The Church at Laodicea
Well, tonight is the night that we conclude our journey through the seven churches of Revelation. We have seen how the church in Ephesus had a lot of potential, but how they had left their first love. We looked at the church of Smyrna, and how they were faithful in the midst of intense persecution. Then we saw how the church at Pergamos was slowly letting heretics infiltrate their midst. The fourth church, Thyatira, was becoming overrun by false teachers. Sardis was in the worst shape of them all, and was even described as “dead.” Philadelphia was a small church that was not highly respected in the world, but was highly respected by Christ for their faithfulness. And that brings us to tonight. Is there anyone out there that knows what church we have not yet looked at? That’s right, tonight we are looking at the church in Laodicea. And actually, there are several verses in this little passage that you may be familiar with. And so you can see this for yourself, I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Revelation three, and we’ll be reading verses fourteen through twenty-two. Again, Revelation 3:14-22.
“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; ‘These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.’”
Let’s pray together.
As we’ve done every week, I want to give you a brief look at what the city of Laodicea was like. Out of all of the cities we have seen, Laodicea was probably the wealthiest. Whenever the city was destroyed in A.D. 60, the citizens of the city refused to let the government pay to rebuild, because they wanted to pay for it themselves. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening today, isn’t it? The reason the city was rich was that it was perfectly situated on a major trade route; and plus, Laodicea was known for having some of the best wool in all of the Empire. So remember, very rich city known for its fancy wool.
With that historical framework in mind, let’s look at how our Savior identifies Himself in verse fourteen of our passage. Verse fourteen reads, “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; ‘These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.” In this verse, Jesus identifies Himself in three ways. He says that He is the Amen. He says that He is the faithful and true Witness; and He says that He is the beginning of the creation of God. Obviously “amen” is a word that all of you are very familiar with. We say it at the end of almost all of our prayers, and we say it whenever we agree with something that a preacher is saying. But have you ever stopped to wonder what the word “amen” means? The word “amen” simply means “true.” So whenever you say “amen” at the end of your prayer, you are saying that your prayer is “true” and heartfelt. And if you say “amen” when someone is preaching, it means that you believe that what he has said is true. But when Jesus says that He is the Amen, He is saying that He is the absolute embodiment of truth. He continues that thought by saying that He is the faithful and true Witness. In today’s world, it is very popular to believe that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Some say that morals are relative to the society’s current preference. But Jesus says that not only does absolute truth exist, but that He is that absolute truth! Finally, Jesus says that He is the beginning of all of creation. Now, groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses would misinterpret this verse by saying that Jesus was created by God. But that is simply not what this verse is saying. Jesus is the beginning of all of creation in the same way that a spring is the beginning of a river. Jesus is not saying that He was created by God, He is saying that He is the source of all of God’s creation. Would anybody like me to clear that up any more, or is everybody pretty clear on what Jesus is saying here? Ok then, let’s move on.
Look at how Christ describes this church in verse fifteen. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.” Jesus describes this church as not being hot, and as not being cold. As you probably guessed, “hot” and “cold” in this verse are not referring to points on a thermometer; instead they are referring to spiritual temperature. In the spiritual sense, a “hot” person is someone who is very close to God, and very passionate about God’s mission. In keeping with the “hot” idea, we often say that these people are “on fire” for God. A “cold” person is a person who is spiritually dead. An interesting question that this verse raises is why Jesus says that He would rather them be hot or cold than somewhere in the middle. Obviously Christ would rather them be hot than just warm, but why do you think He would rather them be cold than warm? Anybody want to take a stab at this? Right. When a person is spiritually dead, it is easy to show them that they need to get right with God. But when a person is kind of riding the fence, it is very easy for them to be self-righteous and believe that they are just fine in their spiritual life.
Christ elaborates this concept in verse sixteen. “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” Wow! Where before Christ says that He would rather us be cold than lukewarm, now He says that He is going to spew them out of His mouth! But something that is important to note about this verse is that Christ is not talking to the whole church. Any time the New Testament talks about the church, it always uses the feminine pronoun. But in verse sixteen, the Greek pronoun is the masculine. Many commentators believe that this means that this verse is particularly meant for the pastor of the church. While this interpretation makes sense, we won’t know for sure until we ask Christ in person what He meant in this verse. But either way, it is a very important principle that pastors need to constantly stay close to Christ. For many pastors, preaching and counseling and visiting people stops being a ministry, and it starts becoming just a job. It is my constant duty as your pastor to maintain a personal, vibrant faith with Christ, so that I can help you to do the same. Along those lines, I ask you to constantly be in prayer for me and my family, because the evil one loves to target ministers and Sunday school teachers and all other leaders in the church. If you would like some specific ways to pray for your pastor, there is a blue leaflet back there that outlines several different ways to pray for pastors. You have no idea how much I appreciate your prayers.
