A Tender Heart

Jesus' tender love toward us should motivate us to come back to Him.

Revelation 3:14-22


In the hot summer months, after that ball game, or mowing the lawn, nothing is better than a glass of ice cold drink. Can you imagine if you pick up the cup and find out the drink is lukewarm? Yuck, right? When you go to Chinese restaurants, they always serve hot tea. Its unthinkable if the tea is lukewarm. There is something about lukewarmness that we dislike.

This was Jesus' rebuke against the church at Laodicea. She was lukewarm.
The city of Laodicea was about 100 miles inland from Ephesus. During the mid first century, it was a very prosperous commercial center, famous for manufacturing black wool and carpets. It was once destroyed by a strong earthquake in AD 60, and was later rebuilt. The church at Laodicea was mentioned several times in the letter to the Colossians.

How was Jesus described here? v14,"...these are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation." He is the Amen, being faithful and true. He is the one with certainty. "Ruler" can also be translated as "beginning". He was there at the beginning of creation. This theme of Jesus' certainty and sovereignty is frequently found in the letter to the Colossians.

Now, lets take a closer look at this church.

I. A lukewarm church.

v15,"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other." v16, "..because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--..." Jesus used the imagery of lukewarm water to describe the church at Laodicea. They were familiar with this picture. You see, Laodicea didn't have its own local water supply. They built an aquaduct system, bringing in water from a nearby hot spring at Hierapolis. By the time water got to Laodicea, it was tepid and distasteful.

Jesus told them that this was their spiritual condition. Regarding their relationship with Jesus Christ, they were like lukewarm water. If they were cold, then they would be lifeless. If they were hot, their lives would be different. But instead, they were lukewarm. They were uncommitted, their attitude towards God was neutral, eventually leading to spiritual blindness. Their lukewarmness was a denial of all that Christ stood for. They claimed to follow him, but they kept looking back. They claimed to follow him, yet their self-denial was half-hearted. They claimed to have Christ in their hearts, yet he was shut out of their lives. And worse, they didn't even realize their own condition.

The believers in that Laodicean church were not the only ones who were lukewarm. Lukewarmness is present all around us. How is it expressed?

A lukewarm christian doesn't take the bible seriously. Yes, he believes that the bible is God's word, but it really doesn't mean much to him. He may read it once in a while. Seldom would he use the bible as a guide and standard in his home and professional life. He claims to be a Christian, yet he lets the world dictate how he should live. The movies and TV programs he watches would be no different from someone who doesn't know God.

A lukewarm Christian also shows no interest in mission or evangelism. There is little or no desire to share the gospel message with people around him. There's no compassion for those outside God's kingdom.

God is neutral in a lukewarm Christian's life. He's left behind in the locker room or in the filing cabinet that one seldom uses. We come to him only when a crisis hits us. In our daily lives, he is absent. In other words, he too is shut out of our lives.

You probably can think of other expressions of lukewarmness. But how does anyone get to this stage? The answer is found in v17,"You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.'" This is an apt description of a self-made person. I've worked hard, I've made enough, I'm capable of doing it on my own. I don't need anyone or anything. I'm very self sufficient. I can handle my problems. I know what to do when I am in trouble. I have a certain set of rules to play with. I don't really need God, right now.

Do you know what is the problem with lukewarmness? There is a skewed perception of reality. To the person who says, "I'm rich; I've acquired wealth, I do not need a thing", his world is what he sees, touches and has. And therefore, spiritual things, relationship with God all take a back seat. They are irrelevant and unimportant, except in times of crisis.

II. Jesus' prescription to lukewarmness.

Don't we sometimes feel this way? It's not only that person or that church is lukewarm, but we also see traces of it within us. So what do we do about this? In v16, we see one of the sternest rebukes in the 7 letters. "So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Its like tasting that lukewarm water, ready to spit out. In other words, Jesus is saying, "this lukewarmness is simply unacceptable. Don't continue on like this. Do something about it. If not, I am going to spit you out of my mouth. I can't stand it any longer." What were they told to do? v18,"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." He instructed them to do 3 things:

1. Back to God's word.

First, get rich. Well, this was their language. They understood what was rich. You see, after the 60 AD earthquake that destroyed the city, the Laodiceans refused any government aid. They rebuilt the city from their own resources. Later among the 7 thousand Jewish males living in that city, they collected 22 1/2 pounds of gold to build the temple in Jerusalem. They were wealthy.

But Jesus told them that there was another kind of wealth, acquired only through another kind of gold that was available from Jesus. In the Hebrew OT, gold is often used to described God's word. True wealth is not how much money you have, but if you have God's word in you. Jesus was inviting them back to his word. To take his word seriously.

2. Cover with God's righteousness.

The second thing Jesus told them to do was to buy white clothes from him. Again this was their language. The city of Laodicea was famous for making black wool. This was probably their fashion. They were busy making and selling clothes, but Jesus told them that their clothes wouldn't cover up their nakedness. It's like the Emperor's new clothes in Anderson's fairy tales. You think you are wearing the best name brand clothes, but in reality, they cover nothing. In God's sight you are naked and shameful.

Instead, they were to buy white clothes from Jesus. White represents righteousness. They were to cover themselves with good and righteous works. They were well to do, but they have forgotten the poor, the oppressed ones around them.

In the book of Micah we have these powerful words. Micah 6:7-8," Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Jesus was telling the Laodicean Christians, did I care about your offerings and those contentless religious activities? No, I want you to be just, merciful to those around you, and be humble before God. These are the white clothes you need to put on.

