What Makes A Church Lukewarm?

In the book of Revelation, John starts out with messages to seven specific churches located in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. One of these was Laodicea. While God delivers a mixed message to most of the churches—here’s what you’re doing well, but I have this issue with you—He doesn’t have anything good to say to the Laodiceans:

‘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.

When I was growing up we played a game that involved the person who was “it” telling players who were searching for an item if they were cold or hot—hot being they were near to the item and cold being they were far from it.

Naturally, when I read this passage in Revelation 3, I translated the “cold” and “hot” terminology based on my understanding of the words—from the context with which I was familiar. Consequently, I was confused. Why would God ever say, I wish that you were cold? Wouldn’t He only and always want believers who were close to Him, who were hot?

The problem is, John was thinking of the Laodicea context. This city situated on a trade route was far from a water source, so they build an aqueduct to bring water from the mountains. At the source, this water was ice cold, but by the time it arrived in Laodicea, it was tepid.

In contrast, in the nearby valley there were three hot springs, but water transported from them would cool and by the time it arrived in Laodicea, it also would be tepid.

So the Laodiceans would be familiar with cold water that was no longer cold like it had been in the mountains, and with hot water that was no longer hot as it had been in the valley. How they might have wished for cold water to drink or hot water to bath in. But what they had was only room temperature water that was not good for either purpose.

In short, I think the Laodiceans understood that God wanted them to be useful, not ineffectual or purposeless.

In some ways, I think the church in America got caught up in the ways of the Laodiceans. We simply forgot what we were supposed to do and why we were to do it.

We’re still trying to find our way, but the problem is that we think, too often, that what people need is what we have—the good life. They need three square meals a day (though we rarely eat that way any more—maybe the better way to state it would be, as much food as they want each day, when they want it). They need a roof over their head and clothes on their back. They need safety and freedom, a job, and a government that will protect them.

I’m not saying those things are wrong or that we shouldn’t readily give them when we are able. But is any of that why Jesus came? Is any of that what Jesus told us to pass on to others?

Actually, no. Jesus came to preach the good news. He told us to make disciples. By the way, disciples are not brainwashed fools who go mindlessly along doing what they’re told, but they are actual followers who want to grow more and more like the Savior who rescued them from darkness, and transferred them into His kingdom of light.

I think we’ve gotten confused. On one hand, we thought “disciples” meant “converts,” so we were happy with people coming to the front in an evangelistic meeting and “giving their life to Christ” even though they might take it back a year later because they didn’t really know what this “Christian thing” was supposed to do for them.

On the other hand, we thought we could make disciples by handing out lunches to the homeless on skid row, and by supplying clothes for the used goods store, or buying a present for the child of a prison inmate or many other very necessary activities.

Please understand: converts are good; activities that help others are good. But they should not replace “making disciples.” They are lukewarm. They don’t satisfy the thirsty man and they don’t adequately wash a dirty one. They aren’t bad, in and of themselves. And if they get a little ice or get heated on the stove, then they can do what they were intended to do. But alone? Lukewarm.

And Scripture says, lukewarm is destined for one thing. Some translations say, God will spit them out, some say spew, some say vomit. The point is, lukewarm is worthless.

The great thing about this message to the church in Laodicea, I think is verse 19:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

God doesn’t want His Church to stay in a place of uselessness. Because He loves us. Loves us! Yes, He loves those He’s sending us to as well, but He loves us. He doesn’t want us as tools, but He understands our need for purpose. He wants us to be involved in His business, to get on with advancing His kingdom. That’s a high and holy purpose—one that requires us to be hot or cold, just not lukewarm.

Published in: on January 23, 2018 at 5:32 pm  Comments (5)  
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Living in Laodicea—The Church, Part 7b

A couple things stand out in the verses John wrote about the church in Laodicea. One is that he didn’t commend them about anything. In contrast, he commended the church in Ephesus because they could not endure evil men, uncovered false teachers, had perseverance, endured, did not grow weary.

