Friday, May 23, 2014

Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church

In the second and third chapters of Revelation are letters from Jesus to seven of the first century churches in what is today Turkey. While I believe these letters were addressed to real churches of that day, I also believe they have great application to our churches today. The last of these was to the church of Laodicea.
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  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.  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.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.  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 that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Revelation 3:14-22 NIV
Of the seven churches addressed in these two chapters, two of them are commended without reservation while four of them have issues that need to be addressed, although Jesus does have some positive things to say about them.  But when we come to the seventh church, Laodicea, we find one with no redeeming virtue.  How sad that Jesus would look at a church and see nothing of any value to him.

It seems that Jesus had two complaints against Laodicea.  The first is that in their deeds they were neither hot nor cold.  If they had been cold, then he might have been able to convict them of their need to repent.  To be hot, on fire for Him, would be to be in a good place.  But they were neither; they were lukewarm.  What does it mean to be lukewarm, neither hot nor cold?  It is hard to define cold, hot and lukewarm churches with any level of precision, but ...

  • A cold church is one that has lost its connection with its head, with Jesus.  There is no thought given as to what he might want them to be doing.  Tradition is all that keeps them going.  Their meetings are likely pretty formal and sterile.
  • A hot church is one that has a vital connection with their head.  Whenever they meet together, Jesus is a part of all they do.  They are in love with him.  It is likely that there is a lot of spontaneity and excitement in their time together. 
  • The lukewarm church talks about Jesus, but seldom encounters him.  They sing about Jesus, but mostly because they like the songs.  They will be friendly and inviting, but are not particularly interested in change, even though growth requires change.  They are generally happy with where they are and who they are.  Even if there is a sense that all is not as it should be, the problem will likely be blamed on the pastor, worship leader, or some other responsible person.
The lukewarm church is doing little more than playing a game.  They are just another social organization, but one that meets in a church building and whose activities satisfy their need to acknowledge God.  They are satisfied with who they are.  But they leave such a bad taste in Jesus mouth that he is tempted to spit them out.

The second issue was that this church thought they were well off, when in reality they were spiritually bankrupt.  While they talked with pride about their fancy building and state of the art sound system, Jesus looked at the emptiness of their hearts and advised them to come to him for true riches and for healing.

Jesus does have one comforting thing to say to them though.  That he rebukes those he loves indicates that he loves even this church.  It was not to late for them to repent and to return to him.  He is standing at the front door knocking.  If they will open the door, he will come in and have fellowship with them.

Too many of our churches today are dangerously close to being lukewarm, if not already there.  Jesus is trying to get in to rekindle a passion within them.  Will we respond and let him in?  Or will we ignore his knock and find ourselves spewed out of his mouth.

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