Laodicea

This evening we come to the last of the seven letters to the seven churches, the letter to Laodicea, to lukewarm Laodicea, to Christ's concern for wholeheartedness and purposefulness from his church rather than a nominalism and a lack of purpose and service which literally makes him sick. Jesus pulls no punches in this letter and exposes any self-deception that the church has. So those who have an ear, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches! Introduction - Laodicea We'll come back to Christ and the church at Laodicea in a moment but first a few introductory words about Laodicea as a city. For as at Pergamum the church at Laodicea reflected the city in which it was situated and Jesus' words refer to the city's major characteristics. Laodicea, which is today called Pamukkale, was the chief city of the Lycus Valley, 100 miles east of Ephesus and 10 miles from Colossae. It was one of the wealthiest commercial centres in the world. Indeed Laodicea was famous as a financial centre, as a manufacturer of clothing from local black wool and as the producer of a special eye salve for sore eyes which had been developed at its renowned medical school. However it did have one major weakness as a city and that was its lack of an adequate water supply. So here we have a picture of a church in an affluent society. In a society which felt it had everything and yet lacked one very basic necessity: water. And as we shall see the church at Laodicea felt it had everything and yet in reality had nothing as it lacked a wholehearted commitment to Christ, a true service of Christ, a dependency on Christ and Christ himself. And therefore it receives the most severe censure of all the seven churches from Jesus. The church at Laodicea was deceiving itself and was actually doing nothing apart from going through some of the motions. They had become nominal, self sufficient and self satisfying. And although we are not a wealthy church we are in a relatively affluent part of Newcastle and there are perhaps lessons for us here at JPC to learn from and to be beware of. For example. Are any of us in danger of losing our enthusiasm and desire to serve Christ as individuals and as a church? Or are we too busy - too busy at work or too busy at church and has our busyness become our wholeheartedness? Have any of us become half hearted? Are we wholehearted in our commitment to Christ and in our service of Christ? Practically speaking are there some of us who are not yet involved in some area of service for Christ in his church here? Do some of us feel that a large church like this has everything and everyone it needs in terms of money and workers? Well don't be deceived! Have a look at the volunteers corner again on the notice sheet. As the letter to the church in Philadelphia pointed out last week there are doors of opportunity for gospel ministry both inside and outside the church. Are we taking them both as individuals and as a church? What are we doing this summer if we've got free time? Do we pray? Do we pray as a church? At the central church prayer meeting last Wednesday there were 20 people present. Are we dependent on Christ and asking God to keep on filling us with the Holy Spirit or do we feel self sufficient? Are we in a home group or some small Bible study group? If we are do we go? Are some of us even in danger of thinking that we have everything and yet in reality have nothing? Are any of us deceiving ourselves? Are we excluding Christ? Yes life is very busy today and it can be difficult to fit everything in - how we balance family life, work commitments, exam revision, church life and our relationship with God is not always easy. With a new baby in the house I know! But what gets pushed out first? Are we serving God first or man? Now we are saved by grace through faith in Christ and not by works - but what evidence of that is there in our lives? What service are we doing that God has called us to? (Eph. 2:10) Is society squeezing us into its mould as it had the church at Laodicea or are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds and offering our lives as a spiritual act of worship? Perhaps the love of money and our wealth are getting in the way and making us half hearted or even preventing us from deciding to follow Christ. Perhaps living in Newcastle some of us can get squeezed into the hedonistic culture of the club and quayside scene. Do we need to repent? The only cure for lukewarmness is repentance and the readmission of the excluded Christ. I can think of many churches which certainly appear to me to be nominal and not committed to Christ and to gospel ministry but we need to examine ourselves, as we all need to do at a communion service. So let's now look further at the problems at Laodicea. And we begin with the Laodiceans view of Christ and what Christ reminds them about himself which is my first heading: First, CHRIST THE RULER OF CREATION (v.14) Look at v.14:

"These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation".

