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AM Bible Study Archives
"Lukewarm in Laodicea"
Wednesday AM Bible Study
April 1, 2009
Theme: This letter warns the church of the dangers of becoming indifferent to its Master.
When we come to Jesus’ last letter to the seven churches, we find Him frustrated. He comes to His church wishing it was either hot or cold; but instead, finds it so lukewarm that it made Him want to throw up. And yet, the lukewarmness of the church had lulled its people into a blind, sleepy, self-deceiving complacency and comfort. The church thought everything was fine—but Jesus wanted to spit it out of His mouth in disgust.
I. BACKGROUND ON THE CHURCH IN LAODICEA.
A. Because it was a commercial center, this ancient city had developed a prosperous banking industry. As a result, it was very wealthy. A major earthquake occurred in the year 60 A.D. that devastated it. But whereas other cities would have depended on the Roman government to provide the financial support for the rebuilding project, Laodicea was able to rebuild itself without any government subsidies whatsoever. It was also known for having quality grazing land that allowed for careful breeding of sheep. As a result, an industry developed in Laodicea around the production of garments woven from its unique, soft, glossy black wool. This wool was in high demand around the region; and made Laodicea famous for its garments. It also had a name for being a substantial medical city. One of its most famous medical products was a salve made from Phrygian powder mixed with certain oils. This salve became an important healing product—specifically for eyes. In spite of these things, it had one major disadvantage. Water had to be brought into the city from nearly six miles away through a system of underground stone pipes. The water may have been cool and refreshing at its source; but by the time it had reached the city, it was lukewarm and stale. The local folks used to enjoy watching visitors taste it for the first time—and spit it out in disgust.
B. As far as the people in the church were concerned, everything was fine—living in Laodicea. The city's name meant "The Rights of the People"; and the Christians who lived there were rich and had made themselves wealthy; and so, they thought they didn’t need anything. But they were dreadfully wrong. They had grown indifferent to Jesus— and left their Lord standing outside the door knocking to be let in.
II. THE LORD'S INTRODUCTION TO THE INDFFERENT CHURCH (V. 14).
A. He introduces Himself as "the Amen". The word is usually used as an affirmation of the truth of something—that it’s something firm, stable and credible. Jesus is, to His church, the embodiment of “amen” (see 2 Cor. 1:20).
B. He also introduces Himself as "the Faithful and True Witness". The church may have been deceived about its true condition; and as a result, it was bearing a false witness to the world. But Jesus bears a witness to the world of His Father that is characterized by faithfulness and truth.
C. He introduces Himself as "the Beginning of the creation of God". This isn’t saying that Jesus was a created being, as though He were the very first of all of God’s creation. Here, the word translated "beginning" describes Him as the Originator and Source of all of God’s creation. Sometimes, the same word is translated “ruler” (see Colossians 1:15-18).
III. THE LORD'S DIAGNOSIS OF INDIFFERENCE (vv. 15-16).
A. He says, “I know your works . . .” The church may be mistaken about its true condition; but He isn’t.
B. What He knows about the church—that the church apparently doesn't realize—is "that you are neither cold nor hot”—that is, neither fervent for Him nor in open opposition to Him; neither zealous witnesses to for Him nor violent persecutors of Him; neither His sacrificial servants nor His spiteful adversaries; neither His faithful followers nor His bitter enemies. They’re somewhere in the middle.
C. Jesus makes an amazing statement: “I could wish you were cold or hot.” He actually says that He’d prefer anything over a lukewarm Christian—even someone cold to Him! Jesus can direct someone who’s “hot”, and can convert someone who’s “cold".
D. Because they are neither, He says “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” In the original language of Jesus’ words, He qualifies this statement with a word that means “about to”; and it’s best translated, “I am about to vomit you out of My mouth.” He hadn’t done so yet; but He was on the verge of doing so. This indicates a warning of the imminence of His judgment. He has a close relationship with this church now; but because it’s indifferent, complacent and tepid, He is threatening to vomit it out. But this also indicates His mercy, even in judgment. He is only “about” to vomit it out; suggesting that there’s still time for it to repent of its lukewarm condition.
IV. THE LORD'S DESCRIPTION OF THE CAUSE (v. 17).
A. They were confident about things as they were. Notice what they were saying about themselves:
1. “I am rich.” It may be that they were speaking in terms of their own sense of spiritual strength and maturity; or it may be that they were literally “rich” in a material sense.
2. This sense of being “rich” takes on an even more insidious tone in the next phrase; “I have become wealthy.” In the Greek, this is phrased in such a way as to suggest the idea, “I have arrived to the state of being wealthy through my own efforts.” It’s a deeply ‘self-reliant’ kind of statement, utterly lacking in humility.
3. This independent spirit reaches its worst form when we read the next phrase; “and have need of nothing”—no repentance was needed, no grieving over sin was needed, no pardoning grace from Jesus was needed.
