The Laodicean message is a terrible indictment of modern Christendom. Christ’s professed people have lost the love and devotion of the Philadelphian period and have become lukewarm in their alTection. The members are not dead cold and untouched by spiritual life, neither are they fervently hot with apostolic love and zeal. Fervent comes from the Latin fervenlis, present participle of fervere, from which we get the word fever. It literally means "boiling" or "to boil." Hot, or fervent, carries the idea of a glowing, ardent, earnest, and animated Christian. It indicates a divine heat, or fire, or fervor; a love that warms and animates the whole being.
The spiritual life of the church is tepid, like the water in most of the springs in the vicinity of Laodicea. The church has just enough spiritual warmth to nauseate her glorified Head. His love is so fervent that the halfhearted response of the church to His love is disgusting to Him. He would prefer that the affections of His bride be either frigid or fervid. Frigidity would be preferable to half warmness. Christ’s statement is "in form a wish, it is in reality a regret." (Trench, Page 206.) Even Sardis had a few faithful souls who were commended, but in Laodicea there seems to be nothing commendable, for Jesus gives no praise whatever. Philadelphia received no reproof, and Laodicea no commendation.
The coldness the Master prefers to half warmness is that of the unregenerate heathen who have never been touched by spiritual life. It does not mean negatively cold, but icy cold, having never been heated or mixed with the hot. Christ prefers that Laodiceans be either Christians or pagans rather than a compromise between the two. There is more hope for those who have never been warmed by the gospel than those who were once fervid and then cooled off to a lukewarm state. This is indicated by many scriptures, including Hebrews 6:4-6; 2 Peter 2:15-22.
Defining the meaning of cold in our text, Trench says: "One hitherto untouched by the powers of grace. There is always hope of such an one, that, when he does come under those powers, he may become a zealous and earnest Christian. He is not one on whom the grand experiment of the Gospel has been tried and has failed." (Page 207.) Alford said that, "we must take it as meaning, not only entirely without the spark of spiritual life, but also and chiefly, by consequence, openly belonging to the world without, and having no part nor lot in Christ’s church, and actively opposed to it." (Page 588.)
Speaking of the lukewarm state, Trench says: "But the ‘half warm,’ is one who has tasted of the good gift and of the powers of the world to come, who has been a subject of Divine grace, but in whom that grace has failed to kindle more than the feeblest spark. The publicans and harlots were ‘cold’, the Apostles ‘hot’. The Scribes and Pharisees were lukewarm." (Page 207.) Half warmness is a compromise between hot and cold. The water from the hot springs near Laodicea soon mingled with the cold water and became lukewarm and nauseating to the taste.
Of the spiritual state of the modern church another writer says: "Lukewarm water is a mixture of cold water and hot water and symbolically stands for the mixture of religion and worldliness which was utterly nauseating to Jesus Christ. Following the great revival of the early 19th century, there came a great reaction among those who were not willing to submit to the power of God as it was then manifested, and they made opposition against it which has resulted in an increasing worldliness in the Church so that today we see on every hand a vast falling away." (Turner, Page 16, 17.)
The church in its lukewarm state is divided between Christ and the world. It is too religious to entirely cast off the name of Christ and too worldly to take a firm and united stand for Him. There is much pretension but little genuine Christianity. Works are plentiful, but faith is scarce; profession is abundant, but there is but little spiritual life to correspond. Worldly pleasure and riotous living are closely associated with the Lord’s supper and so-called Christian benevolence. The church is partly cold and partly hot. This compromise with the world has cooled the fervent love and devotion of the church of the Philadelphian state. Because of this condition those who are brought in contact with holy fire by the gospel are not heated by it into a fervor. One writer declared that "respectability ‘heavy as frost’ reigned in Laodicea."
To strengthen His severe warning and appeal, Jesus threatens to spew the lukewarm out of His mouth unless they repent. "I am about to vomit you out of my mouth" and "Before long I will vomit you out of my mouth" are other translations. "I am ready to," or "I have it in mind to, is the meaning of the text. It implies that the threat may not and need not be executed. Repentance will avert the threatened judgment. Christ’s dealings with us depend entirely upon our attitude toward Him and His message. His statement, As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent," shows clearly that His intention is not final. It is a threat rather than a pronouncement.
Christ demanded that the Laodiceans be fervent Christians or none at all. There is no middle ground or neutral position that is acceptable to Him. The sickening half warmness of modern Christians is so nauseating to our divine Lord that it produces in Him feelings of disgust and loathing. The threat is of a final and absolute rejection unless His message is accepted and His counsel acted upon. This is no idle threat. The execution has already begun for many individuals. The spewing out will take place on a vast scale during the shaking or purging time, when the church is cleansed and prepared for the latter rain of divine power and the coming of the Bridegroom. The Laodicean message should be considered as the appeal of love and mercy and compassion rather than threatened judgments of certain doom. It is the love message of the great Lover.
