Laodicea: The Half-hearted Church

One of my favorite comedians has a bit that he does with this phrase, “Sort of.”  Most of the time it is meaningless, but sometimes, after certain phrases, this phrase can mean everything. For instance, if you were to look to someone and you were to say, “I love you… sort of.” Or if you are in an emergency room and the doctor says “You’re going to live. Sort of.” It can mean everything in those moments, and it is funny because it is true. We also know it is true in different circumstances, situations, maybe different organizations, and positions. For instance, if you are in the Marines, and the commanding officer gives you a command, and you look at them and say, “You know what, Sarge? I’m just like feeling sort of marines today. Like, I’m not feeling it all the way, so can we just hold off?” It is not going to work. There are all these different places and times on earth where we would say “sort of” is ridiculous.

Would we think that the God of the universe is okay with a sort of kind of faith? “Okay, God. Sort of, I’m a follower of Jesus. Sorry.” We know that that would be insane to say. So, nobody is going to use any of the verses from today’s text as like an encouragement throughout the week. You are not going to send this to somebody in a card. This is probably not a part of your super Christian e-mail signature. That is because this is a very hard word from the lips of Jesus today. It is a hard word for his church and as individual believers, but it is also a hopeful word.

“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. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 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. 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. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Revelation 3:14-22

He identifies himself as the Amen, the faithful and true witness. So anytime we say the word Amen, we are saying it is true where it is. This is an expression of truth. Jesus says I am the Amen; I am truth personified. He goes on to call us out. From a place of preeminence, he is doing this as the ruler of God’s creation. Paul says to the church in Colossi, just a few miles down the road that all things have been created through him. That is through Jesus and for Jesus. And it is from that foundation that he says this to his church. Your deeds that you are neither cold nor hot, I wish you were either one or the other. In each of these letters, he takes a geographical specific phenomenon and draws a parallel to talk about their spiritual reality. Laodicea is about 5 miles away from the city Heraclius. If you go to Heraclius today, you will find what Jesus was really referring to which are incredible hot springs. This was a natural phenomenon by which these waters would flow down into the Lycus River Valley, and if they travel those 5 miles then by the time they got to Laodicea, it is no longer hot. It starts undrinkable, then just down the road, they were known for having a thriving cold-water system. Laodicea was in the middle; they were halfway between. This is the relationship that Jesus is drawing. It is not that he is using hot water as good and cold water as bad. He is actually drawing on what we already know: that sometimes you want that hot or cold water, you want it to feel refreshing, you want it to revive you in a certain way, etc. But in no situation is somebody like, “You know what I love? Just some room temperature water.” That is not the kind of faith you are to have either.

So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

This is the hard word. Imagine everything about your life is mixed together: your attitudes, your motivations, your action. It is poured into a cup. Jesus takes that cup, and he expects to be refreshed and nourished by what hits his mouth. As soon as it hits the back of his throat, there is a realization this is not good, and he immediately vomits you up onto the ground because of what your life tastes like. No decorum, no politeness. If Jesus were to pour my life into a cup and drink, what would he think? Would he be satisfied? Would he be fulfilled?

How does one become lukewarm in the first place? He speaks to the Laodicea and their self-deception or a false estimation of themselves, who they are, and what they look like in Jesus’ eyes. Their faithfulness to Jesus has become so compromised that it is indistinguishable from the so-called faith of the pagans. Their worship of Jesus is no different than the worship of these Pagan goddesses and gods throughout the area. You cannot tell them apart; these Christians are trying to keep one foot in the Jesus pool and one foot in the Pagan pool. “I love Jesus… Sort of.”

The reality is that we give ourselves over to these lesser lovers that we think will satisfy us, and we settle for things that are too weak. CS Lewis points at this so profoundly in The Weight of Glory. “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” One of the many reasons that our standard for satisfaction is so low is that we take our eyes off the prize that is Jesus. Could any of us could honestly say my primary focus and attention when there is nothing else to think about, is Jesus?