A hot cup of coffee in the morning can wake us up and get us going. An ice-cold glass of water after working out in the yard refreshes us and gives relief. But lukewarm coffee does not warm, and lukewarm water does not refresh. Lukewarmness is abhorrent to Jesus. He says in Revelation 3:16 of the church at Laodicea “because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” Many of us have read this verse and wondered, am I lukewarm? Am I in danger of being spit out? This is the question we want to answer in this lesson.
Not a Feeling
I want to make a note here at the beginning. That being lukewarm is not determined by how we feel. There are days or will be days where you do not feel like your faithful or your energy is just not there. That does not automatically mean that you are lukewarm. Feelings are fickle and are good liars. Jeremiah reminds us that “that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23)and Solomon adds in Proverbs 3:5 “do not lean on your own understanding.” Also, God knowing that we can sometimes put too much stock in our feelings reminded us in 1 John 3:19-22 that God is greater than our hearts, our feelings, and how we feel does not determine our standing before God (v.21), God does.
“I Know Your Deeds” – Revelation 3:15
Lukewarmness can be identified so that means we are not left guessing. Jesus says in v. 15 “I know your deeds.” Jesus said in Matthew 7:16 of false prophets “you shall know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?” The principle of this teaching applies here as well. You will know the quality of the Christian by their actions. But what kind of deeds show someone to be lukewarm? Here would be a few:
- Superficial or no engagement with the Word of God.
- Giving leftovers to God. Satisfied with the “minimum.”
- Life is full of a whole bunch of stuff, fluff, nothing with substance. I am just too busy is a favorite line of the lukewarm. Because “I’m too busy” is often a translation of “I don’t want to.”
- Often self-righteous (Luke 18:11-12). That is, they are blind to their true condition.
- God is more of an insurance policy than a Father with whom I have a relationship.
We can also look to see if the inverse of these are present in a Christians life to determine if they are not lukewarm. Examine the fruit of your life. That is how you will know if you are lukewarm or not.
“You Are Neither Hot nor Cold” – Revelation 3:16
Because Jesus knows their deeds, He renders a verdict on this church, these Christians. The verdict is that they are useless. It is of note that the church at Laodicea was the one of the seven that Jesus found no redeeming qualities.
The contrast between hot and cold water here is not so much about being on fire for God or a cold harden fallen away Christian. Rather, the contrast is between the usefulness of cold and hot water and utter uselessness of being lukewarm. Laodicea sat between two sources of water. The hot medicinal waters of Hierapolis and the cold pure waters of Colossae. The former was known as a place of healing and Colossae waters were known for their refreshment. Each were useful. But Laodicea was neither of these. They were indifferent.
Jesus abhors this indifference, this apathy, this being lukewarm about Him. It is revolting to Him. Now the NASB translates Jesus response as “I will spit you out of My mouth.” It is accurate but not the most accurate. The text literally means “I will vomit…” A forceful rejection triggered by the revolting nature of what was just tasted or ingested. It is a defense mechanism God built into our bodies to protect us if we might have eaten something foul or contaminated. From this text we understand that apathy is something contaminated and foul to Jesus and triggers this kind of response.
“I am rich…” Revelation 3:17
The church at Laodicea’s apathy is now identified in the text by Jesus. He had said that He knew their deeds and they were found wanting. What characterized them as lukewarm? “Because you say. “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked…” (v.17). As we mentioned before one of the deeds of being lukewarm is a self-righteous attitude, a blindness to your real condition. The Laodiceans thought they had it all together and because they thought they had arrived they were ignorant of their total poverty. As Homer Hailey put in in The Book of Revelation, An Introduction and Commentary:
“The picture well describes many congregations today: they possess material prosperity, they engage in “projects” that use finances, but which express no real spiritual zeal. They develop a “teaching program” more formal than productive of true inward development. They enjoy a comfortable building and a respected social position in the community and live in worldly enjoyment that requires neither sacrifice nor effort” (Hailey, 159).
They had forgotten, as some have today, that the first trait, first requirement, necessary to be in the kingdom of God is to recognize our absolute poverty without God. That takes a humility that the Christians at Laodicea had lost. This is why Jesus starts the sermon on the mount with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
“Be zealous and repent”
What is the solution if you are lukewarm? Jesus says next to “be zealous and repent” (v.19). To be zealous is to earnestly strive for something. So, what were they to earnestly strive for? Jesus said in the previous verses that he advised them to “buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see” (v.18).
This is similar to what God urged Israel back in Isaiah 55:1 where He is pleading with His people to “Everyone one who thirst come… you who have no money, come…. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” God pleads with His people to repent and return. Come back to Him who gives to all generously. This is what Jesus is saying to these Christians, come back, and I will give you true wealth.
The Laodiceans need to earnestly strive for the true wealth that Jesus offers. This attitude is best illustrated in Matthew 13:44 about the man who sold everything and bought the field with the hidden treasure.
They could change
What is the lesson here? The final part of this letter (vv.19-22) reveals to us that the Laodiceans could change. They were not stuck being lukewarm. They could hear this message (v.22) and there was an expectation that they could change (v.20-21).
Maybe you are here this morning, or listening, and the Word of God has hit you right. You have realized that you are lukewarm. You do not have to stay that way. What Jesus said to Ephesus applies here as well, “repent and do the deeds you did at first” (Rev. 2:5).