Summary: The lukewarm church of Laodicea.
Turn with me to Revelation 3
This morning we reach the last stop on our tour of the seven churches of Asia Minor. And with this last stop, we come across probably the most familiar. Many of us have probably heard several sermons on this passage in our lifetimes. If not, you’re probably familiar with Jesus’ words in verse 20, “Behold I stand at the door and knock…” You might even have a picture at home that’s based on that verse. You know, the one where Jesus is standing, knocking at the door with no doorknob on the outside? The point is, this is a very familiar passage. And the danger in preaching a familiar passage is in wanting to find something new or novel in it. The popular 19th century commentator Albert Barnes once wrote, “A pastor need not always aim at originality; he renders an essential service to mankind when he reminds them of what they know but are prone to forget.” So, taking all that into consideration, I’m going to avoid the temptation to try to be new and novel this morning. This morning we’re going to look at the lukewarm church of Laodicea to remind us of what we know, but are prone to forget.
As John’s messenger moved about the churches of Asia Minor, Laodicea was his last stop. It was about 40 miles from his last stop in Philadelphia where he sat in the church there as their letter was read to them. I’m sure the service there was one of hope and encouragement as the letter was read. Remember from last week that their letter was only one of two that contained no scolding. It was all for their encouragement. What a different scene it must have been when the messenger sat in the Laodicean church. Because their letter was not one of encouragement. It was not one of commendation. As a matter of fact, it was the only letter of the seven that had absolutely no commendation in it. We like to talk about saving the best for last. Jesus saved the worst for last. The worst? How could they be the worst? We’ve already seen a church that was filled with doctrinal compromise. How could it be worse than that? We’ve already seen another church that was filled with sexual immorality. How could it be worse than that? How could it be worse that a church that was almost totally spiritually dead, like we saw a couple of weeks ago? What gross immorality and sin could be worse than those things? What was possibly going on in Laodicea that was worse than those headline grabbing sins of the other churches? It was their complacency. It was their comfort. It was their self-sufficiency. We can look around ourselves this morning and thank God that we are not torn apart by some of the headline grabbing sins that many churches are dealing with. By God’s grace, we’re not having to deal with immorality in the pulpit and deacon body. We’re not having to deal with financial impropriety. We’re not having to deal with a spiritually dead church. God has blessed us in protecting us from those things. But the question is, are we free from the worst church sin? Are we free from the creeping cancer of comfort and complacency that plagued the church of Laodicea?
By all indications, the church at Laodicea didn’t start off badly. As near as we can tell, the church at Laodicea was a church plant that was started by the church at Colossae. Unlike many of the other churches in the area, Paul didn’t start either the Colossian church or the Laodicean church. As a matter of fact, he had never been to either one of them. Paul’s faithful fellow-servant Epaphras is the one who planted and pastored Colossae. More than likely, he is the one who sent a man named Archippus to plant the church in Laodicea. We don’t know a whole lot about Archippus, the pastor of the Laodicean church. What we do know is that his parents were members of his home church in Colossae. The Colossian church was very close in distance to the Laodicean church and because it was the mother church, it kept close ties. Because of the closeness of the two churches, it only makes sense that when Paul wrote his letter to the Colossian church, he included a message for the Laodicean church and their pastor, Archippus. That brief note in Colossians 4:17 gives us a little insight into a character flaw of Archippus that later bore fruit in his church. In Colossians 4:17 Paul wrote, “And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.” It seems that Archippus had become complacent in the pastoral ministry God had called him to. Apparently he wasn’t exercising his pastoral duty. Do we know exactly what his problem was? No, but we can get a good idea of it when we look at the church’s focus. Maybe he became more enamored with the church’s financial well-being than their spiritual well-being. Maybe he became more concerned with building programs and facility upgrades than with discipleship. Maybe he became more concerned with numbers and nickels and noses than with the apostle’s pastoral priorities. You remember the apostle’s pastoral priorities. Back in Acts 6:4, because of a concern for the changing direction of the early Jerusalem church they said, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” They kept their right focus. Apparently Archippus didn’t. And because he didn’t, Laodicea didn’t.