14 “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. 15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 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. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'”
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) The city of Laodicea was known for it’s lukewarm water fed by local hot springs, a school of medicine known for a famous eye salve, and an industry of black wool. It sat at the cross roads of three major trade routes and became a very wealthy city. It’s citizens were proud of all their luxuries like the theater, stadium, and bathhouses. Like other churches, the church here was deeply affected by the culture around it. Jesus rebuked them for being “lukewarm” and threatened to spit them out. They boasted in their health and wealth. They had money, good doctors, and nice clothes. But this culture of comfort and ease blinded them to their true spiritual condition. They felt wealthy and healthy but in fact they were “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” They had no spiritual wealth or health. They needed true gold, healing, and garments that only Jesus could provide for theirs souls. But Jesus also threatened them in love. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” They needed to be zealous for Christ and rich in love and good works. They needed Christ to cover the guilt and shame of their sin with his blood and righteousness. They needed a faith that could flourish without the false security of wealth, a faith that was content with Christ alone. And he offered himself in all his fullness to them if they would repent. He offered the gift of royalty, reigning with Christ forever. The promised security and comfort of wealth in this life is a great illusion. It cannot keep you save you from what really matters, sin, death, and the wrath of God. And a common consequence of wealth is that it causes us to grow soft and self-centered, “lukewarm”. It can prevent us from exercising faith in God and therefore promote spiritual atrophy. Why be troubled by your sin when you are warm, well-fed, and carefree? Why prepare for death and eternity when it’s easier to distract yourself with the latest movie or game? It’s not that these things by themselves are sinful. Its that they can distract you from thinking about what really matters in life and lead you to pamper your flesh instead. How often do we struggle for time to study the Bible or pray or build up our Christian fellowship, yet have plenty of time for movies or social media or shopping? How often are we accumulating possessions we don’t really need rather than using our wealth with more discipline and an eye to God’s kingdom? Can you see how worldly riches and comforts can easily lead you into a lukewarm faith? Where are some areas you can repent in this? Is your zeal what it should be? Do you honestly see yourself as wretched, poor, blind, and naked before God and in desperate need of Christ to provide you every good thing from your eternal salvation to your daily bread?
2) A final thought on the seven churches. Jesus wrote to seven actual churches in ancient Asia Minor. But the struggles they endured recurred in congregations ever since. Of course we want to be like Philadelphia, or like Ephesus just needing a little more love. But if we are honest, most of us can find the sins of the other churches in ourselves to one degree or another. Some churches may wrestle with more than one of these problems. There are always temptations for compromise, apathy, and lukewarmness. Putting them into seven concrete examples helps us to see both the sin of the church and the grace of Jesus in action to help us examine ourselves. Jesus is always among the lampstands, caring for his people, comforting those who love him and strive to serve him well, and calling those how go astray to turn back to him. This should fill us with a holy reverence and fear for Christ as our Lord, as the caretaker of his church, and of our souls. It should cause us to strive to be more holy as Christ is holy, especially after all he did to cleanse us from our sin. But it should also fill us with hope. Jesus was patient with even the worst of these churches as he called them to repent, offering rich promises of grace along with the severe warnings. He is blazing in holiness and righteous anger toward sin, but also blazing with mercy to those who come to him in sincere faith and repentance. As you studied these seven churches this week, what has God shown you that you need to work on? How can these seven examples help you pray for and serve in our own congregation?