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 realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that 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)
Laodicea (near modern day Denizli, Turkey) is the last of the seven churches written to in Revelation. Laodicea lay approximately 100 miles (about 160 kilometres) east of Ephesus and was noted for its banking, trade in black wool and the cloth made from it. It also had a famous medical school. Laodicea had access to hot springs from which water was transported to the city in open aqueducts. Unfortunately by the time it reached the city the water was no longer hot, but lukewarm.
The lukewarm state of the church mirrors the water transported to Laodicea from the hot springs. Being lukewarm, the church is neither ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ spiritually. There must have been some signs of life, but not very strong. One commentator has said that to profess Christianity, but to be untouched by its fire is a disaster. The warning is very clear, yet hope is held out to the Laodiceans in verse 19 where they are encouraged to repent. We are told that the rebuke is being given to ‘those whom I love …’. Jesus does not give up on the church, but keeps calling it to repentance.
Unlike the church at Smyrna that was extremely poor in worldly terms, but rich spiritually and Philadelphia where the church was wealthy yet retained the strength of its witness, the church at Laodicea believed it was rich and needed nothing. Here was a church that was the antithesis of Smyrna and Philadelphia, Laodicea was rich and it placed its security in its wealth. Yet Jesus points out to the church something they did not realise, they were actually ‘… wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked’. Quite an indictment to a church that prided itself on its wealth and status.
The church is encouraged to buy gold refined in the fire so that they may become rich. You can almost hear the Laodiceans reaction to this statement, particularly as they were wealthy in worldly terms. However, the encouragement from Jesus is for the church to display spiritual wealth and not to depend upon worldly wealth.
The reference in verse 18 to ‘white clothes’ speaks of the purity and forgivenness of those who are in Christ and is in stark contrast to the black wool and cloth for which Laodicea was famous. The references to gold, white clothes and eye salve in verse 18 are probably a direct hint at the sources of Laodicea’s pride. They should not have been in any doubt why Jesus was unhappy with their witness. Jesus wants them to be spiritually rich, to be clothed in spiritual purity and to see spiritually.
Next comes a very famous verse (20) where the offer of salvation is very clear. Christ stands at the door and knocks (the verb used indicates persistent knocking). Jesus tells the church that if they hear and open the door, then he will come into fellowship with them. The offer is there awaiting their response. The offer is both to the individual and the church.
The reward given to the victorious in this instance is the ‘… right to sit with me on my throne …’, in other words to be with Christ forever.
Applying this final letter to Laodicea to the church today, firstly carries with it a very clear warning that we should not depend upon worldly wealth to give us our meaning in life.
Secondly, we should be looking for spiritual fire and fervour, avoiding being lukewarm in our witness and testimony for Christ.
Thirdly, what Jesus wants to see in the church is spiritual wealth, spiritual purity and spiritual sight. These are to be valued. Our churches should value these attributes above those that put trust in people’s material wealth.
Lastly, even when an individual or church appears to be lukewarm and far from Christ, the offer of repentance is still available to them. We should not give up on individuals or churches just because we think their witness is lukewarm. Don’t just pray for those churches where the fire is apparent, pray that the Spirit will fan the embers into flames in any church where the fire isn’t immediately apparent.
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