by Gordon Franz
How many times have your heard a preacher say, “The Bible says, ‘Money is the root of all evil’?” It may surprise you to know that the Bible does not say that money is the root of all evil. In fact, the Bible says, “The love of money is the root of all evil” (I Tim. 6:10)¹. Money, in and of itself, is a neutral commodity and is not evil. What is evil is the love for it, and the Christian allowing it to control his / her life.
America is a very affluent society compared to the world around it. How does, and how should, the church respond to the affluent society around it? There are two basic responses. First, Christians could be “thermometer Christians” and go up and down with the society around us. Or, second, Christians could be “thermostat Christians” where the church sets the room temperature and the society rises to its level. In other words, does the society at large influence the church, or is the church a lasting influence on the society in which it is located?
When we examine the letter sent by the Lord Jesus to the last of the seven churches we will see that this church was a thermometer church, going up and down with the society around it. This letter is very instructive and lessons can be gleaned from it about God’s desire that the church be filled with thermostat Christians and that it has a lasting impact on the society around it for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Background to the City
The Geographical Setting of Laodicea. Where is it located?
The city of the church addressed in Revelation 3 is located in the Lycus Valley and called in ancient times, Laodicea ad Lycum. The Lycus River is a tributary of the Maeander River, a serpentine river that wanders westward from this area to the Aegean Sea. We get the English word meander from the name of this river.
The Lycus Valley runs for approximately 24 miles in a southeast to northwest direction and is about 6 miles wide. Situated in this valley are three famous and important cities, all mentioned in the New Testament. They are Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis (cf. Col. 2:1; 4:13-16). Colossae is about 10 or 11 miles east of Laodicea, and Hierapolis is about 6 miles north of the city. The major city in the area today is Denizli, about 5 miles south of Laodicea.
Mountains delineate the edges of the valley and influence the trade routes in the region as well as providing breathtaking scenery to those who live there. To the northeast of the valley are highlands. Mount Messogis is situated to the west of the valley and north of the Maeander River. To the south “are the great mountains Salbacus (Baba-dagh, 7590 ft.) and Cadmus (Honaz-dagh, 8250 ft.)” (Johnson 1950: 3).
The Lycus Valley in general, and Laodicea specifically, was a major center of communications and travel. Traders and travelers coming from the Aegean Sea would approach the valley from one of two east-west valleys. If one came from Ephesus, the route would drop down into the Maeander Valley and head east to the Lycus Valley via Magnesia and Tralles. If one came from Smyrna, the road would head east through the Hermus Valley past the cities of Smyrna and Philadephia and then cross over a low mountain range and drop into the Lycus Valley with both roads meeting at Laodicea. The road would continue eastward to Syria via Apamea, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Tyana and then go through the Taurus Mountains, passing the Cilician Gate to Tarsus. There are two other roads emanating from the Lycus Valley as well. One heads south through the mountains and descends to the Pamphylian coast and the cities of Attalia and Perge. The other heads in a northeast direction to Lounda and Brouzos.
Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), describing the region of Caria, says of Laodicea: “The city of Laodicea … is on the river Lycus, its sides being washed by the Asopus and Caprus; its original name was the City of Zeus, and it was afterwards called Rhoas” (Natural History 5.29.105; LCL 2:299, 301).
The History of the Laodicea. What happened there?
The city with the name Laodicea was established by Antiochus II, the Seleucid king who ruled from 261 to 246 BC. He named the city in honor of his first wife Laodice, whom he divorced in 253 BC. Some people have interpreted the name of the city as the “rule of the people,” yet the name comes from the wife of Antiochus II. The city of Laodicea would have to have been established sometime between 261 BC when Antiochus II came to the throne and 253 BC when he divorced his wife.
Pliny records the fact that the city was built on an earlier city that was named Diospolis and then later, Rhoas (Natural History 5.29.105; LCL 2: 301). The name Diospolis means “city of Zeus” and strongly hints at the fact that Zeus was the patron deity of the city. Interestingly, during the Roman period there were coins minted with Zeus Laodiceus on them indicating that he was still worshiped in the city (RPC I: reign of Augustus, coins 2893, 2894, 2896, 2898; reign of Tiberius, coins 2901, 2906, 2908, 2911; reign of Claudius, coins 2912, 2913, 2914; reign of Nero, coins 2917, 2919, 2920, 2921, 2922, 2923, 2926).
