Have you ever eagerly taken a drink of water, expecting it to be cool and refreshing, but instead found yourself resisting the urge to spit it out? When I’m in the middle of a long bike ride, the last thing I want is warm water. Unfortunately, when I’m miles from my car or the nearest restroom, and the hot sun has long since melted the ice in my water bottle, it’s the best I’m going to get (even if it does little to quench my thirst).
This is the uncomfortable scenario that comes to mind when I read Christ’s rebuke of the church in Laodicea:
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. (Revelation 3:15-16)
The significance of Christ’s indictment is found in Laodicea’s geographical location between the hot springs of Hierapolis and the cold water of Colossae. Unfortunately, by the time the water traveled through the aqueduct to its final destination, the water was lukewarm and unsuitable for drinking. Likewise, Laodicea had rendered itself useless for Christ. It’s not that they were doing nothing—Christ knew their deeds—but they produced no fruit and certainly did nothing to point others to Christ. Their works brought neither healing or cleansing nor refreshing. They were dead. From all outward appearances, they looked like “good” Christians, but the combination of their religiosity and lack of love for Christ exposed them as hypocrites. They had lost their saltiness. In fact, unlike the church at Philadelphia, who had an open door that could not be shut, Laodicea had shut the door on Christ, leaving Him outside in favor of satisfying more immediate desires.
It’s hard to study Revelation without doing some serious self-examination. And it’s clear that Christ meant this to be an indictment on any church who has settled into complacency. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:22). In fact, it’s directed to individuals, just as much as it is to a church. It’s easy to be extra-critical about the Laodiceans, but have you ever thought about what Christ would say to you? Unfortunately, His words ring altogether true for Christians in America today.
“You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’” (Rev. 3:17). Of the seven churches in Revelation, Laodicea was the wealthiest, largely because of their banking industry, manufacture of wool, and renowned medical school. Yet despite their material wealth, they were spiritually poor. They had become so self-sufficient and focused on the temporal, that they thought they had no need of Christ and the spiritual blessings He offers. Instead, they looked to worldly things for their satisfaction and had become apathetic in their spiritual walk. What’s more, they failed to recognize Christ as the giver of all good things and were not spurred to give Him the glory for their earthly achievements. Notice how this stands in opposition to Christ’s letter to the believers at Smyrna, who were impoverished by worldly standards, yet rich in spiritual things.
Much like Laodicea, we in America live primarily lives of comfort and ease. We have excelled in every area possible—medicine, art, manufacturing, science, agriculture, you name it—but rarely are we satisfied. It seems that we are more concerned with chasing after the American dream than truly following after our Savior and forsaking all, as He commanded. Instead, we are immersed in a society that is marked by consumerism and individualism. Even many churches are symbols of affluence, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that the same attitudes and self-reliance found outside of our church walls are prevalent within. We say we know Jesus as Lord, but do our lives show evidence of that? When we are blessed materially, do we give Christ the thanks due Him? Are we more concerned with accumulating possessions and symbols of status than we are of saving souls? Sadly, more often than not, my actions are self-serving instead of Christ-serving.
Christ’s characterization of Laodicea’s spiritual condition stands in stark contrast to their material riches: “You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). Even their most basic spiritual needs were compromised by their lack of dependence on Christ. He took all of the things they relied on most—their self-sufficiency, superficial success, medical prowess, and material wealth—and deemed them of no eternal worth.
The most revealing portion of the letter to Laodicea is the phrase you do not know. They were so blinded by the false sense of security afforded by their material possessions, they did not even realize they were spiritually bankrupt. They had an inflated sense of self-worth, because they could not see past their worldly pursuits. In Matthew 6, Jesus warns against storing up earthly treasures and identifies the underlying cause of a divided heart:
The eye is the lamp of the body, so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. (Matt. 6:22-23)
Have you checked your vision lately? Are you looking to Christ or something else?
It’s easy to be ignorant of our true spiritual state when our focus is not on Christ. Instead, we go through the motions and convince ourselves that we’re doing all the right things, when we’re really no better than the Pharisees who honored God with their lips, but whose hearts were far from Him.
We are not called to live lives of comfort and ease. In fact, God promises that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Furthermore, Christ is clear that we can’t do both: We cannot love the world and the Father or serve both God and money, for if we are not with Him, we are against Him. Interestingly, the Greek word for witness is martyr. The author of Hebrews exhorts the believers to endure persecution to death if needed. There is no promise of comfort or even physical safety when living for Christ; only that He will help us to endure and, one day, after every knee bows at the name of Jesus, we will reign with Him for eternity.
Christ’s commentary on Laodicea is the harshest of His letters to the seven churches, but His promises for their repentance are full of grace and hope. Through loving discipline that only a Father can give, He promises gold refined by fire, garments of righteousness, and eyes so they may see the truth. To those who turn towards Him, He offers full and restored fellowship. It is always His desire to bring us back into a right relationship with Him.
We will only find fulfillment in Christ and Christ alone. Have we lost sight of His preeminence? Are we trying to fit God into our lives, rather than the other way around? Today, let’s honestly examine our lives and heed the advice given in Hebrews:
Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith . . . (Hebrews 12:1-2)