"And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: 'The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation. -- Revelation 3: 14 (ESV)
So we come to the final letter to the seven churches in Asia from our Lord Jesus Christ. We have seen six churches so far. Two of them doing the right thing and four which were not. The four that were not lined up along a continuum of problems from sin and idolatry to false doctrine. Yet even in the dead church at Sardis, there was something positive for Jesus to point out. There was still a remnant there of believers who had not soiled their garments. Not so for the Church in Laodicea. Often this church is considered the lukewarm church but I think the more apt name is the false church. As well see it is the church that literally makes Jesus sick. There is nothing true about it. If there was a remnant, Jesus does not address them. Beloved, luke-warmness is metaphorical for being unsaved. This was a church filled with goats playing church. Sound familiar? It should because the vast majority of churches in this country are exactly like the Church in Laodicea.
The opening line is our key verse today and reminds us of a crucial role that Jesus serves for the Father. He is the witness. He is faithful and He is the true witness. Unlike on earth where people compromise their own testimony and bear false witness routinely, there is no escaping the testimony of Jesus Christ as the faithful and true witness. What was going on at Laodicea may have been able to fool everyone else but nothing fools God. In the Book of Job we see the rhetorical question asked -- will you be able to lie to God as you lie to man? The answer is a resounding "no" because there is a witness. Secondly, Jesus Christ is the amen. The word amen simply means so be it. When we are dealing with Christ we are dealing with absolute certainty. There will be no arguing your position with Christ. Even the people who stand before Him and say Lord Lord in Matthew 7 will know full well that their lot is entirely of their own doing. Lastly here He is the beginning of God's creation. Some have twisted this to infer that He is saying He was created but within this context it is clear that Christ is affirming His authority. He is the beginning of creation. He is the reason. He is the source. There is no creation without Him. His authority, His witness and His certainty. All precursors for the pronouncement to follow against the false church at Laodicea and that is yet to come for the false church today.
"'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either 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 (ESV)
I want to deal with this on a couple of levels. First let us deal with this on a personal spiritual level. Someone who is considered hot is likened to someone who is on fire for God. It is how most Christians start out. Everything is fresh and new and we are simply on fire for the things of the Lord. This is how we ought to be as Christians -- zealous. Then you have people who are unsaved and essentially agnostic regarding God. They are ice cold. Now, the one who is hot needs little convincing of the things of God. The one who is ice cold is potentially still open to hearing about the Gospel. But the lukewarm person thinks they are hot. As the metaphor playing out is someone who is unsaved, the lukewarm person thinks they are saved when they are not. Jesus is saying that He can work with the hot or even the cold, but the lukewarm is so difficult to reach. He also lamented this in the Gospel accounts when He said that when people convince themselves that their darkness is light, how deep is their darkness! That is simply a different metaphor stating the same truism. If someone has convinced themselves that their lukewarmness is really hot, how tepid is that lukewarmness? We see this playing out in churches across this country and throughout the world. You cannot speak doctrine to people who think they are already perfect in what they do. Adherents to Joseph Prince for example are nearly as unreachable as Jehovah's Witness followers. There is no speaking solid doctrine to them. Try preaching the true Gospel to followers of the false signs and lying wonders or youth based churches -- including Bethel, IHOP, and Hillsong. Good luck. You will be deemed a legalist faster than you can know what hit you. Speak out against Joel Osteen and even sane rational Christians seem to come out of the woodwork to defend him, despite the fact that he a wolf devouring the sheep of the Lord. Lukewarmness is a spiritual condition affecting the majority of purpose driven, seeker friendly churches today. As we will see as we delve into the traits of such churches.
