Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Living in Laodicea: The Laodicean Letter 2

The city of Laodicea was situated southwest of Philadelphia, in the Lycus River Valley. The Valley lands were fertile and the water sources were plenty and varied. The city of Colossae, for instance, was fed by ice cold springs. Hierapolis, a city close to Laodicea, drew from the hot waters of the cascades. Laodicea was a bit different. As I shared in the previous blog, they had engineered channels that brought water from an aqueduct over 4 miles away. The archeological sites at Laodicea have uncovered great fountains and a water tower that were fed by this aqueduct. It was an architectural site to behold, I’m sure. As aesthetically pleasing as these structures would have been, I’d like to make an observation; their water was a drag! Here’s what I mean, simple science can prove that the water in Laodicea, after it took a four mile trip down the sun bathed channel, and rested in the water tower, was quite tepid in temperature.  Not cold, like Colossae, and not hot, like Hierapolis. Laodicea’s water, in contrast to them both was lukewarm.

Now lukewarm water can be used, but it’s not very useful. Cold water can chill food, cool your hot brow, or make a glass of ice tea. Hot water can sooth a sore back, clean dirty clothes, and cook your dinner. However, in a functional since, lukewarm water can do none of this. Its “in-between-ness” renders it useless for most circumstances. So, when Jesus used the terminology we find in Revelation 3:15-16, it would have been understood by everyone. In fact, whether you lived in Laodicea 2000 years ago or in North East Texas today, this concept works the same. Lukewarm water is useless.

Before we look at Revelation 3, I want to pose a hypothetical question to you. I will describe 2 situations. Then, after you have considered the implications of both circumstances, I want you to answer this question: If you had to choose, which situation would you rather live in? Another way to say it is …which is the better of two evils? And by the way, answering neither is not an option. Do you understand the rules? Okay here goes…

Situation #1
You’ve been married for several years; you have 2 children, and a big problem; your partner is unfaithful. You both know the truth, and you know the other person is aware. This is the way it’s been for some time; however, to save face in the community and to keep up the front that your marriage is wonderful and healthy, you never say a thing, not even to each other. On the outside, and by societal standards, you have the perfect marriage and the perfect family. On the inside you and your spouse are hollow actors on the stage of life.

Situation #2
You’ve been in a marriage for several years; you have 2 kids, and a big problem; your partner is unfaithful. This is the way it’s been for sometime how, and it’s not going to change. You are both fully aware of the situation and have fought over it many times. You and your spouse no longer have any desire to make the marriage work; you don’t even like each other. However, for the kid’s sake, you’ve decided to stay in the same house and be parents….not partners. As soon as the kids are old enough you will do publically what you’ve already done privately…end the relationship.

Okay, now make your choice. I realize both options stink, but which is the better of 2 evils? I actually posed this question to several people a few months ago. At first, they all tried to squirm out of it. However, after holding them to the rules, they made the undesirable pick. And unanimously, the choice was to live in situation #2. Not only were the votes unanimous, but the reasons for choosing #2 were all very similar. At least in situation #2, the couple is honest about the circumstances and their feelings. In situation #1 you had to deal with the infidelity and with lying to yourself and others around. You had to pretend everything was “okay” when it obviously was not.

Now, please hear what I’m about to say, this the picture Jesus painted when He addressed the Laodicean church about being lukewarm. Let me explain. The concept of being “cold” is easily understood. We speak of having a cold heart, or being icy toward others. This paints the picture of being emotionless and uncaring. A cold person is easily detected and easily felt. Relationships are not sought after by this person. And those who would attempt to have a relationship with a cold person are rejected and denied. On the other end of the spectrum, we understand what hot denotes also. We say things like, our love is on fire, or refer to a person as very fervent or zealous, or passionate. These are “hot” emotions. These relationships have the potential of being fulfilled and exciting.

On a spiritual level, a cold person would have no desire for relationship with Christ; they are spiritually lifeless and dead. At the same time, a hot person would be warm and zealous in their love and service for the Lord. Here, I want to make a quick point, and then we will get to the next verses in the Laodicean Letter. The status of a hot and a cold person may stand in complete opposition to each other, however, they do have one thing in common that Jesus appreciates…honesty. A cold person may be rejecting Christ, but at least they are honestly rejecting Him. As terrible as open and deliberate rebellion is, as far as Jesus is concerned, it is highly preferable to the third option. Let’s take a look at the text…


“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.

I don’t care who you are, those are some hard and blunt words. Jesus, with these words, has begun a swift and decisive judgment of the spiritual condition of this church in Asia. Remember He is “the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, and the Beginning of the creation of God.” Consequently, He alone holds the right to judge them, and be sure, He will do it in fairness. In other words, they deserve exactly what they are about to get.

