The Materialistic Worldly Church….
After taking note of what the Messiah had to say to the first six churches listed in Revelation 2-3, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia, we come to the very last letter to the churches, the Church of Laodicea. Each of these letters included instructions from the Messiah specific to the first century Church to whom they were written. In addition, as we look back in time, they loosely represent a time period within the past 2,000 years of Church history. This is very much the case with the Church of Laodicea.
The historical facts of the city of Laodicea are that it was an important, wealthy city with a noteworthy Jewish population. Just like many other cities in that locale, it was a center for Caesar worship, as well as the healing god, Asklepios. Laodicea was also located on an important trade route and was an important commercial center, with many of its goods exported all over the known world of the time. Laodicea was known to have prided itself on its financial wealth, its extensive textile industry, and a popular eye-salve which went around the world.
History tells us that the region of Laodicea was devastated by an earthquake in 60 AD. The historical record says that the city refused any help from the Roman Empire. They didn’t need help, nor did they want the help. The Roman historian, Tacitus, tells us: “Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us.”
Another important fact to note before we read the text of the Messiah’s letter to The Church of Laodicea is that the city had a poor water supply. The city water supply came from hot springs in Hierapolis. Because the water came from hot springs through a six-mile aqueduct, the water arrived warm and not all that tasty. In addition, Laodicea was quite vulnerable to siege as water and supplies coming into the city could easily be cut off. Because of this the leaders of Laodicea were always accommodating to any possible enemy. They were always willing to compromise or negotiate, rather than fight.
Let’s now take a look at what Jesus had to say to this church:
14 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: 15 ‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot, 16 so then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 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—18 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. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 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. 21 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. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”Revelation 3:14-22
Jesus first speaks to them about His identity. “These things says the Amen…” The “so be it,” the “as good as done.” 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For all the promises of God in Him are ‘Yes,”: and in Him ‘Amen.” The Truth of God is identified in the personage of the Messiah.
Then He says He is “The Faithful and True Witness.” This is Jesus, and this description of Jesus is in contrast to the Laodiceans, whom we will see are neither faithful nor true.
Jesus also identifies Himself as “The Beginning of the creation of God.” It is important to understand that the Greek word (arche) used for “beginning” is that of a “ruler, source, or origin.”
It has nothing to do with order of creation or sequence of creation. Jesus was not the first to be created, but rather, The Creator, The Source, The Origin of all creation; first in prominence, not sequence. The writer of the Book of Hebrews says this:
3 For this One has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house. 4 For every house if built by someone, but He who built all things is God. 5 And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, 6 but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. Hebrews 3:3-6
The Bible shows from cover to cover that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. It is an eternal mistake to attempt to deny Him of His true identity, yet there are many in our world who have denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
Now, what was it that the Messiah knew about the Church of Laodicea that He was about to point out to them? “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Now, that is harsh!
The Laodiceans would quickly identify with lukewarm water and the disappointing taste. Cold water is refreshing, and hot water is cleansing. Warm water is distasteful. Spiritually speaking, lukewarmness speaks of indifference and compromise. When one tries to be both, they end up being nothing! All that one will hear is Jesus’ words: “I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
The Laodicean Church likely started “hot” but was cooled down by its own apathy and self-reliance. This Church had forgotten Jesus’ words in John 15:5: “…without Me you can do nothing.” This Church had become a “fool’s paradise.” They had great pride in their church, not realizing that it was about to be rejected! They had lost their values. Spiritual values can’t be computed using earthly measurements. We become proud of ministries which we measure by human standards; how many church members, size of buildings, number of staff members, and size of budget. The Laodicean Church would probably have had some impressive statistics to show. But “religion” without the power of God driving it is empty, and there has been no greater curse on the earth than worthless, empty religion. Who is harder to reach than a person that is steeped in dead religion? Tax collectors and prostitutes were easier to reach by Jesus than the Scribes and Pharisees. I ran across an interesting quote by William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. His comments pertained to the 20th century but can just as well pertain to the 21st century.