Antiochus III settled 2,000 Jewish families from Mesopotamia and Babylonia in Lydia and Phrygia (Josephus, Antiquities 12:147-153; LCL 7: 77-79). The magistrates of Laodicea mention the Jewish community in their city to Gaius Rabirius in 45 BC (Antiquities 14:241-243; LCL 7: 577-579).
In 188 BC, the Peace of Apamea was concluded between Rome and the Seleucids. In the treaty, the Romans took “the region in which Laodicea lay [and] transferred [it] from Seleucid sovereignty to that of the kings of Pergamum” (Bruce 1992: 4: 229). It was ruled by the kings of Pergamum until the last king, Attalus III, who in his will, bequeath the region to Rome. The Romans reorganized the province of Asia in 129 BC and Laodicea was part of that province.
There were two devastating earthquakes that hit the Lycus Valley in the First Century AD. The first was in AD 17 and the second in either AD 60 or 64/5.
Also in the First Century the Christian gospel came to the Lycus Valley. When this occurred is not explicitly stated in the New Testament. There are several possibilities. First, there were Jewish people from Asia Minor that were visiting Jerusalem during Shavuot (Pentecost) in AD 30 (Acts 2:9). Some of them might have come to faith in the Lord Jesus and brought the gospel back to the area. Second, the early church father and historian, Jerome mentions that Peter went on a missionary journey through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia around AD 40-42 (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1). It is possible that Peter sought out “those of the circumcision” as they traveled through the Lycus Valley on their way into the province of Asia. The third possibility is that Epaphras and possibly Philemon brought the gospel to the Valley after being trained by Paul and Timothy in Ephesus (Col. 1:6, 7; 2:1; 4:13, 15, 16). By the end of the First Century AD, the church was well established (Rev. 1:11; 3:14-22).
After the New Testament period, there were a number of major events that took place in the city, including a visit by Emperor Hadrian in AD 129. In Church History, the Paschal controversy was discussed in the city in AD 164-166 (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4:26:3-14; 5:24:5; LCL 1:387-393, 507). And there was also the Church Council of Laodicea in AD 367 (Johnson 1950:11).
The Archaeology of the Laodicea. What remains are there to be seen?
Since 2000, there have been large scale excavations at Laodicea conducted by Pamukkale University under the directorship of Dr. Celal Simsek. I visited the site in January 2011 and was very impressed with the extent of the excavations.
There were limited excavations from 1961-1963 by Prof. Jean des Gagnier of Laval University in Quebec. A nymphaion, a monumental fountain that was erected at the time of Caracalla (AD 211-217), was excavated. The excavators determined that it was restored four times, with the last restoration being at the beginning of the 5th century AD. A final report was published in 1969 (Gagniers, et al. 1969). In 1992 there was a small scale excavation on the main street of the city by the staff of the Denizli Museum.
There are several structures that were visible on the site before the renewed excavations by Pamukkale University. There is a stadium with an arena that is 900 ft. long and semicircular at both ends. It was built by Nicostratus and dated to the year AD 79 by an inscription that was found nearby. There are two theaters that are visible. The large one is from the Greek city and the smaller one from the Roman city. Remains of an aqueduct that brought water from Denizli to the southwest of Laodicea were visible on 19th century lithographs of Laodicea. Recently, local farmers have dismantled it in order to use the fields for agriculture. The stones were collected and placed at the edge of the fields (Fant and Reddish 2003:235-240).
Exposition of the Text
I have entitled this article, “Lukewarm in Laodicea,” based on the statement in the letter, “because you are lukewarm, and not cold or hot” (3:16). I must apologize to Nora Ephron, the director of “Sleepless in Seattle”, for playing on the title of her 1993 movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
The theme of the letter is this: Affluence, influencing the church in a negative way, could lead to a spiritually lukewarm condition in the church. The consequence of this condition is that the church is rendered ineffective in their work for the Lord and the Lord will vomit them out of His mouth.
The questions that this letter addresses are these: How does the church respond to an affluent society around it? And, how can it effectively reach that society?
The Characteristics of the Lord Jesus – 3:14
At the beginning of this letter, the Lord Jesus takes a subtle jab at the church meeting in Laodicea. In the six previous letters He addressed the church as, “And to the angel of the church IN Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, or Philadelphia.” But in this letter He writes, “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans” because this self-sufficient church was run by the Laodiceans and not by the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22, 23).
In each of the letters, a characteristic(s) of the Lord Jesus is given. In this letter He is characterized by the threefold name, or title, as the “Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the Firstborn of God.”
