The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”
I’m sure many of you have had the experience where you’re taking a nice, hot, refreshing shower, when all of a sudden, the hot water goes out. Maybe you just lathered your hair with shampoo or put the shaving cream on your second leg. As soon as the hot water is gone, we start making quick decisions for how to get out of there as fast as possible. Maybe I can just rinse my hair and wash it better tomorrow. I’ll just wear jeans and nobody will notice my legs. While the water may not be ice cold, it’s no longer hot though, and it’s uncomfortable. Nobody wants to be in that shower anymore. This gross, lukewarm temperature is not what we want in a good shower. The lukewarm water will need a new fire under it to turn back to hot water.
Christ uses this image of lukewarm water to describe the faith and passion of the church at Laodicea. They are not cold or hot. The church is not dead, but it’s not thriving. No one would want to be a part of the lukewarm church. The message Christ gives the Laodiceans and us in our passage tonight in Rev 3 is that lukewarm Christians need to hear Christ’s rebuke to gain a faith that is hot. Christ calls the church of Laodicea out of mediocrity, out of its lukewarm faith, and into a faith that it hot. Lukewarm Christians need to hear Christ’s rebuke to gain a faith that is hot.
Tonight’s lesson begins our look at the 7 letters to the churches in Revelation. We won’t have time to look at each one in depth, so Ashley and I have chosen the ones we think have the most content or can cause the most confusion, and those will be the ones we will focus on over the next 3 weeks. As we read through these letters, I want to remind you that the lessons and events had meaning in the 1st Century/John’s time, they have meaning to the current church in whatever time they are read, and they have meaning for the future times which are still to come. Note that the repeated phrase/exhortation to each letter (see handout) is “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Each letter is written to “the churches” (plural). The words of each letter are important for all churches in all times to hear God’s message.
EPHESUS: Loss of Love
The letters we had you read in preparation for tonight were Ephesus and Laodicea. Both letters speak of a loss that the church has experienced, it’s a theme of the two. Ephesus has lost its love and Laodicea has lost its passion. Ephesus is accused of losing their first love, of falling from the height they used to know. They are praised for their deeds, their endurance, and their orthodoxy (they are great defenders of the faith from attack), but along the way they have lost their love. People wonder: did they lose love for God or for each other? Well, probably both. Just as Jesus summarized the law, we are to love the Lord our God and then love our neighbor as ourselves, the two are bound together and if you lose one, the other will certainly go as well. So Christ rebukes them, calling them to remember their first love, to repent, and to resume their previous deeds. When they do, they will experience full life, in the presence of the one who is LOVE himself… This is a quick summary of the letter to the Ephesians. We’re not going to focus on this letter tonight, so if you had more questions when you were reading it, please feel free to come and ask Ashley or me about them.
LAODICEA: Loss of Passion
We are going to spend the rest of the evening focusing on the church in Laodicea and what it means that they have lost their passion, their fire.
What do we know about the church at Laodicea? Laodicea is mentioned several times in the book of Colossians. In his closing to the Colossians, Paul writes that his coworker Epaphras is working hard for Laodicea and Hierapolis and that after his letter is read to the Colossians, it should be read to the Laodiceans, and then the letter to the Laodiceans should be read to the Colossians. You may be thinking, um, my Bible doesn’t have a letter to the Laodiceans. You’re right. Unfortunately, the letter to the Laodiceans has not be preserved, so we don’t know what it says, although we do know that this church would be familiar with the letter to the Colossians and Paul’s teaching about Jesus. 2 things about its background that are important for understanding this letter are: its water source and industries.
1) Water: From archeology, we know that the city of Laodicea didn’t have its own water source. Aqueducts have been found traveling both from Hierapolis, a town 10 miles to the North with hot springs, to Laodicea, and from Colossae, which was 6 miles east and had cold springs, to Laodicea. They had to import water from other cities. The sources of their water were both hot and cold, but unfortunately, by the time it reached Laodicea, it was only lukewarm at best. The aqueducts and water system will provide the context for Christ’s rebuke to this church.
2) Industry: Laodicea was wealthy. They were the wealthiest city in the region. (Think Highland Park in Dallas…) We know that they had several successful industries. Three in particular are important for understanding this letter. 1- Finance – they were a banking center in the region. 2- Garment Industry- The fertile lands around Laodicea were good for sheep grazing, and the city was known for successfully producing black wool from their sheep to make clothes with. 3- Medicine- in particular, Laodicea was a center for the study of the eyes, and they had produced a powder, a salve, that could be put on the eyes to heal them of diseases. The industries of Laodicea will provide the context for Christ’s call to change for this church.
