The Lukewarm Church
The Lukewarm Church
Davis W. Poissant
Lukewarm & Almost Christian
Here is a passage that you have all heard before – many times. I don’t mean to stand before you this morning and try to pretend that this is brand new material for you. I have preached on this passage twice before, this makes the third time. I have little doubt that Daryl preached this passage before I came, and the Pastor preached it before him. As a matter of fact, if we could talk to some of your mothers and fathers and Grandmothers and Grandfathers, I believe we would find out that every preacher that has ever preached here for any period of time has preach Revelation 3:14-21 – each one more than once.
So pastor, why are you doing this to us this morning? A few here have never heard with their ears, many have never heard with their hearts. And for the few that have heard it and it changed your life and deep down inside, maybe somewhere unseen, you are on fire for the Lord, you’re almost jumping out of your skin excited about Jesus – you’re almost compelled to shout halleluiah over what Jesus has done for you – almost compelled to give a testimony about how good God has been to you –––
for the sake of those other sinners sitting around you today, just bare with me, but don’t tune me out – I think that God is actually speaking to everyone one of us in this room this morning.
In the second and third chapters of Revelation, Jesus, through the words of the Apostle John, addresses the strengths and weaknesses of what we have come to call the “seven churches of Asia Minor”. Some of these churches were doing better than others.
Smyrna and Philadelphia, for example, were for the most part doing quite well. Jesus has nothing negative to say about either of these congregations, and in fact He encourages and affirms them for their faithfulness to him.
Ephesus, Thyatira and Pergamum, on the other hand, elicit what we might call “mixed reviews” from Jesus. Though he has some positive things to say about these churches, he also has a strong critique of the things they are doing wrong.
A sixth church, the church at Sardis, is in much sadder shape. Despite the presence of a few righteous people in the congregation, the church there is said by Christ to be “dead”. They have a reputation of being alive, but that reputation (Jesus says) is more fantasy than reality. Those words that Jesus uses to describe Sardis are the same words used by some in this denomination to describe our own dearly beloved congregation. I submit to you that those folks may not know us very well. We have a reputation for being alive, but I believe that deep down in our heart of hearts we are alive. That may be our problem, we keep it hidden too deep down.
We might be able to take characteristics from the descriptions of each of these churches and say we are more like this combination of characteristics –
maybe some times more like Philadelphia, the church of brother love; and, yet at other times more like another church who doesn’t measure up so well –
maybe even sometimes like the church at Laodicea.
That’s the seventh and the final church that Jesus addresses – it is certainly a church that is different from the rest.
We might begin by noting that Laodicea was an important city in the ancient world. But the only reason to mention it is to say that the people were comfortable – like us for the most part – they had stuff – they were satisfied; and yet Jesus is pointing out there is something important missing in this church.
Let’s look at verse 14 together:
Just that first praise: “To the Angel of the church…” This is important. In all seven cases it was the “Angle of the church” to whom the letter was written. The word angel comes from the Greek word angelos. Angelos simply translated means “messenger.” It could mean a heavenly messenger such as those who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds on the hillside, (you remember how the glory of the Lord shown round about them and they were sore afraid), or it could mean an earthly messenger, the one whom God has called to take His message to His people.
Most theologians believe that in this case the Bible refers to the earthly messenger – the pastor of the church. I agree. God did not order St. John to write a letter to a celestial being. The God’s Word translation reads, “To the messenger of the church in Laodicea.” That’s the pastor. The living Bible paraphrases this nicely… “Write this letter to the leader of the church in Laodicea…”
The point is this: There is a special relationship between Jesus Christ and the pastor of the church. Jesus speaks through the pastor in order to reach the body of believers known as the local church.
There is this message that God wants you to have – many messages. They are words designed to bring you closer to Him – to prepare you for the day when you leave this world behind and enter into your eternal destination.
God has prepared certain people and chosen certain people to be over the church and deliver to you His message. It’s for you and it’s from God. Listen now, this is the important part.
If you are living in sin, –– then you may lie about it all you want – you may not even realize your own lie – but if you are living in sin you have made a choice that Jesus Christ is not your Lord. Your living for the world or for yourself but you are not living for Him. And if He is not your Lord, – you have turned a deaf ear to God and He will not do business with you directly – you have to hear it through someone else.
Are you with me on this so far?
That someone else, who God speaks through, is God’s messenger to you. God loves you and He wants you to know the truth and He wants you to overcome this world and spend eternity in heaven—that’s why He sent His Son and that’s why He sends messengers. Self-examination time: If you are a lukewarm Christian you are in sin -- wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked, and God -- a holy God will not deal with sinful man directly, except in judgment. Because of His great love sends you a messenger.
Weather you want to agree with me openly or not, if you know anything at all about the Word of God, I think you know that what I am saying is the truth. I will amen myself all day if I have to.