In Rabbinic sources, Amen is one of the names for God. This title, or name, would not be lost on the large Jewish community living in the area. The letter attests to the deity of the Lord Jesus and the fact that He was God manifest in human flesh. The pagan Laodiceans would have to realize it was Jesus who was God and not the emperor. Approximately 30 years before, the celator at Laodicea minted a coin with the head of Emperor Nero on the obverse and an inscription around it saying, “Nero, Sabastos, Theos (God)”! (RPC I:480; coin 2923). This is one of the rare coins that attributed deity to the emperor, a claim he never made for himself. At the time this letter was circulating, however, the present emperor, Domition, claimed to be a god. The people of Laodicea were informed as to who the true God is … Jesus.
The second description of the Lord Jesus was “The Faithful and True Witness.” In an American court of law, when a witness is called to the stand they are sworn in by saying, “I swear (or affirm) to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” The Lord Jesus is the faithful and true witness against the church that met in Laodicea. He does not mince any words when He describes the spiritual problems in this assembly. The Jewish believers in the Lord Jesus in this church would recall the words of the prophet Isaiah when he twice calls the Lord the “God of truth” (65:16).
The final description of the Lord Jesus is that He is the “Beginning of the Creation of God.” The Greek word for “Beginning” is “arkea” (arch). This is the word from which we get “architecture,” the one who is the planner and designer of a building.
The Apostle Paul, when he wrote the letter to the church of Colossae instructed them to pass the letter to the Colossians on to the believers in Laodicea (4:16). Apparently there were wide problems in Lycus Valley, not only affecting the church at Colossae, but also Laodicea and probably Hierapolis. Two issues Paul had to address were the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Who was He and what did He do? Paul states that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning (arkae), the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (1:15-18). Apparently they still did not understand that the Lord Jesus was the Firstborn from the dead, who was also the Creator of the universe, and also the Head of the Church.
The message found in the characteristics of the Lord Jesus is this: The Lord Jesus is God manifest in human flesh and He will bear witness to the self-sufficient church at Laodicea that He is the Architect (and Head) of the Church and He will build His church (cf. Matt. 16:18), even though they thought they could do it themselves!
The Commendation by the Lord Jesus to the Church at Laodicea
Each letter begins with the Lord Jesus finding and stating something good about the church. When He comes to the church at Laodicea, He has nothing good to say about it! This is a sad commentary on the spiritual state of the church.
The Condemnation by the Lord Jesus of the Church at Laodicea – 3:15-17
While He has nothing good to say about the church, He has plenty of negative things to say about it! His first statement is that they are neither hot nor cold, but rather, lukewarm (3:15, 16). Three times He pleads with them to be hot or cold.
This statement has been misunderstood by preachers and commentators down through the ages. Most see this as a statement of their spiritual fervor. Hot means they are on fire for the Lord and His work, and cold means that they are unsaved or apathetic. Such is not the case. The letter indicates that “hot” and “cold” are desirable alternatives. These are the conditions the Lord Jesus wants the church to be in. Being cold does not refer to apathy or being unsaved because the Lord “is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
It has been suggested by some who have traveled through the Lycus Valley that the Lord Jesus has in mind the waters that characterize the three main cities of the Lycus Valley when He refers to hot, cold and lukewarm. To the north of Laodicea is the city of Hierapolis, a city famous for its medicinal installations. Within and on the edge of the city are hot springs that are “much prized for its healing properties and the extensive and opulent remains of the city show the breath of its popularity and appeal” (Rudwick and Green 1957-58: 177). People would come from all over the Greek world to seek healing in these waters. It is visibly apparent, that many people who came to the city for healing were not healed because they died and were buried in the necropolis outside the city.
The word picture that is conveyed by the cold water comes from the cold streams around the city of Colossae. It has been observed that “for the greater part of the year this region is very hot and dry. In such a climate cold water is the most valued source of refreshment” (Rudwick and Green 1957-58: 177). This water is pure and life giving.
The water for Laodicea is piped into the city from some springs south of the city, in modern day Denizli. This water is not piped in from Hierapolis. By the time the calcium carbonate water arrives in the city via an aqueduct from the springs, it is lukewarm. One can observe the encrusted calcium carbonate in the remains of the aqueduct. Strabo alludes to the encrusted deposits when says, “[t]he changing of water into stone is said also to be the case with the rivers in Laodiceia, although their water is potable” (Geography 13:4:14; LCL 6:189).
