RPM, Volume 14, Number 40, September 30 to October 6, 2012

Above All Be Zealous for Christ

A Sermon on Revelation 3:14-22

By Andrew J. Webb

Rev. 3:14 " And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15 "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' -- and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked -18 "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.19 "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Fanatic, Zealot, fundamentalist, extremist, radical, uncompromising. The words our culture uses to describe those who are single-minded in their devotion to something don’t seem to come across as particularly flattering. When they are used in the media for instance, the images that are attached to them are usually negative. On the other hand our society places the highest premium possible on words that indicate a more moderate and compromising disposition. Moderate, temperate, tolerant, balanced, middle-of-the-road, non-partisan.

I sometimes get a kick out of watching politicians, for instance, falling all over themselves to be described as "moderates". They understand the way the world has little or no "tolerance" for those who are seen as extremists. That's certainly the way of the world in politics, and I think you probably know that that's the way our culture prefers its religion. But as Christians, what should we believe about moderation in our faith? What does Christ teach us in His Word? The answer to that question can be found throughout the Scriptures, but probably nowhere more clearly than in the epistle to the church in Laoadicea that we just read. The year is around 95 AD and the last living Apostle, John the author of the gospel, has been exiled to the prison island of Patmos in the Mediteranean Sea for his faith.

The letter we just read is actually part of the Revelation that Christ gave to him while he was there. Christ dictated to John seven epistles or letters addressed to seven churches in seven cities in Asia Minor. Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Each of these churches with the exception of Philadelphia has received a sharp warning from Christ for some deviation in its faith or practice. But the church that has received the sharpest rebuke of all is the church in Laodicea. The Laodiceans aren't accused of the doctrinal compromise of the church of Pergamos or even the moral sinfulness of the church in Thyatira, but they are still called the worst, Christ is not merely angry with the church in Laodicea, He is disgusted. They make Jesus so nauseous He warns that he is about to vomit them out of His mouth.

Now before we get deeper into this letter, and discover why it is that this church in particular is so nauseating to Jesus, we need to keep in mind that these seven letters are not addressed solely to the these particular churches and their members. You see these letters apply to all the types of churches in all the earth and all the ages of which these churches were prototypes. The several characteristics of these seven churches that Christ identifies in His letters present the different tempers, or different types of church that will prevail till the end of time when Christ returns. So it doesn't really matter where or when these churches are located.

At the time John wrote down what Jesus said there were literally hundreds of cities with churches. Christ could have picked seven churches from anywhere in the world, provided they displayed these characteristics. So these seven letters are as applicable to the church today as they were to the church in 95 AD. In fact Charles Spurgeon said that the letter to the church in Laodicea was particularly applicable to the church in his day. He called it "above all others the epistle for the present day". That's just as true in our day as his, maybe even more so. In verse 14, Jesus addresses the church as the Amen. Amen is a word meaning truly. Christ is the Amen because what He says is supremely faithful and trustworthy. During His earthly ministry Christ would often address people beginning with Amen or "truly I say to you". Christ is also the source or fountainhead and ruler of all creation. Thus what He says is true, and what He promises is also true, for He is supremely powerful to bring it to pass. His will is always done.

Christ says to the Laodiceans "I know your deeds" and the implication is that Christ knows their hearts and that He knows them better than men who might be fooled by outward appearances. Then He goes on to say that they are neither cold nor hot, and that He wishes they were either one or the other. Now by "hot" what Christ means is fervent, zealous, devoted, burning brightly for Christ and His gospel. By "cold" Jesus meant unconverted, making no pretense of being Christian, opposed to the gospel. Instead the Laodiceans are neither, they are "lukewarm" or "tepid", neither zealous for the gospel or opposed to it. They professed to be Christians, but the fruits of true faith were not evident amongst them. Jesus is thoroughly nauseated by this; He is not grieved, or angry, He is disgusted. It would have been better for them to have been unbelievers, or even to have persecuted the church like Paul had, than to have claimed the name of Christ and been lukewarm in their faith.

At one time we were all cold and opposed to the gospel, but to be an externalist or a religious hypocrite like the Pharisees or Laodiceans is a condition far worse than being unconverted for they do not even see their need. They are a million miles from salvation, but are claiming that they have already arrived. They see themselves as rich but Christ tells them that they are in fact poor, blind, beggars. Christ counsels them to buy from Him, and here the grace, and love, and mercy of Christ are apparent. Jesus could say I command you, but instead He says, I counsel you.

He has warned them that He is about to vomit them out, but He has not cut them off entirely. He tells them what they must do in order to be saved from this coming judgment, and like the merciful Savior that He is, He offers them all they need. Because the problem is that they think that they don't need anything. They think that they are self-sufficient and can provide everything that they need for themselves. So when Christ counsels them He analogizes what they need with what the Laodiceans thought they had for themselves.

Laodicea was a rich trading city perfectly located at the confluence of three important waterways. When the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 60 AD the citizens rebuilt it without financial help from the Roman government. In terms of earthly gold, they were doing well, but Jesus tells them that what they really need is his gold, for if you are poor in terms of earthly wealth, but you have faith in Jesus you are rich indeed. The name of Jesus has infinite value and efficacy, and if we are in Him we are heirs of eternal life and the kingdom of God.