We must not forget that the city of Laodicea was a health resort to which sick people came from near and far to be healed. It was therefore the temporary abode of persons suffering from all sorts of diseases. They came to have their vision restored by the famous Phrygian eye salve, to drink of the lukewarm mineral water with its reputed healing properties, to bathe in the hot springs with their remedial virtues, or to be healed by magic in the Temple of Aesculapins, the Greek god of medicine, who was known as "The Great Physician." It was claimed that no disease was too difficult for this pagan counterfeit of the Messiah to heal. It is because of this historic background that Jesus describes the Laodicean church as suffering from a serious spiritual malady and introduces Himself as the great sin Physician with a complete healing remedy.
A Sick Church
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou were cold or hot. So then because thou are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth. Because thou says, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knows not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."
This is the Great Physician’s diagnosis of the spiritual disease of the modern church. The church of the Laodiceans is not only lukewarm in zeal and devotion but also spiritually sick. There is still Some life, but the terrible Laodicean malady has left the church sluggish and only semiconscious. And worst of all she knows not her danger. Death is inevitable unless the offered remedy is applied, but the Laodiceans approach the tomb boasting of their spiritual health, riches, and prosperity. The disease that is sapping the life of modern Christendom is similar to that which afflicted ancient Israel. (Isaiah 1:4-6.)
The prophet Jeremiah shed so many tears over the "wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores" of back sliding Israel that he was known as "the weeping prophet." Message after message was sent to sin-sick Israel offering a complete remedy. Finally the Great Physician Himself visited His people and made a final appeal, and because it was rejected He wept over the city and nation and then died of a broken heart. In the words of the prophet He expressed His astonishment because His remedy was not accepted: "For the hurt of the daughter of My people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on Me. Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of My people recovered?" Jeremiah 8:21,22. But Israel’s sin finally reached the fatal stage. Because there were "no healing medicines" her bruise was declared "incurable." (Jeremiah 30:13,12.) The church of Israel had to be spewed out of the mouth of her divine Lord.
The Laodicean message presents a true picture of the modern church. It is the testimony of "the faithful and true Witness," who never makes a mistake and never exaggerates. The remedy must be applied soon or it will be too late, because the disease will reach the incurable stage. The condition is alarming, and calls for an alarm message. This alarm message to God’s remnant people is also described in Joel. 2:1,12-17. When God sends such a message to Zion, or the church, conditions must be very serious. The situation demands a ministry of tears, a weeping ministry sounding an alarm message to a weeping church. Such a message results in the early and latter rains and the triumph of the church in an abundant harvest when the Spirit is poured out on "all flesh."
The Laodicean message is the last call Christ will ever make to modern Israel, and is comparable to His final plea to ancient Israel as He wept over the doomed city. It would be difficult to find language strong enough to expose the folly of the Laodiceans, who imagine they are spiritually wealthy and in need of nothing, when they are actually wretched, miserable, poor, blind, lukewarm, and fit only to be spewed out of the mouth of Christ as an object of loathing. Is it not time for some modern weeping prophets who are capable of grasping the seriousness of the situation to awaken the church from her blissful dream of self-satisfaction? Would not the many tears of such leaders be like the tears of Jesus over His beloved city, Jerusalem?
Christ found nothing praiseworthy in Laodicea. To Him she is an object of pity. Swete declared that "a blind beggar, barely clad, was not more deserving of pity than this rich and self-satisfied church." The condition of Laodicea was the opposite of that of Smyrna, which was poverty stricken in material things but rich spiritually. Laodicea was rich in material things but bankrupt spiritually. Jesus made no complaint of Laodicea’s doctrines. The church was not deceived by the teachings of the Nicolaitans, Balaam, or Jezebel. Her great light and opportunity for service make her more responsible than the church in any other period, and the malediction is pronounced accordingly. (Matthew 11:20-24.) The Bible does not contain a more scathing rebuke than is given the Laodiceans, whose boasting is similar to that of Ephraim who "feeds on wind" in that she said, "Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labors they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin." (See Hosea 12:1,8.)
There can be no greater sin than self-deception. It seems that only drunken or insane persons could boast of wealth, health, and prosperity when they are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." In the insane asylums are those who boast of wealth, but they are objects of pity. Self-conceit is one of the most difficult sins, if not the most difficult sin, to conquer. One writer has said: "There is nothing so offensive to God, or so dangerous to the human soul, as pride and self-sufficiency. Of all sins it is the most hopeless, the most incurable." - Christ’s Object Lessons, Page 154. Yet this is the sin of the Laodiceans.
There is no stronger delusion than that which makes men believe that they are righteous and accepted of God, while at the same time they are sinning against Him, and are in a deplorable spiritual condition. A lukewarm state naturally leads to self-sufficiency. The very first step toward the kingdom of heaven is a recognition of one’s spiritual poverty. The attitude of the Pharisee and that of the publican in the temple represent the difference in a person before and after he receives a vision of his true spiritual state. His ‘boasting changes to the cry of the penitent, "God, be merciful to me a sinner."