Jesus begins His no holds barred assessment of the Laodicean church by making and inarguable statement: “I know your works…” The verses following this statement lead us to the understanding that this body of believers had progressed to an unacceptable condition. They were wealthy, highly touted, and acceptable in the eyes of the community; unfortunately, the church had fallen into the trap of putting stock in that opinion, and hailing it as the measure of a successful church. This condition was the end result of a silent voyage. At some point in the past, they had begun a perilous journey down a road that the Bible warns “leads to the fall”. The vehicle they were was in was pride (Proverbs 16:18). Pride seduces you into morphing into a creature that God detests, while at the same time blinding you to the fact that you are changing. It is a magic mirror that shows you want you want to see. The Laodicean church was looking into their self-made magic mirror and they saw a top notch, prize-winning church, when in fact, they were an ugly, deformed creature in God’s eyes. They were fooling the world, they were fooling themselves, but Jesus was not fooled…”I know your works…”

After stating the fact that He could see through the façade, Jesus tells them what He sees. “…that you are neither cold nor hot.” Obviously, Jesus desires a church whose fervor for Him is on fire; hot with passion for the Gospel, and burning with love for God. Yet, at the same time, in Jesus’ illustration, there is no such thing as a cold church. Spiritually cold people would never go to church to begin with. Jesus adds insult to injury when He tells them, “I could wish you were hot or cold.”  Christ’s desire for them to be hot is obvious, but His rathering they be cold, instead of what they actually were, was a sobering slap in the face. Cold means no church at all. Jesus is basically saying since you’re not hot, I wish you were not even an operating, functioning church at all. Why Jesus? His answer comes down like and avalanche; “because you are lukewarm.”

I want you to think back to the situational illustration I gave before. Two very undesirable circumstances, but one was more detestable than the other. It was the couple that was acting as if they were a happily married, with a wonderful home life, while playing the role for the world to see. This is the view Jesus has of the Laodicean Church. They have all the markings of a house of God, but in the spiritual since, they are living a lie. Sure, this is heartbreaking for God, but it’s much more than that. The rationale is simple; the Laodicean church was making a mockery of the death of His only begotten Son. They were using the name of Jesus to build their empire, and in the meanwhile, they were refusing to give Him the love, service, and worship that He absolutely deserves. This state of operations infuriates the Father, and Jesus exemplifies the extent of His anger with His next words.

“…because you are lukewarm…I will vomit you out of My mouth.”

Listen, I want to be very honest about something, I HATE to vomit. In fact, if you somehow enjoy it, you’ve got other issues that need to be addressed. Vomiting is the body’s way of rejecting a substance that is detrimental to its health. Actually, that definition is quite sterilized. The act of vomiting is just plain awful! Throwing up is an exhausting, full body work out; you sweat, you heave, you spasm, you make un-natural sounds. The only redeeming quality is that when it’s over, you have gotten rid of the problem. This is exactly what Jesus is saying to the church in Laodicea. In essence, He is telling this church, you make me sick at my stomach, you are a detriment to my body, and therefore, I am going to endure the painful process of vomiting you up and out!
People, this is not a pretty picture by any account. The longsuffering patients of the Lord is renown throughout the Word. However, He had reached a point of no return with Laodicea’s church. Some of you may ask, “Didn’t He give them a chance to repent?” The answer is undeniable…no! I know this is true because of one easily overlooked word that Jesus used.  He said, “I WILL vomit you out of My mouth.” The deal was sealed when Jesus said the word “will”. Now, I want to make an important distinction that I will expound on in a later installment. The Laodicean church, as an entity, was finished; however, the individuals that attended the church were not.
I realize this isn’t the most uplifting 2 verses in scripture. In the proceeding verses, Jesus will explain to the church exactly what their problem is, and then, like only God can do, He will give them a way to find relationship with Him again.
Please join me next time around as we look at verses 17, 18, and 19 of the Laodicean Letter.
Until then, keep seeking the truth

Living in Laodicea: The Laodicean Letter 1

Right up front, I’d like to start with an explanation. I introduced the “Living in Laodicea” series a couple of months ago with excitement. I was excited, you were excited…then the holiday season began. As a result, I allowed myself to get busy and my writing slowed down. However, recently, as I began to consider this topic again, God laid out for me the way in which I would present it. This direction from God came in an unexpected way, and I’d like to share it as we begin.

