March 15, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy XXXVII: The Seven Churches of Asia Minor-Part IV: Laodicea

Laodicea: The Conceited Church
Finally, Christ condemns the church in Laodicea for its ineffective witness and deplorable spiritual condition and exhorts its members to persevere by becoming faithful witnesses and renewing their fellowship with him so as to reign with him in Revelation 3:14–22.

The message to this church, as is was for the rest of the churches was crafted specifically for them. The following information was noted by my sources. It was also alluded to in many of my sources. Laodicea was located near Hieropolis, where there were famous hot springs, and Colossae, known for its pure, cold water. Hot springs were therapeutic and beneficial for health. The cool or cold water was refreshing. The problem is that when it was piped from either location to Laodicea, the hot had become lukewarm and the cool had become lukewarm (Gurtner et al 362, Wiersbe). It seemed that whatever ended up in Laodicea ended up “middle of the road” whether it be water or spirituality. The allusions to Laodicea being, “…lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” is clearly a statement about their spiritual condition as were all the other analogies made and symbols used with the other churches. The will be neither useful in helping the needs of the church to keep it healthy nor will they be revitalizing or refreshing like a tall drink of cool water. They will be like drinking lukewarm bath water…neither therapeutic nor invigorating. Even though He will do something drastic like spit them out of His mouth, the passage clear says they “will not release” and/or would not believe His assessment. They will be blind to their own spiritual malady and pay Him no heed.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is admit we are wrong. That we have swung wide of the mark and sinned. In our attempts to do the right thing and adhere to truth we end up getting a twisted version of truth and then try to adhere to that. Adhering to anything less than what is outlined in the Bible is no different than obeying a lie. We think we are being faithful but we are just “going through the motion” showing up at church apathetically. We solely go to “pay our dues” rather than pay reverence to a holy and righteous God. The Lord showed this to the  Laodiceans in the letter written to them. They had lost their energy and had become lukewarm. This type of Christian is complacent and does not even realize they are in danger or have gone astray. They take the “once saved always saved” as an excuse to do nothing and become ambivalent. The church at Laodicean wasn’t “hot” enough spiritually to “zing” or burn the lips of the believer. Neither was it biting cool and refreshing with vigor and zest. It was like a warm flat soda that has sat in the sun too long. Fresh ice tea on a hot day requires someone continue to add ice cubes to it. A warm cup of chocolate in a cold day requires someone continue to add coals to a fire to keep a flame stoked under the kettle. Otherwise the fire goes out. If you remove the coal from the other coals in a fire, it cools quickly and is extinguished (Wiersbe).

They had also lost their values. Just the opposite of Smyrna, the Laodiceans boasted that they were rich, when in fact they were spiritually destitute. In their pride and the fact that they felt they needed nothing they were even beginning to hedge out God. Like many churches today they probably gauged themselves by the “numbers” or by the fact they were growing in “leaps and bounds”. I got news for you, the way God gauges us and the way we gauge ourselves are always by different measure if our focus is not on God. Many churches today including ones I’ve been in, end up doing a David style “census” by the numbers to gain their strength only to find they have none because they have a lot of members but most are either alienated or lukewarm to the faith. That’s not a big important church…that’s Laodicea! From what I can see in this passage, Jesus wasn’t exactly singing their praises. They are not really good company to keep. Christ’s answer here appears to be that they should be subject to some form of persecution…just as their spiritual antithesis in Smyrna. They needed to buy from Him "gold tried in the fire." They no longer saw their reality properly and had lost spiritual vision. Because they could no longer see, they were told to put eye salve in their eyes (Laodicea was known for their eye salve).

