Recently I talked to a man I will call Mr. Luke Warm, for he was neither hot nor cold. He told me that he?s a Christian, but that he hardly ever attends church. He said, ?I am under a great deal of stress and tension where I work so I go fishing on weekends for relaxation. Church is okay, but a person can?t do everything, you know.?
Mr. Luke Warm also had an uneasy conscience about his giving as he told me, ?I put a few dollars in the offering plate whenever I go to church and I think God?s okay with that. If I gave a tenth of my income, that would amount to more than $8,000.00. You just don?t know how expensive it is for me to maintain my cabin at the lake, pay my annual dues at the Country Club, and the gym. Anyway, churches put too much emphasis on money. Sometimes I get so disgusted with all of the talk about sacrificing for Christ that I feel like quitting altogether.?
I thank God for Mr. Warm?s honesty in verbalizing how he really feels about the sacrifices made by those who are followers of Jesus. Most of us simply continue to maintain our lukewarm lifestyles while being comfortably numb to the high calling of our King. Mr. Warm is the personification of the church which received a letter from the risen King in our Scripture for today.
Laodicea was located about 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia and approximately 100 miles due East of Ephesus. Its position at the intersection of three imperial trade routes was highly important for Laodicea?s development as an influential commercial and administrative center. In Roman times it was the wealthiest city in Phygia, so that when it suffered almost total destruction by an earthquake in 61 A.D. the people refused to accept government aid?something almost unheard of by cities that suffered such great loss.
Laodicea was known throughout the Roman world for three things: its banks, which even Cicero recommended for exchanging money; its linen and wool industry which produced cloth and carpets from the beautifully glossy black wool of sheep reared in the area; and its medical school and widely famed medicines, especially important was an eye-ointment made from a powder produced in Phyrgia which was supposedly a cure for weak eyes. Along with the medical school there was a temple to the god of health and healing, Asclepius, who was worshipped at Laodicea. Laodicea was a wealthy town, but in spite of its wealth the town had an awful water supply. John MacArthur writes,
Christ rebuked them for being neither cold nor hot but lukewarm. His metaphorical language is drawn from Laodicea?s water supply. Because it traveled several miles through an underground aqueduct before reaching the city, the water arrived foul, dirty, and tepid. It was not hot enough to relax and restore, like the hot springs at Hierapolis. Nor was it cold and refreshing, like the stream water at Colossae. Laodicea?s lukewarm water was in a useless condition. (John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11, pg. 136)
With a little background information on the city of Laodicea let?s now turn our attention to our Scripture for this morning.
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm– neither hot nor cold– I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:14-22 NIV)
There have been many Bible teachers who have interpreted the seven letters of Revelation 2-3 as representative of seven different stages of Church history. I don?t believe that is the case. As we have studied these seven letters I can see how each of the strengths and weaknesses of the churches that we?ve studied are evident in the Church in our own day and in every age.
The apathy and lethargy that are present in the Church in Laodicea seem to me to be very prominent in the churches of our nation today as many of our members have turned from a total reliance upon God and a willingness to sacrifice for God?s Kingdom to a more lukewarm lifestyle which is void of passion for the things of God. In verse 14, John writes,
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. (Revelation 3:14 NIV)
The expression, ?the faithful and true witness,? is an emphasis upon the first description of Jesus?the ?Amen.? The Greek word, ?avmh,n? (amen), was carried over from the Jewish synagogue where the people respond to prayers or statements by saying, ?Amen? to affirm their truth. ?Amen? is an exclamation point driving home the truth of what has been said. Jesus is the exclamation of the truth of Almighty God.
In the first verse of the letter to the Laodiceans, John draws a sharp contrast between the faithful and true Lord of the Laodicean church and the faithlessness and inconsistency of the members of the Laodicean congregation. In verse 15, John writes,
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (Revelation 3:15 NIV)
Jesus knows the deeds of the congregation and unlike the churches of Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis no charges are leveled against them. There are no Jezebels present in the church, no false teachers teaching heretical doctrines, and there doesn?t seem to be any persecution of the brothers and sisters by government authorities or Jewish religious leaders.