Last November, while in Bible study, God began to deal with me about a teaching on the Laodicean Letter. While sharing my thoughts with a friend, he mentioned a song that referenced the teaching I was alluding to. The song, written by Steve Camp, is entitled, “Living in Laodicea”. I listened to it that very day, and was impressed. It was exactly in line with what God had placed on my heart. I decided then to seek the Lord about blogging/broadcasting/preaching this word. A few days later in November, I began by writing the introductory blog for the Living in Laodicea teaching series. Okay, now flash forward to last Sunday (Jan 20th). The family and I, having returned home from church, were relaxing around the house. Actually, my wife, my son Kollin, and I had just finished praying over some issues together. At that point, God reminded me of Steve Camp’s song. I decided to play it for Jennifer and Kollin, but before I did, I felt led to explain the Bible passage that the song refers to. So, we pulled out our Bibles and I briefed them on the text in Revelation 3. As I skimmed through the teaching, simply wanting to set up the song, I soon realized God was providing the perfect outline. It came quickly and unexpectedly. Isn’t that just like God? At that point, I knew it was time for me to really tie into this message.

Here’s how the Spirit has laid out this teaching in my heart. It will be divided into 3 parts:
1.       The Laodicean Letter – in today’s installment we will begin looking at the Laodicean Letter. I will, with the Spirit’s help, begin pulling apart the deeper meaning of the passage. We will key-in on the condition of the Laodicean church of John’s day. Since part 1 is the exegesis of Revelation 3:14-22, it will take multiple blogs to complete. I cannot, in good conscious, short cut this part of the process; however I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much info at one time either…so we will take part 1 in sections.

2.       The Laodicean Age – in part 2, I want to apply the truths discussed in part 1 with a different focal point. We will focus on relating them to the Church of today. As I explained in the introductory blog, the Laodicean church is a scriptural representation of the modern day Church…this should be eye opening.  

3.       The Laodicean Life – in part 3, we will examine the individual that John writes about in the letter to the Laodicean church. We will take a look at how that relates to you and me. At this point, the teaching will become personal.

Wonderful…I’m excited! I love the Word of God. I pray that His anointing will be obvious on the words and ideas placed forth. I pray that you will be receptive to the teaching…not to my ramblings, but to the ministering words of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Living in Laodicea
Part 1: The Laodicean Letter

There’s an old saying that goes something like this…the truth hurts. I’m sure we all agree and can recall times in our past when this cliché rang true. The truth is an interesting entity; it deals with us differently depending on our position to it. If we are standing in the truth, holding up the truth, and living out the truth; then the truth will support, protect, and strengthen us. On the other hand, if we begin to operate in opposition to the truth, or ignore the truth, or bend the truth; then the truth becomes a sword that cuts deeply (Heb 4:12). Now I don’t know what you think, but I tend to believe that a slashing sword would hurt! The letter to the church in Laodicea bears this thought out perfectly. They are about to receive a stern warning: The sword of truth is coming…and it’s going to hurt.

In the previous 6 letters to the churches in Asia, John had penned great, encouraging words mingled with rebukes and corrections. Some of the churches were highly praised by Jesus. Others were not so highly acknowledged, but they all had redeeming characteristics pointed out by Christ. Sadly, Laodicea cannot boast of this in any way. The name Laodicea means “judgment”, and that’s exactly what they received in this letter from the Lord.

During the time that John wrote the book of Revelation, history shows that Laodicea was a prosperous city. Archeological sites have uncovered great fountains and water ways that fed the city. It appears they had the engineering capabilities and the financial worth to channel in water from an aqueduct over four miles away (I will reference this water system again later). After reading Paul’s letter to the church, we can conclude that the Christian community of Laodicea was also sharing in this prosperous time. To most folks this fact would lead them to believe the church was blessed, we will soon see that it was not.

Not only did this church have financial resources, but they also had great spiritual resources. Several times in Paul’s writings he refers to the church in Laodicea. In fact, along with the church at Ephesus, the Laodicean church received regular correspondence and teaching from Paul. In fact, Paul sent a man, Epaphras, to Laodicea to help train and disciple them (see Colossians 1:7, 4:12-16). We learn from these verses that Paul also instructed that his Epistle to the Colossians be sent to Laodicea. Wow, can you imagine the tremendous opportunities God afforded this group of believers; handpicked ministers, Holy Spirit inspired letters and teachings, and interaction from Paul and John, themselves. Truly, Laodicea was a blessed community of believers, but, to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).

For the rest of part 1, I’m going to organize my writing as such; I will place the words of Jesus to the church in red, as it is printed in many of our Bibles. The black text following will be my thoughts and explanations regarding the scripture. Very well, let’s see what Jesus personally directed John to write to the Laodicean Church in Revelation 3:14-22.


