Seven Churches - Part 7b
March 05, 2017
We began our visit to the church at Laodicea last Sunday and we’re continuing it today.
But before we do, let’s back up a bit and review.
If you remember, we’ve slowed down on this one because it probably has the most to say to us as Christians living in the prosperity of the West. You’ll see why.
We know without a doubt they were real, literal churches Jesus commanded John to write to, but whether they were prophetic in any sense we don’t know. It’s possible. But even if not the similarities between the church in Laodicea and the state of the church in the present age are striking. Be on the look out for that.
Also keep in mind what we learned about their water situation. They didn’t have an adequate supply. They piped it in from the nearby city of Colossae, whose water flowed down ice cold from the mountains and from Hieropolis whose water came from boiling hot springs.
Jesus described himself in the beginning of the letter this way…
Revelation 3:14 (ESV) — 14 “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.
And then where normally there’d be praise there wasn’t. Only condemnation.
Revelation 3:15–16 (ESV) — 15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
There are two ways Jesus’ words here have been interpreted. We looked at the first last Sunday.
Maybe when Jesus said he’d rather they be cold or hot, he was speaking in terms of opposites. Over here you have hot and it’s a good thing, and over here you have cold and it’s a bad thing. They are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
In this understanding, hot means to earnestly set your heart completely on God and his kingdom. That makes sense. It’s easy to understand that Jesus wants us to be hot, to be earnest Christians.
Cold would have to be the reverse then, to not to believe in or have a desire for the things of God at all. And lukewarm would be somewhere in between, describing someone who followed Christ but didn’t possess a passionate, inner desire for him. Someone who talked the talked but didn’t really walk the walk.
At first it sounds off. Jesus would rather us be on fire him, or not know him at all, than in between, or lukewarm? But from the perspective of being able to reach someone or use someone for kingdom purposes it does make sense.
Ask any pastor or ministry worker and they’ll tell you they’d rather deal with unsaved people any day than Christians who’ve settled into a lukewarm state. I’d much rather tell a fellow whoa than go.
At least there’s the opportunity to reach someone who isn't a Christian and knows it and see them become a Christian and get on fire for God.
But a lukewarm Christian? They aren’t good for much anything, like a screen door on a submarine.
Now let’s look at the second understanding of Jesus’ rebuke of being neither hot or cold. In this interpretation, instead of being opposites they are parallels. You have hot and it's a good thing, and you have cold and it’s a good thing too.
In this understanding our background information plays a big part.
Most likely, when Jesus said he’d rather them be hot or cold he had Laodicea's water situation in mind. There was the ice cold and refreshing water of Colossae. What was better than a cold glass of that? There was the bubbling hot water of Hieropolis. What was better than taking a relaxing soak in that? I would never complain, by the way, if you wanted to install a hot tub in my office. Just Sayin’.
You can use cold water for a refreshing drink. You can use hot water for a nice soak. But lukewarm water isn’t good for anything. So Jesus was actually talking about usefulness.
Now just imagine living in Laodicea back then and having to deal with water from the two nearby cities. Water from Colossae made good drinking water. Water from Hieropolis was fine for fountains and maybe taking a bath in, but you couldn’t drink it because of the mineral content. Somebody sometime would mess up and drink the water from Hieropolis. Blech!
Revelation 3:16 (ESV) — 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
Craig Keener helps us here…
The point of lukewarm water is simply that it is disgusting, in contrast to the more directly useful “hot” and “cold” water; all the churches would plainly understand this warning. Hot water (as long as it was not too hot) was useful for bathing; waters at hot springs like nearby Hierapolis or other sites was considered helpful for relieving ailments. Of course, Laodiceans could have reheated the water themselves, but this was extra work, a matter some may have regarded as drudgery. Cold water was useful for drinking and available in nearby locations like Colosse, but Laodicea’s water did not arrive in this state. Most people preferred cold drinks, but hot drinks were also common at banquets.
Jesus thus finds the church in Laodicea to be other than what he desires (cf. Isa. 5:2–6). In today’s English, he is telling the self-satisfied church in Laodicea: “I want water that will refresh me, but you remind me instead of the water you always complain about.”
So which one is it? The opposite interpretation or the parallel? I lean towards the parallel, but the central point with either is that Jesus isn’t happy at all with lukewarmness in a Christian or a church (which means exactly the same thing in both). Lukewarmness, in fact, makes him sick because it is good-for-nothing Christianity.