Isn?t it interesting that here in the last of the seven letters we once again find the Lord concerned for the deeds of the people. It?s important for us to remember that the Christian faith is an active faith and not a passive faith. It is the love, mercy, and grace of God offered to us through Jesus? sacrifice upon the Cross that saves us, but if we dare think that a simplistic ?sinner?s prayer? and a bi-yearly trip to the church at Christmas and Easter will gain us admittance into God?s Kingdom?we are sadly mistaken. God?s grace nudges us out into a world of misdirected people who are sporting the best physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual-makeovers that money can buy, but down deep inside they are dying for meaning and purpose in life. God?s grace calls us to care, to share, and to minister in His name. Jesus knows our deeds.
Jesus knows the lukewarm attitudes of the people of Laodicea?they are neither hot nor cold. The Laodiceans didn?t reject the Gospel of Jesus, but it wasn?t the passion of their heart either. They maintained their religion without conviction, without enthusiasm, without reflection on its implications for life. The passion-filled, boiling hot faith of the Apostle Paul which allowed him to state that he was dominated by the one single aim of pressing forward to win the prize of life in the Kingdom (Philippians 3:12) would have sounded like another gospel to the folks in Laodicea. Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote,
They were not cold, but they were not hot; they were not infidels, yet they were not earnest believers; they did not oppose the gospel, neither did they defend it; they were not working mischief, neither were they doing any great good; they were not disreputable in moral character, but they were not distinguished for holiness; they were not irreligious, but they were not enthusiastic in piety nor eminent for zeal: they were what the world calls “Moderates,” they were of the Broad-church school, they were neither bigots nor Puritans, they were prudent and avoided fanaticism, respectable and averse to excitement. Good things were maintained among them, but they did not make too much of them; they had prayer-meetings, but there were few present, for they liked quiet evenings at home: when more attended the meetings they were still very dull, for they did their praying very deliberately and were afraid of being too excited. They were content to have all things done decently and in order, but vigor and zeal they considered to be vulgar. Such churches have schools, Bible-classes, preaching rooms, and all sorts of agencies; but they might as well be without them, for no energy is displayed and no good comes of them. They have deacons and elders who are excellent pillars of the church, if the chief quality of pillars be to stand still, and exhibit no motion or emotion. They have ministers who may be the angels of the churches, but if so, they have their wings closely clipped, for they do not fly very far in preaching the everlasting gospel, and they certainly are not flames of fire: they may be shining lights of eloquence, but they certainly are not burning lights of grace, setting men’s hearts on fire. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, ?An Earnest Warning about Lukewarmness, July 26th, 1874.)
I wonder?if Jesus looked upon the people of Laodicea and concluded that they were lukewarm; then what would His verdict be as He closely examines us, the people of Britton Christian Church? Would He ask, ?Where is the passion?? When 3% of our income is given to help others and 97% is used for our own pleasure?where is the passion? When we will jump out of bed at 6 am to play golf or go fishing, but we can?t make it church on Sunday morning?where is the passion? When we rearrange our schedules beyond belief to accommodate our children?s recreational activities, but we can?t find the time to get them to Sunday school?where is the passion? When we can find time every day to watch television and read the morning paper, but we can?t find time to read the Word of God or share with Him in quiet moments of prayer?where is the passion? In verse 17, John writes,
17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17 NIV)
?I don?t need a thing!? This was the attitude that the Laodiceans had concerning their wealth. There are at least two ways people understand the material resources they have at their disposal. First, there are those who look at their material resources as being from God, given so that they might use them in furthering God?s work and making this world a better place for all of God?s people. Secondly, there are those who look at their material resources as the result of their own efforts, to be used for their own pleasure in meeting their every desire. Those who have been blessed with much have a tremendous responsibility to utilize what God has blessed them with in ministering to others.
