The Luke warm Church
Laodicea, the Luke warm church. Perhaps the closest of the seven churches of Revelation to a great many of the churches in our own time. The Luke warm Church. V15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.
Neither cold nor hot – doesn’t seem like a such a terrible thing, not in comparison to the compromise and false teaching that we have read about in the letters to the other churches, and yet it must be worse than all the rest for Jesus says to them v16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
What is The Lord Jesus saying to this particular, what does this picture of Lukewarmness actually portray to these church folk?
Well firstly it a picture of Something distasteful
A Lukewarm drink would not be my first choice for something to drink and I suspect it not something that most other people are particularly fond of either, I can categorically state, hand on heart, that I have never had anyone ask me for a lukewarm drink – it’s either a hot drink or a cold drink.
Now for the inhabitants of the city of Laodicea, lukewarm was an everyday occurrence. The city had no local water supply. There was a river, the Lycus, but it’s water wasn’t drinkable. Accounts of that time describe it as “turbid (dirty) with white mud . . . nauseous and undrinkable.” Laodicea got its water through an aqueduct running from a hot spring located five miles to the south. The water was scalding hot when it entered the aqueduct. But it was filled with calcium carbonate and by the time the water travelled five miles down the system and arrived in the city, it was lukewarm and barely drinkable. Lukewarm was a condition that these folk were very familiar with
You are Lukewarm – now this reference alone should be enough for them to sit up and take notice and perhaps some of us are also squirming a little in our seats, but there is more to this. Jesus says to them you are neither cold nor hot – these words define for us what this lukewarmness is and it is much, much worse than being merely tepid.
The Greek word used for “hot” is a word that means boiling and the context tells that what is being referred is of water that is boiled – now what is being referred to here? Simply this – those who have been heated by the word of God, who’s stand on the word of God, whose works declare their faith and their God.
The Greek word used for “Cold” has the meaning of chilly, and it is set in contrast to hot, it is the opposite to hot. What is the opposite to someone who has been heated by the word of God? Someone who has never been heated by the word of God – never been converted, never touched by the gospel fire.
Now think about this for a moment – The Lord Jesus looks upon this church, at its works (I know your works) and what he sees leaves him nauseas.
This is what he sees – a church is full of respectable, nominal, self-satisfied churchgoers who are inoculated with skin-deep religiosity. They are spiritually flabby and anaemic. One writer says of the Laodiceans congregation, They had enough truth to salve the conscience without becoming fanatics. It was a comfortable church. You could have attended this church for years and it would have probably been very pleasurable, but nothing much would be happening. You would not be challenged, or rebuked, or corrected, or exhorted, but only encouraged and respected.
Sadly, there are thousands of churches like this today, and Jesus says they are nauseating and repulsive to Him. The members may be pleased, but Jesus is not. Their worship may make them comfortable, but it makes Him sick! It sounds as though He would prefer an outright rejection of the faith to the half-hearted way the Laodiceans are living. We have a tendency to feel that so long as we don’t blow too badly, remain respectable, attend church
it ought to keep God off our case.
But Listen to the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew12:30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. In following Christ there is no room for Lukewarm neutrality, What a challenge to us, to our faith and works and worship, both as a church and as individuals – The Lord Jesus Christ wants nothing to do with Lukewarmness! Nothing!
V15 I could wish you were cold or hot. (Would that you were either cold or hot!)
V16 I will vomit you out of My mouth. (I will spit you out of my mouth.)
Secondly we see a picture Devastating Blindness
V17 Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— They think they’re doing well! They consider all they do as being praiseworthy and acceptable to God! As did the Pharisees who constantly contended with Jesus when he walked the earth, this is what Jesus said to the Pharisees in Luke 16:15 You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
The church in Laodicea thinks of itself as wealthy, very well-off, and without any apparent needs. But the reality is far different. While this congregation may have an exalted opinion of itself, Jesus describes this church in completely different terms: wretched, pitiful, poor and naked. This church is lukewarm and is about to be vomited out of Christ’s mouth. Understand, this talk of being vomited out is evidence of the serious position this church is in, remember the words of God to the children of Israel in Lev.18:25 For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. The people who inhabited the promised land before the children of Israel, their wickedness was so great that the land would vomit them out.
They thought themselves rich – Laodicea was a very rich city, it’s population enjoyed a rich lifestyle, no doubt this was reflected in the building used by the church as it’s meeting place, no doubt it was reflected in the church funds and charitable giving – but they were miserable beggars in the things of eternity. Whatever is not done for Christ is destined to burn, it is no more than dross awaiting the flame.
They have judged themselves by the standards of men and not God – and felt content! God applies His standards, His word and declares them wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Think of it like someone stacking weights one upon the other – Wretched + miserable+poor+blind+naked – this is their spiritual condition!
It’s into this wretchedness the Lord speaks v18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
Stop looking at what you have, stop weighing yourselves in the balances of men – look to me, only I have what you must have, only me.
But how these beggarly, blind, naked, wretched people buy anything of spiritually value, they have nothing, absolutely nothing – Is.55:1-3 Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. 3 Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you— The sure mercies of David.
Buy for nothing! This is the strange, wonderful message of the gospel of Christ! In my hand no price I bring simply to the cross I cling, hallelujah what a Saviour!
