Paul F. Evans

Laodicea was a remarkable city, in that it was rebuilt by it wealthy citizens after an earthquake in AD 62, without the help of Rome (Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.). The economy of the city depended on a particularly lucrative wool trade, for which the city was famous in the Roman world (Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.). There is in the words of Christ to the church, a strong reference to a sense of wealth and self-sufficiency, and that the arrogance and self-confidence of the city seems to have infiltrated the fellowship of believers (17a). The disciples at Laodicea seem to be “at ease”, complacent, content and without any sense of urgency concerning the gospel, the lost and the kingdom of God. And what is worse, as we shall see, they were lukewarm about their fellowship with God.

Firstly, Christ tells the pastor or leader of the church, “I know your deeds….” Oida is a perfect verb, implying that Christs knowledge of the church is full and complete. They cannot hide behind their wealth and their piety. He is not fooled by them. The are poor, wretched and naked. The reality of their spiritual condition is not at all what they think or perceive it to be (17). The church is in trouble two ways. They are not where they need to be spiritually and their spiritual lack is utterly transparent to the Lord. Hence his challenge to them to repent before they are completely lost. Evidently there was activity in the church, even worship, but it hid a loss of something that Christ considered to be central to his relationship to them.

Christ makes a similar comment to the Laodiceans as that he made to the Ephesian church, that he had “seen their works” (2:2; 3:15). To the latter he extended a commendation, saying that they had worked hard. But to the Laodicean church he remarks that their works belay nothing but the lukewarmness of their devotion/spiritual condition (15). This is nothing less than spiritual indifference toward God (Easley, K. H. (1998). Vol. 12: Revelation. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers). In both cases the works of the church did not represent a depth of spiritual devotion and sincerity toward God. To the Ephesians, Christ said that in spite of their hard working something was missing in their devotion, they were simply not as serious about their “first love” as they had once been (4). We might ask, what is the “first love”? To the Laodiceans Christ said that their works in no way made up for the lukewarmness of their devotion to God. Something was missing that their works did not make up for, and could not hide. Works were no substitution for nor could they make up for spiritual lukewarmness. This has plagued the church for centuries, the substitution of doing for being – thinking that being will arise from doing, when in fact doing flows from being in God’s economy!

The perfectly Faithful and True One, the Ruler over God’s creation, unwavering in purpose and fully devoted to the purposes of God, having carried them out on the cross and now in the heaven at God’s right hand, confronts the wavering and lukewarm Laodiceans, whose devotion to God lacks substance, and whose resolve is weak and indecisive (14-16) (Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.). The word hot in this passage means boiling hot, or metaphorically passionate and fervent in devotion to God; so cold means icy cold not tepid (Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.)! The point being made is that the in some way devotionally and spiritually the Laodiceans were only tepid toward God, because of their sense of self-sufficiency, particularly because of economic ease (17). Their privileged position and circumstances did not equate to favor from God, indeed quite the opposite, and neither was it an advantage spiritually and devotionally. To be lukewarm is the middle position between passionately hot for God and the icy indifference of the world. It is to be in the church, to believe, to attend, even to worship, but to lack a deep life-changing, ongoing relationship with the savior, whose church they were (cf. 1:20).

What the Laodiceans had was a touch of religion, which bordered on devotion, but lacked genuine, deep fellowship with God! This is indicated by the invitation that they come to Christ and buy new clothing, a new experience of the provision and righteousness of God, to replace the self-provision upon which they had been relying up to this point (18). Clothing provided by God in Genesis 3 was a metaphorical covering that demonstrated God intention to provide salvation to overpower their sin, and even to reverse the consequences of it in their lives. In that account God exchanged their provision, the figs leaves, for his own provision, illustrating that they could not provide salvation for themselves that he could or would accept, but that would make provision for them (cf. Gen. 3:15). There is a similar note being sounded here. The Laodiceans were being invited to exchange their own self-sufficiency for the provision of God; the “salvation” they had provided for themselves was to be given up for the salvation and providence offered by God (18). To be clothed with God’s provision was to have passion and fervency restored to their spiritual life and devotion to God. Indeed it was to make the switch from self-sufficiency to dependence on God!