This is the one letter in Revelation where the titles of Christ are not taken from the description of Jesus in Rev. ch. 1. The church at Laodicea needed to hear other important facts about Christ from Christ. These titles stress Christ's faithfulness and authority. The Amen is a name of God himself in Isaiah 65, translated as the God of truth in the NIV, and is reinforced with the faithful and true witness. Christ is utterly reliable and faithful. And this reliability stands in sharp contrast to the unfaithfulness of the Christians in Laodicea. He has all the firmness and faithfulness and truth which this church lacked. And "Christ has borne his witness in a way which perfectly portrays the truth about God's character and purpose". (Travis p.118) Christ is also the ruler of God's creation. He has the supreme authority over creation and he is the origin of created being (John 1:3; Col. 1:15). Jesus Christ is Lord over all that he has made, and infinitely superior to all other spiritual forces in the universe. The Laodiceans needed to hear this truth too. They appear to have been influenced by the same false teaching that had developed at Colossae which saw Jesus as merely one mediator among many between God and man and no doubt that teaching did not help their wholeheartedness and purpose. Paul refers to the church at Laodicea in Colossians 4:13 and they undoubtedly had a copy of that letter as well as another which Paul wrote to them specifically, probably covering that issue at least. This truth about Christ's Lordship and rule over creation and his uniqueness stands at the head of this letter because, as I've already hinted, it was the local tendency in Laodicea to soft pedal Christ's uniqueness and that had sapped the church's sense of its calling. And we see the same today don't we? When churches don't hold to the uniqueness of Christ, that he is the only way to God the Father and eternal life then they lose their missionary purpose and their worship becomes nominal or even a multi-faith mish mash as will be held at St Thomas' in the Haymarket this Wednesday. And perhaps we can sometimes soft pedal the uniqueness of Christ in our politically correct and supposedly pluralistic society as that can likewise sap our enthusiasm to follow Christ and to spread the gospel. Let's not be ashamed of the gospel and of the uniqueness of Christ. Let's not be half hearted, apathetic and unfaithful. Rather let us remain faithful and true to Christ, to his gospel, to his commands and to his calling. Let's acknowledge who he truly is and what he's done and live accordingly. Well let's now move on in this letter to consider further what Christ says about half-heartedness and lack of true purpose and deeds, how to overcome it and the reward he promises to the wholehearted. And that leads us initially on to our second heading: Secondly, CHRIST'S DENUNCIATION AND DIAGNOSIS OF LUKEWARM LAODICEA (vv 15-17) Why does Christ denounce Laodicea so severely? As you can see the letter contains much censure and no praise. Well look at vv.15-16:

"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".

Christ is pointing out two things here in his denunciation and warning. First he's saying that the church is behaving in a way which serves no useful purpose and he uses a well known feature of Laodicea to make his point. As I mentioned earlier the city had an inadequate water supply. It had to rely on water from some hot springs 5 miles away brought by an aqueduct. Because of the nature of the aqueduct the water would have remained warm, lukewarm and unpleasant to drink. In the ancient world hot water was used for washing and for medicinal purposes and cold water for drinking. Lukewarm water was no good for either and with the added deposits found in it the Laodicean water, though safe to drink, might have produced more vomiting than pleasure. And that is one of the points Christ is making. They and their deeds are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold and unless they change he will spit them out of his mouth. Just as the city has no water which can supply life and health, so the church is behaving in a way which supplies neither hot nor cold water: neither healing for the spiritually sick nor refreshment for the spiritually weary. The effect of their conduct on Christ is like the effect of the city's water supply: it makes him sick. The Laodiceans were too safe and self satisfied and did not look beyond themselves. I believe many churches today are lukewarm and have no gospel message or purpose and that many evangelicals have become lukewarm and want to play safe. Are we the same sometimes? Do we make Christ sick? Let's pray that we look outwards to the spiritually sick and weary rather than remain in our safe groups and that our conduct never makes Christ vomit. That we will never be accused of being lukewarm. Some in the C of E might say that we are too hot to handle while others would say that we are far too cold towards them. Let's go on praying that they will never accuse us of being lukewarm. The second, or some would say alternative, point Christ is making leads on from that and overlaps with the first. Christ says to Laodicea that he wishes they were either cold or hot. To him they are half-hearted. They are nominal and laid back in their religion. Like many today. But Jesus Christ who died for us, who rose from the dead and now reigns as Lord of all deserves better. He calls us to follow him, to take up our cross daily and to deny ourselves, to serve others, to make disciples of all nations. Yet what do we sometimes spend our time doing? Taking the opportunities for the gospel, sharing God's vision for this church and for those who live on Tyneside and across the world, seeking God's will for your life or just getting distracted? Christ wants his followers to be either hot or cold - to boil or freeze rather than to simmer down into a tasteless tepidity. Paul told his readers to be fervent in spirit, to maintain the spiritual glow, to stir into flame the gift of God that is in us. "Our inner spiritual fire needs to be poked and fed and fanned into flame." We need to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit. If Christ is true then he deserves our wholehearted commitment. Nothing less. Not unbiblical fanaticism. Not dangerous emotionalism. But wholeheartedness. Better if we're icy than to insult him with compromise that nauseates him. As one commentator puts it, "outright denial is better than phoney pietyNow to prefer a rejection of the faith to the way the Laodiceans professed it is startling to say the least (cf. 2 Peter 2:21). But to profess Christianity while remaining untouched by its fire is a disaster. There is more hope for the openly antagonistic than for the coolly indifferent. No-one is farther from the truth in Christ than the one who makes an idle profession without real faith. The lukewarmness of the Laodiceans was a denial of all that Christ stands for". (Morris, p.82) Jesus Christ asks for wholehearted commitment, for us to trust him and obey him. Will you and I? If we're not doing so at the moment then he calls us to repent and be zealous (v.19). To have heat, fire and passion for the Lord and his will. Those who remain purely nominal he will spit out. And what is Christ's diagnosis of the Laodiceans' lukewarmness? Look at v.17:

"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".