To the angel of the church of Laodicea write:

The correct meaning of the word “angel” has been a point of disagreement for many scholars. Just what does this word refer to? Some say it refers to an angelic being that was assigned to the church. However, we have absolutely no scriptural backing that alludes to angelic oversight of any church. Others say it is referring to some sort of area wide overseer or bishop. However, the Apostles never set up the church to operate this way. Man has used this method over the centuries, but this was never God’s plan for church government. The word angel can almost always be translated “messenger”, and this is the correct translation for the word in this verse. Jesus’ letter is addressed to “the messenger of the church of Laodicea”. Obviously, the messenger of any given church is the church’s pastor. He is the man that proclaims God’s message to the believers. All 7 letters In Revelation 2 and 3 were addressed to the pastor of the church in question, who was then to share it with the people.

These things say the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.

At this point, as was true with all 7 church letters, Jesus introduces Himself to the church. Throughout the Word, there are countless names and titles given to Jesus. All of them carry an important and distinct meaning. All of them point to an awesome aspect of Christ’s character. Here, Jesus selects the exact title or description for the moment. These are not leisurely placed nicknames…no, they hold perfect meaning and consequence.
Immediately, Jesus is going to make the readers of this letter sit-up and take notice. He does not parse words, He does not begin gingerly, no, He is throwing down the hammer from the beginning. The word amen has become softened in our ears. We use it so often and casually that it is easy for us to skip past it. In this case, we must not. This word sets the tone for the entire letter and the Laodicean pastor would have recognized the tone without question. First, recall that the word “Amen” is capitalized. Jesus is not simply saying amen, He is instead proclaiming, “I AM THE AMEN!”. Okay, so what does that mean? The word amen, as Christ used it, means “he who is eminently true and faithful.” In other words, what He says is absolute truth; He is not passing out idle threats, He is handing out promises. Jesus is not just speaking the truth, He is THE TRUTH. He said it in John 14:6 and He is now proclaiming it again. The Laodicean church will soon be characterized by Jesus as “lukewarm”. Due to the fact that Jesus is the Amen, the Truth, He is perfectly qualified to look at the condition of the church and call a spade a spade. If anyone has the ability to know the truth about the condition of this church, it is “the AMEN.”
Next, Jesus adds to His introduction as He refers to Himself as “the Faithful and True Witness”. If “the AMEN” somehow escaped their attention, Jesus is now going to further explain Himself. You see, when a person has become spiritually deaf and blind because of sin, the obvious things of God can easily slip by us. Things we would see immediately, if we were in good standing with Christ, can become easily skipped over by our darkened eyes of flesh. Perhaps this is why Jesus chose drive home this point. To be sure, He did not make a mistake by repeating HHHHimself. The phrase “the Faithful and True Witness” is almost a text book definition of the word “Amen” used just prior by Jesus. Also, make sure you recognize that these words are capitalized. He is not saying “I have a faithful and true personality” for Jesus IS faithfulness, He IS truth. He doesn’t simply DO these things, He IS these things. Jesus is the Great Witness for God and the truth. He is unable to approve of anything that God does not approve of. The Laodicean church will soon understand this in fine detail.
In the final part of the introduction trilogy, Jesus pulls rank on the church in Laodicea. He wants the pastor and the people to realize in totality who they are being addressed by. The phrase “the Beginning of the creation of God” is a POWERFUL title, indeed. Some translations say “ruler” of the creation…this is a poor paraphrase. The word “Beginning” carries the entire meaning of this title. What is Jesus alluding to in this self designation? First of all, He is not referring to Himself as the creator. It is true that Jesus is the creator of the universe, scripture is implicit on this point (John 1:1-3), but this is not what Jesus is referring to here. Secondly, He’s not stating that He was the first created being. We know that Jesus, being part of the God-head, is uncreated and eternal (again refer to John 1:1-3). When Jesus calls Himself “the Beginning of the creation of God”, He is actually making a reference to His place as the Redeemer. John 17:2 says, God has given Him power “over all flesh”. John 2:8 says that all things are “put under His feet”. Ephesians 1:20-22 point out that Jesus is exalted over all things. Being “the Beginning of the creation of God” means Jesus is the once and future King…the Ruler. In this way, He is speaking with all authority to the church of Laodicea.
After reading the letter’s pointed introduction, the congregation should have easily recognized that whatever followed demanded their attention and response. Jesus was speaking to them personally, and the correct reaction was absolutely crucial.  
Okay then, with the very powerful introduction to this letter from Jesus Christ behind us, this is good place to wrap up this first installment. I will soon post the next installment as Jesus begins to judge this “lukewarm” church. You don’t want to miss it. Check back in a few days as we continue the study “Living in Laodicea”.
Keep seeking the truth,