The irony of Laodicea is they receive no commendation from the Lord. Unfortunately, they were too busy commending themselves. We see this today in many churches and denominations. Instead of putting the focus on the Gospel and the Lord, churches turn the focus on themselves or worse one person in particular. Some churches are literally led by “cults of personality”. These are the type of churches that will probably “belly up” if they lose their primary lead pastor. It is because they have built the church around a person or personality instead of around the Lord and the Gospel. Business models that use the amount of money they make and the amount of people that attend as the measure of their success are not a Biblical model for a church. God’s math is different than ours. Big churches are not necessarily good churches. Just like God does not judge man from the outside, he judges them from the inside. The same goes for the institutions man creates. Our churches are not even supposed to be created by men, that is the work of the Holy Spirit. So if churches are dead and are still growing, what is really building them? Are we building religious businesses or are we building churches? The truth is, nowadays mega-churches or 1000+ attendance at a congregation has become a bane to the faith. They are immediately looked at as pariahs and ridiculed not only by some in the faith but by people outside of the faith. The eventual disingenuous nature (non-faith) that comes from business or money oriented churches is even clear to the non-believer! Even the non-believers understand and can see the incongruity! Big Church immediately gets a jaundiced eye and raised eyebrow from everyone. They not only bring mockery and scorn upon themselves, they bring it upon the rest of the Faith. Behavior that does this to the Church universal is unbiblical. We are to be a light on a hill not a three-alarm fire in the neighborhood! It disgraces us all when people dressed like Hollywood movie stars show up at an arena sized church in Lexus’ and high-end cars. Christian’s that expect to be treated like kings when the King Himself had no place to rest His head during His ministry on Earth. It is absurd and shameful like nakedness! Like the Laodiceans we are called to repent if this is how we are behaving. Many business oriented models with a modicum of success continue to rely on the same man-made formulas that will eventually damn them or cause them to fail spiritually. Many have success and feel they need little from anyone...and this will be their downfall. They may appear temporarily successful and independent…but they were not abiding in Christ just as the Laodiceans. A person or church that does not abide in the vine dies or produces bitter fruit. What do we see in the Laodicean-like churches? We see things like arrogance, materialism, etc. These type of fruits are rotten at their core and nourish no one. More often than not dried, lifeless bitter fruit like this ends up gagging the person that tries to take it in. We are not saved of our own works, it is His work that we cling to. There is not room for haughty arrogance and stand-offish independence in the church. We are called to serve and be humble. To be able to serve and be humble it requires us to interact with our Lord and with other people. Otherwise we could hardly call ourselves Christian. The minute a church believers it has “arrived” or “made it”, that is its death knell.

To Wrap It Up: Repentance and Perseverance

The main reason I chose to dwell primarily on the warnings and negative aspects of the letters to the seven churches is because the fix to overcoming the negatives like apostasy or apathy mentioned find their source in the same place. In the end if we view the churches of Asia Minor in Revelations properly we should see things that convict/condemn us in our sins but also comfort and lift us in our trials. The churches today that are apostatizing or are not quite what they could be are called to repent and turn back to a faithful relationship with Jesus Christ just as those of John’s time. All of this is to lead believers in progressive improvements and trends towards righteousness and progressive sanctification. It is in Revelation’s calls to repent that we hear and see echoes of the Old Testament prophets speaking to the Israelites and the likes of John the Baptist and Jesus during Jesus’ time on earth. We see God working through time and place to bring His sovereign plans to fulfillment and to usher all believers into the Kingdom of God and His glorious reign. The churches that have remained faithful to the Lord need to “stay the course” even under persecution and not swerve into ungodly behaviors like others that have or they risk discipline or judgment.

We see throughout all the churches a call to persevere and remain faithful. We could learn much from these ancient churches in Asia Minor both from the things they did well which they were commended for and also in the things they were doing wrong which they were condemned for. Some of the negative similarities in today’s churches that find parallel in the seven churches from John’s time should humble us and drive us also to repentance. It is our duty as obedient Christians to assure that churches today see these parallels and make the renegade ones understand they are wrong, just as those like Ephesus, Pergamos/Pergamum, etc. Perhaps if we can show people when they have gone errant of Scripture and diverged to the “right or to the left” they will be convicted to return to Christ though the work of the Holy Spirit. We’ve had two millennia to get this right yet we still make the same mistakes and commit the same sins as the churches of long ago. The heresies, idolatries and immorality may have different names but it is still the same sin we battle with. It just goes to show us that we are the same wretched fallen humans that the early Christians and also the Israelites were. We all need to repent and seek forgiveness. We are all sinful humanity with a proclivity to fall away from God (Romans 1-3). If all this time has not allowed us to straighten things out, it then becomes obvious that we are incapable of doing so. This concurs with what the Bible has taught us through its inspired words (ad nauseum). We are indeed no different in terms of sin than our spiritual predecessors the Israelites of the Old Testament. Like us they were only redeemable through the work of Christ on the Cross…hence the need to repent and return to God. If we have not fallen away or apostatized we are well advised to remain faithful, keep His word and never deny His name. If we manage to “walk the line” in faith, eventually all faithful believers will be victorious in Christ. In the end there will either be commendation, comfort or condemnation. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”

 הַלְלוּיָהּ !!!

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