One of the most disturbing pictures “painted” on the pages of the New Testament is in Revelation 3:14-22. It is the Lord’s description of the church in Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Asia Minor. This group of people thought of themselves as being “rich, prosperous and in need of nothing.” According to one who was capable of accurately assessing their condition, they were really “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” He said to them…
“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.”
What a sad commentary on their spiritual condition! A whole church, self satisfied, believing themselves to be in good standing with the Lord. They didn’t have any doctrinal problems like the church in Pergamum or immorality and idolatry as in Thyatira. According to their estimate of themselves, they hadn’t left their first love as had the Ephesians. They were “faithful.”
Yet the Lord had nothing good to say about them! What was it about them that caused the Lord to criticize them so severely?
“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.” (Revelation 3:15-16).
They were lukewarm! What does that mean? Literally it means moderately hot, tepid, then figuratively, having or expressing little enthusiasm. It means that they were indifferent! Halfhearted! Complacent! Mediocre! Listless! Warmish! They had a “Who cares?” attitude! Their relationship with the Lord was something they were unenthusiastic about. They were, to put it another way, mediocre and satisfied with it.
Beyond their perception of it, they just didn’t care whether they fulfilled their responsibility or not. They probably were satisfied to do just enough to get by. Know any “Christians” like that today? What causes this kind of attitude? This lack of commitment?
With the Laodiceans it was what would be called today, worldliness. It is thought that their spiritual torpor correlated with their material circumstances. They lived in a prosperous region, they shared in the “good life” of health and wealth.
The Lord’s address to them is thought to have been based on several features of the city. This was a Roman city with the usual aqueduct to bring water into the city. Laodicea’s water supply was from a hot mineral spring some five miles south of the city. By the time the water flowed that distance it had cooled to a lukewarm temperature. It was neither cold nor hot. Cold water is good to drink and hot water is good for bathing and laundry, but tepid water is good for neither.
The city itself was located at the crossroads of several well traveled trade routes and would have profited from the amount of traffic going through. It became a rich banking center as well as profiting from manufacturing. It was especially known for the fine, soft, black wool from the sheep of its region. The city was also home to a medical school where a famous ophthalmologist practiced. It also was in the region of Phrygia where ingredients for an eye medication was found and manufactured in Laodicea. Thus the charge of poor, blind and naked were plays on the fame of their city and region which was known for banking, treating eye problems and for their black clothing from their wool industry.
According to current thinking this kind of city was ideal for planting the church. Look at all the rich and influential people we could convert! They could do so much good with their money! They are respectable! They are successful and influential! What good Christians they would make!
Now, everyone deserves a chance to hear the gospel – Laodicea included. But it is not the rich and powerful who make the best servants of Christ. They have too many distractions – too many other things claiming their time and attention – too much pride. They don’t have enough time for the really important, eternal things.
Today the causes of indifference may be different from Laodicea, but just as deadly. There is the cause of “inherited religion” where one is a nominal Christian because of family tradition. “Mama and Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa and all the aunts and uncles, cousins, in-laws and outlaws were “church members” and so am I. I wouldn’t be true to their memory if I weren’t just what they were.” This is religion without faith. All it is is empty, hollow form. There is no commitment to Christ. There is no conviction regarding personal responsibility. Just so it looks good is all that matters.
There are many who are lukewarm because they are “members of the true church.” These have been sold the idea that what makes one a true Christian is being identified with a “sound” church and they are trusting in that connection to save them. While there is much to be said for being part of a group that believes and strives to be just what Lord wants them to be, there is more involved than just “membership” in a good congregation. If one’s religion is not based on faith in Jesus as the Son of God, it is all for nothing. If there is no personal involvement, no sharing of the work, no loving, caring, sacrificial commitment to the Lord and to the brethren, one might as well be sitting in a garage as in a church building – to rework the old trite but true saying.
One who is truly a Christian knows he cannot afford to give anything less than his best to the Lord. He gave his all for us – he deserves nothing but the best from us. A genuine Christian will strive to excel in all his service for the Lord and for his brethren.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24).
Should we not hold ourselves to even higher standards in the Lord’s work than in our own affairs? What we do for ourselves will only last for as long as we live, but what we do in the Lord’s service is eternal. What we do for ourselves may receive the praise of men, what we do for the Lord is done for the glory of the ruler of the universe. Surely we would want to do our very best for him!
We should know also that we will reap according to what we sow. If we expect to reap the blessing (praise) of the Lord in the day of judgment then we should do praiseworthy work. If our service is mediocre, will he praise us?
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
No, being just good enough just isn’t good enough!