“I consider that the chief dangers which will confront the twentieth century will be: Religion without the Holy Spirit; Christianity without Christ; Forgiveness without regeneration; Morality without God and Heaven without Hell.”
Jesus’ statement, “I could wish that you were cold or hot” points to a great need for a major change. I have heard it said, the lukewarm Christian has enough of Jesus to satisfy a craving for religion, but not enough for eternal life. The lukewarm Christian is too caught up in the world to be happy in Jesus, yet has just enough of Jesus to be unhappy in the world. What a miserable state of affairs! The prophet Elijah and Moses’ successor Joshua (second passage) put it well:
And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “how long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him.” 1 Kings 18:21
Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:14-15
We have a different view of idols in our day, but idols they are nonetheless. Whether it is sports, the outdoors, career, entertainment, or any number of other “gods”, they are “idols” because they are given a higher priority in our lives than our intimate relationship with the One who left His glory behind to pay for our freedom from sin and death. How many of us today are guilty of having a “take it or leave it” attitude. Do we claim to be followers of Christ today while being ruled by priorities that conflict with God’s best for us? If we really were convinced of the true value of our relationship with God and the fact that we are just passing through this life, we would live much differently. The evangelist Charles Spurgeon put it this way:
“…this is a solemn matter, beloved. 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 give up your profession, or 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.”
It is interesting to note that the name Laodicea means “rule of the people.” The name designates a democratic Church, in which everything is swayed and decided by popular opinion, clamour and voting.” Often it becomes the Church of mob rule. This may be reflected in how Jesus addressed this Church. The others were the Church of Ephesus, Smyrna, Sardis…all places. Here, however, Jesus addressed it to the Church of the Laodiceans. He purposely made His letter addressed in the group form.
Jesus then said, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Why would He say such a thing? Could it be because His Church is meant to spread the Word of God? It is the Church that is God’s representative on this earth. We are His ambassadors. Any nation that sends ambassadors to other nations expects them to represent their home nation well. If it does not, that ambassador is removed from the task they’ve been sent to perform. It is startling to think of representing our Master so poorly that we would be removed from the task we’d been called to. There is another passage in Jesus’ sermon on the mount that confirms what the Messiah is saying here:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” Matthew 7:21-23
In the letter to the Laodiceans, Jesus continued by saying: “You say, ‘I am rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.’” This is incredibly sad when you stop to think about what is being said here. It shows that the Church of Laodicea lacks a sense of its own spiritual poverty. As this church takes inventory of itself, it sees three things: they are rich, they are wealthy, and they need nothing. In all reality, they are at the exact opposite of what Jesus looks for. In Matthew 5:3 Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Two verses later He said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
The Laodiceans put their trust in the wrong definition of success. “Success” in God’s eyes is never measured according to our earthly standards. At the same time the Laodiceans see themselves as “golden” in their religiosity, the Messiah describes them as wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. In a city that in the first century was known for its wealth, the Christians were known by their Messiah as poor. In a city that was famous for its healing eye salve, Jesus saw the Christian Church as blind. And to add to this sad picture, Laodicea was also known for its fine clothing. Yet, spiritually, they were naked.
Human nature not only keeps us from seeing our sickness, but it will also cause us to argue against the cure. The modern religious Laodicean might argue with the Messiah and have the gall to say: “That is your opinion. It is not mine!” It is the opinion of Jesus that matters; not ours! We might remember that the Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:9) saw themselves as poor, but in the eyes of Jesus, they were rich. Here in Revelation 3:17, the Laodicean Church thinks they are rich, but in the eyes of Jesus they are poor. I am reminded of the words of an old quote:
“When you were poor and ugly in your own sight, then was the time God exalted and used you, but when you get to be some great Nebuchadnezzar, then God turns you out to eat grass like an ox. Keep little and God will use you.”
