Faithlife Sermons

864 Rev.3.14-22 Laodicea - The Lukewarm Church

The 7 Churches of Revelation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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- Last year, Ros & I had our long service leave together in the US
- We really enjoyed the uniqueness of Yellowstone National Park
- Yellowstone is up very high on an elevated plateau and is an extremely active volcanic area
- There is steam & boiling water coming up out of the ground in many places
- On our way down the nth side of Yellowstone we planned to have a swim – actually a sit in what they call “Boiling River”
- Boiling hot springs would flow down the embankment into this river and meet the cold water
- The trick is in finding the “sweet spot” – not too hot, not too cold spot
- The problem was that if you moved a few feet in either direction you either got a chill or almost got scolded
- In this passage today, we see that the “sweet spot” was sought out by the Christians here in Laodicea
- Their lifestyle went with the indifference & complacency of their city & thus were criticised by Jesus as being “lukewarm”
- We will deal with having their works described as lukewarm a little later
- Laodicea is the last of the 7 churches to be spoken about
- We have looked at Ephesus, the loveless church
- Its battle with false teaching, admirable as it was, left the church suspicious & lacking in trust for one another
- Pergamum & Thyatira were your classic examples of the opposite problem – they were tolerant & compromising
- They were happy to kowtow to their culture’s thoughts & ways
- False teaching, idolatry & immorality abounded in these churches
- Smyrna & Philadelphia received no criticism or censure from the Lord
- They were faithful to the name of the Lord in word & deed in the face of persecution & even death (they refused to renounce His name)
- Sardis is known as the lifeless church – thinking they were alive (adopting the reputation of their city) they would have been surprised to learn that their Lord, considered them as dead – zombie Christians
- I’ve heard people say that we may be surprised to see who will make it into heaven
- After reading these first 3 chapters of Revelation, I’m inclined to think rather that we may be surprised to see who isn’t there
- Now that is not suppose to imply that we are all doomed – but these messages to the 7 churches are intended to be a challenge to our lifestyles
- Surely, we all know that we need a pep talk from time to time & how important that is when we have become complacent in our Christian living
- Surely we don’t hold back on correction from a young person & I know how valuable that correction has been in my life – it is true that correction has well saved the lives of many people
- We come now to the last of the 7 churches: Laodicea
- Laodicea sat between the cities of Hierapolis & Colossae
- You will know Colossae from the letter Paul wrote to them – his letter to the Colossians
- Near Laodicea, 10 klms to the north sat Hierapolis & they are famous for their hot springs which is said to have brought healing to people – like taking a salt or mineral bath – the Romans would travel there for their healing
- 16 klms to the south of Laodicea, there is Colossae – Colossae had the advantage of being sourced by cold, pure water from a spring
- Laodicea was a wealthy city – it was the Swiss bank of the district
- It was the economic hub – the financial centre
- The city was rich & beautiful – features made of marble were seen all over the city
- They had a great wool industry producing fine jet black wool
- Geographically, they positioned Laodicea because it intersected two important trade routes – always a financial benefit
- The problem at this intersection of this trade route was that it had no water supply of its own
- The closest supply was at Hierapolis which was piped through to Laodicea through a Roman Aqueduct

1. The Lukewarm Church

- Many of us have been brought up on the notion that the Laodiceans were spiritually lukewarm in the sense that they were not “on fire” for Christ
- The reference here to being hot or cold is usually thought to relate to spiritual temperature
- You might hear a preacher going to town in his preaching & we might say that so & so was really on fire today - hot
- We talk about “on fire” Christians as being the sought of Christians Jesus is after
- No doubt, Jesus wants His people to be passionate & enthusiastic disciples – the question is whether this is what Jesus is referring to here
- What has been highlighted as a problem in this passage is that Jesus says that He would rather the church be “hot” or “cold”
- Commentators raise the question then: “Why would Jesus prefer “cold” Christians to “lukewarm” Christians if this is relating to the spiritual temperature of a person?
- Now you might think that Jesus is saying that He’d rather see you either in or out & that might be a reasonable thing to think except for the fact that He is talking to a church
Q. Why would Jesus be happy to see the church either hot or cold if it is spiritual temperature that He is talking about?
- There has been a suggestion as to how we can understand this better & it is explained from their local situation
- As I mentioned before, Laodicea sourced it’s water from Hierapolis
- The hot waters of Hierapolis was famous for it’s healing properties
- Colossae was known for it’s refreshing cold, clean water that would come down a gouge from an underground spring
- You have a clear distinction here between hot & cold, but it is not a distinction between one good & one bad – they are both good
- One bringing healing & the other bringing refreshment being thirst quenching
- Laodicea sourced it’s water from Hierapolis through an aqueduct & by the time it reached Laodicea it was lukewarm or tepid
- The water being rich in minerals was not drinkable until it was stone cold
- Try to drink it when it arrived as lukewarm & it will cause you to vomit – this was well known in ancient writings
- Our translations are a bit precious in using the words “I will spit you out of My mouth” – perhaps they sense that it is not becoming of Jesus to say He would vomit them out of His mouth
- The word, however, clearly means “vomit
- Jesus is using their local situation to make a relevant point
- Both the hot & cold waters have a benefit to the people
- You have no benefit in being lukewarm
- Jesus would be saying, when your works bring neither spiritual healing to people, nor spiritual refreshment, nurture or is soul quenching, then I will vomit that sort of Christianity out of My mouth
- Likewise, God is looking for fruit that will last - they have none of worth
- It is so hard to nail down what they were actually doing or not doing that has caused Jesus to be so incensed by their lifestyle, but we can gain some understanding by the remaining verses in this section