Equally as destructive as the mindset of the second group of folks is the false sense of security that many of us find in the acquisition of wealth and fine things. The Laodiceans says, ?I don?t need a thing? when in actuality that is the very core of their problem?they had lots of ?things.? This type of mentality is so prevalent in our society today as we have convinced ourselves that the things we have will satisfy our hunger for peace and fulfillment and diminish our feelings of loneliness and emptiness. If we trust in cars and homes we will find ourselves frustrated and alone. Our greatest need is not the newest fashion craze, or the nicest home, or the latest high tech play things?our greatest need is for a life-giving relationship with the Lord. We can fool ourselves for a short while, but the foundational need of every person?s life will not be fully satisfied outside of the One who meets our every need and quenches every thirst for peace and purpose in life. In verse 18 John writes,
18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:18 NIV)
After Jesus exposes the Laodiceans He counsels them to ?buy? the things that will really satisfy and enable them to become truly rich. The ?refined gold? that we read about is rooted in a powerful teaching that is found throughout all of Scripture. Within the Bible we find a blazing fire that refines and purifies the lives of God?s people. God?s purification process comes in various forms. Sometimes we are told to purify our hearts as in 2 Corinthians 7:1,
1 Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 NIV)
At other times this purification process comes through severe trials and testing which can enable us to look to God alone for comfort, strength, encouragement, and stamina to endure and emerge victorious. Trials can be God?s ?refining fire? that teaches us that it is not wealth and the luxuries of life that will provide solace for us in times of great tension and turmoil. The purified people of God will be folks whose faith is made strong and pure by the tests of this life. Peter writes about this in 1 Peter 1:7.
7 These have come so that your faith– of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire– may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7 NIV)
God?s holy fire will purify the distorted and wavering heart like a red-hot fire refines impure gold. Jesus tells the Laodiceans to purchase refined gold from Him. They had placed their faith in their ?gold,? but Jesus wants them to place their faith in genuine, purified, and tested gold. In verse 19 we read,
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. (Revelation 3:19 NIV)
Reproof and chastisement are evidence not of Jesus? rejection of the Laodiceans, but of His love for them. Love is never cruel, but it can be severe. Jesus desires for His church in Laodicea to be the church He has called it be. His desire for the people of Laodicea is that they live their lives with passion and purpose, not apathy and indifference. Jesus corrects and disciplines the people because He loves them. In Proverbs 3:11-12 we read,
11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:11-12 NIV)
Jesus has pointed out some very direct and certainly painful faults about the people of Laodicea and many would assume that Jesus didn?t care much about these people. In reality, because of Jesus? deep love and continual concern for the people, He is honest with them. How many friends do you have that will risk being honest with you when you are being destructive and doing things that are not helping you grow in your relationship to God and others? So that we will not destroy our lives, a true friend will risk being rejected and told, ?It?s none of your business.? Pseudo friends simply want harmony and a ?buddy,? and although they may say they care about what their friends have to say, they prove that they couldn?t care less.
In the phrase, ?so be earnest,? the Greek word ?zhlo,w? (zeloo) means, ?to burn with zeal, to be zealous in the pursuit of good, or to desire earnestly, or pursue.? While repentance is required to begin to see change take place in our hearts, zeal or earnestness is to be a continual aspect of our daily life and walk with God. Jesus says, ?Be earnest, enthusiastic, zealous, and repent!? Jesus desires for His followers to be people with a passion! The risen Lord wants us to be people who are alive, people who put aside the appearance of being religious to impress others, to stop trusting in lies, and allow God to change our lives. Jesus says in verse 20,
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20 NIV)
The Lord has overwhelmed me with His grace and patience as I have studied this verse this week. One of the great blessings of studying a book of the Bible from beginning to end is that you can see the context of how each Scripture fits with the whole book. This verse from Revelation is a great example of what I am talking about. If you will remember our studies from Revelation 1-2 you will remember that Jesus walks among the churches, He is in the midst of His people. Let me show you what I am talking about. Turn to Revelation 1:10-13 and let?s read together. John writes,
10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” 12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. (Revelation 1:10-13 NIV)
Jesus is walking ?among? His churches, but when we come to Revelation 3:20 we see that Jesus is knocking at the door of the church in Laodicea. Where is He? He is outside of His church! What a tragic picture. The Lord of the church, the One who gave Himself for her is outside looking in. As tragic as this picture is there is also a great picture of hope here. Jesus could have simply walked away, but He didn?t?He is knocking at the door. Jesus is outside of His church, but He hasn?t given up on His church in Laodicea?He is knocking and He continues to knock today.
