The moment a Christian group starts thinking it has everything.
If you fly a lot, you’ve sat through plenty of flight attendant safety spiels–probably so many you could stand up in the aisle and give one yourself. Yet even if you could stumble through the presentation, it would be another thing to actually carry out those instructions in a real on-board emergency. You’d find that a situation of fear and noise and smoke and yelling make simple instructions not so simple anymore. You may have heard them, but that doesn’t mean you got them.
And how many hundreds of times have we Christians heard the gospel in all sorts of ways, until we begin thinking, I know this. No need to listen anymore. Then a troubling situation arises and we discover how little we own the things we’ve been hearing.
That was the problem with the church in Laodicea. The Christians there were so full they felt no need to receive any further.
But the churches are lampstands. They’re supposed to shine and show the world that the riches of Christ are worth seeking with one’s whole life.
As in the letters to the other six churches, this one starts off with Christ being exactly what was needed. Verse 14 says, “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.” Jesus Himself is called the Amen. Amen means yes, so be it, or in our own colloquial language, bring it on. Because the church had become indifferent, it didn’t say those things anymore. It had stopped anticipating and receiving the joys of Christ. They needed the “amen” restored to their heart.
Christ is also the faithful and true witness, which means when you look at Him, you see God. When you look at how He went to the cross, you understand what God feels about sin. When you see how He died for us, you understand how God feels for us. But when you looked at this church you didn’t see much of God. You couldn’t see sorrow over sin, nor could you see joy over salvation. You just saw flat religious pride. They needed the True Witness among them.
Finally, Christ presented Himself to them was as the beginning of God’s creation. He began the process of all creation: “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). He is the source of everything. But the pride of the church was so great it had slipped into thinking, We’ve always known this/had this/realized these things. They needed an re-introduction to Christ as their true source.
The Lord’s work with this church was like coaxing a child to eat, complete with airplane noises and pretending the spoonful of strained beets is a Cessna–whatever it took to get them to open their mouths and receive afresh.
And whatever it takes in our lives.
The Lord will do anything to restore an amen to your heart, to and revive spiritual seeking again. During peacetime when there are no bumps, faith often degrades. But let a problem occur, and we’re once again on our knees, drilling down into a fresh reserve of grace and looking for something we don’t have.
This is exactly what the Lord was trying to do with Laodicea.
He said, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (vv. 15-16).
Any reader living in Laodicea would have immediately recognized what Jesus was talking about. Though the physical city was extremely wealthy, it had no native water source. Laodicea had to pipe water in from other places like Colossae, where refreshing cold water came from mountain snowpack. Water could also come from Hierapolis, another nearby town with natural hot springs. Regardless, it had to travel via aqueduct, and when it reached the city limits, flowed through a further network of terra cotta pipes.
By the time it reached the individual, the water was neither a cold drink nor a hot one. It had settled to room temp, as unpleasant to the palate as lukewarm coffee is to us today. Think of it. We either enjoy our coffee iced or steaming hot. If you accidentally drink something in between, you’ll have an immediate gag reflex. That was exactly the Lord’s reaction to Laodicean faith. He wanted to spit it out, because lukewarm is disgusting.
But what exactly is “lukewarm?” He defines it in verse 17: “you say I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing and don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Lukewarm means being delusional about one’s spiritual condition–oblivious about personal destitution, while grossly overestimating personal victory.
Verse 18 provides the corrective: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire.” Naturally, Jesus still speaks here in spiritual metaphor. “Buy” refers to a serious investment of time and energy, “gold” is compared to faith (1 Peter 1:7), and refining fire represents trials and suffering. In other words, the Laodiceans needed to buy from Christ a faith so valuable it was worth suffering for. Jesus also said to buy from him “white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen.” Revelation chapter 19 says this garment is a composition of the righteous deeds of the believers (v. 8), that is, the good works Jesus commands. Without these acts, the Laodicean believers would be shameful do-nothings, big talkers who showed little or no obedience to Christ. Finally, Jesus said to buy from him “salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” The action of anointing always corresponds to the Holy Spirit. These believers needed to pursue Christ until they were filled with the Spirit again and again, and could see His glory.
