Jesus had nothing but condemnation for the believers at Laodicea, which was intended to shake them out of their self-sufficient complacency and to exhort them to self-sacrifice for higher spiritual goals.
Laodicea was the eastern most city of the seven-city circuit. At the time John penned this postcard, it was one of the wealthiest cities of the day. It was the Paris, London, Los Angeles, New York, or Tokyo of the first century. Its economic engine was fueled by fashion, finance, and healthcare.
No doubt their wealth contributed to their faithlessness. The believers at Laodicea were economically rich but spiritually poor; fashionably clothed but spiritually naked; and physically sighted but spiritually blind.
Ten miles to the east of Laodicea was Colossae, known for refreshing cold springs. Six miles to the north was Hierapolis, known for healing hot springs. Laodicea was located on a plateau and had no natural springs. It had to pipe its water through stone aqueducts. Whether coming from Colossae or Hierapolis, by the time the water reached Laodicea it was always tepid, and sometimes bitter or chalky after traveling miles over open aqueducts.
The Greek for “cold” (psuchros) can mean cold to the point of freezing, as “hot” (zestos) can mean hot to the point of boiling. But the Laodiceans were neither. Instead, they were “lukewarm” (chilaros)—tepid to the point of nauseating.
All of us fall somewhere on this spectrum—hot or cold at the extremes, or lukewarm in the middle. It’s a question of your heart’s attitude toward Christ and the things of God. To be lukewarm spiritually is to be apathetic.
Many wrongly believe the opposite of love is hate. It’s not. Hate acknowledges that something or someone is worthy to be despised, just as love acknowledges that something or someone is worthy to be admired. But apathy is indifference. It doesn’t acknowledge anything worthy of love or hate. It’s a shrug of the shoulders, a wave of the hand, a “whatever.” Spiritually, it is a fruitless and tasteless faith, rotten and sickening.
God hates lukewarm Christians. Spiritually tepid, lukewarm Christians, pose a greater threat to the spread of the gospel than any atheist. Christians who have one foot in this world and one in the next, Christians who are trying to serve God and at the same time serve themselves, Christians who observe Jesus’ convenient commands and ignore His difficult ones confuse and mislead unbelievers more than people who reject Christ completely.
To the spiritually tepid He says, “I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). Literally, the Greek reads, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” This doesn’t mean they will lose their salvation. Scripture nowhere teaches this possibility. Jesus’s simple and vivid illustration highlights just how disgusting God is in those who claim Christ but are apathetic to the things of Christ.
Jesus closes His postcard with a warning and a promise in Revelation 3:19-22. The writer to the Hebrews wrote: “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6).
Every good father and mother disciplines his or her children. It is only the bad parent who allows their children to do whatever they want. Love demands discipline, because love knows that true happiness and significance comes through a maturely developed character. As a good parent, the Lord disciplined His children at Laodicea. If He didn’t love them—and us—He would leave us alone, which would be His final and worse punishment (Hosea 4:17).
But God doesn’t leave us alone, because He loves us. If you are a child of God, He will not allow you to stay in your lukewarm condition without bringing discipline into your life. Before He disciplines us, Jesus tells us to change our attitudes and actions: “be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
How can we do that? First, we agree with Jesus’s assessment of our spiritual condition—that we are neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm. Then we do something about it. We “repent” which means to have a change of mind that leads to a change of direction in our life.
When I was growing up there was little wall plaque many of you have seen of this picture of Jesus in His regal robes with a lantern in hand standing and knocking on the door of an old house covered and overgrown with vines. For ten years of my life, it was the last thing I looked at before I went to sleep. What was interesting about the door is that it had no handle on the outside. The occupant of the home had to make the decision to open the door and invite Jesus in.
Are you tired of living as a tepid, lukewarm, nauseating Christian? Invite Jesus to take control of every area of your life and you will experience victory.