The Lukewarm Church
Rev. 3:14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:
Rev. 3:15 “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. 20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. 21 To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
The story of this church in Laodicea may be the most famous of the seven churches. They are warned about being lukewarm and the nauseating idea of this putrid and impure water literally wants to make one vomit. The people of Laodicea knew this water, for it was their water. The River Lycus would dry up in the summer and the water they did receive via aqueducts came from two sources, one very cold and the other boiling hot. The problem was that the distance the water needed to travel resulted in stagnant and unhealthy lukewarm water which could easily make the residents sick. They knew this water all too well and the analogy to their spiritual lives would be all too clear as well.
The people of Laodicea were proud of what they had accomplished. They were the center of finance and banking for their region and were recognized for their wealth. The school of ophthalmology was likewise famous, bringing in students from around the region who learned how to treat eyes and eye conditions. The medications which were mixed in Laodicea were well-known. Finally, the type of sheep raised in the region resulted in a very fine wool which could be used to produce beautiful clothing. Therefore the warning, “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” No, they didn’t know this was a problem because they were wealthy, beautifully clothed and had their eyes treated in the material world — but that wasn’t enough! They were spiritually blind, poor and naked because they were not trusting in the Lord. They had allowed their faith to cool down to the point of contaminating and making others sick.
Finally we come to the verse which many of us have read and/or heard since our childhood. There is the famous picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking and we have heard this is Jesus knocking and waiting for us to open the door so he can come in and have a personal relationship with us. But in this context it means something different. Jesus is the master of the home and has simply been out engaged in his mission in the world. When he returns home the servant is to be awake and ready to open the door to allow him to come back in. Only in this case, the servant may have fallen asleep and so the master may need to knock loudly - again and again — simply to get back into his own home!
When the door is opened to the master he promises to come and eat with those inside. The master who goes out about his kingdom business returns home to the church where the family of faith partakes of the wedding supper of the lamb together — when he is present!
The lukewarm church is missing out on all that the master would like to provide.
There is sight for the blind.
There is financial provision.
There is clothing.
And there is the open door — coming and going in the kingdom of ministry — and the celebration around the table at the end of a long day.
The Warner Sallman painting, “Christ at Heart’s Door” is the image which often comes to mind when we think of Jesus knocking. However, today I have a new image of a church that has grown lukewarm and in which the servants have fallen asleep. The doors of the church are locking out Christ and those inside are sick. The church has no vision for the future, no financial resources and the building itself is falling into disrepair. Behold — Jesus is standing outside knocking.
Dear church — let Christ back in! Open your doors and become engaged in kingdom ministry together with Christ. The church can never survive by going into a protective mode. Instead, the church must allow herself to become vulnerable to the movement of the Holy Spirit in her midst. Only then can the master come and fellowship with his people, the church be truly alive, and the water healthy.
Lord, may we, as your people, open the door to your movement among us. Amen.
Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.