On the other hand if all we have is material wealth, then we are the poorest of beggars. All of your money cannot buy you eternal life, or forgiveness, or even real happiness, and you would be a fool to think that it can. Laodicea was also famous for the soft black luxury wool that they produced. The Laodiceans think that they are richly clothed, but in fact this lukewarm church is spiritually naked. They need to be clothed in the white garment that Christ offers them, that garment is his righteousness, which will enrobe them so that when they appear before God, the Father, they will appear brilliantly appareled in the perfect righteousness of His Son, Jesus.

Laodicea also had a famous medical school that produced an eye salve for weak or diseased eyes. The Laodiceans think that they see clearly, but like the Pharisees, they are blind guides. They are still as spiritually blind as they were at birth — so blind that they cannot even perceive their true condition. Only faith in Christ will open their blind eyes, and this is salve that Christ desires to give them.

Christ then addresses those within this church who truly believe in him but who are caught up in this indifference and lukewarmness, He tells them that He has rebuked and disciplined them and will continue to do so, as a loving Father disciplines a child that they would repent and be earnest or zealous in their faith. He has rebuked them because he loves them. Their lukewarmness has driven Christ out of the church. But now He stands at the door and knocks, if they will repent, He will come in and dine with them, they will not suffer all He has warned them of, and truly their zeal will return to them. Those who live with Jesus soon feel their hearts burning.

Just one quick note about verse 20, this verse is often applied to the topic of individual salvation, but to do that is almost to rip it out of its context. It is in the midst of Christ's warning to all the churches that are like the Laodicean church, and the door that He is standing at is the door of the church. Now there is a way in which this verse can be taken individually. We hear the knock and the call of Christ, and when by His calling the Holy Spirit enters into our hearts and changes them forever, we will joyfully fling open the door of our lives to Christ and He will enter in with us and we will enjoy blessed communion with Him forever. In the same way, the lukewarm church has to be changed by men hearing the call of Christ, and opening to Him by and through his grace. But we need to keep in mind that it is the lukewarmness of this church that has disgusted Christ and caused Him to leave. To those churches and individuals that do prevail and do not become lukewarm, it will be given to them to become co-heirs with Christ, to enter into the inheritance that Christ won for them on the cross. To those who do not — those who rest in their self-sufficiency, and self-righteousness, to them the warnings of Christ that He will cast them out of His body apply.

So what can you take away from this? Well first, know that the World loves and is at peace with the lukewarm church. How might a worldly historian have described the church in Laodicea? He probably would have praised them! Hear how a worldly description might have sounded: "The Loadicean church is to be complemented for their admirable tendencies towards toleration and allowance, this indicates sound practical sense, and that the church is well mixed and evenly balanced in all its views. They are careful never to offend, or embarrass with their enthusiasm."

I remember once an individual who got on my case because I maintained online that a true church was one that preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and rightly administered his sacraments. He on the other hand felt that the duties of churches were to have youth events and softball teams and to be supportive and generally — but not overly - conservative. You tend to find that the lukewarm are often angry at or mock the fervent. They'll call them "Holy Rollers" or "Bible Thumpers" or worse. Never forget that one of the reasons that world tends to love the lukewarm church is that they can sneer at them. The lukewarm church confirms the world's belief that Christianity is all make-believe, that this is all a farce, or a pretense and that Christians are all hypocrites. Historically the lukewarm church has acted like an eager puppy to the world always running back to them instead of Christ for approval and ultimately only receiving scorn, ridicule, and even a kick or two.

Secondly, while the World is at peace with the Lukewarm Church, Christ Jesus is more disgusted with this kind of Church than any other. He says it is literally better to be an unbeliever than to be lukewarm. Their "moderation" is in fact tepid, flabby, half-hearted, limp, always ready to compromise, and indifferent to Christ. They are supposed to be his messengers and light-bearers in the World but instead they are a source of shame and disgust. I don't normally read long quotes but here is how the British evangelist Charles Spurgeon described the lukewarm church: (p.58)

Spurgeon's quote brings us to the third and most important thing we can learn. Never, ever, be lukewarm in your faith. Be single-minded, be zealous, don't be afraid of what worldlings or the lukewarm may call you if you are faithful to Christ. Never forget that you are sojourners and pilgrims in this world. Thomas Watson likened this world that we live in to an "inn or a hotel". Do travelers spend all their time talking and thinking about the hotel they are staying at? What do you talk about with your fellow Christians? Do you spend all your time talking about the inn? Are your priorities in keeping with the kingdom or are they lukewarm? Would you drive an hour 5 days a week to get to work but balk at driving 30 minutes for a prayer meeting? What gets cut first when you have a conflict, church events or worldy pursuits? What is more important to you? Sunday school or sleep? Don't get caught up in thinking mere externalism is Christianity, but know that your zeal for the spiritual is a good indicator of the condition of your heart. Lastly, the leading cause of lukewarm churches are lukewarm pastors and elders. John Walvoord, who I wouldn't recommend on much of anything else got it right when he said this: (p. 93)

“Hold your shepherds accountable, if they aren't giving you the gospel, if they aren't exhorting you to be zealous, then get rid of them, and if that can't be done, leave that church. If you never feel uncomfortable in church, if you are never pushed out of your comfort zone by a sermon, something is dreadfully wrong.”

Jesus died to purchase the Church with his own blood. Never drive him out with lukewarmness. May it never be said that this church or its people are lukewarm. Be loving, be gentle, be respectful, and above all be zealous for Jesus and His Church. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."

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