Two travelers to the Lycus Valley noted that: “The force of the imagery derives from the function and utility of hot, cold and lukewarm water. Hot water heals, cold water refreshes, but lukewarm water is useless for either purpose, and can only serve as an emetic. So the Church is charged not with half-heartedness but with ineffectiveness” (Rudwick and Green 1957-58: 178, Cf. Wood 1961-62: 263, footnote 4). This lukewarm water points to the barrenness of works rather than its spiritual temperature. “The affluent society was far from the sources of its life-giving water, and when by its own resources it had sought to remedy the deficiency, the resulting supply was bad, both tepid and emetic” (Hemer 1989: 191). The lukewarm condition will cause the Lord to vomit them out.
The Lord Jesus goes on to say that the church had deceived itself into thinking that it was rich, and thus self-sufficient. “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” (3:17). The verse begins, “You say”, but goes on to say, you “do not know.” They do not know what is really going on in the spiritual life of the church. You know the ditty, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” Permit me to paraphrase this statement attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Jesus is saying, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can never fool the Lord Jesus any of the time.” He said He knew their works (3:15), and knew what was really going on in their hearts and the spiritual state they were in. Even though they claimed they were rich and self-sufficient, in reality they were spiritually wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
That the city of Laodicea was wealthy is undisputed. Strabo (64/63 BC – ca. AD 25) described Laodicea at the beginning of the 1st century AD in these terms: “Laodiceia, though formerly small, grew large in our time and in that of our fathers, even though it had been damaged by siege in the time of Mithridates Eupator [King of Pontus, 120 – 63 BC]. However, it was the fertility of its territory and the prosperity of certain citizens that made it great: at first Hieron, who left to the people an inheritance of more than two thousand talents and adorned the city with many dedicated offerings, and later Zeno the rhetorician and his son Polemon [Polemon I, king of Pontus and the Bosporis], the latter of whom, because of his bravery and honesty, was thought worthy even of a kingdom, at first by Antony and later by Augustus” (Geography 12:8:16; LCL 5:511).
Cicero, the proconsul of Cilicia (51-50 BC), attests that Laodicea, a city within his jurisdiction, was the center of financial and banking operations (Letters to Atticus 5:15; 1912:373-377).
Cicero also recounts the story of Flaccus, the proconsul of Asia, confiscating 20 Roman pounds of gold bound for Jerusalem, which was collected at Laodicea in 62 BC (Pro Flacco 68; LCL 10:517). This money was for the voluntary half shekel temple tax (I realize voluntary tax is an oxymoron, but the Jewish people wanted to pay this tax because of their love for the Temple, cf. Matt. 17: 24-27). It has been estimated, based on the amount of money collected, that there were 7,500 Jewish adults living in the area.
Another illustration of the wealth of the city was that they did not take imperial aid after the earthquake of AD 60. In the 1st century AD, two devastating earthquakes leveled Laodicea. The first earthquake was in AD 17. Tiberius “made a plea to the senate in behalf of the citizens of Laodicea, Thyatira and Chios, who had suffered loss from an earthquake and begged for his help” (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Tiberius 8; LCL 1: 305).
Strabo describes the earthquake phenomenon in this region thus: “But the Lycus flows under ground for the most part, and then, after emerging to the surface, unites with other rivers, thus indicating that the country is full of holes and subject to earthquakes; for if any other country is subject to earthquakes, Laodiceia is, and so is Carura in the neighbouring country” (Geography 12:8:16; LCL 5:513). He goes on to say, “But the emperor [Tiberius] restored them by contributing money; just as his father in earlier times … as he also restored the city of the Laodiceians” (Geography 12:8:18; LCL 5:517). Tacitus reports on this same earthquake and mentions twelve cities that were destroyed, but interestingly does not mention Laodicea (Annals 2:47; LCL 3:459).
The second earthquake to hit the region and level Laodicea was in AD 60. Tacitus writes: “Laodicea, one of the famous Asiatic cities, was laid in ruins by an earthquake, but recovered by its own resources, without assistance from ourselves” (Annals 14:27; LCL 5:151). When it came time to rebuild, they did not take assistance from Rome as they had done in the previous earthquake in AD 17. They said, “Thank you very much for your offer of aid, but we can do it ourselves.”
As one scholar has pointed out, “The flourishing church was exposed as partaking of the standards of the society in which it lived. It was spiritually self-sufficient and saw no need of Christ’s aid” (Hemer 1989: 195).
