Summary: Laodicea: The Church of Nauseating Ineffectiveness
The Seven, part 15
Laodicea: The Church of Nauseating Ineffectiveness
September 8, 2013
We are on our last letter this week, the letter to the church of Laodicea, what I am calling the church of nauseating Ineffectiveness. Laodicea is a church whose affluence had blinded them to their spiritual ineffectiveness. They had drifted toward self sufficiency, becoming satisfied with what the world had to offer. Yet Jesus had not abandoned them, they were still a star in his hand. Jesus loves the church as tarnished as she is; he died for the church; he lives for the church; and he would never consider abandoning the church.
Laodicea was part of a cluster of three cities, along with Hieropolis and Colossae. The city had four distinctive features that help us understand the contents of this letter. First, was a thriving textile industry known for it's fabric and clothing. Second, was a medical college that was famous for it's phrygian powder that was made into eye salve and exported all over the Roman Empire. Third, it was a very affluent city. It was a center for banking, it had its own stadium and gym, heated and covered walkways, all of which were provided by funds donated by its citizens. Last, its water was lukewarm, rich in minerals giving it a fowl and nauseating taste. They could not fix the problem no matter how much money they threw at it.
Jesus identifies himself as the Amen, who is the faithful and true witness and the beginning of God's creation. Normally we think of amen as an affirmation of what is true as when we say amen after a particularly good point or truth we affirm or Jesus saying in the KJV bible, “verily verily I say unto you.” It means something is certain and true. Jesus, the amen, is then described as the faithful and true witness. These are the key words for the church in Laodicea. Jesus is the ultimate, definitive witness who faithfully witnessed to his Father to his own death. Last, Jesus describes himself as the beginning of God's creation, not speaking of the original creation but the new creation. As the sovereign Lord he has established the new covenant, making all things new and bringing history to it's appointed end in the new heaven and new earth. He created the church and is leading the church, God's people, to her glorious end.
'They are neither cold nor hot; he wished they were either cold or hot and because they are lukewarm be is about to vomit them out.' The traditional interpretation is that Jesus is saying they had a lukewarm faith. But why would God want them cold? How would the Laodiceans understand this metaphor? Hieropolis was known for its hot springs whose water was medicinal and Colossae was known for it's never ending supply of fresh and cold mountain water. Laodicea's water was lukewarm, filled with minerals, fowl tasting and so nauseating. So Laodicea was neither hot nor cold; neither medicinal nor refreshing; it was useless, ineffective, good for nothing. Their witness for Jesus was ineffective which was nauseating to Jesus so he is about to vomit them out. That is pretty strong words; what does he mean? Unless they repent they will meet him as the faithful and true judge. The warning(s) like this in the New Testament are to motivate genuine Christians to take Jesus seriously.
What does an ineffective witness look like? An ineffective witness is silent when the opportunity arises because we are afraid of what others will think, losing a friendship, being unpopular, being rejected, losing business or losing your job, etc. An ineffective witness is also someone who lives contrary to the gospel. The Laodiceans had become blinded by their wealth that they were either silent or did not live in a way that reflected the gospel.
Jesus starts his exhortation, “You say I am rich, I have prospered. I need nothing.” The Laodicean church saw themselves as self sufficient, they needed nothing because they saw money as the answer to everything, maybe even as God's stamp of approval all the while not realizing that they were wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. They had become blind to their own ineffectiveness as witnesses. Now, it is not sinful for a church to be wealthy or Christ followers to be wealthy. But wealth often blinds us to true true riches. Did you notice that there is no mention of conflicts with the surrounding culture as in other letters – no false teachers, no conflicts with Jews, nor the trade guilds. They fit right in. Their presence in the community made no difference. Their only hope, for any of us who have drifted, is Jesus. Buy from me gold, true spiritual wealth; white garments, true righteousness to cover the shame of your silence; and salve to heal your spiritual blindness so you can see how ineffective you are. In modern language Jesus is calling them to spiritual renewal; look away from yourself and and your wealth for satisfaction and look to me. Then Jesus gives the reason why he is so strong. 'Those whom I love I reprove and discipline.' Love is never cruel but it can be severe. He gives two commands: be zealous and repent. The tense of repent means to do it yesterday. Repenting is the gift of God in which you recognize the error of your ways and turn to something better, obedience to Jesus. The second command is, be zealous, on fire, passionate as a pattern of life. In other words, acknowledge me, stop being silent.