14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so 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 eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered 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.’”
British evangelist Henry Varley once famously said the following to D.L. Moody: “Moody, the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.” Those words set Moody’s heart on fire. He would later tell Varley:
“Ah, those were the words sent to my soul, through you, from the Living God. As I crossed the wide Atlantic, the boards of the deck of the vessel were engraved with them, and when I reached Chicago, the very paving stones seemed marked with ‘Moody, the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.’
It is an astonishing thought: “Moody, the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.”
I ask you just as I ask myself: what would our lives look like if we were “fully consecrated to Him”?
Wholly on board.
Recklessly abandoned to Jesus.
The great tragedy of the church of Laodicea is that they had not determined to be this. It was not on their radar. Why? Because they were rich and comfortable and complacent. The word that Jesus used was “lukewarm.” Verses 15-16 are two of the most famous verses in all of scripture:
15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
There are two general schools of thought about what Jesus means by His references to “hot,” “cold,” and “lukewarm.”
- Proposal #1: “Hot” is a positive statement and “cold” is a negative statement. The terms refer to the church’s degree of commitment and the quality of their walk with Jesus. In this proposal, “hot” means “truly committed,” “cold” means “not committed at all,” and “lukewarm” means “somewhere in the murky middle: neither committed nor uncommitted.” Therefore, Jesus is saying that believing wholeheartedly or not believing at all is preferable to trying to straddle the fence. We are to declare ourselves and be all in or all out.
- Proposal #2: “Hot” and “cold” are both positive statements (as opposed to Proposal #1 in which “hot” is a positive term and “cold” is negative) referring to hot water that is useful for various things and cold water that is refreshing to drink. In this proposal, in the words of Rudwick and Green, Laodicea “was providing neither refreshment for the spiritually weary, nor healing for the spiritually sick. It was totally ineffective, and thus distasteful to the Lord.”
While I lean toward the first proposal, the second cannot be ruled out. Regardless, there is agreement on this point in both proposals: either spiritual or missional lukewarmness is noxious and unacceptable for the church of the living God. The church was not what they were supposed to be: fruitful, faithful, and Christ-honoring. They were lukewarm.
We should be wholly committed to the Christ! There can be no half-hearted carrying of a cross. Discipleship does not lend itself to partial measures. Leon Morris writes that “to profess Christianity while remaining untouched by its fire is a disaster. There is more hope for the openly antagonistic than for the coolly indifferent.”
So I would like to ask two questions: (1) What is a “lukewarm” Christian? (2) How does one cease to be “lukewarm”?
What is a “lukewarm” Christian?
That term “lukewarm” is most fascinating. It begs for definition. Fortunately, our passage defines it. The primary verses for helping us understand this condition are verses 17 and 20. From these we can, I believe, deduce three qualities of the lukewarm Christian.
A lukewarm Christian is a self-reliant Christian who traffics in the language of faith but does not feel the great personal need that makes faith faith.
Laodicea was a very wealthy city. It was a self-reliant city. The church had apparently drunk from this same well.
17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing…
The “you” in verse 17 is the church. That is, those professing to be followers of Jesus were reveling in their wealth, their prosperity, and their absence of any need for help. That phrase “I need nothing” is poison to true commitment. The person who says “I need nothing” is self-reliant. He does not see Jesus as the Savior. He sees Jesus as a life-coach.
Prosperity can be a dangerous thing for the church of the living God. John Fischer has said, “It used to be tough [to be a Christian] because it cost so much. Now it’s tough because it pays.”
Saying “I need nothing” also makes it difficult to repent. Repentance enters through the door of great need. The repentant person is the person who knows he or she is lost in his or her sins. “I need nothing” does not lend itself to the kind of humility that opens the door to repentance.
A lukewarm Christian is a Christian who is blind to the reality of his or her true condition.
The lukewarm Christian is also self-deluded and blind. Listen to the rest of verse 17.
17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
Ah! So we might say “I need nothing” but the reality is we “are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” The definitive statement of this is found in Paul’s amazing little sentence from Romans 3:
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Notice the universality of sin and therefore the universality of the effect of sin: we all fall short of the glory of God because we all sin.
You cannot simultaneously say “I measure up!” and “I am lost without Jesus!” We must open our eyes to the fact of our true condition. We all have sinned! We all fall short of the glory! We do not have any glory! Only God does.
In Luke 7 Jesus is asked by disciples of John the Baptist whether or not He is truly the promised one. Jesus’ response is illuminating:
22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.”
The reality is these words apply not only to the body (i.e., the physically deaf and blind and lame, etc.) but to the soul as well. We are born spiritually blind and deaf and lame. We must understand this. We must accept this. We must receive this.
The Laodicean Christians “did not realize” their condition. Do you? Do I? I believe that there are many in the church who have never truly repented because they do not truly believe they need to. We must see our genuine need for the Savior!
A lukewarm Christian is a Christian who keeps the machinery running without realizing that Jesus has left the building.
What is truly amazing in all of this is the fact that Jesus is speaking to His church, to lukewarm Christians! That means that the recipients of these words were blinded and self-deluded while keeping the machinery of the church running! They continued to speak of Jesus though Jesus had “left the building,” so to speak. That is, there relationship with Jesus was not truly a genuine relationship. And how we do know this? Because Jesus tells them He is on the outside of their church:
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 eat with him, and he with me.