Such corrective statements would have stung the proud Christians of Laodicea who assumed they already had golden faith, sparkling raiment, and spiritual eyes like eagles.
Although the Lord’s tone in these verses are the toughest of all the seven churches, it didn’t come from animosity. Verse 19 says, “Those whom I love I reprove [reprimand], and I discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” He had been trying to have a relationship with them through a closed door, like a parent trying to speak to a stubborn child who has barricaded herself within a bedroom.
He promised, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him and he with me.” This was not an admonition to the heathen who needed to open their hearts to the Savior, but to the saved who needed to open further to the Lord. He was calling them unto revival, feasting, a deeper enjoyment of fellowship.
These were the challenges of helping “full” people. Maybe you know how hard this can be, especially if you’ve ever tried to minister to another person who thought they already had it all. Maybe they grew up in church, and even while you’re trying to offer them something they really need, they’re finishing your sentence for you. They already know what you’re going to say, and they already know the verses you have for them.
During my tenure in another church, a young man joined our campus fellowship. He had a significant background in Christianity, but the more he talked, the more it sounded as though none of it belonged to him. He seemed to parrot whatever the grown-ups had been saying around him all his life. This meant he hadn’t bought much of it, but tried to make up his deficit by dropping names and using religious terminology.
One day I was with him at lunch when he started pontificating on theology. We were alone, and I took the opportunity to nicely challenge him. “Of course I conceptually agree with what you’re saying,” I told him, “But could you share with me what difference any of this has made in your life?” His vacant look told me the question hadn’t computed. When he recovered and tried to answer me with more teaching, I clarified that I wasn’t looking for a dog-eared lesson on God’s eternal purpose. I wanted to hear how he had personally “bought” these things from the Lord through suffering, obedience, and the filling of the Spirit.
After hem-hawing around, he finally admitted that maybe he didn’t have as much as he thought he did. I wasn’t trying to be mean (In fact I had kept the fellowship light and pleasant), but hoped this would be a critical first step in the young man’s adult life of discipleship.
We often meet these hurdles in the Bible belt, where folks have been saturated with borrowed religious convictions. At first they’re easy to work with because we have Jesus-speak in common. But down the road, where serious discipleship issues arise, so does stiffened resistance.
The Lord lays out where a life goes that overcomes this problem: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches” (vv, 21-22). Perhaps a share of kingdom authority with Christ is the greatest reward offered to anyone. It is appropriate because spiritual pride is so difficult to overcome. Nor can anyone maintain an illusion of spiritual riches and authority for long.
Some time ago a pilot made rounds on the lecture circuit, speaking at aviation clubs. He became popular for his personal anecdotes related to flying fighter planes, and even the space shuttle. But eventually little mistakes began to creep into his presentations, caught by actual pilots sitting in the room who had logged thousands of hours in the air. When the truth came out, the man was exposed as an imposter who had never flown anything in his life. All of his flight knowledge had come from the Encyclopedia Britannica, and airplane movies. It was borrowed experience, with none of it acquired through a personal price.
Always make sure you’re a buyer, not a borrower. If you want to know where you stand, administer to yourself the triple test of Laodicea.
- Am I willing to suffer inconvenience for the faith? Do I jump ship at the first sign of discomfort, or Do I go deep because I desire a valuable faith? (Gold).
- Am I willing to do what the Bible says? Do I start equivocating when the Bible says something I don’t like, or Do I seek grace that enables a daily obedience to the word? (Garment).
- Am I seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Do I habitually engage in Christian parroting, or Do I present myself to Christ for His filling, so I can see His glory?
If your answer to these is mostly yes, please keep doing what you’re doing.
If not, then open to Him. He’s right on the other side of that door.