Revelation 3:14-22, “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.
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— 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.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 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. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Backdrop: Church of Laodicea
Profile Laodicea: Located 40 miles south of Philadelphia and 100 miles east of Ephesus the city of Laodicea was well known throughout the world for two important exports: black wool for clothing and a powder used to treat eye infections. Because the city was located on an important trade route which minimized overhead, Laodicea was extremely wealth.
Example: In 60 AD Laodicea was destroyed by a massive earthquake. And while Nero offered financial assistance to help with the rebuilding process, the residence of Laodicea declined Roman money choosing instead to rebuild the city using their own resources.
Additionally, Laodicea was part of a tri-city water arrangement with Colossi (11 miles west) and Hierapolis (6 miles south). Because she had no natural water source of her own the city was dependent on two separate aqueducts that brought water from these two sister-cities.
As far as the formation of this church in Laodicea it seems likely she was founded by the Apostle Paul and originally met in the home of “Nymphas” (Colossians 4:15). Four times in his letter to the Colossians Paul will mention the brethren in Laodicea and as well as the church in Hierapolis. According to Colossians 4:16 Paul had even written an “Epistle to Laodiceans” he intended to have circulate throughout these three cities.
Sadly, while it appears this Laodicean church began strong (possessing a wonderful legacy) by the end of the first century she had fallen so far from her original mandate that Jesus would find nothing commendable. Tragically, Jesus’ criticisms of this church would label her as a sort of Anti-Philadelphia (she presented the characteristics of an unfaithful church).
Before we get to the text let’s set the Historical Context for the Church of Laodicea… As the Missional Church of the 18th and 19th centuries continued to preach the Word of God and send missionaries equipped with the Gospel across the globe, the 20th century not only changed the world but challenged the church in a dramatic way.
First, the atrocities of two World Wars that yielded approximately 100 million casualties coupled with Vietnam, Korea, and the Cold War would produce several generations of men completely disillusioned when it came to God and matters of spirituality.
Secondly, in an attempt to deal with a rapidly changing culture, the church convoluted her purpose by becoming politically active. Sadly, over the last 100 plus years the Evangelical Church is often known more for what she’s against than what she’s actually for!
Example: Prohibition. When men came home from WW1 they found a church more interested in telling them what they could or couldn’t drink than seeking to deal with their genuine spiritual needs. Evangelists like Billy Sunday railed against alcohol without ever speaking to the deeper spiritual wound driving so many men to a destructive lifestyle.
Finally, secular progressives would use science to attack the reliability of the Bible. In 1925 a court case being herd in the little down of Dayton, Tennessee would be thrust into the national spotlight. The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (commonly referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial) would pit the Bible and science against one another.
Sadly, because the arguments presented by the prosecution and their witnesses seeking to defend a literal understanding of the Bible were so poor, not only would the Theory of Evolution gain credibility, but the reliability of Scripture would wain in public opinion.
Note: In the end this and other similar developments would create the framework by which the philosophy of relativism would seep into mainstream American society.
The challenge facing the church in the 20th century was simple… How do you reach a culture of people disillusioned with God, alienated by the churches activism, and are no longer confident in a fundamentalist view of the Bible? Two approaches emerged:
The Church of Philadelphia remained faithful to her missional model of preaching God’s Word and seeking to reach the lost world through missions and evangelism.
Movements like Calvary Chapel in the late 60’s and early 70’s intentionally rejected stale traditionalism and instead embraced the culture by modernizing it’s style. They dropped the uber-pretentiousness of evangelicalism by allowing people to come just as they were. They emphasized God’s grace, a dependency on the Holy Spirit, and the expositional teaching of the Bible. Pastor Chuck’s motto, “Simply teach God’s Word simply!”
And yet, tragically another approach would gain steam in the later part of the 20th century. If the Protestant Reformation was “theology over reaching people” and the Missional Church was the balance of “theology and reaching people” then this final Laodicean Church tragically emphasized “reaching people over theology.” In its historical context it’s very easy to see how this would happen all things considered.
Though one could ascribe several church movements as being guilty of this particular approach, none has been more overt in their intention than the Seeker-Friendly Movement of which men like Bill Hybel (Willow Creek), Andy Stanley (North Point), and more recently Kevin Myers (12 Stones) have proposed and successfully implemented.
In order to be “church for the unchurched” - a place designed to appeal and reach the lost for Jesus - these churches intentionally create an environment designed to be inviting, accepting, and entertaining so that a seeker can feel comfortable enough to encounter God on their own pace. To accomplish this these churches have all but eliminated Bible teaching by instead focusing on universally held truths and self-help antidotes.
And while I do not question whether any of these men are brothers or whether they are genuine in their desire to reach the lost (I think they are), I do believe this model yields many of the unintended consequences Jesus addresses in His letter to Laodicea.
While it would be easy for our time to be spent this morning applying the substance of Jesus’ criticisms to each of our own individual lives, I think it’s more important we consider the criticisms of Jesus letter in the context of the church He’s addressing.