2. Corruption By Wealth

- Jesus says in...
Luke 12:15 NASB95
15 Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
- Possessions are not condemned in the Scriptures, but the use of them is scrutinised by the Scriptures
- We know that Paul says that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil”
- So a person needs to be careful about how they handle wealth
- I think it is fair to say that wealth needs to be mastered or else it will master you
- It is easy for people who have all their needs met to not be needy of the Lord
- With wealth, comes selfishness – it may not be planned, it may not be sought after – but wealth in itself will bring on selfishness if we don’t take care
- As Christians, we have to remember that we are disciples of Christ & its not rocket science to see the relationship between disciple & discipline – the first goes with the second
- It is also noticeable that in v.19 Jesus says that those whom He loves, He reproves & disciplines
- It seems that if a person or church doesn’t discipline themselves, then the Lord will bring His discipline to help out
- It causes me to think of our children in this
- We discipline our children not to bring relief to our frustrations, nor to reinforce that we are boss, but that they themselves might learn discipline & begin to integrate that discipline into their lives
- The Laodiceans are rich & have become wealthy & it seems by Jesus’ language that they willingly boast about it
- Yet, their physical wealth have left them spiritually poor
- Their ministry is useless – they render no healing to people; no thirst quenching, life-giving spiritual sustenance to people
- Its seems like what they’ve got is not the stuff of Jesus
- They are, in His words, poor, blind, naked
- Jesus says that if they really want to be rich, they need to acquire true wealth – the wealth that He provides
- In the OT, much is said of the purifying work of God
- When gold is fired, the dross & impurities of the metal rise to the surface where it is removed & you are left with the pure gold of great worth!
- The heat of discipline causes the spiritual “dross” to be identified & removed
- Listen to these passages from the OT
Zechariah 13:9 NASB95
9 “And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’ ”
Psalm 66:8–10 NASB95
8 Bless our God, O peoples, And sound His praise abroad, 9 Who keeps us in life And does not allow our feet to slip. 10 For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined.
- Two more illustrations are used here too
- Laodicea was home to a famous medical school of ophthalmology – having to do with the care of the eyes
- They were famous for their eye salve
- One would think that the Laodiceans would have excellent eyesight – and they may well have great physical eyesight – but the Lord judges them as spiritually blind
- Likewise, they have a great wool industry that produces fine black wool, but they are naked
- So from all this we are creating a picture of a lucrative people that have left their Christianity behind
- It’s like they have gone right back to the beginning – perhaps, even further back than that
- It causes me to ask the question – why would they even be meeting as Christians?
- If their Christianity is all but barren & useless to the Lord, then why would there even be a suggestion that the church is still existing?
Q. Can a church exist & be content-less – having the seed, but not the kernel; the shell, but not the yolk?
- Yes indeed it is quite possible
- Just look at how people are tribal
- Many name a footy team as their own & give their allegiance to it, yet each footy team is usually chosen either, by their colours, what suburb they represent, or how good is their club song
- But a team is only on top until the next one bumps them off & claims the crown – ad infinitum
- It’s quite easy to see how someone can be catholic, protestant, orthodox or any other religious affiliation yet not connected with the Christianity it represents
- People like to layout their loyalty to the shell, but rather not be involved with the content
- Naming the name but not walking the talk
- Jesus says to the Laodieans to be zealous & repent of lukewarm deeds (useless or non-Gospel-centred deeds)
- As an example, we now live in an age where “virtue signalling” has become a practice
- It’s very much related to the emptiness of postmodern philosophy
- Without purpose, direction or meaning in life, one has to create meaning & for many, its done through “virtue signalling” or “the announcements of virtue”
- Let’s tease this out a bit with this question: “Which is more virtuous: “The pretense of doing something good, or the actual reality of having done something good”?
- In other words, is doing good something for our benefit or for the benefit of someone else?
- Now Jesus said it is “more blessed to give than to receive” so there is a blessing that comes to people from the notion of doing something good
- The question I’m raising, is whether the motive is the right one
“A sentimentalist, says Oscar Wilde, is someone who wants the pleasure of an emotion without paying the price for it". (“Conspicuous Compassion”)
- Oscar Wilde is actually describing what many people today call, “Virtue Signalling”
- People like to announce the good that they are representing – they are showing off their virtue
Matthew 6:3–4 NASB95
3 “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Q. Now why would Jesus say that if ulterior motives were not a reality?
- In his book “Conspicuous Compassion” Patrick West, writes...
We are given to ostentatious displays of empathy to a degree hitherto unknown. We sport countless empathy ribbons, send flowers to recently deceased celebrities, weep in public over the deaths of murdered children, apologise for historical misdemeanours, wear red noses for the starving of Africa, go on demonstrations to proclaim ‘Drop the Debt’ or ‘Not in My Name’. We feel each other’s pain. In the West in general and Britain in particular, we project ourselves as humane, sensitive and sympathetic souls. Today’s three Cs are not, as one minister of education said, ‘culture, creativity and community’, but rather, as commentator Theodore Dalrymple has put it, ‘compassion, caring and crying in public’.
This book’s thesis is that such displays of empathy do not change the world for the better: they do not help the poor, diseased, dispossessed or bereaved. Our culture of ostentatious caring concerns, rather, projecting one’s ego, and informing others what a deeply caring individual you are. It is about feeling good, not doing good, and illustrates not how altruistic we have become become, but how selfish.1
- Here’s the problem in Laodicea – whatever they are doing, it is ineffectual & no more than the likes of virtue signals
- Their deeds are not useful or effective – they are lukewarm with no spiritual benefit to anyone