So, the things for us to keep in mind as we go through this letter are that 1) they didn’t have a good water source and 2) they had great wealth from their different industries.
As the letter begins, Christ jumps right into condemning their faith. This is the only letter that has no praises at all for the church. The rebuke starts in verses 15-16. As we read these verses, it’s clear that when Christ calls them neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm, he’s using the temperature of their imported water to speak to the temperature of their spiritual life.
What are some ways that we can be “lukewarm” in our faith? What does it mean to be lukewarm spiritually? We can be: complacent, self-satisfied, self-reliant, pretending, putting on a show, pride, indifference, absorbed with the culture, being proud of our money, our clothes, our accomplishments, etc. So these are great examples of what faith that is lukewarm looks like. Notice that Christ wishes they were either hot or cold: even cold would be better than where they are. Cold faith would basically be no faith or nominal faith; there would be no recognizable difference between them and the world/the culture.
I once met a man who told me he doesn’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites. I said, sure it is, that’s the point. We may mess up, but we go to church to learn how to grow and change and receive forgiveness from Christ when we do slip up. The point of the gospel is that we have new life, now, in Christ, we have forgiveness and restoration. But, unfortunately, some people don’t go to church to change; there are many Christians that are content living lives that are hypocritical: that are out of sync with their faith. But we shouldn’t knowingly continue to live opposite to the life that Christ calls us to, so we have to know what he calls us to.
So Christ says he would rather we have no faith than be lukewarm. And lukewarm faith actually disgusts Christ: in verse 16, he says he is about to spit (or spew) them out of his mouth. The “faith” of lukewarm Christians nauseates Christ. He wants so much more from us, but what?
A Faith that is Hot
What does a faith that is hot look like then? On first thought, we think of a hot faith, being one that is “on fire,” characterized by passion for Christ, passion for faith, passionate to serve God and carry out his desires and will on earth. Hot faith is excited faith, fresh faith. It represents a change in your life.
Two weeks ago, a woman had a prayer request that she would feel good all week, like she does when she leaves Bible Study. Her request is a great example of how being in God’s word, being in community, being in prayer helps us grow and develop a faith that is desirable, passionate.
Next, Christ uses the second aspect of their context: their industry to further rebuke them and to call for change. Let’s look first at verse 14 and the description of Christ as:
“the Amen, the faithful and true witness.”
This description of Christ, like all the descriptions of Christ in the 7 letters (top row of chart), was also found in Rev 1, which we talked about several weeks ago. Because Christ is faithful and true, his observation of their spiritual state is faithful and true.
In verse 17, Christ points out the difference in how the Laodiceans view themselves and how they really are. They say, “we are rich; we have gained wealth; we do not need a thing. But Christ says they don’t realize that they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” They can’t see their true spiritual state because they’re blinded by their physical state; they can’t see their spiritual poverty because their physical riches get in the way.
Christ then speaks to their true need, to their true spiritual state, by calling them to change. He tells them to buy from him. What does he tell them they need from him?: Refined gold (versus their own banking), white clothes (versus their black wool), and eye salve from him (versus the eye powder from their medical schools). Christ gets to the heart of their condition. They are lukewarm because they place their value and their worth and their identity in the things of their own city. The church has become proud and boasts in the very things that the city is known for. There is no real difference in the city and the church. Their wealth, their clothes and their medicine has blinded them to their true selves. They have the physical, but not the spiritual.
What are the industries found in Dallas? What do we pride ourselves on as a city? Things like: fashion, shopping, arts, banking, technology, etc. How are we tempted by these things? Do we trust in the money we make, where we live, with being in and near such a successful city like Highland Park? Do we worry about what clothes we own, spend large amounts of time shopping to look the part? Do we trust in our accomplishments, in our renown for what we can do for the community?
For Laodicea, their true spiritual condition was one of poverty, nakedness, and blindness. Christ’s rebuke to them is harsh: these would be hard words for them to hear because they saw themselves as so self-sufficient, but Christ means to awaken them, to open their eyes, so that they can move from being lukewarm to having a faith that is full of passion, one that is hot.