Believers in Pergamum were recognized as those who hold fast to Christ’s name and did not deny their faith.

The Thyatiran church was praised for their love and faith and service and perseverance and that their deeds of late were greater than at first.

You get the drift. But when he comes to Laodicea, much as he did when he addressed Sardis, he gets right to the problems.

Which brings a second observation. The real problem of the Laodicean church was a lack of spiritual discernment. They thought they were rich, wealthy, in need of nothing. Why? Because their focus was on the externals. They didn’t know they were actually miserable.

How can someone not know when they’re miserable? When they live in denial or in a state of medicated insulation from reality. Or when they haven’t got a clue what Not Miserable felt like.

Niggling at the back of my mind has been the idea that the current economic downturn might actually be an answer to prayer for revival in our land. In tough economic times, it seems like more people are willing to face the fact that they are, in truth, miserable.

Of course, the next step needs to be the realization that misery doesn’t come because of economic troubles.

Which reminds me of an interesting program I saw for the first time last night. It’s called something like Secret Millionaire. The premise is that a true moneyed person or couple moves into a poor community, with only the funds equivalent to what someone on welfare would have. They spend the time getting to know people, then at the end of the designated time, they go back and give generously to those they wish to encourage.

The thing is, the husband in last night’s show was in tears at the end as he admitted that he thought he would change the lives of the people he could give money to, but instead their love and commitment to helping others, with no remuneration, changed him.

In essence, he realized that, despite his wealth, he was miserable, and they, despite their poverty, were rich.

I have no way of knowing if those loving people were Christians or not. I hope so, or their good deeds will be just another layer hiding misery. And one day, one day, all those layers come off.

God said to the Laodiceans that He disciplines those He loves. It could be the church in America has been taken out to the woodshed. May we get on our knees and repent, first of lacking discernment that we didn’t even know we were miserable, then, of being lukewarm when we could be on fire for our great and glorious God.

Published in: on December 11, 2008 at 3:31 pm  Comments Off on Living in Laodicea—The Church, Part 7b  
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Living in Laodicea—The Church, Part 7a

One of my favorite Christian musicians when I was younger was Steve Camp (never mind that I was banned from his blog a few years ago—that is another whole story! 😮 ). In the early 1980’s he had a song out called “Living in Laodicea.” As I was thinking about writing this last segment of my latest Church series, that song title popped into my head. I decided to take a look at the lyrics and see if it encapsulated what I wanted to say about the warnings in Revelation 3 to the church in Laodicea.

Some time early in my adulthood, I heard a sermon that seemed to tie the church in America with the church in Laodicea, so I always paid a little more attention to the verses directed to that body. Only recently did I realize that the warnings to the other churches, and the commendations, could be equally informative—and should be.

Still, I feel like I’m on familiar territory when it comes to the warnings to this church. So I’ll introduce the topic today and spend more time on it tomorrow (God willing).

If you’re interested in hearing the Steve Camp song, or reading all the lyrics, you can find it here. I want to give you a flavor. The following is the second verse followed by the chorus:

We have turned from Your Law to try to find a better way
Each man does today what is right in his own eyes
We will pay the price for our sinning
We can never know true living, we’ve exchanged His truth for lies

For we’ve been living in Laodicea
And the fire that once burned bright, we’ve let it grow dim
And the very Word we swore that we would die for all has been forgotten
As the world’s become my friend

Here’s the crux of the warning to the Laodicean Christians: stop being lukewarm. In a graphic manner, Christ, speaking through John, says the not-hot-not-cold Christians made him want to puke.

He goes on to say that at the heart of their lukewarm-ness was their false sense of security:

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, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eyesalve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.

Well, OK, then. Yes, I think there’s more to say on this subject.

Published in: on December 10, 2008 at 2:34 pm  Comments (6)  
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