In this blog I want to take a moment to explain exactly what I think God was trying to say when He gave His message to the Laodiceans and see how the wisdom of this passage applies to our lives today. The beginning of this passage goes like this:
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!" (Revelation 3:14-15)
Here we find God, our "faithful and true witness" giving His message to the "angel of the church in Laodicea." Now some have jumped to the conclusion that these messages were given directly to the church members in Laodicea, and I believe the message was certainly intended for the members of the Laodicean church, but the passage shows that the message was given directly to the "angel of the church in Laodicea." Now the Greek word for "angel" in this verse means literally "messenger," and the most reasonable understanding of this passage over the centuries has been that the angel was to be taken as the primary human leader or "messenger" of that particular church (similar to our modern day pastors and elders), not an actual angel. So it's safe to conclude that God was addressing the church leadership, who would in turn make personal adjustments, and then address the church.
It's worth noting that in this passage God's demonstrates His perfect wisdom through a timeless principle, that in order for the church to grow, leadership has to grow first. Another point that we need to take into consideration is that God specifically directed this message to the "messenger" of the church in Laodicea. This implies that He intended for this message to be given to the church members as well. I think the fact that God addressed this message specifically to church leadership first, exemplifies the importance of leadership leading by example. If the message were to be given to the members of the church without the leadership being responsive to its content, the church would most likely revert back to the way it was before the message was given.
The first remark that God makes to the church in Laodicea is that they "were neither hot nor cold." I have often heard this verse to be interpreted in a religious sense. That is, to be hot means to be doing all the right things and to be cold means doing all the wrong things, but I don't think this is exactly what it being said. What God is sternly addressing here is an attitude of indifference toward Him and His gospel. Let's take a further look at this:
"So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." (Revelation 3:16-17)
So what was powering this attitude of indifference toward God and the gospel in Laodicea? It was wealth, prosperity, and the riches of this world. The Laodiceans had allowed the material things of this world to put them in bondage to a self-gratifying attitude. This bondage was causing them to take on an attitude of indifference toward God and the gospel. Now let's define indifferent in a detailed manner. Indifferent means to be marked by impartiality, believing a thing is of no importance or value one way or the other, indifference is marked by no special liking for or dislike of something, it's marked by a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern for something (Webster’s dictionary).
So the Laodiceans had come to a point in which they were no longer actively pursuing the call of advancing the great commission or actively pursuing God at all, but they also were not actively prohibiting others from the advancing of the great commission or seeking God either, they were simply involving themselves in their own personal ambitions in an attempt to achieve self-gratification. I'm sure the Laodiceans thought of themselves as blessed Christians who had attained a state of favor with God, but Jesus had a stern rebuke for them in exposing that they were pursuing life, liberty, and happiness through worldly wealth. Does this sound like a familiar group of people? I admit that this sin is found among many of God's people around the world, but I contend that America has fallen into this trap more than any other nation of modern times.
God is saying that there is no middle ground when it comes to His calling. We need to either be pursuing His will for our lives if we love Him, or not be associated with Him at all if we are only pretending to love Him. It's a grave transgression to profess Christianity without actually demonstrating its power in your everyday life. Christ likens it to lukewarm water that causes a nauseating feeling; He is disgusted by an indifferent believer to the point in which He stands ready to take harsh action against them. I think that God goes to the extent of saying "I will spit you out of my mouth" because He realizes the repercussions of pursuing self-interests and wants to express how seriously He will have to deal with us in order to get us back on track, as Paul wrote "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim 6:10)." Does this mean thst we will lose their salvation when we go astray? Not necessarily. When God said He will spit them out of His mouth He was using an analogy to express His disgust at their attitudes, it's unlikely that God was somehow saying that to be "in His mouth" means to be saved and to be "out of His mouth" means not to be saved. What it does mean is that there will be consequences for our actions when we become indifferent, and the discipline God gives us will not be pleasant in the least bit.
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. (Revelation 3:18-19)
These two verses give us hope for when we have strayed off of the path of pursuing God's purpose for our life. Christ stands ready to forgive us and fill us with true joy in His presence if we repent. Here God makes a statement that helps the Laodiceans realize that the "riches" they are pursuing are not the true riches of a life in Him. They had left the elementary truth of scripture that says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt. 6:20)." How pitiful we must look to God when we are investing ourselves in a primary goal of attaining wealth in this life. As God gazes upon us from eternity it breaks His heart to see us missing out on the true treasure that He wants to bestow on us at the resurrection. This is what I believe compelled God to rebuke the Laodiceans in the manner that He did saying, "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17)." As God sees us from eternity, we are most poverty stricken when we spend our life away pursuing things that will eventually be destroyed when Christ replaces the current universe with a new Heaven and a new Earth.
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 3:20-22)
In this final group of verses Christ makes two explicit and encouraging promises. First, if the Laodiceans repent of their indifference and self-ambition He will reestablish His communion with them. When we get caught off into a pattern of sin, it breaks our fellowship with God. When we sin it does not cause us to lose our status as God's children, but we do lose the unmatchable privilege of communing with God whom we were created to love, and this is a miserable state. Second, God promises that if the Laodiceans conquer this situation of sin and move on totally, that He will grant them a special privilege in eternity. This goes along with what we discussed in the prior paragraph about "storing up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt. 6:20)." Christ affirms a gracious truth to the Laodiceans, that He still loves them and desires to bless them with true blessings despite what they had done to sin against Him.
This message to the Laodiceans applies to many Christians in various points of their lives, including myself. We need to avoid foolishly pursuing worldly wealth and prestige, and embrace the wisdom of living a life that is FOR God and His purposes. By this we store up for ourselves true riches and treasure that will last for eternities to come. Being hot, rather than lukewarm, primarily means to realize and embrace the greatness of living a life surrendered totally to Jesus, a life committed to seeking Him and pursuing His will, which is spreading the gospel. We live in such a way that the great commission takes precedence over all other ambitions we may be tempted to pursue. This means devoting our time to using our spiritual gifts to strengthen and cause greater health to the body of Christ, which is God’s tool to reach the world. If you are reading this I hope you will take some time to look into yourself and ask God to reveal where you need to grow, make adjustments, get more involved in seeking Him, and participate in His body to advance to the great commission. I can tell you that studying this passage has caused me to do some introspection myself. I pray that God will give you true riches and stir up the flame of His love deep within your heart! May God bless you and keep you in all that you do!
Written by: Kyle Bailey, M.Th.
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