostles, I think he was talking to every Christian!
Do we have an attitude like the one described in Isaiah 6:8 - Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
Take a moment to consider the lyrics from the hymn we often sing, There is Much to Do, which I assume gets its inspiration from Isaiah. Notice that the lyrics don’t say, “send that other guy.”
“There is much to do, there’s work on every hand.
Hark the call for help comes ringing through the land.
Jesus calls for reapers, I must active be.
What wilt Thou, O Master, here am I, send me.”
I’m afraid that many times our attitude is “Lord, why me?”
John the Baptist stated that we must be active to be considered worthy. Matthew 3:8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance…
Are we bearing fruit or are we just filling a pew?
Individual Members in the Body of Christ
Even when we understand that something isn’t the preacher’s job, too often we expect a small number of individuals to do the rest of the work.
Romans chapter 12 compares the individual members of the church to being individual parts of a body.
Romans 12:4-5 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
Every part of the human body has a purpose to fulfill; a specific function that another body part cannot perform. Likewise, the Church (the body of Christ) is made up of individual members who each should partake in the work.
1 Corinthians 12:18-21 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
Likewise, the eye cannot turn to the feet and expect them to do their job. The feet cannot be doing all of the work! If a human body cannot operate this way, why do we expect the body of Christ to? Why do we expect one person or a small number of people to do all of the work?
How often do we call for teachers and the same people end up volunteering over and over again?
How often do we expect the same people to stand up and take the initiative on various projects to further the work of the church?
Recall in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 in which each servant was given talents based on their ability. Each servant set out to increase their talents to please their master, but the servant who received one talent, rather than doing anything with it, put it away: Matthew 25:18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.
When the master returned, he was pleased to find that his servants had increased his investments; All, except the servant who was given one talent.
Matthew 25:24-30 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Are we using our talents to serve God or are we attempting to bury them?
We must change our way of thinking
My dad once pointed out to me something that he had read about the ancient Egyptians. They had no word for “religion” in their vocabulary. The reason for that was that their life was religion. Everything that they did was done with the purpose of appeasing their gods or attaining a better afterlife.
I believe that should be our attitude toward Christianity. Christianity, if we are fully committed to Christ as we should be, is our very being.
Acts 17:28 For in Him we live and move and have our being…
Notice the language used in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 - Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you..
Following Christ is not just something that we do on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings and Wednesday nights.
Following Christ is a 24/7/365 job that we must be fully committed to!
We should follow the example of Abraham, who left everything to follow God.
We should follow the example of Paul, who was so zealous that he threw himself into the Lord’s work whole-heartedly regardless of the consequences.
Most of all, we should follow the example of Christ. I often wonder what if Christ was as committed to His work as we are? Would He have even made it to the cross? Christ was willing to give his life for us! We should be willing to do the same for Him!
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
We are commended in Ephesians 4:1 - I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called…
“Live according to your calling” applies not just to acting like a Christian day in and day out, but also regularly being involved in the work that a Christian should be involved in.
The Lukewarm Church, Dead Faith, and Hidden Light
Revelations 3:14-16 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth..."
Are we hot, cold, or lukewarm for Christ?
James 2:18-24 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my[e] works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Faith is important, but so are works. And without works, faith is dead.
Let us strive to always be actively involved in the church’s work, always dedicated to Christ and His cause.
Let us pledge to not push all of the work on somebody else and take a risk from time to time.
Finally, let us engage in the work of spreading God’s Word.
As we said earlier, we know that sin leads to death, and yet we fail to share the Gospel with others.
It’s almost as if we had a cure for cancer and rather than sharing it with the afflicted, we hoard it for ourselves!
Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
There is a saying, “In the absence of light darkness prevails.”
And another saying, by Edmund Burke - “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Let’s not allow ourselves to become bystanders in our spiritual walk!