The transformation of the character of Saul from a proud and boastful Pharisee to a humble and contrite Christian apostle is an illustration of what Christ desires to do for the members of the Laodicean church. After Paul had been transformed by the vision of the glorified Christ, what a contrast there was between his attitude toward his spiritual state and that of proud Laodicea. Hear him crying out in great agony of spirit, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Even though he lived one of the most noble of all lives he was constantly concerned lest he should himself be a castaway. In contrast think of the poor self-deceived and self-satisfied Laodiceans, boasting in words and looks and actions that they "have need of nothing." Christ first sets forth the modern church’s estimate of herself, and then He reveals the terrible reality. The difference is as great as that of the Pharisee and the publican in the temple, the one thanking God for his virtues and the other begging for mercy because of his sins.
It is not enough for a physician to correctly diagnose the patient’s disease. The knowledge of danger and of a sure remedy will never cure a sick person unless he accepts the doctor’s verdict and applies the suggested remedy. Many persons are sick and do not know it, and when told they do not believe it. It is often a difficult task to convince the patient that his life depends upon obedience to the physician’s counsel.
This is the chief difficulty with the modern church. She is desperately sick with a disease that will eventually prove fatal, but she does not know it. "And knows not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked," is the verdict of the Great Physician. The most difficult thing about the Laodicean message is to convince present-day Christians that it is applicable to them, that they are spiritually sick, and that the Laodicean remedy is their only hope. There is no need of prescribing the remedy or attempting to apply it until we are fully convinced of our need.
Christ came to this earth "to seek and to save that which was lost." He came to save sinners, but no sinner will accept salvation until he knows he is lost. To convince and convict of sin is the first work of the Holy Spirit and of the gospel message. The statement of Jesus to the self-satisfied Jews is applicable to modern Laodiceans: "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." The Pharisees felt righteous and in need of nothing, and Christ was therefore unable to help them. He could give them nothing, regardless of their great needs. The attitude of modern Laodicea is the spirit of Pharisaism. To convince them of their spiritual condition and needs seems almost an impossible task.
The Laodiceans were not being persecuted, and there was no synagogue of Satan to disturb them. Compared to the Smyrneans they were having an easy time. Doubtless the church machinery functioned perfectly and they had the most up-to-date methods and equipment. The ritual was beautiful and impressive. The ministers were well paid, and their sermons logical and eloquent. But all this is in vain when the members are ignorant of their spiritual destitution. This is the state of the church of our day, and nothing but the convicting power of the Holy Spirit can ever bring the spiritual revival and reformation demanded by the Laodicean message, and for this heavenly visitation every godly minister and earnest Christian should fervently pray.
"I know thy works" indicates that Laodicea is busy planning, organizing, raising funds, erecting buildings, establishing institutions, and apparently doing everything possible to fulfill the great commission. The church is not lazy. She is busy with programs, campaigns, conventions, social functions, and home and foreign mission extension work. Like ancient Israel the Laodiceans are deceived by the results of their many activities.
A well-known writer said: "In the estimation of the rabbis, it was the sum of religion to be always in a bustle of activity. They depended upon some outward performance to show their superior piety. Thus they separated their souls from God, and built themselves up in self-sufficiency. The same dangers still exist. As activity increases, and men become successful in doing any work for God, there is danger of trusting to human plans and methods. There is a tendency to pray less, and to have less faith. Like the disciples, we are in danger of losing sight of our dependence on God, and seeking to make a savior of our activity." - The Desire of Ages, Page 362.
"I am rich, and have gotten riches" is the Revised Version. Laodicea not only believes she is spiritually rich but takes all credit to herself. What she has is her own acquisition, and she is proud of it. She carries the pride of wealth into her spiritual life. Spiritual self-sufficiency is usually fostered ‘by material wealth, just as poverty of spirit is often the result of material poverty. The Laodicean church not only feels abundantly supplied with all the spiritual riches needed for the present ‘but also has a sufficient supply for the future. "I am rich, and have wealth stored up," is the Weymouth translation. Spiritually the church is poverty stricken, but imagines she is rich; wretched, but feels perfectly satisfied; miserable, but pretends great happiness; blind, but prides herself in her wisdom and vision; naked or clothed in the filthy rags of her own righteousness, but is strutting about as if on dress parade. "And you do not know that if there is a wretched creature it is you." (Weymouth.)
It is evident that Laodicea is deceived regarding her spiritual state because of her material prosperity. From this we learn "that prosperity is not favorable to a true estimate of ourselves; that we are never in greater danger than when our course is smooth, that health and ease and the constant occupations of life may lull us to sleep, and that we may mistake our very sloth and apathy for peace of conscience. Laodicea was the deepest sunk in self-deception, and most fully convinced that she was rich and endowed with goods, and had need of nothing." - ADOLP SAPHIR, The Lord’s Prayer, Page 319.
Because the church is so fully occupied with material and temporal things to the neglect of the spiritual and eternal, she has become self-centered and overconfident and therefore proud and boastful. Impoverished spiritually, she fails to realize that true riches and real satisfaction can be found only in Christ, who for our sake became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich. Laodicea is proud of her magnificent churches, intelligent congregations, and scholarly preachers; of her fine music and splendid services and well-manned institutions; of her great army of missionaries in all parts of the world field and the liberality of the members in supporting them. What more could be desired?
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