Secondly however, there are practical reasons why Jesus used this imagery for Laodicea. There were neighboring cities known for their water. One was a place of renowned hot springs where people would come from all around to gain healing. Another was known for the coldness of their waters, which people marveled at the refreshing abilities of the water. Then in the middle was Laodicea. Neither refreshing like cold waters nor healing like hot ones, they were simply lukewarm and good for neither. Good for nothing. That is because while the city was very prosperous and in fact wealthy, they had to bring water in from outside the city via a system of aqueducts. Due to the construction of these and the technology of the time, the water become very tepid by the time it reached the city and was laden with impurities that made it virtually undrinkable. This is the spiritual imagery Christ wants us to have when we think about the false church. It is good for nothing. It cannot bring healing or salvation. It cannot refresh. It is tepid. It is filled with impurities. It is of no use and is virtually good for nothing. A harsh rebuke to say the least but how about the result we see here? Just like if the residents drank the aqueduct waters they would become ill, so the Laodicean Church made Jesus sick. So sick He declares He will spit them out of His mouth! While the other churches certainly disappointed Him, it is only the false church that makes Him sick.
For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. -- Revelation 3: 17 (ESV)
Here we see the charges laid out against the false church. The false church is a proud church. They revel in their falseness behind a screen of false piety and trumpeted good works. If you are posting pictures of the homeless people you are helping then you have already received your reward says the Bible. I remember once a follower of Creflo Dollar once informed me that he gave out free backpacks to all the kids in the neighborhood of his New York church. In the same month he asked his followers and donors to buy him a 70 million dollar Lear Jet. Let that absurdity sink in for a moment. Yet what are the claims of the false church in Laodicea and the false church today? I am rich. I have prospered. I need nothing. Let us deal with these one at a time. I am rich. The false church is a bragging church. It is an opulent church. It shows off its wealth. Whether it is waterfalls in the lobby or bowling alleys in the entertainment center, both of which are true stories of churches in America, the decadence is obvious. Rich churches like to show off. They like to hire the best talent for their productions. The most trained voices and the most experienced musicians. There is always a light show and smoke machines. For the holidays there are always ridiculous excesses to draw more people. Just last week for Christmas, Mega-Church heretic Ed Young transformed his church into an actual circus for Christmas. Last year, Hillsong re-wrote Silent Night into a 1920's burlesque number with flappers and everything. The false church is rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Joel Osteen purchased the former arena of the Houston Rockets for 7.5 million dollars. Kenneth Copeland lives in a 6.5 million dollar mansion that he writes off to the IRS as a "parsonage." Even the smaller potatoes like obvious huckster Paula White is worth five million dollars. The false church prides itself on being rich.
It also prides itself on the progress it has made in a carnal world, selling carnality. I have prospered it says! Laodicea was very prosperous and proud as well. They felt they needed no one's help. In fact, when they need to rebuild once they refused help from Rome and handled it themselves. It was a major hub of business. It was a central banking center and traded well in black wool and an innovative eye salve used for medicinal purposes. When we see mega churches today respond to criticisms they usually are centered on the relative success the church has had. When many of these mega church pastors take over there are a few hundred people and then they build it into thousands of people. They view this as a spiritual success instead of realizing that it is spiritual judgment. The only reason why so many people are willing to come is that they like what they hear. The Gospel is meant to offend beloved. It is meant to divide people. Most mega churches are in the business of not offending anyone. That is the entire premise of the Seeker Friendly Industrial Complex. That there are these swaths of people just dying to seek after God and the church must not offend them with correct doctrine or accurate theology. So they rest upon their mountain of unconverted souls and brag that they indicate God's blessing but meanwhile the witness knows better. He always does.
In laying out the charges, Jesus says that they possess five qualities that they do not even realize. The false church is always clueless about their falseness. The first accusation is that they are actually wretched. The definition of wretched has many synonyms including, miserable, distressed, dismal, disconsolate, despairing, and desolate. This is the opposite of how they viewed themselves to say the least. We have to understand that this is a spiritual condition Christ is referring to. Laodicea as the false churches today, uses the world to measure their health. They use carnal metrics and then try to apply them spiritually. I know local churches that boast in their deeds and attendance but they are completely devoid of the Spirit of God. Their pastor is a hireling, who approaches his job from a business perspective. People are not saved there, although they are told they are. There is no victory over sin and death. Sure they can put on a good show like nobody's business but at the end of the day they are completely and utterly wretched.