I?ve heard this verse from Revelation 3:20 quoted time and time again in reference to Jesus knocking on our hearts, but here Jesus is knocking on the church door. He wants in. He desires to come into the life of the church in Laodicea and transform their lethargy and apathy, He wants to breath new life into this lifeless church, but evidently nobody cares enough to let Him in so He keeps knocking.
Jesus says that if they will open the door then He will come in and eat with them. A shared meal in the Jewish world had far more significance than it does in our day. It was a symbol of affection, confidence, and intimacy. So verse 20 contains a promise of the most intimate fellowship possible between the Lord and His people if they will only open the door.
Let?s move on to the last verse in our study for this morning by looking at Revelation 3:21-22.
21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:21-22 NIV)
There is a great reward awaiting those who will walk with God day-in and day-out. Those who refuse to allow their love for the Lord to grow stagnant and stale, lifeless and lethargic. There is a great reward awaiting those who remain totally devoted to the King of glory without compromising with the gods of the world. There is a great reward awaiting those who will hold strong to the right and turn their backs on the wrong. There is a great reward awaiting those that will ?wake up? and turn their apathy into action! There is a great reward awaiting those who are more excited about the new life instead of the night life, about the glory of the Good News instead of the morning news.
I?ve learned something interesting in these seven letter that we?ve studied during the past several weeks. Those churches that Jesus had harsh words for were oblivious to their ailments. They didn?t see anything wrong. They thought they were doing just fine. Yet, Jesus ?knew? their deeds, He knew the true condition of their hearts. The people of Laodicea and many of us today are living according to our own standards, our own measure of what is ?good? and ?godly.? Jesus weighs our hearts with a completely different set of scales. Let me illustrate what I am talking about as we close our study this morning.
If I were to ask you, ?What?s the temperature today?? You might tell me that it?s 32 degrees. I may say, ?No, it?s 0.? Now, neither of us would be wrong. You were charting the temperature on the Fahrenheit scale while I was using the Centigrade scale of measurement. In America we use the Fahrenheit scale so if our local weatherman came on t.v. tonight and gave you a centigrade measurement of the weather you would say, ?That can?t be true.? Why? Because we don?t measure the temperature of the earth?s atmosphere based on Centigrade, we use the Fahrenheit scale.
This is the same way it is with the standard God holds up for us in how we are to live and how the world invites us to live. The world sees absolutely nothing wrong with using others to get ahead, they see nothing wrong with lying to get what you want, they see nothing wrong with getting all you can get for yourself and turning a blind eye to others, they see nothing wrong with being sexually promiscuous, verbally abusive, and financially irresponsible. God, on the other hand, holds up a totally different set of scales. God will not accept looking out for number one. He says,
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3 NIV)
In 1 Corinthians 6:18 we are told to ?flee sexual immorality.? In Ephesians 4:29 we are told,
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
The world may think it is ok to lie to get what we want, but God calls us to live on a totally different level. He says,
9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices. (Colossians 3:9 NIV)
Where the illustration of the different ways to gauge the temperature falls down in trying to illustrate my point is this: it is acceptable to use either Centigrade or Fahrenheit, but it is not acceptable to use the world?s blueprint for living life. We will not stand before the world on Judgment Day, but we will stand before a Holy and Righteous God who gave His Son so that we might walk in holiness. For those who are living in Laodicea, Jesus is knocking this morning. Won?t you let Him in?