Now let me tell you something:
You believe in God don’t you? And all God’s people shook their head up and down. You believe that He is high and exalted and, in His shadow, we are all weak and lowly creatures.
Let me tell you something: You don’t get to choose the messenger. That’s God’s job. He sends. And if you reject the messenger – you have rejected the one who sent him.
I’m stepping on some toes this morning, but that’s the message and it’s from God. Just a few of you need to quit listening to the voices of Satan that would turn you away from the messenger before you miss the message completely.
I am telling you this for your good, not mine. We all need a messenger.
If you don’t believe what I am telling you this morning, just ask me and I will give you a copy of this portion of this transcript and you can send it off to Joyce Meyers or John Haggy or Rod Parsons or Dr. Kennedy or whomever it is you’re listening to and you ask them.
What I am telling you is the truth.
This scripture that we are looking at sounds a warning and the warning comes through the Pastor.
As we move along this morning, let’s see what else might apply to some of us…
Jesus has this complaint: It is sad.
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.
The King James says, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Young’s literal translation gets a little more graphic: I am about to vomit thee out of my mouth.
This hard stuff. The issue at Laodicea is that there is no passion for Christ, and a church without passion is a church that Christ, quite simply, will not tolerate!
Now I think that Christ would prefer the church to be "hot" in their relationship with him. What do you think?
But the interesting thing about this passage is its suggestion that even to be "cold" might be better than to be somewhere in the middle. In others words, those who don’t know Jesus at all may be in a better place spiritually than those who claim to know him but in whose lives Jesus is marginalized—who shove him to the periphery and who fail to take him seriously.
At least with those who are cold there is always the possibility that they will come to understand their coldness. They at least are not kidding themselves. They don’t even pretend to be believers. Where we run into problems is with the kind of person who is in frequent contact with the churchy things —the person who goes to church every Sunday—and yet who has no deep spiritual life.
Let me share an illustration that Steve Deneff gives in is book “Beyond Forgiveness.” If you haven’t read it, you need to. I’ll have to let Him know how well it fits this text.
(I have set up 4 folding chairs just before the message in front of the platform – I explained that this barrier is to keep those who don’t like the message from taking back their offering)
Look here – these four chairs represent four kinds of people.
· In the first chair here is someone who does not want to know God and does not know God.
· In the second chair is someone who does not want to know God but knows God in spite of himself. He really doesn’t want any real part of it but religiosity has always been a family thing that he just does out of habit – he goes to church because it is the thing to do. There could be a myriad of reasons – but he ain’t here for Christ.
· In this third chair here is a man who wants Christianity but he really does not have it. He believes the stuff he hears in church and he likes it -- in his mind -- but he has never let it into his heart. He is always a hearer of the word but never a do'er. The best way to describe him would be in direct contrast to be a living sacrifice – if you read Romans 12:1-2 he is the direct opposite.
· Then in this fourth chair you have the man who wants it and indeed has it. He will testify and tell others about the love of God. He has been crucified with Christ and it shows – there is lasting fruit.
These two chairs in the middle here “doesn’t want it and has it” and “has it but doesn’t want it” is what Jesus is referring to as lukewarm.
· This guy over here is the first chair is cold – but he’s honest about it.
· This guy over here in the fourth chair is hot and he’s honest about it.
· These two guys over here in these two middle chairs are lukewarm and they are liars about it. And they make God sick to His stomach and He is about to vomit them out. And guess what – these two characters aren’t doing very well with these other two either.
But the strange thing is this: The guy over here in the fourth chair loves this guy over here in the first chairs; and he is always trying to bring him over here in the fourth chair with him.
It is better to be either hot or cold – in the first chair or the fourth chairs. These guys over here in the middle chairs are always wrestling with Satan and they are loosing.
The church at Laodicea, after all these years, has not gone out of style. They didn’t even know there was anything wrong. I hope we examine ourselves better than they did. They were smug and self-satisfied. They said, "We’re rich,” but Jesus said they were wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
Now if you were to walk into that congregation on a Sunday morning, I suspect that it would be difficult to know that anything was amiss. Their services might be perfectly correct from a liturgical and doctrinal point of view. The right prayers would have been said; the right hymns would have been sung; the right Scripture passages would have been read. And yet, there would have been an emptiness at the heart of things. Everybody just sitting around waiting for the clock to hit twelve so they can get in line down at Duncan Cafeteria – no praising, no testimonies.
Have you ever been to a worship service like that? Where everything seemed OK --the piano playing was good, the preaching was Biblical and competent,
nobody did anything stupid--but where nevertheless you walked away empty? What you may have experienced was a Laodicean congregation--a congregation in which everything was in place except the Holy Spirit!
