To the Church in Laodecia

To the Church in Laodecia

Background:

Laodicea was an important, wealthy city, with a significant Jewish population. Like other cities in the region, it was a center for Caesar worship and the worship of the healing god Asklepios. There was a famous temple of Asklepios in Laodicea, with a more famous medical school connected with the temple.

After an earthquake devastated the region in a.d. 60 Laodicea refused Imperial help to rebuild the city, successfully relying on their own resources. They didn’t need outside help, they didn’t ask for it, and they didn’t want it. “Laodicea was too rich to accept help from anyone. Tacitus, the Roman historian, tells us: ‘Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us.’” (Barclay)

Laodicea was also a noted commercial center, and some of its goods were exported all over the world. “It is frequently noted that Laodicea prided itself on three things: financial wealth, an extensive textile industry, and a popular eye-salve which was exported around the world.” (Mounce)

 

One of their problems was a poor water supply that made Laodicea vulnerable to attack through siege. If an enemy army surrounded the city, they had insufficient water supplies in the city, and the supplies coming into the city could be easily cut off. Therefore, the leaders of Laodicea were always accommodating to any potential enemy, and always wanted to negotiate and compromise instead of fight.

 

Their main water supply came on a six-mile aqueduct from the hot springs of Hierapolis. Because the water came from hot springs, it arrived unappetizingly lukewarm.

The church of the Laodiceans: The church at Laodicea is mentioned by Paul, possibly in a somewhat unfavorable light in Colossians 2:1 and 4:16. What we do know is that the Laodecian Church was known to Paul. He may have planted the church directly or it could have grown out of the Church in Colosse

 

The Faithful and True Witness: This is Jesus, and this was a contrast to the Laodiceans, who will be shown to be neither faithful nor true.

 

Beginning of the creation of God: The idea behind the word for beginning [the ancient Greek word arche] is that of a “ruler, source, or origin,” not of first in a sequential order. This verse does not teach that Jesus was the first being created, but that He is the ruler, source, and origin of all creation. It has the idea of first in prominence more than first in sequence.

 

Jesus draws an analogy from the water situation in the nearby region.

 

He uses the tepid water as an illustration: Nearby Hierapolis was famous for its hot springs, and Colosse for its cold, refreshing mountain stream. But Laodicea had dirty, tepid water that flowed for miles through an underground aqueduct. Visitors, unaccustomed to it, immediately spat it out

 

In this spiritual sense, lukewarmness is a picture of indifference and compromise. It tries to play the middle, too hot to be cold and too cold to be hot. In trying to be both things, they end up being nothing – except to hear the words, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.”

 

This is sheer and utter revulsion. This particular church is not burning with zeal for their Lord (hot) nor do they hate Him (cold); Jesus is just an accoutrement to the Church in Laodecia. This so disgusts Jesus that His reaction is to vomit. Literally, to spew forth from His mouth, a violent projectile vomiting such as you might experience after taking ipecac syrup to expel an inadvertently ingested poison.

 

Has there been a greater curse upon the earth than empty religion? Is there any soul harder to reach than the one who has just enough of Jesus to think they have enough? The church of Laodicea exemplifies empty religion, and tax collectors and harlots were more open to Jesus than the scribes and Pharisees. These were those who thought they were going to heaven because, “I am basically a good person.”

Naturally, Satan will have us any way he can get us, but he prizes a lukewarm religionist far above a cold-hearted sinner. This one does not require much effort from the Kingdom of Darkness; they are essentially on autopilot straight to hell.

I could wish that you were cold or hot: What Jesus is warning, here is that you cannot play both sides against the middle.

 

Uselessness… “Hot water heals, cold water refreshes, but lukewarm water is useless for either purpose.” (L. Morris) It was as if Jesus said, “If you were hot or cold I could do something with you. But because you are neither, I will do nothing.” The lukewarm Christian has enough of Jesus to satisfy a craving for religion, but not enough for eternal life. Let me put it another way: the lukewarm religionist goes to church on Sunday but has no knowledge of the Scripture but because he just doesn’t care. There is no discipleship, no struggle with sin, no sanctification, no personal holiness. Worse, there is no life.

 

Let’s consider a real life example:

The thief on the cross was cold towards Jesus and clearly saw his need. John was hot towards Jesus and enjoyed a relationship of love; but Judas was lukewarm, following Jesus enough to be considered a disciple, yet not giving his heart over to Jesus in fullness.

