At a nearby town, there is a spring that people drive for miles to draw from. To drink that water straight out of the ground is nearly impossible since it has a pretty potent odor. Believe me, I tried. The first sip made me gag. Yet, it’s not uncommon to see people pull up and fill five or six milk jugs to take home. I can’t verify this with my own experience but I’m told that it makes great coffee and is palatable when chilled. Who would have thought? I think that the parallel between this spring in the center of Illinois and the church that is the focus of Jesus final letter is easy to see.
The seventh and final letter Jesus dictated to the churches of Asia was to the church of Laodicea. “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” (Revelation 3:14–22, NASB95) The letter to the Laodicean church is probably the best known of the seven letters and perhaps the most misused one as well. That misuse generally takes the form of coercing someone to do something. You don’t want to be lukewarm, do you? Well then, you’d better do or not do X, Y, and Z or Jesus will reject you. But the issue Jesus had with the Laodiceans wasn’t what they were or weren’t doing, but something closer to the heart.
Let’s talk a bit more about this idea of being lukewarm, hot, and cold. Jesus was not saying that He desired them to either reject him (cold) or be sold out to Him (hot). Neither was Jesus advocating they adopt the steely coldness of a soldier or the inflamed passions of a lover. Jesus’ primary issue with the Laodiceans is that they had grown self-sufficient, complacent, and prideful. These attitudes made them useless, like lukewarm mineral water. They, no doubt, thought they had it all together. They were doing church. They were accepted by their community. They were successful and well off. After all, isn’t prosperity and wealth a sign of God’s blessing? (nope) That’s what they thought, but in their self-sufficient pride filled haze they were really wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Be careful, it’s easy to point to someone else and see Laodicea and yet be blind to our own issues.
Consider this parable in light of Jesus’ letter to the Laodiceans. “Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14, NLT)
From all outward appearances we’d say that Pharisee was sold out, was ‘hot”, in terms of kingdom living. He did all the right things, but his heart was self-sufficient and filled with pride. And from outward appearances the tax-collector was pretty lukewarm, he didn’t have it all together, he knew it and so did everyone else. Yet, at the end of the day, when the songs had all been sung, and the prayers had all been prayed, the sinner in the story went home justified and made right with God. But, even so, there is still hope for the Laodiceans and for the Pharisee.
Jesus did not give up on the Laodiceans but showed them the way back to real vibrant faith. There are three things that Jesus encourages them to get from him. Those three things happen to be the three areas of commerce that Laodicea was known for; a vibrant banking center, a well-known black wool industry, and eye treatments along with other medicines. By calling the Laodiceans to “buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see,” Jesus is calling them to radically change where hope and faith find their home.
In a picture that has often been used to encourage non-believers to accept Christ, Jesus portrays himself as knocking on the closed door of the hearts of the Laodicean church. Jesus desires to enjoy table fellowship with them if they will allow Him in. That should be a startling thought. We expect Jesus to be on the outside of non-believers hearts, but He should be living in those that have accepted him. Yet here we see Jesus, locked out, as it were, of where He should be the most welcome. Notice also that Jesus doesn’t break the door down but asks to be invited in. That should tell us something about how to pray for our loved ones and for ourselves.
To the overcomers, Jesus grants the right to sit beside Him on His throne. It is a picture of granted authority to carry His name and represent His kingdom. I suspect that the Laodiceans had become more focused on growing their brand than on growing the kingdom. They were exercising their own authority and not that of Christ. In the same way that Jesus was “about His Father’s business” overcomers will be about the kingdom business.
As we close this series of articles we again look to see what we can apply to our day by day walk with Jesus from this letter. Pride, complacency, and self-sufficiency can easily creep into our faith. All of the right activities of following Jesus can become self-centered instead of Christ-centered. Whenever we think we are all right we are probably all wrong.
My encouragement for you today is to invite Jesus into each and every moment of your life. Perhaps you’ve invited Jesus in but not all the way in. Maybe down some dusty hallway of your heart there is a room that you have not yet invited Jesus into – it’s time to unlock that door and let Jesus all the way in. Jesus isn’t going to reject you because of that room but He will help you clean it out. It is that kind of heart, one that is open, honest, and humble, that is the most useful in Jesus’ hands.