In other words the lukewarm person or church "is one in whom there is a glaring contrast between what they say and think they are on the one hand and what they really are on the other. The root cause of half heartedness is complacency. To be lukewarm is to be blind to one's true condition". (Stott, p.118) Certainly in Laodicea the church was full of self-satisfied churchgoers. They said, "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing". And in material terms they were right. The people of Laodicea were prosperous and were proud of their banks, medical school and expensive black cloth. As a city they were self-sufficient. When in AD 60 they suffered an earthquake they promptly rebuilt the city without any help from Rome. But this pride and self sufficiency crept into the church. The congregation became smug, self satisfied and complacent. They thought that their religious life was fine. Yet Christ knew otherwise. He knew that in reality they were blind and naked beggars, wretched and pitiful. Poor despite their banks, blind despite their eye salve and naked despite their clothing factories. They said they needed nothing. But although they managed without Roman money, they could not manage without the grace of Christ. Neither can we. The nominal Christian or church is spiritually and morally a naked, blind beggar even if they are materially rich and outwardly moral and spiritual. In John Stott's words the nominal Christian is " a beggar because he has nothing with which to 'purchase' his forgiveness or an entry into the kingdom of God. He is naked because he has no clothes to fit him to stand before God. He is blind because he has no idea either of his spiritual poverty or of his spiritual danger," (p.119) i.e. he is without Christ. We must not disregard the diagnosis of the skilled physician. We too can flatter and deceive ourselves, but he sees and knows us as we really are as individuals and as a church. How we can be numbed by increasing prosperity. How we can fail to wear the character of Christ and be concerned with maintenance rather than mission, with our ourselves rather than the lost, with the easy way rather than with the way of Christ. How we can be blind to our own real needs and those of others. How we need Christ. How we need him to open our eyes. How we need to be wholeheartedly committed to him. Without him we can do nothing. Which leads us on to my third heading: Thirdly, CHRIST'S COUNSEL (vv.18-20) How was Laodicea to overcome its lukewarmness, its blindness, it nakedness, its poverty, its lack of purpose and its inability to supply healing for the spiritually sick or refreshment for the spiritually weary? How are we to overcome our halfheartedness? How are we to avoid Jesus' utter repudiation and being spewed out of his mouth if we are purely nominal, superficial or lukewarm Christians? Answer: we are to heed Christ's counsel or advice. What is his advice? Look first at v.18:

" 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".

22) They thought they were self sufficient but they must instead find their sufficiency in Christ. They thought they needed nothing but they must admit that their need was great and that only Christ could meet it. They had to humble themselves and say it is from me, i.e. from Christ that your salvation comes. Christ counsels them to buy from him. Of course he's not saying that salvation can be bought but rather using the language of the commercial city. He's saying, "Forsake your former suppliers and come trade with me instead. I have what you need. You are poor but I have gold. You are naked but I have clothes. You are blind but I have eye salve. Don't trust in your banks or in your medicines or in your clothing factories anymore. Come to me and be enriched, clothed, healed, forgiven and receive sight and life." Through his death they can be cleansed and through his living presence with them they can be changed. When a church is poor only Christ can make it truly rich with the kind of gold he offers. Gold refined in the fire. It cannot expect to find true riches without suffering. When a church is blind only Christ can apply the ointment which enables it to see its own need and to renew its vision of purpose. When a church is naked only Christ can clothe it with his righteousness and character. In Laodicea's case not with the black robes of their factories but with the white robes of the heavenly kingdom. Are we coming to Christ, admitting our need and being transformed from poverty to riches, from blindness to vision and from nakedness to Christ's clothes? How could this come about for the Laodiceans and how can it happen today? They and we must take two steps. The first is given in v.19:

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

Christ loves the Laodiceans and wants to save them and so he rebukes and disciplines them and so calls them to repent and be earnest or zealous. He loves us too and wants any of us who are lukewarm to repent and be fired with zeal. The first step is repentance. The second step is faith. Look at v.20:

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 him, and he with me.

This is a personal appeal addressed to the individual. If anyone, says Christ. Despite Christ's warning that he may have to spit us out of our mouths he loves us and wants us to let him in and change us, to fellowship with us and sup with us, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. But he also comes in to take control and we must submit. Are we hot, cold or lukewarm? It depends on whether we have opened the door to the Lord Jesus and have let him in. So fourthly, finally and very briefly: Fourthly, CHRIST'S PROMISE (v.21) Christ has already made one promise to those who open the door of their hearts to him and let him in and now he makes another. Look at v.21:

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

To those who hear, heed and obey Christ's message Christ promises them a seat on his throne. As Christ shares the Father's throne, so the Christian will share Christ's. What a prospect and honour! Christ's words 'Just as I overcame' are important. Christ overcame by the way of the cross and this set the pattern for his followers. But what seemed like defeat for Christ was actually his victory over the world. We need not fear if we are called upon to suffer, for in that way we too will conquer.

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost (Isaiah 55.1).

Back to top