And to the angel of the church of Laodicea write: "The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation. I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold not hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."
Revelation 3:14–22 is a letter from Jesus to the church at Laodicea in Asia Minor. It was given to John in a vision and had the purpose of saving the church from lukewarmness and possible destruction. It's a message that every church needs to hear, especially at the beginning of a week of concerted prayer. These are solemn words of counsel and love to a church that is content with itself, and feels need of nothing. Anyone who thinks that we have no need to begin the year with a week of fasting and praying should read and reread this letter from Christ to Laodicea and to Bethlehem. Let's look at it together to prepare ourselves for the week ahead.
The Jesus Who Speaks to Laodicea
First, verse 14: "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation." In this letter Jesus is going to bear witness against the Laodiceans. He is going to deliver an awful threat and an incomparable promise. It is fitting that he identifies himself as one who has the credibility and power to say such things. When he says that he is the "Amen," he means that he is reliable; he is God's confirmation, God's "yes" to all divine promises (2 Corinthians 1:20). "Amen" is simply a transliteration of a Hebrew word that means firm or true or faithful. So the next phrase defines it: "the faithful and true witness." So this letter is not to be taken lightly. It is the Word of God, with all his firmness and truth and reliability behind it.
The Jehovah's Witnesses today, like the Arians in the fourth century, would take the next phrase in verse 14, where Jesus is called "the beginning of God's creation," to mean that Christ is not eternal with God the Father, but was the first and greatest creature that God made. But the phrase can mean "that from which creation begins" just as easily as it can mean "the beginning part of creation." I don't think John meant here that Jesus is part of creation. The reason is that in Revelation 5:13-14 Christ is worshiped by every creature, but in 19:10 John's attempt to worship an angel is strictly forbidden; only God is to be worshiped. The status of Jesus Christ is therefore much greater than a created angel, for he is to be worshiped. He is "the beginning of God's creation," then, in the sense of John 1:3, "All that was made." So, the one who speaks to us in this letter is God the Son, the source of all God's creation, including us. Therefore he has all power and reliability to accomplish his threats and fulfill his promises.
Jesus' Indictment and Threat
In verses 15 and 16 Jesus brings his indictment of the Laodicean church and delivers his threat. "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth." His indictment against the church is that they are half-hearted in their relation to him. They do not have the fervor and warmth and zeal of a true lover of Christ; nor are they outright unbelievers who flatly reject Jesus and make no pretence of faith. They are halfway in between. Christ has a moderate influence on their lives. They are not uninfluenced by the Lord; but neither do they go overboard nor get very excited about the Creator of all. In relation to prayer, it would be safe to say that they probably pray at meals and pause for two or three minutes at bedtime. But they do not burn with a desire for more of God. They do not go hard after him in the secret place. They do not fling the door wide and welcome him into the innermost places of their emotions. But they keep him just outside the door and do their business with him coolly, lukewarmly, through the mail-slot. They like the ancient (but very unbiblical) proverb: Moderation in all things.
Jesus' threat to the lukewarm church is that he will spew them out of his mouth. If you wanted to shock a lukewarm Christian, you could hardly think of a more gross and startling image: Jesus Christ putting the cup to his lips in the hope of tasting a pleasing drink, and then spitting it out on the ground. I find it very hard to make this mean that such people will, after all, be saved and enjoy the blessings and fellowship of Christ for all eternity. Surely the image of spitting people out of his mouth means that he has found them to be unacceptable and rejects them. The faith that saves is not a lukewarm, half-hearted faith. And so he warns Laodicea, and every other church, if you do not repent (as verse 19 says) and become zealous, or hot, then the mechanical, cool superficiality of your faith will be your destruction, and I will spew you out of my mouth. There is ample reason in these verses alone for us to be on our knees in fasting and prayer at the beginning of 1983.
