Summary: Christ's letter to the Church in Laodicea urges us to see ourselves as Christ sees us, which might not be very pleasant, but he also longs to restore our lost fellowship with him.
They thought they were doing very well. They had a high opinion of themselves, their Church and their town. The town was famous and wealthy. So wealthy that, when much of it was destroyed by an earthquake in 60AD, they turned down an offer of money from the government to help to rebuild it, preferring to meet all the costs themselves. It was particularly well-known for its manufacture of a type of eye-ointment that was popular in the Roman world.
It was a surprise, therefore, to them when the risen Jesus, in writing to the Church in Laodicea, described them, not as rich, well-clothed, with good eye-sight, but poor, naked, blind. The complete opposite of how they saw themselves. Jesus wrote letters to seven Turkish Churches in the book of Revelation, the Church in Laodicea is the only one who does not get any praise.
So what was the problem? V 15 tells us that they were lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. Again, this would have been a familiar term to them. The water supply for the city was from hot springs outside the city walls, which was brought in by aquaduct. By the time it arrived it was lukewarm and full of lime scale, quite unpleasant to drink. So unpleasant that people, drinking it for the first time, would have gagged on it, and felt sick.
They had cooled down in their love and faith. They were no longer keen Christians, eager to live for their Lord, to serve him, to spend time with him. There was no enthusiasm about them. But they had not denied or abandoned their faith or their Lord either. Instead they were just going through the motions of a Christian life. They came to worship, and all the activities of the Church, they made the right noises, sung the right songs, but their heart was not truly in it. Instead they were caught up in the daily concerns of the outside, non-believing world.
If they had still been hot, and full of life it would have been the best. If they were completely cold and dead, then they, and others, would easily have been able to see the problem, and known that they needed Christ again. But being neither one nor the other allowed them to fool themselves that everything was OK, when it was far from OK.
They had not set-out to become lukewarm. But little by little they had allowed themselves to cool down. Other things had gradually become more important to them. They had not noticed what was happening to their lives.
They needed to be told and warned of their situation, a grave situation that they could not see for themselves. In verse 15 Christ tells them of the sorry state that they are in, with no real love for him or desire to serve him in their hearts or minds. Then in verse 16 he makes them jump with an even greater shock. They make him sick. Their lukewarmness made him want to vomit them out of his mouth, as a visitor to Laodicea might have done when drinking the tepid water.
We are just as much risk as the Laodicians were of becoming lukewarm. Of not allowing Christ to dominate our lives, decisions and emotions. We need to ask him to reveal our true spiritual temperature, as he did to the Laodicians.
We live in a time and place, where, despite the recession and global economic difficulties, compared with most of the people in the world, and most times in the past, we are materially rich beyond belief. The Laodicians were rich materially and financially, they had all they needed, but Christ had to reveal to them how spiritually poor they were. We can so often be in the same situation. Rich materially but poor spiritually. Rich in things that don’t last and are of no eternal significance, but poor in things that do last and are of eternal significance.
It might sound a bit grim. But moving onto to verses 18 and 19 Christ reveals that he writes to the Laodicians because he loves them. He wants to restore them, to have them back as they were. Alive and hot for him. Using symbols that would have been so familiar to them, he urges them to get from him gold to cure their spiritual poverty. Clothes to cover their spiritual nakedness, and eye ointment to allow them to see themselves as they really were. No mention is made of any price. We read of the price in Isaiah 55 when God called on his people to buy from him what they needed, without money or price.
Finally, Jesus appeals to the Laodicians, in a couple of verses that particularly appeal to me, this annual appeal time as I go from door-to-door raising money for the work of our social and community services. Christ tells them that he stands at their door and knocks. He knocks and waits for them to allow him in. He wants to come into their lives, their minds, their hearts, the centre of their beings. He wants to commune with them, with the people who are called by his name, who claim to be his people, who go through the external motions of belonging to him and obeying him, yet whose hearts have gone cold towards him. He promises that if they allow him in he will have deep fellowship and communion with them. They will also reign with him, having a share in his eternal kingdom.