There is a further uncomfortable correspondence between the Ephesian and Laodicean churches. Christ accuses the Ephesians of leaving their first love, and the Laodiceans of self-sufficiency that had led to a lack of passion for God! Both churches were counseled to repent and turn back to God. The seemingly commendable works of the Ephesians and the lukewarm efforts of the Laodiceans alike required the disciples in both churches to turn back to God in repentance, a complete and utter change of direction and mind (2:5, 3:19). This leads to the question, what precisely does it mean for the Ephesians to return to first things (2:5) and for the Laodiceans to “buy from me…” (18)? The answer is the same for both churches, we believe. To “buy” is a metaphor that appeals to the Laodicean culture and mindset. Instead of trading as they have in the goods of this world, God was asking them to trade with him, for something more durable and lasting (18). In a sense the lukewarmness of the disciples at Laodicea could be traced to the fact that they were trading in the wrong place, in the material things of this world, when they should have been trading with God for the eternal things of his kingdom. They had become involved in the wrong business! Their attention had turned from God to the things of the world. Their attention to fellowship, devotion and relationship with God had taken a backseat to these other things, things that principally had to do with the material comforts of this life, rather than the eternal things of the kingdom of God!

For these first and last churches addressed in the great Epistle to the seven churches of Asia Minor the answer is curiously similar, even identical it would seem. To have fallen from their first love surely means the passionate fellowship they had with God at one time, and for which hard work without relationship had become and unacceptable substitute. And for the Laodiceans, they needed to hear the voice of Christ standing at the door, knocking to gain entry for a single purpose, to enter into permanent, mutually enjoyable and satisfying fellowship (20).

It seems that the loss both churches had suffered is the loss of fellowship, of intimacy with God. It is easily done in the course of life’s business, and even in prosecuting the business of the church. But work without devotion, service without fellowship is not what God is after. He is not interested in works without relationship! Whatever we give to God in terms of service has to come from devotion, relationship and ongoing fellowship with him. Fellowship and relationship are what God created us for in the beginning, which is clear in the Genesis account of creation. Adam and Eve’s work and service flowed from their relationship to God. Fellowship and relationship are at the core of God purpose for us as human beings, first of all created in his image, and now redeem from sin, so that we might be reconciled to God through Christ (Rom. 5:12; 2 Cor. 5:18).

Once firmly restored, this fellowship will be shared eternally with Christ! The meaning of sharing in the throne of Christ in verse 21 has to do with the permanency of the relationship and fellowship which the Laodiceans will share with Christ in eternity, if only they will open their hearts to him now, and relinquish their self-sufficiency! Victory over this attitude of being self-sufficient, by opening the door to reestablish intimacy with God will result in eternal life, and fellowship with God, just as Christ, having won the victory through resurrection, now shares unbroken fellowship with God his Father (21)!

But what if they do not turn to God? There is a stern warning at the beginning of the little epistle, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth, because you are neither hot nor cold!” (16). The picture is vivid! It is that unpleasant sense of disgust when you put something into your mouth either expecting it to be really hot or really refereshingly cold, but find it to be only mildly warm. The almost instinctive reaction is to spit it out! The tepidity of the church had Christ so nauseated that he was ready to spit them out, to reject the church! It is a violent picture that really depicts Christ sickened by the church to the point of throwing up! The lukewarmness of the disciples at Laodicea had the same effect that putting something unpleasant in your mouth has, it made him want to spit them out. They could not continue as a church in lukewarmness, something had to change and something had to give! The crux of the matter was repentance and an invitation by Christ to enter an open door, if they would give the opportunity to him.

The invitation to open the door, is prefaced by a statement, that Christ is standing at the door ready to enter if it is opened to him (20). The picture that the writer paints is that Christ has taken up his place at the door, with the result he is permanently and consistently knocking, in hopes of gaining entry. The perfect tense of the verb for I stand carries this weight. He has been trying, and he is continuing to try to get the attention of those distracted people behind the door, so that they will open it to him. It is tempting to see the invitation of Jesus as a general call to the church, focused on a body of disciples, but remarkably the focus shifts from the church corporately to individuals personally. “If anyone hears the knocking…” is literally singular, and so is the corresponding promise that Jesus will enter the door and fellowship with him (20). The invitation is intensely personal to anyone individually in the church who cares to respond to his knocking. How can the church be saved from lukewarmness? It can be saved not by a mass revival, but by individuals personally responding to Christ, by opening themselves up to renewed intimacy with God! Revival is not mass emotional excitement over God, but it is the restoration of personal intimacy with God! The passion of the church, it fervency and spirit of revival are restored as individuals open their hearts to God and rediscover the fellowship of their devotion to him!

The last thing. So why bring the subject up! Why did God go after them and the other churches like he did, with such a rebuke and strong message? (19). Because he loves the church, and the people who make up the church. God desires this fellowship and relationship so much that he goes after it with discipline and aggressive warnings to his disciples. He is prepared to warn and correct them in order to restore the passion of fellowship and devotion, because that is what he desires with his people. He doesn’t want their works alone, and their spiritual lukewarmness makes him sick. He desires their devotion, their fellowship.

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