 

Don’t you get it? Can’t you see? Most of the Church in Laodecia IS the exact type of alleged Christian who hear the most terrible words that will ever be spoken, “Depart from me. I never knew you, ye that work iniquity.) Jesus is reinforcing the warning He gave in Matthew’s Gospel. This is not to say that all of Laodecia was useless. Remember that these letters were written to believers and so the admonition to repent that comes will be for the true Christians in Laodecia.

 

Lukewarm Christians and their pseudo prayers mock God. “O my brethren and sisters, have you ever really thought what an insult it is to God when we come before him with lukewarm prayers? There stands the heavenly mercy-seat; the road to it is sprinkled with the precious blood of Jesus, yet we come to it with hearts that are cold, or we approach it leaving our hearts behind us. We kneel in the attitude of prayer, yet we do not pray. We prattle out certain words, we express thoughts, which are not our real desires, we feign wants that we do not feel. Do we not thus degrade the mercy-seat? We make it, as it were, a common lounging-place, rather than an awful wrestling-place, once besprinkled with blood, and often to be besprinkled with the sweat of our fervent supplication.” (Spurgeon)

 

Such lives turn people away from Jesus. “Now, lukewarm professor, what do worldlings see in you? They see a man, who says he is going to heaven, but who is only travelling at a snail’s pace. He professes to believe that there is a hell, yet he has tearless eyes, and never seeks to snatch souls from going down into the pit. They see before them one who has to deal with eternal realities, yet he is but half awake; one who professes to have passed through a transformation so mysterious and wonderful that there must be, if it is true, a vast change in the outward life as the result of it; yet they see him as much like themselves as can be. He may be morally consistent in his general behavior, but they see no energy in his religious character.” (Spurgeon)

“The careless worldling is lulled to sleep by the lukewarm professor, who, in this respect, acts the part of the siren to the sinner, playing sweet music in his ears, and even helping to lure him to the rocks where he will be destroyed. This is a solemn matter, beloved. In this way, great damage is done to the cause of truth; and God’s name and God’s honor are compromised by inconsistent professors. I pray you either to give up your profession, or to be true to it. If you really are God’s people, then serve him with all your might; but if Baal be your god, then serve him. If the flesh be worth pleasing, then serve the flesh; but if God be Lord paramount, then cleave to him.” (Spurgeon)

 

We could suggest that lukewarmness is the natural tendency of our fallen natures. “Alas, this state of lukewarmness is so congenial with human nature that it is hard to fetch men from it. Cold makes us shiver, and great heat causes us pain, but a tepid bath is comfort itself. Such a temperature suits human nature. The world is always at peace with a lukewarm church, and such a church is always pleased with itself.” (Spurgeon)

Spurgeon also gives us an excellent description of the lukewarm church.

  • They have prayer-meetings, but there are few present, for they like quiet evenings home.
  • When more attend the meetings they are still very dull, for they do their praying very deliberately and are afraid of being too excited.
  • They are content to have all things done decently and in order, but vigor and zeal are considered to be vulgar.
  • They may 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.
  • The pastor does not fly very far in preaching the everlasting Gospel, and he certainly has no flame of fire in his preaching.
  • The pastor may be a shining light of eloquence, but he certainly is not a burning light of grace, setting men’s hearts on fire.
  • Everything is done in a half-hearted, listless, dead-and-alive way, as if it did not matter much whether it was done or not.
  • Things are respectably done, the rich families are not offended, the skeptical party is conciliated, and the good people are not quite alienated: things are made pleasant all around.
  • The right things are done, but as to doing them with all your might, and soul, and strength, a Laodicean church has no notion of what that means.
  • They are not so cold as to abandon their work, or to give up their meetings for prayer, or to reject the gospel.

 

“They are neither hot for the truth, nor hot for conversions, nor hot for holiness, they are not fiery enough to burn the stubble of sin, nor zealous enough to make Satan angry, nor fervent enough to make a living sacrifice of themselves upon the altar of their God. They are ‘neither cold nor hot.’” (Spurgeon)

I will vomit you out of My mouth: In short, Jesus is so repulsed by the phony worship, He rejects it entirely.

 

In Amos 5:21, the Lord speaks of His opinion of the false worship. “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.”

 

You say, “I am rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” The church at Laodicea lacked a sense spiritual poverty. They looked at their spiritual condition and said “rich.” They looked again and said “wealthy.” They looked a third time and said, “We have need of nothing.” They were the opposite of blessed are the poor in spirit Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:3.