Now in verse 17 Jesus tells us that an essential part of lukewarmness is ignorance of our true spiritual condition and satisfaction with the way we are. "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." You can take your spiritual temperature by whether you feel in your heart a great need to seek God in prayer and fasting at the beginning of 1983. The essence of lukewarmness is the statement, "I need nothing." The lukewarm are spiritually self-satisfied. To find out whether you are among that number, don't look into your head to see if you think that you are needy; rather, look at your prayer life. It doesn't matter what we think in our head, the test of whether we are in bondage to spiritual self-satisfaction is how earnest and frequent and extended our prayers for change are. Do you seek the Lord earnestly and often in secret for deeper knowledge of Christ, for greater earnestness in prayer, for more boldness in witness, for sweeter joy in the Holy Spirit, for deeper sorrow for sin, for warmer compassion for the lost, for more divine power to love? Or is the coolness and perfunctoriness of your prayer life Exhibit A that you are spiritually self-satisfied and lukewarm?
Jesus' word In verse 17 to people who feel that they need nothing, who feel that a week of prayer and fasting is a bit melodramatic—taking this business of spiritual hotness too far—the word of Jesus is this: "You are wretched and pitiable and poor and blind and naked." And if such churchgoers don't begin to do something to change their condition, Jesus will eventually spew them out of his mouth.
Jesus has indicted and warned in verses 15–17. Now in verse 18 he begins to counsel. (Counseling is big business today, and I hope all of us who are involved in counseling hear the way the Master counselor is talking.) "Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see." The will of Christ for the church is that our poverty be replaced by spiritual wealth; that our nakedness and shame be covered with the robes of righteousness and good deeds (3:4; 7:14; 19:8); that our blindness be healed so we can see things as they really are and escape from the dream world of self-satisfaction. And there is only one place we can get these things—from Jesus himself. So he says, "Buy from me gold!" But how do you buy gold when you are broke? Jesus knows we're broke. He just said so in verse 17. And not just broke, but blind—we can't work. And not just blind, but shamefully naked—we can't even leave the closet. So how do you buy gold and garments and salve when you are poor and blind and naked? How do you get the wealth of Christ, the power to be clothed with obedience, and the wisdom to see things like God does, when your house is empty, and you are too frightened and ashamed to venture out?
After saying that it is only love that is prompting his rebuke and discipline, he gives the answer in verse 20: you don't go out; you invite Jesus in. You don't work; you pray. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." This verse can be applied (without damage, I think) to an unbeliever (as we often use it), but that is not its purpose here. It is addressed to lukewarm Christians who think they have need of nothing more of Christ. It is addressed to churchgoers who do not enjoy the riches of Christ or the garments of Christ or the medicine of Christ because they keep the door shut to the inner room of their lives. All the dealings they have with Christ are businesslike lukewarm dealings with a salesman on the porch.
But Christ did not die to redeem a bride who would keep him on the porch while she watched television in the den. His will for the church is that we open the door, all the doors of our life. He wants to join you in the dining room, spread a meal out for you, and eat with you and talk with you. The opposite of lukewarmness is the fervor you experience when you enjoy a candlelit dinner with Jesus Christ in the innermost room of your heart. And when Jesus Christ, the source of all God's creation, is dining with you in your heart, then you have all the gold, all the garments, and all the medicine in the world.
How do you buy gold when you're broke? You pray, and trust the promise: "I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me." There is an intimate communion and fellowship with Christ which many of us at Bethlehem need to seek in earnest prayer. Because when he dwells in the innermost room of our affections, he brings the power we want more than anything —the power to conquer selfishness and live for others.
And so the text closes with a promise to those who conquer. Verse 21: "He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne." Christ conquered sin and Satan and death by never veering from the path of love. It cost him his life; but he gained the world. And now he writes to the church—and this is as real for us this morning as if he were here handing you a letter himself—he writes to offer us a share in his universal rule if we will conquer, if we will overcome the menace of lukewarmness and spiritual self-satisfaction. And there is only one way to get that kind of power and victory, namely, by taking all the locks off the door and asking the living Christ to come in and eat with you. And that is what a week of concerted prayer at Bethlehem is all about . . . "that the power of Christ may dwell in us" (2 Corinthians 12:9; Ephesians 3:16–17).