Revelation 3:14-22: Local colouring.
‘To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ NIV
This is perhaps the best known of the seven letters, and many sermons have been preached from it on the dangers of ‘’lukewarm’’ Christianity. Such a state is undeniably abhorrent to Jesus. Before we look at anything else, perhaps we should take a little time to observe the local colouring.
We saw previously that the city of Philadelphia had been devastated in an earthquake in AD 17. At that time, they gratefully received help from central Roman funds. But when a later earthquake, in AD 61, did major damage to several cities in the Lycus valley, to the south of Philadelphia, one city was proudly able to refuse imperial help. You’ve guessed it – Laodicea! They had independent means and didn’t feel in need of any outside assistance. It was the banking centre for the whole region. There was also a fine medical centre there and people travelled long distances to train as doctors, In particular, the school specialised in ophthalmology, healing for the eyes. Laodicea was a great place to obtain an especially popular Phrygian eye-powder. Then, we may add, the local farmers had bred a type of black sheep whose wool was of fine quality. Clothes made from Laodicean wool were eagerly sought after.
But for all that, the city did not have good water.Nearby, at Hierapolis, there were some famous hot springs. Large amounts of hot water poured out from them in great streams. The water was thought to have healing power, so many people came to drink it with high hopes. But as the hot water flowed down the slopes from the spring, it quickly became lukewarm, and lost its healing efficacy (or so it was thought). Not only could it not heal anyone; it couldn’t quench thirst either. I’ve heard it said that it was sickly to the taste, being full of concentrated chemicals.
Something to note: As this water passed through Laodicea it was lukewarm!
To the south-east of Laodicea stood the town of Colossae. It had a fine supply of water, flowing down from snow-capped Mount Cadmus. Someone suggested it was almost of Alpine quality. But by the time this water reached Laodicea, 11 miles away, the Turkish heat meant that it too had turned lukewarm.
Tom Hale writes: ‘…no one ever likes to drink something lukewarm. The church in Laodicea was like a lukewarm drink: the church’s ministry was neither hot nor cold – only lukewarm. Because of this, no matter what a person’s need might be, the church could not satisfy it.’ ‘Applied New Testament Commentary’, p. 969.
PRAYER: Lord, I have to pray, please will you stoke the fires in the church’s boiler. Don’t allow any of us to settle for tepid Christianity. It’s a contradiction in terms.