Pastor David B. Curtis


The Church That Makes God Sick

Revelation 3:14-22

Delivered 09/24/2000

As you begin to read the book of Revelation, you see that it is addressed to seven churches, "John to the seven churches which are in Asia...." (Revelation 1:4). These churches are named in Revelation 1:11. These are literal, historical churches that existed in Asia Minor at the time of John's writing. Why did John write only to these seven churches? There were other churches in Asia minor: Colossae, Hierapolis, Miletus, Troas. Why did John single out these seven? In Scripture, seven represents qualitative fullness, completeness, totality; seven runs all through the Revelation. The number seven is representative. The fact that Revelation is addressed to seven churches tells us that it is intended for the whole church. By choosing seven churches, he says, "This is my message to the total church". The messages to the churches in Asia are to be applied to all in the same way that Paul's letters are.

Laodicea is the church that makes God sick. The church at Laodicea was in danger of God's judgment. The twentieth century American church would do well to heed this message.

The history of Laodicea is important for understanding this letter. Laodicea's primary characteristic was its wealth; it was the wealthiest of all the cities of Phrygia. Most of its wealth came from its wool industry - they produced a glossy black wool which was in much demand. It also gained wealth from its well-known banking and financial activities and the export of an eye salve from its famous medical school.

The city's wealth was strikingly illustrated following the devastating earthquake of A.D. 60. The city was rebuilt without financial aid from Rome. Tacitus wrote "Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us"

Laodicea's major weakness was its lack of an adequate and convenient source for water. Originally it had been a fort but without a water source, it was too vulnerable to be useful. Its location was determined by the road system rather than natural resources.

This church, located in this self-confident, self-assured, self-established, self-sufficient, wealthy city received these words from our Lord:

Revelation 3:18 (NKJV) "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see."

This letter is quite severe; its lack of a single word of praise adds to its sternness.

Christ opens His letter to the church at Laodicea with His attributes that are relevant to them, as He does with each of the other six letters. Here he identifies himself by a threefold affirmation: the Amen, the faithful and true witness, and the beginning of the creation of God.

He is the "Amen." This is a familiar word to all Christians; It means: "so be it." In English translations, Isaiah 65:16 calls God the God of truth, but in the Hebrew, he is called the God of Amen. Amen is the word which is often put at the end of a solemn statement in order to guarantee its truth. This title indicates the sovereignty and the certainty of the fulfillment of his promises.

He is the "Faithful and true witness." His affirmations are true and His promises and threats are certain. The trustworthiness of Christ is sharply contrasted to the unfaithfulness of the Laodicean church. As a lampstand (Revelation 1:20) they were to display Christ, but they were obscuring him.

The final attribute Christ gives as He addresses the Laodicean church is "the beginning of the creation of God." Jehovah's Witnesses use that title to claim that Christ was created by God, but they are in error. The word for "beginning" is the Greek word arche. It actually means: "the first cause," or "the origin." This phrase could be translated: "Christ is the origin of the creation of God." He was not created by God; He brought the creation of God into being.

Colossians 4:16 instructs that the Colossian letter was to be read at Laodicea. So, they would have been familiar with Paul's great Christalogical passage in Colossians 1:15: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." (NKJV)

The word "firstborn" is prototokos. The Greek word implies: "priority to all creation and sovereignty over all creation." Colossians 1:16-17 makes this plain:

For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist."

The Laodiceans knew that Christ was the Creator, and as Creator, He has absolute right of authority over the creation.

Do you understand this? Do you understand that God has the right to do whatever He chooses with what He has made and you have no right to question Him? Romans 9:20-21 makes this clear:

"But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?"(NKJV)

The attributes at the opening of the letter to Laodicea emphasize the sovereign Creator whose word is always true. He has come to bear testimony against His church.

The attributes of Christ have been followed by the Commendation in the other letters. But, there is no commendation for Laodicea; the Lord has nothing good to say about this church. He moves directly into the Complaint in Revelation 3:15-17:

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked... (KJV)

Christ begins His complaint by saying, "I know thy works". The Greek word for "works" is ergon, and it means: "to work, to toil, act, deed, or occupation." In other words, the actions of the Laodiceans are lukewarm. Is the spiritual temperature of the church lukewarm, or are their works lukewarm? Can their spiritual temperature be separated from their works? No! According to James 2:20, "Faith without works is dead." James' whole argument in chapter two is that living faith and works cannot be separated, because if your faith is alive, it will produce works. Dead faith is not non-existent faith; it is unproductive. James also states that works will in turn cause faith to grow (James 2:22, "by works was faith made perfect."). Faith and works in the Christian's daily experience are dynamically related. Christ indites the church at Laodicea for a lack of works, which demonstrates their sick spiritual condition.

Christ says that their works are "lukewarm", which is the Greek word chliaros, which means: "tepid." If you have ever drunk a lukewarm soft drink, you know the feeling and the distaste Christ had for Laodicea. He was about to vomit them out of his mouth.

He tells the Laodiceans He wants them to be either hot or cold. What is the significance of hot and cold? Many interpret "hot" as being on fire for God and "cold" as indifference to the gospel. The descriptions of hot and cold as spiritual conditions, though familiar to us, would have been completely foreign to first century Christians, and it's foreign to the Scriptures.

Is Christ saying in Revelation 3:16 that he prefers indifferent and unresponsive Christians to lukewarm Christians? Would Christ prefer that you were either on fire for Him or completely unresponsive to him? Where does that leave most Christians who are not on fire for God? Should they become indifferent to become more pleasing to Christ?

A different explanation of hot and cold suits the historical and geographical context better. Laodicea was situated between two other important cities, Colossae and Hieropolis. Colossae, wedged into a narrow valley in the shadow of towering mountains, was watered by icy streams which tumbled down from the heights. Hieropolis, on the other hand, was famous for its hot mineral springs. These springs flowed out of the city and across a high plain until they cascaded down a cliff which faced Laodicea. By the time the water reached the valley floor, it was lukewarm, putrid, and nauseating. At Colossae, therefore, one could be refreshed with clear, cold, invigorating drinking water; at Hieropolis, one could be healed by bathing in its hot, mineral-laden pools. But at Laodicea, the waters were neither hot (for health) not cold (for drinking).

In other words, Christ accuses Laodicea of being ineffectual, good for nothing. The Laodicean church brings neither a cure for illness nor a drink to soothe dry lips and parched throats. The sort of Christianity represented by Laodicea is worthless. The church provided neither refreshment for the spiritually weary, nor healing for the spiritually sick. It was totally ineffective and thus distasteful to its Lord. When Christ says, "I would that you were cold or hot", He is not saying that outright apostasy is preferable to mediocrity; rather, He is wishing that the Laodicean Christians would have an influence upon their society. Laodicea was fruitless, ineffective, and worthless.

We, as believers, are called to influence our society, our culture, our world. God allows us to remain on earth after salvation for this purpose. Matthew 5:13-16 says:

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.16 "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (NKJV)

The principle function of salt is to preserve by stopping decay and to act as an antiseptic. It has a healing effect like the healing waters of Hieropolis. The individual Christian is to function as salt. Each believer is to be an influence through his Christlike life and character in every sphere he finds himself. Christlikeness influences society almost automatically. Someone who is Christlike radiates His influence in any group he belongs to. The lukewarm Christian has no influence. If a Christian doesn't influence his world, he is "good for nothing" according to Matthew 5:13. According to the Laodicean letter, he is lukewarm and nauseating to God.

The church makes great pronouncements about abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and other major issues, but the average person is not affected because he is not in church to hear them! But a Christlike individual working in a shop, or an office, or in a school, or anywhere else, will affect others around them. For instance, a caring individual lovingly sharing biblical insights about abortion with a woman in a crisis pregnancy will have far more effect than a terrific sermon about the evils of abortion. One "salty" Christian can have an impact where a whole church can do nothing.

Not only are we to be salt, but we are also to be light, according to Matthew 5:13-16. Notice the order our Lord uses: we are to be salt first, then light. As a Christlike individual lives in the world he is going to have an effect on his environment without saying a word (salt). After he has this general effect, then he can function as light. In other words, Scripture always emphasizes first what a Christian is before it begins to speak of what he does. Christlike behavior should cause people to say "There is something unusual about that man." As they watch the believer's conduct and behavior, they begin to ask him questions. As he speaks and teaches them, he is acting as a light. A Christian's life should always be the first thing to speak. If his lips speak more than his life, his words will avail very little. Tragically, a person often proclaims the gospel in words, but his life and behavior deny it. We are to be both salt and light. John the Baptist and Jesus drew people to themselves through their lives and then proclaimed the message to them.

Matthew says in verse 16 of chapter five that God is glorified by our good works. God is glorified by our being hot or cold, but He is nauseated by our luke-warmness. Scripture clearly states that we, as believers, are called to influence our world:

Acts 16:25 (NKJV) "But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them."
Acts 17:6 (NKJV) "But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too."
1 Timothy 6:1 (NKJV) "Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed."
1 Peter 2:11-12 (NKJV) "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation."
Daniel 3:28-30 (NKJV) "Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! 29 "Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this." 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon."

None of these cared about self-preservation; they cared about honoring God. He calls us to be hot or cold, salt and light; we are to influence our society. If we are lukewarm, we are worthless and subject to judgment.

Verse 17 of Revelation three tells us that this luke-warmness was caused by their attitude of self-sufficiency, or pride. And their self-sufficient pride was caused by their abundant material blessings. God warned the Israelites of this danger in the Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 6:10-12 (NKJV) ""So it shall be, when the LORD your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, 11 "houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant; when you have eaten and are full; 12 "then beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage."
Deuteronomy 8:11-14 (NKJV) ""Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, 12 "lest; when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; 13 "and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; 14 "when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;"

The Laodiceans let their material wealth rob them of spiritual insight into their true condition. They evaluated themselves and said, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing". The Lord gives them their true state, "thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."

Despite all their money, spiritually they were poor; despite their world famous eye salve, they were spiritually blind; despite their production of fine black wool, they were spiritually naked. This is our Lords' analysis of Laodicea. They were lukewarm and pridefully deceived. The Laodiceans were unconscious of their weakness. They thought they were strong and therefore they were weak.

After Christ asserts His complaint against Laodicea, in Revelation 3:18-20, he gives them Counsel: "Buy of me". He is telling them that their true need is supplied by Him. They are not self-sufficient but dependent. The gold He urges them to buy represents spiritual wealth, heavenly riches. Spiritual wealth is superior to earthly possessions, as we see in Luke 12:33:

"Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys."(NKJV)

Even though Christ urges the Laodiceans to buy gold, they do not need any money. Isaiah 55:1 says:

"Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price." (NKJV)

Buying without money is a picture of grace. A believer only has to realize his need and ask for its fulfillment.

The second thing Christ urges the Laodiceans to buy is White raiment. This is a picture of practical righteousness, good works, as Revelation 19:8 makes clear:

"And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints." (NKJV)

The final thing the Laodiceans need from Christ is salve to Anoint thy eyes. This speaks of the Spirit's illumination. Jesus offers everything that we need if we would abandon our self-sufficiency and trust in Him. This is good news for poor, blind, wretched people.

In Revelation 3:19-20, Christ calls for repentance. Verse 20 says, "Behold I stand at the door and knock." What does this mean? There are three possible explanations:

1. Salvation - Christ is calling unbelievers to salvation; He is begging them to let him in their heart.

2. Fellowship - Christ is calling believers back into fellowship with himself. Their pride has caused them to lose fellowship.

3. Eschatological - This invitation is reference to the Second Coming. He is ready to come back soon.

The first view is not correct; Revelation 3:20 is not a salvation verse. When the Word of God is taken out of the original context, it no longer remains the Word of God. The Bible teaches that the Lord opens the heart so that a person can receive the gospel:

Acts 16:14 (NKJV) "Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul."
Proverbs 21:1 (NKJV) "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes."

Our God is sovereign in every arena, including salvation. Christ is not a weak and helpless deity who is at the mercy of man. Christ, the Amen, the sovereign God is speaking here.

Many commentators say this verse is salvific, because these people being addressed are not Christians because, "God doesn't vomit out believers." Leviticus 18:24-28 refers to vomiting as an expression for discipline, chastisement. And God very clearly disciplines believers, as Revelation 3:19 states, "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten." Proverbs 3:11-12 illustrates this loving discipline:

"My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor detest His correction; 12 For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights." (NKJV)

Hebrew 12:6-8 tells us that He chastens those he loves. The word "chasten" is the Greek paideuo, which means: "to train a child, to educate, practice discipline, correct." Every use of paideuo in the New Testament refers to believers. God only chastens His Children.

After God's warning that He will chasten, He urges the Laodiceans to repent (Revelation 3:19). The word "repent" is the Greek word metanoeo. The etymology (dictionary definition) of the word is: "to change the mind." However, usage takes precedence over etymology, and its usage in the New Testament has the idea of: "sorrow, remorse, regrets." It is a call to separate from sin and enter back into harmony with God. Repentance results in restored fellowship as the story of the prodigal son demonstrates (Luke 15).

The Lord promises that if the Laodiceans repent, He will "sup with" them. The word "sup" is from the Greek word deipneo, which means: "to dine." Deipneo is the Greek term for the evening meal at the end of the day when family and friends would gather around the table together. This term is also used in the New Testament for the Lord's Supper. It pictures fellowship, communion. Revelation 3:20 is an invitation for the Laodiceans to fellowship with the Lord. Their fellowship was broken by their luke-warmness and pride. Compare this promise to John 14:23:

"Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." (NKJV)

In both passages the divine presence is conditional. If believers will walk with Christ, He will fellowship with them.

Christ has given the Laodicean church His complaint and His counsel. Now in verse 21, He gives the Promise. Those who overcome, who are faithful to Christ, He will reward. Jesus lived his life in full obedience to the Father right to the point of death, and God exalted him. Those of us who are faithful to Christ will also be rewarded by God. Spiritual victory comes by living out the truths of God's Word. What grace Christ shows to those lukewarm believers! If they repent, they can restore fellowship and enjoy temporal blessings.

Revelation 3:22 is a call for all to hear what the Spirit says to the churches (plural). Its message is for all the churches to hear. This letter was written to the Laodiceans, but it is applicable to us today, in Chesapeake Virginia in 2000.

Could this letter have been written to you today? Are you lukewarm? Are you making a difference in your sphere of influence? Are you being salt and light? How are you providing healing for the spiritually sick and refreshment for the spiritually thirsty? How are you making a difference in the world for Jesus Christ? What would be different in God's Kingdom if you had died right after you were saved? How many people are different or have accepted Christ because of your life and influence? Be honest with yourself and recognize your true spiritual state.

Remember, the lukewarm believer makes God sick! If you are lukewarm, repent! Turn from your sinful practices and attitudes, and you can once again share the fellowship of Jesus Christ, and enjoy the temporal blessings He provides. Start by fellowshipping with Him through Bible reading and prayer.

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