The Scandal Of Lukewarm Spirituality
The sternest of the seven letters written to the churches in Asia Minor was directed to the Laodiceans (Rev. 2-3). When God wrote a letter to the church at Philadelphia, He had nothing bad to say to them. When God wrote a letter to the Laodicean church, He had nothing good to say to them! Laodicea was neither good nor bad—not hot but not cold either. They weren’t great, but neither were they awful. I guess you could say Laodicea was somewhere in the middle, sort of typical, common, mediocre, lukewarm—or just plain average!
Of course it’s not a sin to be average in most things. It’s not a sin to be average in athletics. It’s no sacrilege to be moderate academically, providing you are performing to the best of your capability. Average physical appearance is certainly not blasphemous. No one would say it’s a sin to be average when it comes to one’s ability to accumulate wealth. But God Himself declares it exceedingly sinful to be average when it comes to spiritual things!
Indications Of Lukewarmness
All men may be created equal in the eyes of God. But men are not equal in talent, skill, intellectual capacity, physical appearance, or their ability to make money. Let’s face it, there is only one Michael Jordon, only one Albert Einstein, only one Mr. and Miss Universe, and there’s only one Bill Gates! While natural men vary in skill, capacity, and appearance, all saved men have access to the same spiritual privileges. The ground is indeed level at the foot of the Cross!
Americans have a passion for excellence, depending upon their preferences. Some seek to excel in their careers. They work 60, 80, or even more hours every week to further their upward climb on the corporate ladder. Millions are more interested in make a living than making a life. At Laodicea they were prospering materially, but coasting spiritually.
Others are driven to be the best at their favorite sport or hobby. Large quantities of time, effort, and money are invested to secure success. Hordes of Americans worship the tangible and ignore the invisible. For thousands the pursuit of goods has overtaken the pursuit of God! The Laodiceans were “rich and increased with goods.” Jesus said, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things he possesseth.” If what a man has is more important to him than what he is then he is guilty of idolatry!
Others glory in their appearance. Tanning parlors, manicures, weight-loss programs, and hair replacement treatments are all part of a multi-billion dollar industry because scores of Americans are obsessed with their appearance.
In contrast those who are spiritually average have no such passion for excellence when it comes to their relationship with Christ! They are more concerned with the satisfied life than the crucified life! No burden, no zeal, no heart, no fervency, no desperation. The only concern of the lukewarm is maintaining the status quo. No they have not overthrown the faith, but they seem content to merely eek out a spiritual existence. To the spiritually average, “fitting in” with the crowd is more important than “getting in touch” with God. Mindless conformity is the repercussion of this compelling urge to fit in. Any church that is shaped more by the culture than by Christ is lukewarm.
Another indicator of lukewarmness is when material needs become the basic concern of life. When reality is reduced to what can be seen, heard, felt, and tasted, then the eternal is relegated to the “back burner.” People who are landlocked in time and earthbound in vision do not operate as Kingdom citizens. Yes, they go through the motions, but the animating spirit is gone.
Laodicea means “judgment of the people,” or the “people’s rights.” Instead of submitting themselves to the judgment of God and His Word, they were guilty of submitting the Word of God to their judgment! From their human perspective they imagined they were in pretty good shape. Their analysis was “rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing.” But God said, “ I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot, I would thou wert cold or hot.” Lukewarmness put them in a position where God could not use them or bless them. Furthermore God went on to evaluate their true condition as “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Implications Of Lukewarmness
Lukewarmness is a serious sin. Because they were neither cold nor hot, God said, “I will spue thee out of my mouth.” The body rejects bad food and vomits it out. These Laodiceans were in danger of being spued out by God! Lukewarmness is a contagious sin. Complacency breeds complacency. Those who are “at ease in Zion” tend to put those around them to sleep. Posters, signs, and announcements were spread across the college campus announcing the formation of the Apathy club. The place and time of the first meeting was known from one end of the campus to the other. When the time came for the meeting no one showed up. The Apathy club never got off the ground due to a lack of interest!
Lukewarmness is a captivating sin. “If you are continually stirred and fail to act, the time will come when you will be unable to act,” said C.S. Lewis. Spiritual passivity leads to paralysis. Nothing is more debilitating and enslaving than half-heartedness toward God.
Lukewarmness is a blinding sin. Mediocrity in eternal things blinds us to what’s really important. It blinds us to God and hidden spiritual realities. The Laodiceans had a case of double blindness. Not only were they blind, tragically they didn’t even realize it!
Lukewarmness is an impoverishing sin. Because of their exclusive focus on the things that are seen, they had forgotten the things that are unseen. Stripped of true riches they were both “poor and naked.” Lethargy toward Christ led them into a state of spiritual bankruptcy! God’s diagnosis of this ailing church was both alarming and severe. Prolonged lukewarmness was certain to bring judgment from God!
Instructions For The Lukewarm
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent”, said the Lord Jesus. Though they had become casual toward Him, Jesus was still faithful to them! Carefully note that the popular misinterpretation about God foreordaining a “Laodicean age,” where the saints are predetermined to be “half-dead,” finds no basis in this text! Jesus said, “Be zealous. . . and repent!” He not only calls them to repent, He also gives them specific instructions to recover out of this awful state.
Since they were “poor”, Jesus said, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich.” Materially they were rich, but spiritually they were poor. Their mistaken valuation of the temporal above the eternal caused Christ to call on them to repent specifically in regards to their poverty.
They were also “naked” so Jesus admonished them to put on “white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear.” Like the lad who exposed the non-existence of the Emperor’s new clothes, the Lord Jesus leveled a challenge to the spiritually stripped Laodiceans. They needed to line up with heaven’s dress code, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14)!
Because they were blind Christ counseled them, “Anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” The absence of spiritual vision demanded direct and specific attention. The vision, problem, the values problem, and the virtue problem all contributed to their all-too-obvious lack of vigor. With energy mis-spent on the immediate, the Laodiceans were neglecting the ultimate. Preoccupied with the temporal they had become “cool” toward Christ..
On Mount Moriah Isaac observed the altar, the wood, and the fire. He questioned his father, “Where is the lamb?” We are living in an age where we have the altar, the wood, and the Lamb. Today the question is, “Where is the fire?!”
Christ Himself came personally to this church and said, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” The gracious interrupting “knock” of Christ is always the first step toward recovery. A sleeping child is comfortable, satisfied, and doesn’t want to be disturbed. The parents may gently shake the child while speaking to him in an attempt to wake him up. Like a slumbering child who tries to ignore all attempts to bring him to consciousness, so the lukewarm may not appreciate Christ’s initial attempts to rouse them. While the knocking, chastening, and rebuking may be annoying, these are in reality all a proof of Christ’s love. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.”
Christ initiates, but man must cooperate! He knocks, but it’s our job to open the door! Man is responsible to be zealous (stir himself) and repent. The ball is in our court when it comes to changing our minds. Jesus points out our need but its our responsibility to repent. Recovery requires action! Passively wimping out simply will not do! Jesus instructed the Laodiceans to buy proven gold, put on white garments, and anoint their eyes with eyesalve.
Lukewarmness is unacceptable to Christ. He wants us hot! If coldness is preferable to lukewarmness, it must be a great sin to be average in spiritual things!
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”