The Laodiceans put their trust in material prosperity, in outward luxury, and in physical health. They felt like they didn’t need anything. “The loss of a sense of need, as the drowsiness that besets a freezing man, is fatal.” (Newell)

“The cause of Christ has been hurt more by Sunday-morning bench-warmers who pretend to love Christ, who call Him Lord but do not His commands, than by all the publicans and sinners.” (Havner)

And do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked: It wasn’t that the church at Laodicea wasn’t spiritually poor – they were, they were simply blind to it. Jesus looked at their spiritual condition and said, “wretched.” He looked again and said, “miserable.” A third time Jesus looked and said, “poor.” He looked again and said, “blind.” A final time Jesus looked and He saw that they were spiritually naked.

 

The city of Laodicea was famous for its wealth, but the Christians of the city were spiritually wretched, miserable, and poor. Laodicea was famous for its healing eye salve, but the Christians of the city were spiritually blind. Laodicea was famous for its fine clothing, but the Christians of the city were spiritually naked.

The contrasts are shocking:

  • The contrast between what they think they are and what they really are.
  • The contrast between what they see and what Jesus sees.
  • The contrast between the wealth and affluence of their city and their own spiritual bankruptcy.

 

You are: Remember this wasn’t just an opinion of Jesus. Spiritually speaking, they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. What Jesus saw in them was more important than how they saw themselves. The church in Smyrna thought they were poor when they were really rich (Revelation 2:9), but the church of the Laodiceans believe they are rich when they are really poor.

 

We might say that it all began with their spiritual blindness. If you are blind, you can’t look at yourself and see that you are wretched, miserable, poor… and naked. Mental darkness is worse than a loss of sight; but a loss of spiritual vision is even worse.

“The Laodiceans are typical of the modern world, which revels in that which the natural eye can see but is untouched by the gospel and does not see beyond the veil of the material to the unseen and real eternal spiritual riches.” (Walvoord)

Donald Barnhouse:

“Yet upon a church that has sunk so low as Laodicea, the risen Lord still showers His love.”  I would point out that this showing of love is the opportunity to repent.

Therefore be zealous and repent: He commanded them to make a decision to repent, and to continue in zeal. “Turn your way,” Jesus said. “Don’t look to your own riches and resources, because they are really bankrupt. Turn around and look to Me.”

 

The ancient Greek word zealous comes from the same word as hot in Revelation 3:16. Though Jesus detested their lukewarmness, He would really rather them be hot with zeal rather than cold.

 

Behold, I stand at the door and knock: Jesus gave this lukewarm church The Great Invitation. He knocked at their door, asking entry to come and dine with them, in the sense of sharing warm, intimate time. It only happens as we respond to His knock, but the promise is made to all: If anyone hears my voice.

 

This is a verse very often taken out of context. It is not an appeal to a sinner to “invite Jesus into your heart. ” It’s a nice sentiment, even tugs at the heartstrings but it’s out of context.”

 

“Christ stands – waits long. This is a picture of the longsuffering Jesus who waits patiently and gives the opportunity to re-enter into fellowship with Him he knocks – uses judgments, mercies, reproofs, exhortations, to induce sinners to repent and turn to him; he lifts up his voice – calls loudly by his word, ministers, and Spirit.”

Jesus’ sheep know His voice- they hear His voice

 

I will come into him: What a glorious promise! If we open the door, He will come in. He won’t ring the bell and run away. He promised to come in, and then to dine with the believer.

 

When Jesus said dine with him, He spoke of a specific meal known as the deipnon. “The deipnon was the main meal of the day and was a leisurely affair, not a hurried snack.” (L. Morris)

 

This speaks of fellowship. This speaks of a depth to the relationship. Let me add a cultural note: In the Mediterranean culture, this was, and still is, the main way of fellowshipping and even showing honor.  Those who come to your table for this meal are your trusted intimates literal family as well as those you treat like family.

 

This meal occurs at a fairly leisurely pace. There is no more work for the day so now we relax, we have good food, mirth, perhaps even entertainment. The evening meal is where we enjoy each other.

 

This is where Jesus wants us, in the place of fellowship with Him. Everything He said to the Laodicean church up to this point must be seen in light of this loving desire for fellowship. “Rebuke and chastisement are no signs of rejection from Christ, but of His abiding and pleading love, even to the lukewarm and careless.” (Alford)

 

If anyone: Notice that Jesus gave the call to individuals. He didn’t say, “If any church,” but if anyone. “We must not talk about setting the church right, we must pray for grace each one for himself, for the text does not say, ‘If the church will open the door,’ but ‘If any man hear my voice and open the door.’ It must be done by individuals: the church will only get right by each man getting right.” (Spurgeon)

 

The overcomer is promised to be in the Presence of Jesus forever. Consider the words of Adam Clarke

“This is the worst of the seven Churches, and yet the most eminent of all the promises are made to it, showing that the worst may repent, finally conquer, and attain even to the highest state of glory.”

 

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