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
Now, lets take a closer look at
I. A lukewarm
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
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
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 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.
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:
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.
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.
ointment for clear vision.
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
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?
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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.
Hsueh June 11, 2000
Houston Chinese Church, Houston, Texas