What’s Wrong with the Church?
The Antidote for an Unenthusiastic Faith Is an Unswerving Passion!
No one is excited about everything, but an unenthusiastic faith in our relationship with Jesus has no place in the life of His disciples or the church. In fact, Jesus used extreme imagery when He spoke about those who failed to give Him their full affection. Jesus expects and deserves whole-hearted devotion from His people.
“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. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 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. 18 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. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 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 that person, and they with me. 21 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. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
In the past week, what did you do that most excited you? Did you have to do anything that you were unenthusiastic about? If so, what?
How would you describe someone with an unenthusiastic attitude?
What appears to have made this church so distasteful to Christ that He had nothing good to say about it?
How would you describe a church that is lukewarm?
Why is it so easy for material comforts to affect our relationship with God?
Describe repentance in your own words. Why is this something God values so highly? What do we communicate to Him when we practice genuine repentance?
Share prayer requests with the group, specifically ones related to the truths in today’s text. During your closing prayer time, ask God to help your group members assess their true attitude toward worship and renew their heartfelt obedience and love for Him.
Are you lukewarm in your devotion to God? If so, how do you sense Him drawing you back to Himself? If not, think back on a time when you were. What did you learn from that season?
What would happen to spiritual unenthusiastic people if we continually remained aware of God’s greatness? How can we help each other according to Hebrews 10:19-25?
3:14. Christ identifies Himself for Laodicea as the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. As with the letter to Philadelphia, the characteristic of the Lord is taken from outside the opening vision of Christ. In the Old Testament, God is literally “the God of the Amen” (“the God of truth,” Isa. 65:16), who is completely trustworthy and truthful. Now this designation is applied to Christ and contrasts vividly with the untrustworthy Laodiceans. As early as Revelation 1:5, John called Jesus “the faithful witness.” The Greek word translated ruler can mean either “first in time (beginning) or first in rank (ruler).” This designation is similar to Paul’s teaching in Colossians 1:15,18. Christ as supreme Creator and Ruler of the universe has every right to critique His wayward church.
3:15-17. Like her sister church in Sardis, Laodicea receives no compliment. These believers are neither hot nor cold. They are lukewarm. A common interpretation has been that hot means spiritual fervor and cold means outright antagonism to the things of God—that the Lord prefers outright rejection than spiritual “lukewarmness” (indifference). However, Laodicea was near two other cities. Hierapolis had hot medicinal waters; Colossae had cold, pure, refreshing waters. Both were wonderful. What was terrible was the useless water of Laodicea. We drink hot tea or ice tea, but tea at room temperature is unappealing.
The word lukewarm appears only here in the New Testament. The sense “unusable” or “barren” hits the mark. If the interpretation in the preceding paragraph is correct, Christ’s threat to spit you out of my mouth—literally “vomit”—means that He will judge and reject them for their self-righteousness or self-sufficiency (rather than for their lack of spiritual fervor). The symptoms of their barrenness are specified in verse 17. The Lord sketches three parallel pictures of the church’s life.
First, the church said, I am rich. That is, the church supposed it had such adequate (material) resources that it could do without the Lord’s (spiritual) help. The congregation was like the city, proud of its banks and affluence, boasting that I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. (When the city of Laodicea was devastated by an earthquake in AD 60, it recovered without any imperial disaster aid.) This is the opposite of the church in Smyrna, which knew of its material poverty. Christ calls the Laodicean church poor. Second, the church thought it was clothed with plenty of righteous character. The imagery is drawn from what we know of Laodicea, renowned for its extensive textile industry, particularly of black wool fabric. Instead, the Lord understood that it was spiritually wretched, pitiful, … and naked. Third, the church supposed itself to have spiritual insight. Instead it was blind. The city of Laodicea was famous for its medical school that exported a powder used for eye salve. Such medicine could not salve their blind eyes.
Even sadder than these three deficiencies is Christ’s declaration that you do not realize it. This church had deceived itself about its spiritual condition. Because they had depended on themselves, they were impoverished, unclothed, and sightless. Christ rejects whatever a church is or does that is prompted by self-righteousness.
3:18-20. All is not yet lost for this congregation. Christ cares for its members. His command has a biting irony: I counsel you to buy from me things that you do not think you need. Of course, the metaphor buy does not mean that spiritual benefits may be earned or purchased. Christ by His grace supplies them freely. Gold refined in the fire is genuine gold rather than fools gold. It stands here for righteous character that has been proven genuine through testing. Only Christ can take the self-righteous and make them truly holy.
White clothes to wear have already figured in this chapter as the reward of unveiled righteousness given to the “few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes” (3:4). The only way to have such garments is through the provision of Christ, symbolized here as covering your shameful nakedness (lack of righteousness). The symbolism repeats the previous provision of “refined gold” and stands in somewhat ironic contrast to the homespun black woolen clothing they wore so proudly.
The Lord’s criticism is based on His love. The most undeserving of all the churches is the one for which Christ declares the kindest feelings. Yet His declaration of love is balanced by a severe expectation of rebuke and discipline. Proverbs 3:12 is perhaps the basis for this: “The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” This church must repent of its self-sufficiency (the verb form suggests a decisive act) and be earnest (the verb suggests an ongoing attitude). Laodicea now joins the ranks of sister churches Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis in needing repentance (2:5,16,21; 3:3). Only Smyrna and Philadelphia escape this command of the Lord.
Christ not only wants to provide gold, clothing, and sight to this congregation; He wants them to enjoy His person, His fellowship. If only they admit their Lord, He will give them the richest of fare. His plea, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock,” is poignant and urgent. The verb form for knock suggests insistent, repeated pounding. Although He wants the entire congregation to open the door to fellowship with Him, the individual is ultimately the one who must decide, as the singular forms indicate: “anyone … him … he.”
3:21. Christ knows that some will respond. As with each of the six earlier letters, the one who overcomes or has an ear or hears what the Spirit says to the churches is promised great reward. This is the first time Revelation mentions Christ’s exaltation in the language of sitting with my Father on His throne, although chapter 5 develops this portrait extensively. It is also the only place in Revelation in which Jesus is identified with His people as a fellow “overcomer.” Christ’s conquest of sin at His first coming is in view. Later in Revelation, His ultimate conquest of God’s enemies is described: “They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers” (17:14). The overcoming Christ and His overcoming people are thus linked in both passages. These people will sit with me on my throne, another symbol of the rule and reign of God’s people throughout eternity. (We are not meant to suppose a literal throne so large that millions will be able to sit down on it simultaneously.) This promise is quite parallel to the one given to the “overcomers” of Thyatira (2:26).
Verse 22 closes vision one of Revelation. The words repeat the formula found at the end of the previous six letters, but they are a fitting conclusion to the entire opening vision. The same Jesus who, during His earthly ministry, commanded persons with ears to hear (Matt. 11:15; 13:9,43; Mark 4:9,23; Luke 8:8; 14:35), now during His heavenly ministry commands His churches to pay attention. He who has an ear, let Him hear reminds us that He does not force us to heed His words. Yet if the words of the risen Lord to John on Patmos are indeed what the Spirit says to the churches, then we neglect them to our peril.