3. New ointment for clear vision.

The third thing Jesus wanted them to do was to buy salve from him so they could really see. Ah, they knew this well. In the city of Laodicea was a famous medical school. Out of this place a very famous eye ointment was made. While they were busy selling this ointment, Jesus reminded them of their own blindness. They could certainly use a better ointment on themselves. It would open their eyes so they could take a good look at themselves.

This was a reference to the holy spirit. Jesus told them to come to him and let the holy spirit open their eyes so they could clearly see what their conditions were. That they were wretched, pitiful, poor , blind and naked. If they could only see this, they would certainly wake up, abandon their self-reliance and turn to God.

Where do we stand in our own spirituality? How do you define your relationship with God? Are they in terms of what church/Fellowship you belong to? That you attend Sunday worship and Sunday School? That you are quite active in various ministries? But, what is your heart like? Is there an unswerving commitment to Jesus Christ, a fervent love for him? A deep desire to know him and make him known? Or we have become rather indifferent towards him. Yes, we need him in our life as a back up. We have too many other things occupying our thoughts. To some of us, we feel our relationship with God is just not the top priority right now. We'll come back to Him later. If our understanding of this passage is accurate, this is certainly unacceptable to Christ. If we do nothing about it, Jesus' warning is equally true to us: he'll spit us out of his mouth. What does he want of us?

First, to come back to God's words. We are familiar with material wealth. To many of us, this is one main objective in life. We want to be wealthy. Here we are told that there is another kind of wealth. It comes as a result of our understanding of God's word. To achieve this wealth, we're to begin reading God's word regularly, and be obedient to what we read.

Secondly, we're told what to wear. Most of us know what clothes to wear and how to impress others with what we wear. Sometimes we wear bright red or dark blue to project an image of formality and authority. Or light colors to project warmth and casual. But here we are told to clothe ourselves with God's righteousness. To manifest qualities such as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. He wants us to love those who do not deserve and to be humble before God. When we are humble before God, then we too will become humble and submissive to people around us. He wants us to treat everyone with equality and fairness. To take care of the underprivileged, oppressed, poor and the weak. In Proverbs 31:8-9, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

Then, above all, we need to have the Holy Spirit open our eyes. We think we know ourselves very well. We care for our family, and we are decent people. We need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes that we clearly see what we are like before God. It is not a very pleasant picture. We are poor, wretched, pitiful, blind and naked. This realization will drive us to God, causing us to see how much we need him.

In John Baillie's word, we need to ask God to help us see that the spiritual, invisible world is just as real as our world. Our spiritual life is the most important part of us. When our relationship with God is out of order, it will affect every other area of our life.

III. Jesus' tender love for the lukewarm church.

Here we've certainly seen one of the strongest rebuke of the 7 letters: "I am about to spit you out of my mouth. "Why? v19,"those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent." Why such a severe rebuke? Because I love you. On the one hand, a stern and severe rebuke, but on the other hand, this is also the most tender of the 7 letters. No one can remain untouched by Jesus' tender heart.

Jesus made a special effort to explain to them that he rebuked, disciplined them because He loved them. He didn't want to see them in that downward spiral. They were blind, having no idea where they stood spiritually. They could be comparing themselves with others and conclude that everything was fine. But this didn't mean much. You see, when two people are falling down from a tall building, and if they compare themselves with each other, they are OK. Jesus knew the real situation before them. He didn't want them to hit the ground, so he reached out and rebuked them. Wanting them to wake up and turn around.

Jesus is always tender and loving toward those who have strayed from him. This can best be described by the words found in Hosea 11:4,"I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them." Despite the Israelites' repeated rejection of God, He never gave up on them. Because he loved them deeply.


Have you ever wondered why you are here this morning? Or for that matter, why you are here for the last several weeks listening to what Jesus had to say to the seven churches? Certainly at times we realize how appropriate some of the messages are for the other person. How so and so really need to listen to this or that sermon. But if we are honest with ourselves, don't we sometimes feel a little uncomfortable by what we hear? At least I did.

When I hear those indictments about compromise, tolerating sins, alive outside but dead inside, lukewarm towards God, I certainly can identify with them. I know that Jesus is speaking to me, just as he is speaking to you. He speaks to us, he shouts at us, he warns us, because he loves us. If not, he would have just left us alone. Even in our wretchedness, poverty and blindness, he loves us deeply. But what is our response?

In this passage, we read, "I counsel you to buy from me gold, clothes and eye ointment...." He did not force it on us. We have to decide if we want to come to buy that gold, clothe and eye ointment from Him. Again, in v20, we have the well-known passage, "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 him, and he with me." What did Jesus say to us? I am standing outside your door. I am knocking. If you hear it and open the door, I'll come in and have fellowship with you. Who has the key to open this door? We do.

This and other passages again deal with the mystery of God's sovereignty. He initiated, yet we have to respond. He invited us, yet we have to decide to accept or reject. He is knocking on our door. We have heard him. He won't force his way in, but we have to decide whether or not to open the door.

Out of his love for us, Jesus is calling us to come back to him. Life without Christ or with Him in one corner sometimes may seem to be fun and free. But deep inside we know its miserable. There is neither peace nor joy. There may also be plenty of guilt feelings. But we don't have to continue to live like this. Jesus loves us deeply. He wants to come back into our lives again, to have that intimate and loving relationship with us.

Rev. William Hsueh    June 11, 2000    Houston Chinese Church,  Houston, Texas