The church was throwing money at a problem, but not taking it to the Lord in prayer! Just as the government will throw money at people or a project, but not insist on a change of attitude or behavior of those receiving the money. There should be accountability for the money spent on projects and responsibility taken by the recipient of money to change their behavior.
The Apostle Paul had instructed the believers in Laodicea some 35 years before when he wrote: “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). And again, “For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:1-3). If they could only remember that their treasures are hidden in the Lord Jesus and not the bank vaults of Laodicea they would not be lukewarm because of their monetary treasures.
The Counsel the Lord Jesus Gives to the church at Laodicea – 3:18
The church at Laodicea had a dreaded spiritual condition called being lukewarm because of their wealth. They did not recognize the symptoms of their problem. The Lord properly diagnosed the problem, lukewarmness that produced ineffectiveness. He points out the symptoms of this condition, a church that is wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Now He will give the remedy to their problem. He instructs them to do three things. First, “buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich.” Second, “and [buy] white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.” Third, “and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”
Notice these three statements address the last three symptoms of the believers in the church at Laodicea. They were poor, yet Jesus says to buy from Him gold refined in the fire. They were blind, so they were to anoint their eyes with eye salve. They were naked, so they were to buy white garments to cover their nakedness. The first two, wretched and miserable, are a result of their dependence upon their wealth that makes them self-sufficient. As the old adage goes, “Money does not buy happiness.” True happiness, or blessedness, comes from being poor in spirit, mourning, being meek, hungering and thirsting after His righteousness, being merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, and being persecuted for righteousness sake (Matt. 5:3-12)!
The first thing He counsels them to do is to buy from Him gold refined in the fire. It is important to point out that He is not saying one should buy their salvation. Salvation from Genesis to Revelation has always been by grace through faith, and not of any merit of what we do, because it is a gift from God, and not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8, 9). After a person has trusted the Lord Jesus as Savior, one should “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Phil. 1:12c, 13). It takes time, energy and effort to live the Christian life, and at times, it is costly.
The word-picture that the Lord Jesus is using here is the gold refined in the fire. When gold is mined, it is an ore that is mixed with impurities. It is only after intense heat is applied during the smelting process that the gold emerges in a refined and pure state. It costs the smelter money to refine the gold. He has to build the furnace and buy the fuel in which to refine the gold.
In the life of the believer in Laodicea the refining, or cleansing, process is being exercised by the chastening, or trials, of the Lord (Cf. 3:19). The Apostle Peter so eloquently wrote to the Jewish believers in the Diaspora, including Asia Minor where Laodicea was: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love” (1 Pet. 1:6-8a). Perhaps there was still a copy of this epistle in the church at Laodicea that had been left by Silvanus on his way through the region after he and Peter ministered there (5:12). The Jewish believers in the Lord Jesus would have understood the word picture from the truths taught by the psalmist and prophets (Ps. 66:10, 65:10 in the LXX; Zech. 13:9; Isa. 1:25).
The second thing the Lord Jesus commands them to do is, “(buy) white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.” The city of Laodicea was famous for its garments of black wool, called Laodicia, which it manufactured. Strabo, the Greek geographer, observed that: “The country round Laodicaea produces sheep that are excellent, not only for the softness of their wool, in which they surpass even the Milesian wool, but also for its raven-black colour, so the Laodiceians derive splendid revenue from it, as do also neighbouring Colosseni from the colour which bears the same name (Geography 12:8:16; LCL 5:511). Several travelers have noted: “The local breed of long-haired black sheep with glossy coats … survives, at least in small numbers” (Rudwick and Green 1957-58: 176).
In all my trips to Laodicea, I have never had the opportunity to see these black sheep. Friends of mine who have visited the site have told me they saw the black sheep. On one trip to Turkey, the class I was co-teaching was walking down the Cardo (main street) of Hierapolis and we saw a flock of black sheep in the excavations of the ancient city. The thought “Kodak moment” flashed before me and I said, “We need to get pictures of these black sheep in the ruins.” Several of the students and myself, excused ourselves from the guide and group and went to take pictures. As we got closer, it was obvious the sheep were brownish black. One of the students commented, “These are not raven black sheep.” I turned to her and said, “Sue, it’s nothing Photoshop can’t take care of!” Photoshop could even make the sheep white if we were so inclined.
The believers in Laodicea need more than Photoshop to cover their spiritual nakedness with white garments. These garments are the righteous acts of the saints (cf. Rev. 4:4; 6:11; 7:14; 19:8).