It is from Laodicean believers that we get the now well known term lukewarm Christian, and that kind of notoriety isn't a good thing. When you hear that, you instantly know what it means. A Christian lacking in enthusiasm or passion. A Christian who has kind of just settled in to being in the middle. And when you realize it makes Jesus sick, it’s all the more troubling.
Imagine being a church forever known as the lukewarm church. It’s like this young rebellious daughter that went on Dr. Phil with her mom. Before she was a nobody, but after what she said on TV she is now virally famous. Her 15 minutes of fame isn't a good thing.
While we are talking about it, you know how shocked we were to find out that there were actually 30 plus churches named after Sardis (most in AL), well believe it or not there is actually a Loadicea Baptist Church in Forsythe, GA. You can't make this up.
Seriously though, lukewarmness in a Christian is no laughing matter, it certainly wasn't to Jesus.
C.H. Spurgeon preached a message to his congregation in 1860 titled very simply Lukewarmness using this text. In his message he gave four reasons why lukewarmness makes Jesus want to vomit.
First, he said, because it’s an insult to him.
If [I call myself a Christian and] I boldly say that I do not believe what [Jesus] teaches, I have given him the lie. But if I say to him, “I believe what thou teachest, but I do not think it of sufficient importance for me to disturb myself much about it,” I do, in fact, more wilfully resist his Word…”
What better a description could there be of a lukewarm Christian? They know God, they believe in Jesus, but they aren’t to disturbed much about it. Their lack of passion or action betrays the condition of their hearts.
Second, he said lukewarmness makes Christ sick because it shows an attitude of ingratitude for what he’s done.
Is it not a sad thing that, after all Christ’s love to us, we should repay it with lukewarm love to him? Which would you rather have,—lukewarm love or positive hatred? Perhaps you have but little choice with regard to most people; but were it one very dear to you,—the partner of your life, for instance,—lukewarm love would be no love at all. What but misery could there be in a family where there was only lukewarm love? Is a father contented with half-hearted affection from his children? In those relationships, we give all our heart; but with regard to Christ, who has a far greater claim on us than husband, or father, or mother, or brother, how is it that we dare to offer him a distant bow, a cool recognition, a chill, inconstant, wavering heart?
Third, Spurgeon said a lukewarm Christian compromises God’s character in the eyes of the world.
“If a man be an infidel, openly profane, known to have no connection with Christ and his cause, let him do what he may, he brings no scandal on the Saviour’s name.” But he went on to say that because a lukewarm Christian carries the name of Christ, what he does or doesn't do projects into the minds and hearts of a lost world who God is and what his son, Jesus, is like.
Fourth, lukewarmness is cosmically out of place when it comes to our faith.
“There is no spot,” he preached, “near to the throne of God, where lukewarmness could stand in a [right] position.”
Lukewarmness and God don’t go together. Was Jesus lukewarm about anything? Passion and zeal characterized his life.
Wow. As usual, Spurgeon nails it.
I cannot think about lukewarmness without thinking of a verse that encapsulates the opposite:
Mark 12:30 (ESV) — 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Conclusion: In preparing for this message I came across a number of lists titled “You might be a lukewarm Christian if…”
Here’s just a few I compiled:
YOU MIGHT BE A LUKEWARM CHRISTIAN IF…
- You rarely pray.
- You hardly ever open your Bible.
- You hardly ever fellowship with other Christians.
- You attend church on Sunday morning but don’t do much else.
- You only get interested in God when something bad happens or you are in some great crisis.
- You’ve never had a conversation with a coworker or neighbor about your faith.
- You get more excited about ball games or political issues than you do your relationship with Jesus.
- Your faith is expressed more through Facebook posts than it is in real life.
- You find the christian life easy or free of difficulty.
On that last one, think about this. Water, left to itself, will always goes back to a neutral temperature. If it's hot it will fall back to lukewarmness. If it’s cold it will inch up to lukewarmness. And think about this, what does it take for water to be cold or hot? Energy. What does it take for it to be lukewarm? Nothing.
That, I believe, illustrates the great struggle of the Christian life. Not letting ourselves grow indifferent to the things of God. We must work, not to be saved or earn God’s favor, but to stay passionate about the things of God. Listen, if the devil can't have you, he’s content using whatever means necessary to get you lukewarm and keep you that way.
This cuts me to the core because I see myself regularly drifting toward lukewarmness, and invariably it happens when I get lazy and start coasting.
I am going to challenge - dare you even - to pray a scary prayer this morning: Jesus show me to what degree I am hot or cold. Show me if I am closer to one or the other or being lukewarm.
Next time we will see why they became Lukewarm and what they needed to do about it. Get ready.
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