************ Sermon on Revelation 3:14-22 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 16, 1999
"Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church"
Laodicea. The city lies at the junction of two important valleys and at the intersection of three busy trade routes. Because of this location Laodicea was one of the richest commercial centers of the ancient world. She was a prominent center of banking and commerce, the ancient world's equivalent of New York, Toronto, or London. Laodicea was so wealthy that when, in A.D. 60, a large earthquake destroyed many cities in the region, she was the only city that did not need money from the imperial treasury of Rome to finance the rebuilding.
Laodicea. The city was known for the soft, glossy black wool her sheep herders produced through careful breeding and good grazing.
Laodicea. Located in the city was a world-renowned medical school which discovered a miracle eye-salve.
Laodicea. Her major weakness as a city was the lack of a locally adequate and convenient water supply. Her water was transported from hot-springs six miles to the south through a system of stone pipes. This water arrived at the city lukewarm. By way of contrast, just a few miles to the north laid the sister city of Hierapolis – above this city was a constant cloud of vapor caused by steam rising from her bubbling hot springs; and to the east was the city of Colosse with her snow-capped mountains and clear, cold streams of water coming from the snow melt-off. But Laodicea's water was neither cold nor hot; rather, it was lukewarm.
Laodicea. As we examine the letter to the church in that city we will see what bearing the characteristics of the city – her wealth, her black wool, her miracle eye-salve, her lukewarm water – have on the church.
The One Who writes to the angel of the church in Laodicea identifies Himself as the "Amen" (vs 14). That little word "Amen" means "This is sure to be." Applied to Christ, "Amen" means He is the faithful One, the reliable and trustworthy One, the One Who can be trusted to keep His covenant with His people. He is also called "the faithful and true witness." This means His words are truthful and reliable, that He communicates truth. He is also called "the ruler of God's creation." This reminds us that Christ is the King and Ruler and Lord – not only of the church but of all that God has made.
I A Lukewarm Church
A The "Amen" says, "I know your deeds" (vs 15). This is now the fifth time we hear these words in the seven letters. We ought to see a pattern developing. To know what a church is really like, to see what is in her heart, to take her pulse, Christ looks at her deeds or works. He did this with Ephesus, Thyatira (pronounced th a t ra), Sardis, Philadelphia, and now with Laodicea too. We know that He also does this with us! This is not to deny or downplay the importance of grace and faith. But what Christ is interested in is faith that comes to expression in works. Christ wants to see salvation that is being worked out. He wants to see faith displayed.
B Christ is not at all impressed with Laodicea as He looks at her deeds. What does her deeds or works show? The works of the church are not even described. But whatever the works were, they showed Christ the true nature of this church: "that you are neither cold nor hot" (vs 15). Notice, Christ does not condemn the church of Laodicea for heresy or false teaching or immoral behavior. But He does condemn her for being neither cold nor hot.
In their spiritual life the Laodicean Christians were neither cold nor hot. The church was not cold or hostile to the Gospel; she did not reject the faith. But neither was the church hot and enthused about the Gospel; she was not excited and on fire about the faith. She was simply indifferent to the Gospel. Yes, the members of that church claimed to be Christian, yet it made no difference in what they did or how they lived. The church of Laodicea was like the water of Laodicea – neither cold nor hot but lukewarm.
What a contrast there is between Laodicea and the two closest churches, Sardis and Philadelphia. Sardis, if you remember, was a dead church and Philadelphia, with her open door to heaven, was alive and active. Laodicea, was like neither of these sister churches; she was neither dead nor alive; she was lukewarm.
C When it came to God, the Gospel, and the Christian faith, the church of Laodicea was lukewarm. And nothing is worse than lukewarm. A meal that is neither hot nor cold leaves something to be desired. Or, think of a glass of lukewarm water. Has this ever happened to you: you are hot, sweaty, and thirsty; you take a deep swallow of what you think is ice-cold water; instead you end up with a mouthful of lukewarm water? When that happens to me, I spit it out.