What goes hand in hand with their wretched state is that they are pitiable. They do not deserve our mockery. They do not deserve our disdain. They only deserve our pity. Why? Because their darkness is so deep and they have no idea. They will go on serving the devil and fooling themselves into believing they are serving God. People will give their money and time to this work only to discover on the last day that they never even knew the God they thought they were serving. They will spend an eternity apart from God in everlasting punishment because of this grievous error. If that does not deserve pity, I do not know what does. While we preach the real Gospel to these lost souls, in the hopes that few will come into the light, the overall structure will endure and people will be lost for eternity. Pity them beloved.
The false church is also charged with being poor. Once again, the opposite of how it views itself. Much like the proud Pharisees who thought their position and piety were everything, the false church will one day realize they too ignored the weightier matters. They may have a grand building like Lakewood Church. They may have international leadership conferences like Willow Creek Church. They may have their own television networks and programming like The Potter's House. They may have programs for everyone, enviable childcare, and a staffing budget in the millions of dollars but they are still dirt poor when it comes to the things of the Spirit. The currency of the Spirit is not like the carnality they trade in. They are poor in mercy, justice and grace. They are poor in true compassion. Sure they might build playgrounds in Central America but they hold in their hands the keys to the kingdom of heaven and they shut the door to it in the faces of those seeking the Lord. They are spiritually bankrupt.
They are blind beloved. They cannot see. This is why they believe their wretchedness is prosperity. This is why they believe their poverty are riches beyond measure. It is why they fancy themselves enviable when they are pitiable. They are incapable of seeing their spiritual condition. The entire Seeker Friendly Industrial Complex props them up. Tells them they are doing great! Just keep filling those pews and collecting those tithes! Keep doing those nine word sinner's prayers at those five minute altar calls! Gotta fill out those shape applications and schedule the next baptism class! Pastor has a new book coming out soon! Did you see him on Oprah? My church is the best! We are all about love and love and love. Theology? What are you a legalist? Blind to the core beloved and walking right off a cliff.
And they simply do not care. They are naked; the final charge against them. They are shameful and shameless. Perhaps this is the most egregious charge. They simply do not care. They like playing church and are not ashamed of it at all. Maybe they have convinced themselves they are doing it all for God. Our hearts are wickedly deceitful. It matters not because it produces a false Christian that is nearly unreachable. Jesus' charge here is that it is easier to reach a murderer than a false Christian because at least the murderer knows what he has done. It is easier to reach a prostitute for she knows what she is. The false Christian, in the false church has no idea. They are poor beyond measure, wretched to their core, pitiable to the sight, blind to it all, and do not care that their shame is visible to all except themselves.
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. -- Revelation 3: 18 (ESV)
This is perhaps one of the most amazing verses in the Bible that shows how no one is beyond redemption. Sure there was the thief on the cross but here you have an entire church that has physically made Christ sick with their hypocrisy and doctrine and yet he extends them His counsel. After all this He still offers to redeem them. To give them refined gold for their poverty. What is this refined gold beloved? The true salvation of the Lord. It is still there for those who are willing to come into the light. To come out from among them. He also says He will give them white righteous garments for their nakedness and eye salve for their blindness. What a gracious and merciful God we serve! Please do not lose the irony either. What were the three aforementioned commerce areas that Laodicea thrived and built their wealth upon? Banking, black wool, and medicinal eye salve. Yet despite this they were poor, naked and blind! To counter their perceived carnal successes, Jesus offers them refined gold, white righteous garments and true eye salve for their spiritual blindness. How good is God? Yet despite this benevolence, most will still stay in their condition. The letter now ends: