“THE CHURCH AT LAODICEA”
This morning we come to Laodicea, the last of the seven churches of Revelation. Laodi-cea presents us with a picture of an apostate church, a church that is led by and filled with unbelievers. Therefore, it is a church in name only. It is a false church, one that usurps the name of Christ and professes love for Him, but has neither any interest in learning of Him, nor any sincere intention of following Him. In short, it is a church that is populated by people who claim to be Christians, but are not.
They are the ones of whom the Apostle Paul said, “…(they hold) to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power (2 Timothy 3:5).” And regarding the day when He will judge the world, they are the ones of whom Jesus said, “…I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:22).’”
Well, we say, “That’s not us. We know that the other six churches had a message for us Christians, but there aren’t any Christians in the Church at Laodicea. So Jesus’ words to them have no bearing on us.” Really? While it’s true that the vast majority of Scrip-ture speaks to those who believe, and while it’s true that very little of the Bible is actually addressed to unbelievers, it’s also true that every word of it is for our instruction.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
17 (so) that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Therefore, even passages like Revelation 3:14-22, God’s warning to the lost in the Church at Laodicea in the first century, are for us here in the Church at Lake Geneva in the twenty-first century. Listen to Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers,” who said as much to the Church at London, England back in the nineteenth century…
“No Scripture ever wears out. The epistle to the church of Laodicea is not an old letter which may be put into the wastebasket and be forgotten; upon its page still glow the words, ‘He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.’ This Scripture was not meant to instruct the Laodiceans only, it has a wider aim. The actual church of Laodicea has passed away, but other Laodiceas still exist – indeed, they are sadly multiplied in our day, and it has ever been the tendency of human nature, however inflamed with the love of God, gradually to chill into lukewarmness. The letter to the Laodiceans is above all others the epistle for the present times. I should judge that the church at Laodicea was once in a very fervent and healthy condition. Paul wrote a letter to it which did not claim inspiration, and therefore its loss does not render the Scriptures incomplete, for Paul may have written scores of other letters besides.
(Spurgeon goes on) “Paul also mentions the church at Laodicea in his letter to the church at Colossae; he was, therefore, well acquainted with it, and as he does not utter a word of censure with regard to it, we may infer that the church was at that time in a sound state. In process of time it de-generated, and cooling down from its former ardor it became careless, lax, and indifferent. Perhaps its best men were dead, perhaps its wealth seduced it into worldliness, possibly its freedom from persecution engendered carnal ease, or neglect of prayer made it gradually backslide; but in any case it declined till it was neither cold nor hot. Lest we should ever get into such a state, and lest we should be in that state now, I pray that my discourse may come with power to the hearts of all pre-sent, but especially to the consciences of the members of my own church. May God grant that it may tend to the arousing of us all.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sunday morning, July 26, 1874
So, at first blush, the message to the Church at Laodicea does seem to be for someone else, but we need to hear and heed the message. Why? Because it sounds an alarm for
us, and not only us, but for all churches who love the Lord Jesus Christ today. That’s because no matter how good a church we may think we are, we, and every other “good” church are but a few careless, complacent, or prideful steps away from degenerating into a Laodicea. And if we don’t think so, we would be wise to remember Spurgeon’s words – “…it has ever been the tendency of human nature, however inflamed with the love of God, gradually to chill into lukewarmness. The letter to the Laodiceans is above all others the epistle for the present times.”
Are you a humble person? You are? Let’s find out…
• If you’re a young person, do you swallow your pride and ask for help or clarifica-tion when you don’t understand something? Or do you refuse to admit that you don’t fully grasp a certain teaching or concept?
• If you’re an older person, do you allow your ego to take a back seat and ask for assistance in doing some physical labor that has become too strenuous for you? Or do you refuse to admit that there are some things you just can’t do anymore and seek help?
• Regardless of your age, are you convinced that the way you do things is the only way to do them? Or can you back up, back down, back off, and give someone else the reins?
We who believe ourselves to be humble people often struggle with these things. And some of us who think we’re humble before God have a hard time humbling ourselves before each other. We tell ourselves we’re right, self-sufficient, and fully capable of taking care of whatever might arise. We say, “Everything’s fine, no problem, I (we) can handle it. I (we) know best.” But is that how you define humility? I don’t think so.
But, to one degree or another, that’s a problem you and I, as individuals, face every day.
So what happens when that same problem works its way into the church? What happens when our prideful self-sufficiency begins to infect the church? What happens when we start telling God, “Everything’s fine, no problem, I (we) can handle it. I (we) know best.”?
We say, “Oh, we would never do that.” And in that very statement our pride takes us right to the edge of the precipice and we lean over. And we don’t even know it.
18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.
Do you remember how prideful Peter was before Jesus was taken? And do you remem-ber how he failed afterwards?
36 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you shall follow later.”
37 Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.”
38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a cock shall not crow until you deny Me three times.”
Peter could handle it. Peter knew best. But Peter was nowhere near as self-sufficient as he thought he was. You know the story. He denied his Lord three times. After Jesus’ resurrection He graciously restored Peter and taught him true humility before God. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and began to focus on himself. He didn’t think he needed any help, but “…let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).”
And just as individuals often become inwardly focused and self-sufficient, so also do churches. They may start on the right path, but as they grow and become comfortable, they take their eyes off Jesus and set about to congratulating themselves. Eventually they think they’ve “got it made.” They’ve got it all – except Jesus has “left the building.” That’s tragedy enough, but there is a still greater disaster that plays out among them. Jesus is gone and they don’t even know it. Such is the Church at Laodicea.
*Revelation 3:14-22 (Please stand with me in honor of reading God’s Word.)
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:
15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot.
16 ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
17 ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,
18 ‘I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.
19 ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, 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 will dine with him, and he with Me.
21 ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame 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.’”
Laodicea was located about forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia and just ten miles west of Colossae. It was founded around 250 B.C. by Antiochus II, who named it for his wife Laodice. The name comes from two Greek words meaning “the people’s rights.” How ironic is that? How many churches value their customs and traditions more than biblical teaching? How many people in our society are preoccupied with their so-called rights? How often have you heard someone indignantly say, “I’ve got my rights?” We have armies of attorneys clogging our court systems and getting rich defending people’s perceived rights and what they think they deserve. Here are just a few of those so-called rights so many in our modern society think they deserve.
• They think they’ve a right to health care – even if somebody else has to pay for it.
• They think they’ve a right to a secure retirement – even if they didn’t earn one.
• They think women have a right to control their own bodies – even if it means the destruction of the life that God is weaving together in their wombs.
• They think they’ve a right to be happy – even if making them happy tramples on others’ rights and happiness.
• They think they’ve a right not to be offended by anyone or anything at any time.
• And if you listen to the most popular televangelists today, you’d think we all have a right to health, wealth, and prosperity.
But what does God say about human rights. What does He say about what fallen man deserves? Unbelievers deserve ultimate justice in the final hell – the lake of fire. Apart from God’s grace in the Person of Jesus Christ, there is no other right. But… “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God…(John 1:12a).”
Before we look at Jesus’ description of Himself there are a few other things we need to know about Laodicea. It was the richest city in the entire region. Its wealth came from three industries. It made money from banking, from selling a very expensive black wool, and from the production and sale of a highly prized and sought after eye salve. But despite all their wealth and prestige, the city had one major problem.
It was plagued by an inadequate supply of good water. We’ll see Jesus use all of these facts in His condemnation of the Church at Laodicea.
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this…”
Jesus’ first words to Laodicea emphasize two things: He is truth and He is God! When He calls Himself “The Amen,” He is saying that He is truth. “Amen” means, “so be it.” In the gospels, “amen” is usually translated, “truly” (“verily” in the KJV). Paul says that Jesus “…is our Amen to the glory of God… (1 Corinthians 1:20b).” The point is that all of God’s truths are completely and absolutely fulfilled in the Person of Christ.
But Jesus goes on. He also says that He is “…the faithful and true Witness,” thereby reiterating what He has already said about Himself in Revelation 1:5 and 3:7.
Then He makes an extremely important statement about Himself that false teachers love
to use in their attempts to deny His deity. Jesus says that He is “…the Beginning of the creation of God.” English translations make this appear that He is claiming to be the first “creature,” a created being, and therefore, not God in human flesh. But the Greek leaves no room for such a translation. The word “Beginning” is “Archē,” meaning that He Him-self is the source of creation. This is confirmed elsewhere in the NT.
16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visi-ble and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him.
Why would the Lord Jesus need to affirm His deity to His own church? Remember that Laodicea was only 10 miles from Colossae. The Colossian church had been in posses-sion of Paul’s letter for at least thirty years when John wrote Revelation. In Colossians the apostle had dealt with the heresy that Jesus was a created being. So less than three decades after Paul states, establishes, and defends the deity of Christ, this church has rejected it! How long does it take for a church to fall?
What are three things that liberal theologians virtually always jettison from their belief systems? I would suggest to you that they are 1) the deity of Christ, 2) the fact that He is the One through whom all things were created, and 3) the inerrancy of Scripture.
The denial of these three things, but primarily the denial of first one, Christ’s deity, is what spiritually kills a church. John MacArthur has rightly called it “a damning heresy.”
False teaching about Jesus’ deity is the common thread that runs through every cult and its leaders, whether it’s some lunatic who calls himself “Jesus Christ Lightning Amen” or “respectable” religious groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons.
By the way, rejection of Christ’s deity and atheistic evolution go together, don’t they? Evolution teaches that all human beings (Jesus included) are just random bundles of atoms that have come together by chance over billions of years. And that makes Jesus nothing more than another man who evolved up from the primordial ooze. To a Darwinian evolu-tionist Jesus has no more intrinsic value than a spotted owl or a mosquito.
This is the level to which the Laodiceans had fallen. They were denying His deity. Jesus has to tell them that He is the Creator of all that is, that He is the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, that He is God! Jesus has to say this to a group of people who call themselves a church. I tell you that Laodicea was most certainly not a church the way the NT defines one. Laodicea was a church in name only, filled with people who were Christians in name only. And so…
15 “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot.
16 “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”
I mentioned the problem Laodicea had with an adequate supply of good water. It was always tepid. By the time they could get cold water from the Phrygian mountains, it had lost its chill. Likewise, steaming water from the hot springs in the nearby valley arrived lukewarm. Jesus tells them they’re just like their water. They’re not cold – openly blas-pheming or rejecting Him, or hot – passionate proclaiming His Name. They had no zeal, no excitement, no fervor, either for Him or against Him. They were indifferent. They were lukewarm and, in that indifference, Jesus said they made Him sick to His stomach.
The word translated “spit” is the Greek “ĕmĕō.” It literally means to “spew out, to vomit.” Listen, God will not tolerate indifference! It makes Him sick!
But such people are the hardest people to reach with the gospel because they have their church and they have their religion. And in their church and their religion they think they have everything they need to get to heaven. So they resent it when anyone tells them they need to humble themselves, confess their sin, repent, and receive Christ. They say, “Everything’s fine, no problem. We don’t need to do that. We’ve got our religion. We’ve got everything we need.”
17 “Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked…”
What blinds these religious people to the truth? It’s their pride in their self-sufficiency and their own provision for their own souls. They are a rich church in a rich city. But the reality is the polar opposite of what they think it is. Jesus says they’re spiritually bank-rupt, and He spells out their true spiritual condition. He tells them they’re “…wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”
• “Wretched” is “talaipōrŏs,” meaning “to be afflicted.”
• “Miserable” is “ĕlĕĕinŏs,” meaning “to be pitied.”
• “Poor” is “ptōchŏs,” meaning a “to beg like a pauper.”
• “Blind” is “tuphlŏs” and it means just what it says. Here it is spiritual blindness.
• “Naked” is “gumnŏs” and it too means just what it says. Here it is speaking of the carnal condition of the church.
It can’t be that bad, can it? After all, even Sardis, the dead church, had a few believers. Jesus said they were worthy of Him and would walk with Him in white garments. He said they would never have their names erased from the book of life (Revelation 3:4-5). So Jesus must have something good to say to the Church at Laodicea. But there is no com-mendation for the Church at Laodicea. Jesus has nothing good thing to say about them.
What is the remedy, where is the hope for Laodicea, or for any church like Laodicea?
18 “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.
19 “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, 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 will dine with him, and he with Me.”
The Church at Laodicea trusted in their own power and wealth to provide for themselves. They had money in their banks and the black wool and the eye salve for which the city had become famous, and they bought them all the security they needed – or so they thought. But the Lord tells them they do not need man-made money; they need the riches of the pure gold of faith that can only be found in Him. In 1 Peter 1:7 the apostle called it a faith more precious than gold.
Jesus tells them they should stop relying on their expensive black wool and cover them-selves in the white robes that symbolize saving faith. And He tells them to lay aside their earthly eye salve and let Him open their eyes so they can see the truth.
In v. 19 we see Jesus love for the lost and His plea that they repent and turn to Him. And in Revelation 3:20 we have a verse that has been taken out of its context for so long that we have misconstrued and minimized its true intent and meaning. While there is a sense in which this statement applies to lost individuals, it isn’t about personal evangelism. That’s not the main thrust of Jesus’ statement. Not at all! It isn’t about Jesus knocking on the door of someone’s heart. The context demands that it is about Him trying to get into a church that calls itself “Christian.” Do you see the great irony here? The people want to be known as Christians; they just don’t want anything to do with Christ.
So Jesus stands outside because He is unwelcome inside. The Lord Jesus Christ is liter-ally barred from the church that bears His name. Why? Because there is not one single true Christian in the place! I can say that with complete confidence because if there were so much as one single true Christian in there, Jesus would already be inside. He would be inside in the person of the believer in whom His Holy Spirit dwells.
So let me say it again. The Church at Laodicea is even worse off that the dead Church at Sardis, wherein at least a few true believers could still be found. But with all that, there is still hope. Jesus is still knocking on their door. I believe He’ll do so until the Rapture. Only then will He leave them alone and the full fury of His wrath will come down upon them. But in the meantime there remains…
21 “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
The overcomers are all true Christians. The rest of the verse repeats the promise made earlier that we will rule and reign with Christ in His eternal kingdom.
Some might call what follows an “application.” But it really isn’t. It’s an exhortation, a charge, if you will. Listen again to Charles Spurgeon. Preaching at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London on July 26, 1874, Spurgeon concluded his exposition of Revelation 3:14-22 with this…
“This is my closing word. There is something for us to do in this matter. We must exam-ine ourselves, and we must confess the fault if we have declined in grace. And then we must not talk about setting the church right, we must pray for grace each one for himself.
It must be done by individuals. The church will only get right by each person getting right. Oh, that we might get back into an earnest zeal for our Lord’s love and service, and we shall only do so by listening to his rebukes, and then falling into his arms, clasp-ing him once again, and saying, ‘My Lord and my God.’ That healed Thomas, did it not?
“It was putting his fingers into the print of the nails, putting his hand into the side that cured him. Poor, unbelieving, staggering Thomas only had to do that and he became one of the strongest of believers, and said, ‘My Lord and my God.’ You will love your Lord…
if you will daily commune with him. Come close to him, and once getting close to him, never go away from him anymore. The Lord bless you, dear brethren, the Lord bless you in this thing.”
That’s Spurgeon’s charge. Do you want Lighthouse to be set right and stay right? Do you want us to be like the Church at Smyrna, willing to suffer and die for its Lord and Savior? Do you want to be like the Church Philadelphia, willing to work and live for Him? Remember that Jesus had neither indictment nor warning for such churches. Instead, He bestowed commendations, promises, and blessings on them.
The downward spiral for any church begins when its love for Jesus begins to cool (like the Church at Ephesus). That leads to compromise with the world (like the Church at Pergamum). Eventually those who compromise with the world will embrace the world (like the Church at Thyatira). And any church that embraces the world will soon die spiritually (like the Church at Sardis). Then it’s but a short slide until the church finally turns its back on Christ and walks away from Him – all the while thinking they’re still a church (like the Church at Laodicea), when in actual fact, they’re no more a church than a pagan temple.
Our study of the seven churches of Revelation has been for the purpose of bringing us to that fork in the road where we are forced to decide which path we’ll take into the future.
That decision does not belong solely to your pastor and the elders. It also belongs to each and every one of you. Listen once more to Spurgeon…
“There is something for us to do in this matter. We must examine ourselves, and we must confess the fault if we have declined in grace. And then we must not talk about setting the church right, we must pray for grace each one for himself…It must be done by indi-viduals. The church will only get right by each person getting right…”
Listen once more to Jesus…
22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
~ Pray ~