In a sense the big lesson we all need to get out of Jesus’ letter to the Laodiceans is this… If you don’t want any of these criticisms applied to your life then don’t go to a church that facilitates these types of behaviors in the lives of its members.
Laodicea was a Church without Distinction.
Jesus begins, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot… You are lukewarm!” In this initial criticism Jesus uses an illustration the citizens of Laodicea would have clearly understood…
As we’ve mentioned Laodicea was dependent on two separate aqueducts to pipe in water from Colossi and Hierapolis. Interestingly enough by the time the cold water that originated in the higher elevations of Colossi and the hot water that began at a set of hot springs in Hierapolis reached Laodicea the water was characteristically “lukewarm.”
Because of the distance the water had to travel to get to the city, what had initially started as hot or cold had leveled off to the temperature of its surroundings. In a sense the water had become room temperature. It was neither hot nor cold, but was simply lukewarm.
Sadly, the church of Laodicea was going through the motions. Spiritually speaking they possessed no real heart for righteous living, no zeal for the things of God, and no passion to truly follow Jesus and be His witnesses in the world. While these Laodiceans weren’t full-blown heathens or overtly worldly (“cold”), they also weren’t fully committed to Jesus (“hot”).
You might say this church modeled what many of us refer to as “Cultural Christianity…” - when people claim to be a Christian simply because they go to church on Sunday. For these people Christianity is a one day activity, not a weekly lifestyle. Spiritual life (worship, Bible study, etc.) is compartmentalized only to a Sunday morning experience.
In a sense these Laodiceans were “fence-sitters.” Though they had enough “church” to feel morally superior to the rest of the world and good about themselves, tragically they had to much of the “world” to really reap the benefits of a genuine relationship with Jesus. Their spiritual lives were tepid. Their spiritual indifference had spawned spiritual compromise.
The brutal reality is that there was nothing about this church that differentiated them from the world around them. In their honest attempt to be relevant with the world they had sacrificed the very things that made them distinct. They lost their flavor and uniqueness!
While the Seeker-Friendly methodology intends to created an environment designed to reach the lost (which is in and of itself noble) the method also creates the perfect conditions whereby a spiritually compromised believer can satisfy the need to feel spiritual without ever being challenged to be spiritual. Lukewarmness thrives in such a circumstance!
It is rather incredible to consider that Jesus would even go so far as to prefer this church be “cold” than to remain in this “lukewarm” condition… “I could wish you were cold or hot.” And why was this the case? Unlike those hostile to the things of God, spiritual indifference has the tendency to lull someone into a false sense of their own spiritual security.
Laodicea was a Church characterize by Self-Deception.
Jesus continues, “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…” The alarming thing about this church was the disconnect between what they believed God thought of them and the reality of what God actually thought about them.
In a sense they were delusional. Because they were falsely equating material prosperity as being the evidence of spiritual blessing, this church had reached the false conclusion God was pleased with them when in actuality the opposite was true.
While they genuinely believed they were deeply spiritual and effective because they were “rich (“abounding in resources”), wealthy (“richly supplied”), and in need of nothing (“no one”)…” Jesus concludes they were instead “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Sadly, I believe many churches today are also self-deceived. While they point to large attendances and vast financial resources as the evidence of a successful ministry, they fail to recognize neither are the metrics that Jesus uses in His evaluation of a church.
Consider the fact that Jesus found the church of Smyrna (a church that was poor) and the church of Philadelphia (a church with a little strength) much more commendable than He did the church of Laodicea (a church that was rich and without need).
Laodicea was a Church that was Biblically Ignorant.
Notice one of the core components of Jesus’ criticism that explains why these Laodiceans were so self-deceived and off in their self-assessment. He says, “You say… and do not know…” While it’s true they were delusional as to the true nature of their spiritual condition (bankrupt), we must consider what had fostered such a false perception?
I hope you understand when it comes to Christianity, Christian beliefs, your spiritual condition, how you live a life of Godliness, how the church should function, and the way in which believers are to reach the lost… What “you say” matters not! When it’s all said and done what matters more than anything else is what “He says” about such things!
This is why it’s so vitally important the church teach the Bible for when she doesn’t she becomes susceptible to self-deception. The Laodiceans believed their physical riches were to be seen as evidence of spiritual favor when that position had no Scriptural bearing. They “did not know” as a direct result of a lack of Biblical knowledge and understanding.
Keep in mind… Because the Bible is totally honest about your spiritual condition it is the only place a person can get a proper assessment of oneself.
James 1:21-25, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the word, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
So what does the Bible say about you? It’s clear that apart from Jesus, His work on the cross, and His amazing grace you are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” This fact is one of the main reasons the Bible isn’t taught in many Seeker-Friendly churches.
Additionally… Attending a church that teaches the Word not only protects you from self-deception, but it actively protects against this tendency for spiritual indifference.
