Seven Churches - Part 7c

Series: SEVEN

March 12, 2017
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

This we will be our third week visiting the church at Loaodicea. Guess what? There’s going to be a fourth!

The reason we’re spending so much time here is because of all the churches, this one has the most to teach us, of all the churches this one is like looking into a mirror where we see ourselves (and by we I mean the church of the West).

That’s not a good thing. The last church receives the harshest rebuke from Jesus and no praise.

Let’s read the verses we’ve covered so far…

Revelation 3:14–16 (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. 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.

Knowledge of the city’s water situation helped us understand what Jesus meant. Laodicea’s water supply wasn’t able to meet the demands of a growing city. They had to get ice cold water from Colossae and boiling hot water from Hieropolis, both which would have been lukewarm by the time it made to Laodicea.

The church there, like their water, was lukewarm and thus unfit for anything. Shockingly, Jesus said they were so bad off they made him want to vomit.

Today, as we move on to the next verses, knowledge of what Laodicea was known for helps in understanding them as well.

Laodicea was famous for three things in the ancient world:

Wealth. She was situated at the crossroads of important trade routes running across the district of Phrygia. It profited greatly from all the traffic. The city was even the banking center of the whole region.

Laodicea was so wealthy that when they experienced a massive quake in 61AD, they turned down disaster relief from the Roman  emperor.

Wool. Laodicea produced a very rare and highly prized black wool sheared from sheep bred only in that area. People from all over the civilized world wanted to wear a garment made from Laodicean wool. Wearing it was probably a status symbol, like driving a Rolls Royce or putting Grey Poupon on a sandwich.

School of medicine. It was THE place to go to train as doctors. The school specialized in ophthalmology, producing a much sought after eye salve that was said to heal a number of eye ailments.

Keep all that in mind as Jesus tells us why they made him sick at his stomach…

Revelation 3:17 (ESV) — 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

It just keeps getting worse. I can’t help but think how awkward, how uncomfortable, even offensive it must have been to sit in the congregation when this letter was read by the pastor.

Some think Jesus condemned them for being wealthy. And they think that because money is the root of all evil, right?

1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV) — 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Money can contribute to our spiritual state but it isn’t necessarily the direct cause of it.

Wealth wasn’t the problem, spiritual self-awareness was. They thought they were doing great. So much so they sat back, propped up their feet and said, “Man, aren't we blessed. We’ve got everything we need right here. Life is good. God is good. Now hand me that jar of Grey Poupon.”

But from Jesus’ perspective they were spiritually pitiful, poor, blind and naked, which from my understanding of the ancient world was a description of a beggar.

We live in Nashville, and at every major intersection you’ll see people begging for money. Many of them are legitimate, selling a local newspaper produced to help the plight of the homeless. I’m going to be honest with you, though. If I’m not careful, I find myself judging them. Comparing myself to them. And driving off feeling somewhat smug because if I’m just being honest I consider myself better off than them.

But I can’t help but wonder if Jesus were to let me see myself as he sees me spiritually, would I be as well off as I thought. Would I be dressed nice? Would I be clean shaven? Would I live in a nice home and have nice things? Or would I be shabby, unshaven, and standing on a street corner holding a sign?

Would I be blind to my true spiritual condition? The Laodiceans were. What they thought they were materially was in truth the opposite of who they were spiritually. 

They needed what Paul payed for the Ephesian christians. That …

Ephesians 1:18 (ESV) — 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

A young woman went to her pastor and said, "Pastor, I have a besetting sin, and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday and can't help thinking I'm the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I ought not think that, but I can't help it. I want you to help me with it."

The pastor replied, "Mary, don't worry about it. In your case it's not a sin. It's just a horrible mistake."

My great fear is my understanding of myself spiritually is just a horrible mistake.

I’ll tell you something else I see in Jesus’ condemnation that I see in the church today, and in me if I’m not careful.

They foolishly assumed their material possessions and comfortable situation were a sign of God’s blessing. 

I’ve told you this before, but I will never forget being at youth camp when I served with a megachurch. One of the adult counselors told a young boy from a very poor family that if he got right with God, he’d have nice hammocks and clothes like the others.