Christ’s Call to Change
How do we get a hot faith? Well, we have to hear the rebuke of Christ and recognize our true spiritual state. Christ lists 3 things (in verse 18) that we need for change:
1) We have to turn to him for gold, to get from him gold, refined in the fire. In Isa 55:1, God says to “come, buy from me, you who have no money, come and buy without money and without cost” (paraphrase). He is just saying, come to me and receive from me my free gift of mercy that I offer. He offers us gold, but refined gold that has gone through the fire to remove the dross, the impurities. It’s a process of taking off the bad to be left with a more beautiful and precious substance. It may hurt to go through the fire, through trials, but the end result is a more beautiful version of you—when you turn to Christ in that trial.
2) We have to turn to him for our clothes. He counsels them to buy his white clothes. Elsewhere in Revelation, like in the letter to Sardis, we see that there are a few who have not soiled their clothes and who wear white because they are worthy in God’s eyes. The 24 elders of Rev 4 who sit around God’s throne are dressed in white. In Rev 7, the people who have come out of the tribulation are before God’s throne serving him day and night. Their clothes/robes have been washed in the blood of the lamb and thus made white… It’s hard for us to imagine how washing something in blood can make it white, yet this is the very image of purity God uses to show us what we have through his son, through his death and resurrection. It’s counterintuitive…So, people shouldn’t be dazzled by our amazing fashion sense and ability to put together a great outfit, but by our faith; our faith and love are what people should notice about us.
3) We have to turn to Christ for salve (an ointment or medicine) to put on our eyes so that we can see. Laodicea may be known for curing eye problems with their powder, but their true spiritual condition is one of blindness. They base their fame on their ability to make others see, and yet they cannot even see themselves. They need to come to him to open their eyes.
Christ goes after everything that they have based their worth and identity on and shows its falseness. He shows their real need for him. They may think they have physical wealth and are so safe from judgment, but God shows them that they have no spiritual wealth and calls them to change. We have to recognize how much we need him—each day.
A Level of Suffering
I want to point out how being refined in the fire, wearing blood-soaked clothes, and having spiritually open eyes involves a level of pain, of suffering. Next week, we’re going to look at two churches that suffered a lot and were praised for it. We shouldn’t be afraid of growing through suffering. So, Christ rebukes lukewarm Christians so that they can gain a faith that is hot, full of true passion. But they have to go to him for the source of change. He calls them, and he enables them.
Gaining a Faith that is Hot
Where do we go from here then? We may want to have a faith that is hot, we don’t want to be lukewarm, but how do we get it?
First, think about where you are. Do you feel like you’re just drifting through, giving the bare minimum engagement with your faith? Are you lukewarm? If Christ were to look at your life, would he see evidence of growth and fruit in your life. The first step is for you to examine yourselves.
Second, stop doing the things that are holding you back in your faith. You probably know already what they are. Pray for Christ to give you the strength to stop. That he will give you the courage to stand up for what you know he wants you to do. Prayer and self-reflection are important parts of learning to stop doing the things that make you lukewarm in your faith.
Third, hear Christ’s rebuke: repent where you stray, humble your hearts, listen to Christ as he speaks to you. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Lukewarm Christians need to hear Christ’s rebuke to gain a faith that is hot. Notice in verse 19 that Christ says “those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” It really is out of his love for us, that Christ rebukes us and challenges us to wake up/open our eyes. He wants us to live truly meaningful lives.
Fourth, we need to hold onto the promises of God and his call for change. We have to go to the source of true change: Christ himself. His promises to us are also, gold, white clothes, open eyes. We have to come to him daily to ask for it; to ask for his transformation in our lives. Christ also promises that those who hear his message, who are earnest and repent and want to have a true faith, those will have the right to sit with him on his throne (verse 21), just as Christ overcame and sat on the throne with his father. This is a promise that we can hold onto now, because Christ is already reigning, but we just don’t see it fully yet. We can be his good agents of change in the world, though. So hold onto the promises of God, grasp them, and make them real in your life.
Fifth, involve the Holy Spirit in your changed behavior. Ask him to move you, to change you, to refine you, to turn your heart, to open your eyes. Ask for that passionate faith, for a faith that is hot.
Walk yourself through all these steps. Examine where you are lukewarm, make a commitment to change and to stop doing what’s keeping you lukewarm, hear Christ’s rebuke and repent, hold onto his promises, and finally, involve the Holy Spirit, who is the only lasting agent of change—and change IS possible through the Holy Spirit—and don’t forget that this is a refining process, it will be difficult. In conclusion, we’ve seen tonight, how lukewarm Christians need to hear Christ’s rebuke to gain a faith that is hot.
Questions for Discussion & Application…
- What are you passionate about? How does your faith factor into this?
- What is the state of your current spiritual life? Cold, lukewarm, or hot, and why?