3. Invitation to Let Jesus Back In

- You cannot have a Christ-less Christianity
- What we read here now is startling, to say the least
- Jesus stands at the metaphorical door of this church knocking & waiting to be invited in
Q. Have they put themselves in such a state that Christ is not even in the church?
- With their wealth & preoccupation with the things presented in the world, the solution, is for them to get their head out of the world & back into Christ
- They need to be zealous, passionate for a return to the Lord
- These Christians in Laodicea may well have thought that their physical prosperity was a sign that they were going well with God
“I am rich & I have become wealthy”, they say
- Adding to that – we must be pleasing to God – look at how He has blessed us!
- But Jesus gives here a very different picture – they were, spiritually, the opposite
- If living in the world excites you more than the things of God, then there is obviously something gone AWOL with your Christian faith
- If this is you, I suggest some serious wrestling with God over it
- Jesus says lit. “I stand at the door, knocking” (present tense)
- There were 3 massive doors as entrances into Laodicea
- As the financial hub of the district, they didn’t want strangers coming in & robbing them
- So the city was closed up & guests checked out before being let in
- They didn’t want anyone coming in & disrupting their lucrative lifestyle
- Their hospitality as such was not very evident
- This church in Laodicea has not been hospitable to Jesus either – they have shut Him out as if He were a stranger
- It is true – Christianity will disrupt our comfort zone
- We know that – we should expect that
- But what Jesus offers the church is one hundredfold greater than anything that we have even given to Him
- Again, the closing challenge is to be an overcomer, a conquer
- Whether that has to do with your fears, your insecurities, your perhaps laziness, your independence – in the sense of having your own way (living life on your terms)
- I’m reminded of the thing Peter says – which I dare say we all echo
- When Jesus indicated the kind of death in which Peter would glorify the Lord, Peter turned & saw John & said to Jesus: “and what about this man”?
- What is important here is to see Jesus’ response to Peter
John 21:22 NASB95
22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”
- The overcomers job is not to gauge his or her Christian life on what others do – its very personal – Jesus says, “You follow Me”!
- These letters to the angels of the 7 churches are both rewarding as well as challenging
- May God help us to be a church that would not receive any censure from the Lord, but only His commendation
1. Patrick West, Conspicuous Compassion p.1
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