Christ warns Laodicea that He will do the same thing to her:
(Rev 3:15) You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither cold nor hot--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.This seems a little startling, to say the least. Christ is saying He prefers rejection of the faith to the kind of faith the Laodiceans have. Christ is saying He wants total commitment or no commitment at all. You see, featureless lukewarmness is worse, and more difficult to overcome, than complete alienation from or hostility to Christ. Ask any missionary or minister: it is easier to get a heathen to change his or her whole life overnight than to get a lukewarm, indifferent Christian to make even a minor change in life. Hostility is always easier to overcome than lethargy.
So Christ warns the church, "I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (vs 16). Christ doesn't say this because He hates the church of Laodicea. Rather, He says this because he cares for and loves the church. "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline," He says (vs 19). Parents who love their children, rebuke and discipline them when they do wrong. Not only that, but those parents also point their children in the right direction. Out of love and concern Christ does that for the church of Laodicea. He rebukes her and then He points her in the right direction: "be earnest," He says, "and repent" (vs 19). "Repent of your spiritual apathy, be excited about your faith, be committed to your Lord."
D What does Christ say when He looks at our deeds? Does He admonish or praise us? Our deeds, our works, do they show us to be lukewarm in our faith or do they show us to be on fire for the Lord and the things of the Lord? Our deeds, our works, do they show us to be indifferent and uncommitted or do they show us to be excited and enthusiastic in our faith life?
One of the worst things that can happen to us, congregation, is that we get so used to the treasures of salvation that they no longer mean anything to us; that they no longer get us all excited, enthusiastic, and fired up. That's a real danger isn't it?! With two worship services and adult education on Sunday, Bible studies during the week, family and personal devotions every day, and all sorts of church and kingdom activities it is too easy for adults to become matter-of-fact about their faith. And it is even worse for our children and youth: two worship services and Church School on Sunday, Young Peoples or GEMS or Cadets on Wednesdays, family and personal devotions, and if they are at CVC they get religion in every class and at chapels. I pray that we will all see this as a blessing instead of as curse. I pray that we will all get excited and stay excited about our faith. I pray that Christ will never say to any of us what He said to Laodicea:
(Rev 3:15) You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither cold nor hot--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
II Lukewarm Because Self-Reliant
A The Greek language makes it clear that the Laodicean church had not always been lukewarm. There was a time when she had been full of zeal and love for the Gospel.
What happened? What caused this church to become so lukewarm in her faith?
We find the answer in verse 17: "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.'" As mentioned earlier, the city of Laodicea was affluent, rich, and prosperous – so wealthy that she needed no financial assistance from Rome in rebuilding after an earthquake. We know from verse 17 that many of the church members also enjoyed prosperity. This was a wealthy church in a wealthy town.
Jesus lets us know that this wealth exercised a deadly influence on the spiritual life of the Laodicean church. The church members of Laodicea, like the citizens of the city, were far too secure in their possessions and wealth. They felt self-reliant. They did not depend on anyone else. The church did not even feel dependent upon God. She did not look to the Lord for food, clothing, and shelter; she forgot that God alone is the source of everything good and necessary for life. The church of Laodicea had become part of the world: she adopted the self-reliance of the world and the materialism of the world. She was an affluent church in an affluent society.
B To make matters worse, this church equated material prosperity with spiritual prosperity. She thought material wealth indicated spiritual wealth. So she became self-assured and self-reliant in the spiritual realm also.
We too are wealthy in material goods. And, it is so easy for us too to think material wealth indicates spiritual wealth. The danger exists, given our prosperity, that we, like Laodicea, become self-assured and self-reliant in spiritual matters.
Do you know what this attitude of self-reliance and self-assurance does to one's spiritual life? Prayers for food and clothing are no longer heart-felt and sincere – after all, why look to God when one merely has to look to one's self for these things. Salvation by grace through faith falls by the wayside when one can earn spiritual wealth. The worship of God is replaced by a glorying in one's self and one's abilities. An attitude of self-reliance and self-assurance cannot help but make one lukewarm in the faith.