That’s the attitude of the church in the West, in America, I’m afraid. We assume because we have done so well that we must have God’s favor. We assume because we have the biggest and flashiest churches, we enjoy access to limitless discipleship resources, we have money to spend on countless ministries, we see thousands and thousands gather for Bible conferences and Christian events, that we must be doing something right. Surely God has his hand on us.

We’re the church in America and we’re kind of a big deal.

What does that say to our brothers and sisters in third world countries or places where they suffer horribly for their faith? Places where the gospel is transforming lives in ways we can’t even begin to understand, by the way?

Tim Keller, in a sermon on the lukewarm church at Laodicea observed…

When Christians come from the poor parts of the world where the church is growing like wildfire, and they come into our American churches, they’re usually too polite to say it, but if you press them, here are the things they’re going to tell you.

They’re appalled by our lukewarmness, and they know it’s directly linked to how comfortable and safe and brilliant and affluent we are. Here are the things that appall them. First, they’re appalled by the fact we hardly pray. We pray so little compared to them. Secondly, they’re appalled by how much of the money we make we spend on ourselves instead of giving away. Thirdly, they’re appalled by the fact we’re afraid to even let people at the office know we’re Christians, while they’re going to jail and being put to death by identifying with Jesus Christ.

… We are struggling with lukewarmness every bit as much as the Laodiceans. Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail said, “There was a time when the church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. […]

Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be … intimidated.” That’s zeal. “By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. […] But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before.

If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”

Christ exposed the Laodicean hypocrisy of trusting in earthly wealth, assuming it is a sign of God’s blessing, when in reality they were beggars.

What were the Laodiceans to do? How does a lukewarm church, or a person, stop making Christ sick?

Revelation 3:18 (ESV) — 18 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.

Christ counsels them to buy from Him…

Gold refined by fire to remedy their spiritual neediness

The NT speaks of genuine and vibrant faith in terms of gold refined in the fire of trials and temptations. Their faith was shallow, crude, and unrefined because they were trusting in the material and enjoying the comforts of the world.

Laodicea had wealth but they needed the riches of heaven found only through the testing of their faith. They needed the kind of wealth that is eternal and worth far more than anything this world can offer.

Philippians 4:19 (ESV) — 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

White garments to cover their spiritual nakedness

White garments represent not our righteousness but Christ’s and the good works he produces in and through us. When we come to know him he clothes us in his righteousness like a garment and then as we yield to him he leads us to do good things. It’s what is also known in the Bible as bearing fruit.

John 15:5 (ESV) — 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Laodicea had the much sought after garments made from black wool but they needed the white robes of righteousness found only through trusting Christ.

Eye salve to cure their spiritual blindness

2 Peter 1:5–9 (ESV) — 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

They had the famous eye salve but it couldn’t cure the spiritual eye condition they suffered from.

All that they needed, but didn’t realize they needed, was found in Jesus, the one who, as one commentator noted…

…describes himself as ‘the Amen’, the one who stays true to his word, ‘the faithful and true witness’, and, more remarkably, ‘the beginning of God’s creation’. This echoes Colossians 1:15–20 (in a letter which was designed to be forwarded to Laodicea, as Colossians 4:16 indicates): Jesus is the one through whom God’s world came to be, and also the one in whose resurrection the new creation has been launched. That cosmic plan puts the Laodicean lukewarmness into even more embarrassing perspective. Here is Jesus, the lord of the cosmos, and here are you, smug and self-satisfied but in fact poor, naked and blind!

Conclusion: Let me close with one more quote (it cuts like a knife too):

“Whatever interpretation we take of the book of Revelation, it is undeniable that the church of Laodicea presents a vivid picture of the age in which we live. Luxury-living abounds on every hand while souls are dying for want of the gospel. Christians are wearing crowns instead of bearing a cross. We become more emotionally stirred over sports, politics, or television than we do over Christ. There is little sense of spiritual need, little longing for true revival. We give the best of our lives to the business world, then turn over the remnants of a wasted career to the Savior. We cater to our bodies which in a few short years will return to dust. We accumulate instead of forsake, lay up treasures on earth instead of in heaven. The general attitude is, ‘Nothing too good for the people of God. If I don’t pamper myself, who will? Let’s get ahead in the world and give our spare evenings to the Lord.’ This is our condition on the eve of Christ’s Return.”

Next time we will see that even in the letter with the harshest rebuke, Jesus gives one of the greatest words of comfort ever directed at the church.

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