Several years ago when I was in Grand Rapids, I stopped in to visit my sister-in-law who was at the time the secretary in a local Christian School. As we were visiting, a teacher came in with a young student and explained that the young boy was complaining of a sore throat and ear-ache. After some appropriately sympathetic words, the teacher suggested that my sister-in-law take the boy’s temperature and then they exchanged a knowing look. That look made me suspect that he was one who liked to get out of school by being sick. However, taking the boy’s temperature would help her determine if he was really sick or not.
In this final letter to the seven churches, Christ is taking the temperature of the church in Laodicea and we find out that this church is indeed sick. Moreover, the church in Laodicea needs to take drastic action if they want to be well again. This morning, we will be looking at our own church’s temperature. Let’s read Revelation 3:14-22.
I. First, let’s look at the church at Laodicea.
Like the city, the members of the church apparently were wealthy, proud and secure. They were facing no threats of persecution or heresy. Things were going great as far as the Christians in Laodicea were concerned. In some respects, this sounds a good bit like our city of Nashville. Our city is a financial and insurance center and has a prominent medical school. Our city is very prosperous economically and things are very secure. However, this church hears the most disturbing words of all the churches.
Notice again, as Christ speaks to this church, how he refers to himself. Christ calls himself the “Amen.” The term “Amen” affirms something as being true and faithful. Christ is also a true witness as opposed to the Christians in Laodicea. Moreover, Christ is the ruler of God’s creation and the creator himself. He is the source of all creation and so has all authority over it.
The people have become very comfortable and were thinking that they were in control of their lives, but in fact their own personal comfort has taken control of them. Someone once wrote: “The lust for comfort [is] that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, then becomes a host, and then a master.” Christ reminds the people there that he is their Lord and they had better listen and obey instead of following their own desire to be comfortable.
II. You see, the problem at Laodicea was that of being lukewarm.
Lukewarm water was something the people of Laodicea would be familiar with. About six miles north of Laodicea was the city of “Hierapolis.” This city had hot springs which were very famous in that day. It was said that people could be healed by bathing in these springs. As these springs flowed toward Laodicea, they would obviously cool down. In fact, just as they reached Laodicea, the water was just lukewarm. Lukewarm water doesn’t heal and is not a refreshing drink. Christ picks up this idea and applies it to the Laodicean Christians.
And so in verse 16 Christ says very graphically that he will spit, or literally violently vomit them out of his mouth because they are so disgusting. Christ wishes that they would either be decidedly for him or against him.
The Christians at Laodicea, however, thought everything was just fine and assumed that God was blessing them with all their prosperity. In verse 17, however, Christ counters the things that they were so proud of in their city. They are proud of their wealth; Jesus says that they are really poor and wretched. They were proud of their eye salve that brought healing to the eyes; Christ says that they are really blind. They were proud of their clothes; Christ says they are in fact naked. They thought that they had it all; Christ says they have nothing at all. The result is that they are about to be spit out of Christ’s mouth.
III. And so in verses 18-22 Christ gives his counsel to this lukewarm church.
The counsel as well is based on the areas of pride for the people in Laodicea. Since they are in reality poverty stricken, they must buy gold from Christ. They must see that true spiritual wealth can come only from Christ. This gold is that which is refined in the fire; that is, it has been tested and found to be true and really valuable.
Second, they must buy their clothes from Christ to cover their nakedness. Christ has white clothes that they can wear to cover their sinful selves. These are the clothes of Christ’s righteousness obtained only through Christ’s suffering and death and the righteousness that comes as a result.
Third, they must buy salve from Christ to put on their eyes. They need to have the spiritual sight from Christ to see how critical their condition really was.
This means, however, that they must repent of their own self-sufficiency and pride. They must turn around and follow Christ with whole-hearted commitment. For Christ is standing at the door and he is knocking. Whoever hears him must open their hearts to him. Here is an earnest appeal for all in Laodicea to turn their life over fully to Christ.
Verses 20-21 spell out what the rewards are for such faithful obedience. Jesus says that they will eat with him; have beautiful fellowship with him. This will be far more than the material things that they are so attached to now. This will be a close fellowship that will carry them through life now and into an eternal close fellowship with Christ. The ones who remain faithful will sit with Christ on his throne. The one who is faithful will be right with God in heaven and rule with God.
If they listen to the voice of the Spirit to the churches, they can expect these things. If not, they will fade into oblivion enjoying the things of the present but going into an eternity of complete separation from God. It is now up to the church to decide what it will do.
IV. Now let’s ask ourselves: “How hot is our church?”
Let’s ask ourselves some very pertinent questions as we listen to the Spirit speaking. What are our sources of pride? Are we proud of our heritage, our social standing or careers? Are we proud of our church and facilities and our building? Such things may be okay but cannot be the final basis on which to place our lives.
Are we offering healing to others or mostly concerned about ourselves? Do we care about the poor in our community? Are we helping those in our community as they struggle through the pain of family breakdown?
Are we presenting the gospel in such a way that people find it refreshing? Or do our actions and attitudes reflect that the gospel of Jesus Christ is pretty boring and bland and merely head knowledge? Do we offer the refreshing living water of Christ and eternal life to others? We are not a Laodicea, but maybe we are more similar than what we care to admit.
What can we do? Is there a cure for being potentially lukewarm? Let’s repent of any feelings of pride and selfishness. Let’s confess that we are not all that Christ wants us to be. Let’s rededicate ourselves to loving the Lord and serving Christ in this world. Now I know that some are burned out and tired out by doing this work. Some have been working hard for a long time and you need to rest. But realize that while there may be a time to regroup and to be renewed, that cannot be a permanent condition in our lives.
Eisenhower continues, “Apathy is sort of like sleeping through an ant attack. Waking up means to recognize that although foxes have safe places to hide, the Son of Man doesn’t, and his followers don’t either. This world is fundamentally opposed to me, and wants to attack me when I am least prepared for it. No wonder some of us would rather stay asleep.” However, we cannot stay asleep; we cannot stay lukewarm or we will be spit out.
There is one theme that repeats throughout these letters: faithfulness! We must remain faithful and persevere regardless of our circumstances. If you are going to be a true church, you must be a faithful church. That demands sacrifice and willingness to be on fire for the Lord. But we can be so immersed in ourselves that we don’t hear Jesus knocking. We are afraid to be on fire for Christ because it may disturb our comfort! I pray that the Spirit will make our fire for the Lord burn brightly as we serve him.