Buy from me –
Gold refined by fire – Gold makes us rich – the riches of the gospel of Christ – refined gold has all its dross removed
White garments – cover our nakedness, and what garments these are the very righteousness of the Son of God! For He has clothed me, says Isaiah, with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, Is.61:10
Eyesalve – restores sight – that gives us sight and knowledge of the things of God. These folk did not know but salvation to see, to know.
In Christ are found all of the riches and treasures of heaven. And this treasure is freely offered to us, if we humbly receive it with the empty hands of faith.
What these people truly need is the righteousness of Christ, which he alone has earned for them through the refiner’s fire of the cross and the empty tomb and which covers the shameful nakedness (the unrighteousness) of those in this church who have forgotten all about what constitutes the true riches of which Christ is speaking. But the imagery of refining by fire also seems to suggest that the Laodiceans must be purified themselves, in the sense of removing all those pagan influences from their midst which have lead to their complacency. Therefore, they must clothe themselves with Christ and purify themselves from the influences of the spirit of the age. Furthermore, these people need the salve of the Law and the gospel to open their eyes so that they might see their true condition–wretched, not rich–come to their senses, and repent, before it is too late.
Hard words in this letter, yet words filled with love and grace - If Christ cared nothing for his people, he would simply leave this church in its wretched condition and come to them in judgement without any final word of warning. But He loves His people more than they will ever appreciate v19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.
But, says Paul, it is God’s kindness which leads sinners to repentance (Romans 2:4). And since Jesus loves his people, he rebukes and disciplines them. So, says Jesus to this disobedient and apathetic church, “be earnest, and repent.” Zeal should be the mark of true repentance from Luke warmness.
Thirdly we have a picture of a Loving Saviour
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. v20
Many of you will be aware of this verse – and it is one of the most precious verse in the whole of the bible, why do I say this?
Consider who it is that stands and knocks –
Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6 and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, 1:5-6
the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. 1:13-16
He who is holy, He who is true, "HE WHO HAS THE KEY OF DAVID, HE WHO OPENS AND NO ONE SHUTS, AND SHUTS AND NO ONE OPENS" 3:7
the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 3:14
These are words of love from the Lord of his church. For they constitute a final word of warning before he brings down his judgment upon this congregation.
That this is the case can be seen in the very next verse when the warning to repent is followed by an amazing invitation to those who do so. “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.” It is truly an act of grace for Jesus to invite the members of this church to renew their fellowship with him which they claim to enjoy, but which in reality is all but gone.9 While this verse is frequently misquoted, as though the context was an evangelistic one–Jesus stands outside the door of the human heart waiting for the person to open the door of their heart to him if only they will accept Christ as their personal saviour–the fact of the matter is that this letter is written to Christians in the church of Laodicea who need to be reminded that their relationship with Christ must be renewed or face the judgment of Christ.
In fact, this verse echoes an ancient canticle (song) of a bridegroom who stands outside the door of the bedchamber, knocking, waiting for his wife to admit him. Likewise Christ is asking this church to invite him in so that his relationship with this church might be renewed in all of its fullness. Indeed, having accepted Christ’s gracious invitation, Christ will dine with his people, which is most likely a reference to the fellowship of the saviour with his people expressed in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. But this invitation must be heeded immediately because Christ is even now standing at the door of this church, knocking, waiting for his people to repent and invite him in to renew their fellowship.
The Necessary Response
As is the case in all of these letters, to those who repent, heed Christ’s warnings and continue to hold fast to that which has been revealed in the gospel, Jesus promises them that they will overcome. Says Jesus in v21, “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.” Those who acknowledge that Christ is the faithful witness, and that his testimony about this congregation’s spiritual condition is indeed true, Jesus will grant to them the right to rule in his messianic kingdom, a kingdom which dawned at his coming, continues to conquer unbelief despite the opposition from the beast, and a kingdom which will be fully realized at the end of the age, when Jesus returns to judge the world, raise the dead and make all things new.
The application for is simply this. The success of a church cannot be measured by its size, its property and buildings, or its wealth. It must be measured by its faithfulness to the gospel. While the world sees success in terms of numbers, programs, buildings, endowments and bank accounts, such things often times breed complacency and compromise. Indeed the church in Laodicea was able to obtain such wealth only by compromising the gospel message it proclaimed so as to make peace with the prosperous unbelievers around them. Only then did the church in Laodicea prosper. But it was a false success and led them into their lukewarm and pitiful condition.
What Christ asks of us as his people is that we seek not success, but that we seek to be faithful to the gospel which he has entrusted to us. Faithfulness to the will of God is measured by the things we have seen throughout these seven letters: whether or not a church preaches the gospel, whether or not a church drives out false teachers from its midst, whether or not a church loves the brethren, not forsaking its first love, and whether or not its members will refuse to take the mark of the beast by acknowledging someone other than Christ is Lord, even if that act costs us our lives or our livelihoods.
This is what Christ expects of us as he walks in our midst, and as we seek to be a witness of the gospel to those around us. If we do these things, we will overcome and receive all of those glorious things Christ has promised to his people. So on each Lord’s day, once again we open the door and invite our saviour into our midst through his word and sacraments, so that we can dine with him and renew our fellowship with the Lord of the church.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”