What is it that Jesus says this Church is to do in His letter to them? He says:
17 “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 eyesalve, that you may see. 18 As many as i love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” verses 17-18
“Buy from Me”: First of all, they were going to have to recognize their need. They are poor and wretched. The only thing that is worthwhile is what has been purchased by the Savior. It cost His own precious Blood. What is He offering? Gold tried in the fire; white garments in contrast to the black clothing they were famous for—but yet were spiritually naked; and the eye salve He Himself offered that would open their spiritual eyes. How do we buy of Him when we are poor and have nothing to offer in purchase? By laying our lives down, giving Him all. That is how we buy gold tried in the fire with no money. Listen to the invitation described by the prophet Isaiah:
1 “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 our 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.” Isaiah 55:1-3
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore Repent.” One could think that the rebukes of the Messiah to this church and the fact that He had no commendations to offer them, leaves them in a hopelessly lost condition. Not So! God’s love and mercy is great and longsuffering. As long as grace is available, God offers forgiveness and restoration. The only route however is by repentance and submission to the Head of the Church, Himself. But time is not unlimited. The door to the ark of safety will soon close!
The word for “zealous” comes from the same word as “hot” in Revelation 3:16. Jesus said He detested lukewarmness but would still much rather have the church “hot” rather than “cold.” How many people finding themselves near death will wish they had lived their Christian lives as “hot” rather than lukewarm or cold. What will march across our minds is our passionless service to the One who gave His all. Our Christian lives need to be much more than a hobby or occasional activity. The well known theologian, William McDonald, said this:
“The Savior is not looking for men and women who will give their spare evenings to Him—or their years of retirement. Rather, He seeks those who will give Him first place in their lives”
The Great Invitation: I find it interesting though sad that the Head of the corporate Church should be outside the doors of the Church of Laodicea, knocking to see if anyone will let Him in! Questions could be asked: Why is He knocking? Who is He waiting for to open the door? What has happened within the Church that would relegate Him to a position on the outside? Where is the leadership of this Church? Who is the leadership? Does the leadership of this Church think they have a more acceptable plan of salvation than through the Savior Himself? Doesn’t the sovereign, omnipotent Jesus have the right to break this door down? Yet, He stands and knocks long at this door. The Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End has lowered Himself to wooing the cooperation of the human heart!
It is those inside this Church who must open the door! As it is in the early verses of the 5th chapter of the Song of Solomon where the king knocks on the door of his beloved betrothed, saying, “Open for me, my love”, so the Heavenly Bridegroom knocks on the door of the hearts of the ones that have shut Him out to do their own thing! If they will hear and open the door, He will come in and break bread with them! What an offer! What a blessing!
The meal that is offered here is “supper.” It is the main meal of the day. In ancient times, this is when people ate long and talked even longer. It was a time of deep fellowship. This is what God wants with us. We were made in His image for this very purpose–for fellowship with our Creator! He said, “If anyone…” He is looking for any individual who will take Him up on His offer.
To Him Who Overcomes: A great reward is offered, even to those in the Laodicean Church, a reward to the “overcomer.” Instead of being part of the lukewarm compromisers, we can be an overcomer. Even though this is the worst of the seven churches, it is offered the best of promises! Even the worst can repent, overcome, and attain the highest state of glory. Simply amazing!
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: Let’s be counted part with those who hear the words of the Messiah. Let’s take part with the overcomers. Let’s let Him come in and eat supper with us. Let’s enjoy the fellowship that comes from His company in our heart of hearts. Let’s buy His gold that has been tried in the fire and let’s accept the white clothing and the eye salve He has to offer so that we can truly see and enjoy the spiritual purity which has been bought and paid for with His precious blood! The benefits are eternal. Praise God!
You and I were created for worship. This is what God’s creation is all about. When we focus on our accomplishments and our service to Him, we are missing the point if these actions have not been driven by our worship of the great I AM. As I saw in a devotional a few days ago: “every workman knows you need the right tool for the right job. Human resources managers know how to assign people appropriate tasks. But in our relationship with God, we sometimes miss the point that we are created for His glory. We find ourselves as misapplied tools or employment misfits in the kingdom of God because we don’t see our proper role. Above all else, Christian lives must be characterized by worship. There is a reason Jesus pointed to our love for God as the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37). It fulfills our purpose. We were designed for worship, and the Father is seeking those who know that.” (At His Feet, Chris Tiegeen)
To Be Continued in Part Eleven…