Continuing on, look what Christ says to them in verse seventeen. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Remember how I mentioned that the people of Laodicea were very wealthy? In this verse, Jesus says that in reality, they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. Obviously, the people didn’t feel as if they were any of those things, but spiritually, they were. In the church of Laodicea, their material wealth had caused them to stop relying on Christ. While obviously there is no sin in having a full bank account, we can never allow the riches of the world to drive out our desire for the riches of God.
And after you read how Christ calls them wretched and miserable and blind, you would think that He was about to drop the hammer of judgment on them, but look at what He says in verse eighteen. “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” Praise the Lord for His mercy on us, when what we deserve is His wrath! Instead of judging this church, Christ counsels them. While they are spiritually poor, Christ counsels them to buy gold from Him. Remember how I said that Laodicea was famous for its wool? Christ counsels them to focus on getting their white garments from Him. While they are spiritually blind, Christ freely offers them an ointment that will heal their blindness. In other words, Christ is urging the church of Laodicea to stop focusing on everything else in their lives, and to start focusing on the Christ alone.
Let’s move on to verse nineteen. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” How many of you were spanked when you were a child? How many of you were spanked a lot? While that punishment hurt at the time, I think that most of us would now acknowledge that our punishment was for our own good. And the same concept carries over into Christianity. Christ says that He punishes those whom He loves. But the purpose of His punishment is not to destroy us. No, the purpose of His punishment is to cause us to repent of our sins and become zealous for Him. So right now, this church is suffering from being lukewarm. But Christ is about to punish them for their sin, and He urges them to use His punishment as a platform to come back to Him.
Verse twenty is one of the most famous verses in the Bible for sharing the gospel with someone. If you are the kind of person that highlights your Bible, I would encourage you to highlight this verse. This verse reads “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” The most common usage for this verse has been to encourage non-Christians to accept Christ as their Savior. And while this is certainly a noble use for this verse; when Christ said these words, He was actually talking to a group of Christians that needed to refocus their lives on God. So when Christ said this to the Christians in Laodicea, He was not encouraging them to get saved. No, He was encouraging them to continually let Him into their lives.
Something else this verse teaches us is that Christ is the initiator in our relationship with Him, not us. While I am very proud to be a Free Will Baptist, sometimes our emphasis on man’s free will gives us the notion that we respond to God completely on our own. But what this verse teaches us is that we could not respond to the message of the gospel if Christ were not first knocking on our door. So does mankind have the free will to accept or reject Christ? Yes, of course. But we must acknowledge that if Christ did not first approach us with the gospel, then we would never freely choose Him.
Let’s finish our verse by verse study by looking at verses twenty-one and twenty-two. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” At the conclusion of His words to all seven of the churches, Christ gives a sure promise to those that overcome. And as we’ve talked about, we overcome whenever we remain faithful to Christ until the day we die. In this verse, Christ says that those who remain faithful to Him will sit with Him on His throne. It is utterly impossible for us to know what this will be like, but Christ promises us that when heaven is brought down to earth at the end of time, all of Christ’s followers will rule with Him for all eternity. Do I know what that is going to be like? No. Am I completely excited, even though I don’t understand? You better believe it!
As we bring this devotion to a close, I want us to think about how we can learn from the church at Laodicea. The first lesson we must learn is that Christ does not want lukewarm Christians. He desires for servants who are constantly striving to grow closer and closer and closer and closer to Him. But the second lesson we must learn is that Christ is more interested in redeeming our sinfulness than He is in judging our sinfulness. So if you are here tonight, and you are one that Christ would call a “lukewarm Christian;” I urge you to read this passage over really well, and see if Christ is not calling you into a deeper relationship with Him. And if you are here tonight, and you feel that you are more on fire than you ever have been, then praise the Lord! But we can never become complacent in our current Christian state, because none of us will spiritually “arrive” until we get to heaven. So even if things are going great for you right now, I urge you to constantly look for ways that you can grow closer to Him.
Our God has been so good to us, and He deserves every ounce of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. May we never cease growing closer to our great King.
Let us pray.
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