B. These self-assured people didn’t know the truth; that they—in reality—were . . .
1. “Wretched”. This is a word that describes someone who is desperately unfortunate and helpless, and in grave need of someone else to come and rescue him. It’s found in only one other place in the New Testament: in Romans 7:24, where Paul says, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
2. “Miserable.” This word describes someone who is an object of pity. “Pitiful” might be a way of translating this word. It, too, is used in only one other place in the New Testament; in 1 Cor. 15:19, where Paul says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”
3. “Poor.” This word describes extreme poverty. Jesus used this word in reference to the church in Smyrna (see Revelation 3:9). But here, Jesus tells the Laodicean church the opposite of what He told Smyrna—"I know all about your so-called ‘riches’; but you are really in extreme poverty and don’t even have a clue!”
4. “Blind.” Blindness is often presented in the Bible as a figure of speech for an absence of spiritual insight (see 2 Peter 1:5-9).
5. “Naked.” Jesus warned, in Revelation 16:15; “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” As far as the Laodiceans were concerned, they thought that they were walking about in robes of wealth and prosperity — in need of nothing; but Jesus tells them that, as far as He’s concerned, they’re walking about in shameful nakedness—and didn’t even know it!
C. Without question, this church started off “hot”. Paul apparently wrote a letter to the church in Laodicea, because he told the Colossian believers, “Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Col. 4:16; and some scholars believe that what we call "Ephesians" is in reality this letter to the Laodiceans). Yet, over time, this church began to cool in its fervency. It didn’t become “cold”; that is, it didn’t deny Jesus altogether. But it became so comfortable with where it was that it began to be blind to its need. It ceased to be fervent; and the way its fervency was compromised was by its deluded self-confidence apart from Christ.
V. THE LORD ADVISES THE CURE (v. 18-19).
A. He counsels them to buy riches from Him. The riches of Jesus’ grace are always free for the asking (see Isaiah 55:1-2; Revelation 22:17). But here, Jesus is saying something with a bit of sarcasm to it: “You who are ‘so rich’; I advise you to buy some things from Me.”
1. “Gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich . . .” Such refined gold is an illustration of the godly product of times of trial (see 1 Pet. 1:6-7; Matthew 5:11-12).
2. “And white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed . . .” White robes have a special significance in the Scriptures. They symbolize the righteousness of Jesus applied to the believer (see Rev. 3:4-5; 7:14; 16:15). He counsels these believers to put on once again His righteousness and living in a consistent pattern of personal holiness.
3. “And anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” There’s no blindness more terrible than blindness to someone’s own real condition before God. They needed to see things as Jesus saw them.
B. He also advises zealous repentance (v. 19). He says, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” He uses the word for strong affection and a kindly and sympathetic attitude. Similarly, Jesus isn’t only saying that He loved these lukewarm Laodiceans; but that He has genuine affection and compassion for them. And He rebukes and disciplines everyone that He loves in this sense. Examples of the repentance He speaks of may be that they:
1. Repent of neglecting time with Him in prayer and private worship.
2. Repent of allowing the cares and demands of this life to usurp His primary place in our priorities.
3. Repent of refusing to say ‘no’ to the things the world tries to entertain us with.
4. Repent of the way we sometimes try to live our lives without a sense of total dependency upon Him.
VI. THE LORD'S PROMISE (vv. 20-21).
A. “Behold,” He said, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me.” the literal sense of what Jesus says is that He has ‘taken His stand’ at the door. And as a continual act, He knocks. It’s because He desires the fellowship of His saints.
B. For Jesus to make the offer that we welcome Him in and enjoy intimate fellowship with Him is a blessing beyond description. But there’s more. He says, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” This is an offer not only to have intimate fellowship with Him, but to even be permitted to reign with Him in kingly glory (see Matthew 19:28; Revelation. 20:6).
VII. THE LORD'S CONCLUSION (v. 22).
Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” His word to Laodicea is a word to all His churches — including ours. May His Holy Spirit show us the truth about ourselves as a church; and may we seek, by His power, to be zealous for the Savior.
* * * * * * * * * *
Spurgeon once said, “It is harder a great deal to work for Jesus with a church which is lukewarm than it would be to begin without a church. Give me a dozen earnest spirits and put me down anywhere in London, and by God’s good help we will soon cause the wilderness and the solitary place to rejoice; but give me the whole lot of you, half-hearted, undecided, and unconcerned, what can I do? You will only be a drag upon a man’s zeal and earnestness. Five thousand members of a church all lukewarm will be five thousand impediments, but a dozen earnest, passionate spirits, determined that Christ shall be glorified and souls won, must be more than conquerors; in their very weakness and fewness will reside capacities for being the more largely blessed of God. Better nothing than lukewarmness” (from Treasury of The Bible, vol. 8, p. 719).
May we not be "lukewarm" to our Lord!
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