Even the finest cloth weaved on the looms of the city could not cover the sins of a person in Laodicea; these sins could only be washed away by the blood of Christ and the individual being clothed in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus that is freely given by grace through faith alone in Him (Phil. 3:9). Nor could the looms provide the white garments which are the righteous acts of the saints. These garments only come by the empowerment of the Spirit of God working in the life of the believer in the Lord Jesus who depends totally on the Lord for strength to live their daily lives for Him.
The third thing the Lord Jesus counsels them to do is to: “Anoint yourself with eye salve.” This was a word picture the people of Laodicea would understand because there was a medical school in Laodicea with the parent center nearby at Men-Karou. One of the things that were developed at the school was the use of Phrygian stone to make eye salve (Strabo, Geography 12:8:20; LCL 5:519; Hemer 1989: 196-199).
Just as the eye salve corrected a problem in the sight of those it was placed in, so the believers in Laodicea were to do something to correct their spiritual eyesight. Again, they could refer to the passage in the Apostle Peter’s second epistle to correct spiritual shortsightedness, even blindness (2 Pet. 1:5-9).
It takes time, energy and effort to work on virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. If the believers in the church at Laodicea did these things, they would be living the “victorious Christian life” and would become overcomers.
The Promise Given by the Lord Jesus to the Overcomers in the Church at Laodicea – 3:19-21
The Lord begins this section by declaring what He will do to those believers in the church who are rebellious to Him and His Word. He says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (3:19). This passage is crucial for understanding that this letter was written to believers within the church at Laodicea. It is important to note that the Lord does not rebuke and chasten unsaved individuals, only His children (Heb. 12: 5-8; cf. Prov. 3:11, 12).
The Lord Jesus instructs His children, whom He loves and chastens, to do two things: (1) be zealous, and (2) repent. The Lord Jesus might have had the example of Epaphras in mind, one of the believers from the Lycus Valley, whom Paul wrote about in the book of Colossians. “Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear witness that he has a great zeal² for you, and those who are at Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis” (Col. 4:12, 13 NKJV). Here was a godly man zealously praying for the people in the Lycus Valley to stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. Prayer signifies a total dependence upon God, a marked contrast to the self-sufficiency of the church at Laodicea.
The second thing He instructs them to do is repent. The word repent means to change ones mind. The believers in the church were to change their minds about their selfishness and realize that the Lord Jesus is All Sufficient. They need to change their mind about their lukewarmness and become “hot” so they can minister to the spiritual needs of a hurting society around it, or become “cold” so they can refresh those who attend their meetings with the things of the Lord.
The Lord Jesus expresses His desire to have fellowship with His people and dine with them. “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” (3:20).
This passage has been used by many preachers as an invitation for sinners to come to faith in the Lord Jesus, but in reality, this is a fellowship passage. The Lord appeals to them to return to Him.
The Challenge Given by the Lord Jesus to the Church at Laodicea – 3:22
The challenge to all the churches is the same: “He who has an ear; let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The Lord expects the church at Laodicea, as well as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia, and any local church, for that matter, to hear and obey His Word.
The Lord Jesus made a similar statement during His earthly ministry, but with one notable exception. During His earthly ministry He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15; 13:9 (2x); 13:43 (2x); Mark 4:9, 23; 7:16; Luke 8:8; 14:35). In the letters to the Seven Churches He adds, “what the Spirit says to the churches.” The Ru’ach Kodesh, the Holy Spirit, came and went as He pleased during His dealings with the nation of Israel; yet with the Church, He baptized all believers into the Body of Christ; He indwelt all believers; He anointed all believers to teach the Word; and He sealed all believers until the Day of Redemption. The Spirit of God is actively involved in the building of the Church.
So what is the Spirit of God saying to the church at Laodicea, and all churches? Affluence could lead to self-sufficiency in the church with the arrogant attitude of, “Lord, don’t worry, we can handle any problems ourselves, we do not need your help, nor your presence!” We need to guard our attitude toward wealth, something that in and of itself is not evil. We need to examine our lives and ask the questions, “Is the affluence controlling me? Or, am I controlling the wealth and using it for the Lord’s work and for His glory?”
¹ All Scripture quotes are from the New King James Bible.
² The Greek word for “zeal” is zalon in the Textus Receptus which is the basis for the KJV and NKJV. In the Westcott and Hort text, the Greek word is ponon and translated much “distress.” This is the basis for the RSV, NIV and NASB.
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