Christ had to reveal to this church the truth of her spiritual condition. He said to her,
(Rev 3:17) You say, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.Christ is speaking of her spiritual condition. The church of Laodicea, says Christ, is a poor church. She is like a blind beggar, destitute, and clad in rags.
Remember the church of Smyrna? She may have been materially poor but she was spiritually rich. Laodicea, on the other hand, may have been materially rich but she was spiritually poor. Smyrna was rich in the love, knowledge, wisdom, and insight of God; she was richly filled with the Word and Spirit of God; she richly experienced God's grace and mercy. But in all these areas the church of Laodicea was poor.
To the world, Laodicea was the rich church and Smyrna the poor church. But in God's eyes Smyrna was the rich church and Laodicea the poor church.
C As you have probably realized, there are two radically different standards of poverty. There is the standard of the government which says poverty for a family of four is an income of less than twelve to fourteen thousand dollars per year. And there is the standard of God which says poverty is a lack of commitment; poverty is being lukewarm in the faith; poverty is not abounding in the love, knowledge, wisdom, and insight of God.
How do you measure poverty? Which standard is yours? In the eyes of God, are you rich or are you poor? Are you, are we, poor and lukewarm in the faith? Or are we rich and excited in the faith?
III Cure For Lukewarmness
A How can Laodicea become excited about and committed in her faith again? Very simple, really. She has to learn to depend upon the Lord. She has to realize that all things come only from His Fatherly hand. She has to realize that only by a whole-hearted reliance upon the Lord can she regain her spiritual fervor.
Remember, the city of Laodicea prided herself on three things: her wealth, her famous black-wool textile industry, and her popular eye-salve. Likewise, the church of Laodicea prided herself on her spiritual wealth, her cloak of righteous deeds, and her spiritual insight. Yet, it is precisely in those areas that the church is deficient. Jesus says, "you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (vs 17).
So Jesus advises the church to come to Him for those things she, with her self-reliant and self-assured attitude, did not think she needed:
(Rev 3:18) I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
B First, Jesus exhorts the church to secure for herself true riches – riches which we know can never be destroyed by moth and rust or stolen by thieves (cf Mt 6:19ff; Is 55:1; Mt 13:44f); He urges the church to seek the blessings of the kingdom of God, of faith, of salvation. These riches of the kingdom are available only in and through Christ.
Second, Jesus summons the church to cover her nakedness with white garments – garments of purity and righteousness. These garments are obtained only by being washed and cleansed in the blood of the Lamb.
Third, Jesus orders the church to use His eye-salve – His Word and His Spirit – so they can see. The Word and Spirit of Christ are the only cure for spiritual blindness.
Notice, the church has to come to Jesus. She has to stop relying on herself and instead rely on Jesus for spiritual riches, righteousness, and insight. Stop thinking it is up to you. Start thinking of how much you need the Lord and praise Him and thank Him every day for His grace and mercy. That's the cure for being lukewarm.
C What is true for Laodicea is true for every church and any believer. It is only by coming to Jesus, by realizing how much you depend and rely upon Him, that any lukewarmness on our part can be overcome.
Do you find yourself lukewarm in the faith? Do you find you are not excited at all about the Gospel? Does talk of grace and salvation no longer reach a responsive chord within you? Do you yearn for the good old days when your faith was so real and meaningful, when your walk and talk with the Lord meant so much more to you? The only cure, as with Laodicea, is to come to the Lord. Actually, it is not really a case of us coming to the Lord but of Him coming to us. All that we have to do is to see and hear that the Lord is there and that we need Him. Jesus says,
(Rev 3:20) Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Is Christ knocking at your door? He is, you know, if you are uncommitted, lukewarm, complacent about your faith. Is Christ knocking at your door? He wants you, He wants me, He wants all of us to be absolutely committed to Him. He wants us all to be earnest and zealous in the faith. Is Christ knocking at your door? To regain the blessedness you once knew, open the door and let Christ in. Then, and only then, will you find prayer to be meaningful. Then, and only then, will the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith become real to you. Then, and only then, will you glory in God rather than in yourself. Then and only then will the faith become real to you.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
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