Psalm 1:1-3, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”
I’ve found that it’s impossible to attend a church where you’re taught God’s Word and still live a life of indifference and compromise. The Word of God either drives a man in sin to repentance and greater spiritual growth or it drives that man away from the church. Still yet another reason the Bible isn’t taught in many Seeker-Friendly churches.
Laodicea was a Church so People-Centered they were no longer Christ-Centered.
Did you notice another interesting component of Jesus’ criticism? Jesus said, “You say, ‘I am…” If you add this to the reality Jesus also says to this church, “I stand at the door and knock” you’re left with a dangerous and some what provocative dynamic.
This church was so self-consumed that Jesus was on the outside wanting in and they were oblivious. Sadly, this church was focused more on ministry to people than ministry to God. They had become so focused on seeking the lost they had forgotten to seek Jesus. In the end this church was more about “them” than it was about “Him.”
The word “Laodiceans” is interesting because it’s a combined word meaning “the rights of the people.” It’s the opposite of the word “Nicolaitans” meaning “power over the people.” Sadly, in this church the people ruled and Jesus and His Word took a backseat.
It’s a truth that the degree to which a church is “man-centered” is the degree to which the church is no longer “God-centered.” And Note: Any attempt of a Christian life that does not involve Jesus and prioritize His Word is an abomination to God and all of heaven.
Tragically, instead of asking Jesus what He wanted His church to be, how He wanted His church to reach the lost, and what He found pleasing, these Laodiceans devised their own model of church with the intention of reaching men by pleasing man.
Jesus’ warning to this church is rather severe… “I will vomit you out of My mouth!” The idea of “vomit” is the “violent expulsion from the body of that which makes the body sick.” This type of ministry approach and the type of spiritual result found in this Laodicean church and that of the Seeker-Friendly model makes Jesus sick!
Let me explain why… Contrary to popular opinion nowhere in Scripture is the church called to be a “hospital for the sick.” Instead, the church is called to be a prepping center whereby believers are equipped to go into the world to care for the sick.
It was the Old Covenant model whereby the world came or were brought to a temple to encounter God. And yet, in the New Covenant design Jesus established His temple in the hearts of men and women whom He then sent into the world to encounter the lost!
Understand… What makes the Seeker-Friendly model so sickening to Jesus is that (though it might yield high conversation rates) it’s making the church sick. You see when a church focuses on reaching the lost instead of equipping saints to reach the lost the body become ill!
Because the church is being derelict to fulfill her God-given duties (teaching the Bible in order to equip saints for the ministry), she in turn creates a scenario whereby believers no longer need to do theirs (taking the Gospel into a lost world). The church is not only failing to equip believers, but in doing their job for them she’s fostering a lukewarm culture.
For a church to be healthy the emphasis of the church service (ministry given to the pastors) should be to equip believers for the ministry by teaching God’s Word with the role of the saints to then go out into the world desiring to reach the lost! Note: The Great Commission was given by Jesus to individual believers, not the institutional church.
It should be noted that following so many difficult criticisms Jesus begins His closing with this line… “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” After all of this Jesus is making it clear that it was His love for this church that motivated Him to speak the truth.
You can hear His passion when He says, “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…” While these Laodiceans had been doing church without Him this could be easily remedied. All they had to do was “open the door” and let Him in!
Why was Jesus knocking? Please know Jesus doesn’t want anything from you. All He wants is a relationship with you! Note: This phrase “dine with him” spoke of a very intimate, relational exchange. Eating in Eastern cultures was an act of commonality and oneness.
How does Jesus knock? Notice He says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice…” It’s clear Jesus’ Word does the knocking! It’s a gentle and continual knocking.
Don’t forget Who was doing the knocking… The letter opens, “These things says…”
“The Amen…” The word “Amen” literally means “so be it or that’s true.” This church needed to get back to treating Jesus’ Word as the truth. They needed to be Bible-centric!
“The Faithful and True Witness…” This church needed to remember that the only way to reach the lost was not through creative marketing, relevant presentations, or a diluted form of Christianity… The remedy was Jesus! They needed to be Christ-centric!
“The beginning of the creation of God…” This word “beginning” doesn’t mean Jesus was the “first of the creation of God,” but rather that He existed before “the creation of God.” The word can be translated as “origin.” This church needed to keep the main thing the main thing. Pleasing Jesus is infinitely more important than pleasing men!
You can’t help but notice that there was still potential for this church to be used by God in mighty ways! In addition to responding to His voice and opening the door all they had to do was “be zealous (“burn with zeal”) and repent (“change their mind”)…” Note: Jesus gives the most glorious promises to the church for which He had the strongest criticisms.
Notice that Jesus provided a list of things that would come with their relationship with Him if they’d respond to His invitation and repent: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich (heavenly treasure in place of their temporal riches)… white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed (everlasting righteousness in place of the black garments of self-confidence)… And anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see (spiritual insight in place of blindness).”
He also promises… “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” What a radical promise! And yet, how did Jesus overcome and how do we do the same? Through our obedience to the word of His Father! “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
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