Real quick now, what precisely is lukewarmness? How do we know when we have it? One of the characteristic symptoms is a kind of chronic indifference towards the things of God—a lack of interest in prayer, Scripture, fellowship. These two guys here in the center chairs go to church when it is convenient, but they have no real hunger for spiritual things. They participate only minimally in the life of the congregation. On the other end of the continuum, they could even be those who are always at church – they have nothing better to do than come and see what they can complain about or gossip about and undermine the rest of the week – they place themselves above God’s appointed messenger and they serve more as critics than as worshippers.
Lukewarm Christians are less interested in God than they are in matters of personal taste and aesthetics. Lukewarm Christians not only manifest a lack of love for God, but also a lack of love for people! They are proud selfish, intolerant, critical and judgmental. Lukewarm Christians are not necessarily lukewarm about everything! There may be all kinds of things that arouse their passions. It’s just that, from God’s perspective, they are all the wrong things!
Let me ask you, is it possible to have a Christian faith that is overly emotional in character—that goes too far and has to be restrained? Maybe so, but I don’t think that is an immediate danger here at Faith Fellowship Church. If it ever gets to the place where our love for Jesus becomes too “hot”—too passionate—then I guess we’ll have to deal with that. But for now the great danger for us is not too much passion, but too little. We need desperately to hear what Jesus says to Laodicea.
I need to make sure that you understand another truth: Jesus still loves even lukewarm believers! He says in v.19 that he wouldn’t be scolding them if he didn’t care about them. "Those whom I love", he says, "I rebuke and discipline."
For Christ to have stood by and let the Laodiceans get away with their lukewarmness would have been an indication of apathy on his own part. The chastening word of Jesus Christ is never meant to be destructive—it’s always meant to be redemptive! Make a note of that. The chastening word of Jesus Christ is never meant to be destructive—it’s always meant to be redemptive!
This warning is issued to the Laodiceans as a means of restoring them to full fellowship with God.
What’s required of them?
They’ve got to do two things: They must be earnest and repent. They’ve got to get serious about what they believe.
They’ve got to turn from their self-sufficiency and spiritual superiority and spiritual laziness back to the God who had saved them.
In verse 20, Christ then paints a picture that has captured the hearts and imaginations of so many Christians down through the centuries. It is the picture of Christ knocking at the door of our lives. This picture is so graphic that it is well worth considering. Notice first that he is the one who is doing the knocking. It is he who is seeking us, rather than us who are seeking him. We speak so often and so easily about our “having found Christ”, when what is really going on is that he has found us. We were lost, He wasn’t.
He stands and patiently knocks at our heart’s door. But we must not forget that the biggest word in this verse is the word “if”. Christ says, "...if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with me." He knocks, but it is up to us to open the door. We can, if we so desire, choose to ignore his knocking. He will not force the lock, nor will he kick down the door.
God initiates, but it is up to us to respond. Christ cared enough about the people of Laodicea to stand at the door and knock. The only thing they need to do is to open the door and let him in. And yet without this simple decision on their part, the Laodicean church will continue to be a hollow shell, lukewarm and uncaring, in danger of being spit out of the mouth of Christ.
So often this text is used as an evangelistic text. We see it applying to those who are not yet Christians. We want to say to the unbelieving world, “Jesus is standing at the door of your hearts!” But listen folks: this is written not to pagans. Instead, it evokes the sobering image of Christ having to seek access into the lives of those who are supposedly his own people.
Christ is talking to church folks here--he’s talking to professing Christians who have shut him out of their lives. Instead of being a verse that has nothing to do with us, it is a verse that has everything to do with us! Some of us may need to see a very personalized picture of Christ knocking at the door, not of lives in general, not of someone else’s life, but of our life. Without even realizing it, we’ve shut him out and fallen prey to the lukewarm religiosity, which was so characteristic of the church at Laodicea.
The good news, however, is that Jesus is patient. The good news is that though you’ve been ignoring his knock, he hasn’t given up on you. But some day, somehow you’re going to have to open that door. There is nothing emptier, and nothing sadder, than a Christian life from which Christ Himself is missing.
Perhaps the events over the past years have stirred something in you--something you had almost forgotten was there--a deep yearning for something more than outward religiosity--something more than a Sunday morning Christianity. If that is true of you, let me suggest to you what it is you may be experiencing. That yearning—that desire for something more in your life—may be nothing less than the gentle, persistent knock of Jesus!
I’ll close with these words this morning:
O Jesus, Thou art standing outside the fast-closed door,
In lowly patience waiting to pass the threshold o’er;
Shame on us Christian brothers, His name and sign who bear,
O shame, thrice shame upon us, to keep Him standing there!
O Jesus, Thou art knocking; and lo, that hand is scarred,
And thorns Thy brow encircle, and tears Thy face have marred;
O love that passeth knowledge; so patiently to wait!
O sin that hath no equal, so fast to bar the gate!
O Jesus, Thou art pleading in accents meek and low,
"I died for you, My children, and will ye treat Me so?"
O Lord, with shame and sorrow we open now the door;
Dear Savior, enter, enter, and leave us nevermore!