Here is the most devastating quality of lukewarmness: it does not realize in the midst of the busyness of its churchly life that Christ is standing outside. We are reminded of the chilling words of Jesus from Matthew 7 at this point:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Do you see? Just because you know and even proclaim the name of Jesus does not mean you know Jesus. Just because you keep the machinery of the church running or the mechanics of your personal devotional life going does not mean you truly are in a relationship with Jesus. Lukewarmness is so dangerous because it has enough Jesus to allow us to convince ourselves we are His disciples but not enough Jesus for us actually to take up a cross and follow Him.
Francis Chan’s descriptions of lukewarm Christians are helpful. Chan writes:
Lukewarm people attend church fairly regularly…
Lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church…as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living…
Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict…
Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin…
Lukewarm people are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act…
Lukewarm people rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends…
Lukewarm people gauge their morality or “goodness” by comparing themselves to the secular world…
Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part…
Lukewarm people love God, but they do not love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength…
Lukewarm people love others but do not seek to love others as much as they love themselves…
Lukewarm people will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go or how much time, money, and energy they are willing to give…
Lukewarm people think about life on earth much more often than eternity in heaven…
Lukewarm people are thankful for their luxuries and comforts, and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible to the poor…
Lukewarm people do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty…
Lukewarm people are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control…
Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to…
I ask you: is this you? Have you become lukewarm?
How does one cease to be “lukewarm”?
If this is you, then what do you do? How does the lukewarm Christian come back to a living and active faith? Jesus gives us the answer in verses 18-20.
18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so 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 eat with him, and he with me.
When we look carefully at these words we see Jesus calling us to two steps of obedience.
Choose what is valuable in the Kingdom over what is valuable in the world.
First, we must learn to devalue what we have overly-valued and value what we have under-valued. It is interesting to observe how Jesus in verse 18 is clearly answering the dilemma He articulates in verse 17.
The Problem / Solution of Verse 17 / Verse 18
- You are poor. / “Buy from me gold refined by fire…”
- You are blind. / “Buy from me…salve to anoint your eyes…”
- You are naked. / “Buy from me…white garments…”
One critically important step out of lukewarmness is the intentional and Spirit-led devaluation of that which creates in us a feeling of self-reliance and the delusion that we do not truly need the Lord. We must learn to see, in other words, the temporal nature of earthly wealth, the limited nature of our assumed sight, and the self-deluded nature of our own provisions.
Earthly wealth is not eternal.
Earthly wisdom is does not have clarity.
Earthly provision is illusory.
For this reason, we must devalue that which we have placed our trust in and learn to trust instead in the substance and provision of King Jesus and His Kingdom. Jesus gives us “gold refined by fire,” that is, true gold, gold that has substance, gold that is not fool’s gold, gold that has passed through the refining fire and proved its integrity and quality. Jesus gives us eye salve to heal our blindness. He shows us the folly of what we thought we previously saw and understood and opens our eyes to Kingdom realities. And Jesus dresses us in white garments, the color of purity and forgiveness.
The earth offers us trinkets and plastic. The Kingdom of God offers us substance and reality.
Stop trusting in your own wisdom, your own sight, your own wealth! Stop believing that you really do have all that you need! Stop saying “I need nothing.”
In fact, you need everything! You have nothing outside of Jesus! Learn to see through the façade to the reality both of the paltry nature of that in which you are trusting currently and the true reality of that which Jesus is offering you!
Hear His voice and open the door.
And then this: hear His voice and open the door!
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 eat with him, and he with me.
For most of my life I have heard this presented as an evangelistic verse. It is not. It is a verse for the church. Jesus is knocking! Jesus desires to fellowship with you! Hear Him! Open the door!
I mentioned earlier a couple of efforts to understand the imagery of “hot,” “cold,” and “lukewarm.” It is usually said that this is referring to the historical reality of the lukewarmness of the water supply in Laodicea in the first century. The argument is that cold water from miles away had to be brought to Laodicea via aqueduct but that it became lukewarm and tepid and therefore undesirable in its journey to the city. It is thought, then, that Jesus is playing off of this reality that the Laodicean Christians would have known. But Craig Koester has argued that this is likely incorrect.
Koester argues, on the other hand, that Laodicea’s water was actually considered good to drink in the ancient world. He argues that “studies of the water system do not bear…out” the idea that Laodicean water grew tepid as it traveled through the aqueducts to reach the city. He even notes that “visitors praised the quality of Laodicean water” and quotes an ancient donor named Hedychrous who praised Laodicean water and lent his own name, which means “sweet complexioned,” to part of the city’s water system. Furthermore a “fourth- or fifth-century inscription refers to a Laodicean fountain house that supplied ‘sweet clear water.’”
Koester does not believe this is what Jesus is referring to and argues that we have imposed a foreign meaning on the text.
What, then, did Jesus mean when He referenced the Laodiceans being “lukewarm” and therefore worthy of being spit out? Peter Leithart summarizes Koester’s argument thus:
Koester suggests that the imagery has to do with hospitality. Chilled and warm wine were both popular drinks. When a guest arrived, his host might offer him wine chilled with snow, or win mixed with warmed water. To be offered lukewarm wine was an insult to the guest and a mark against the host…That fits with the overall imagery of the message to Laodicea, which ends with an explicit reference to a banquet.
The Laodiceans have not welcomed Jesus as an honored guest. Even when they don’t leave Him outside the door knocking to get in, they haven’t been good hosts.
Maybe this is so. It would indeed seem to fit the image of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. In Laodicea, Jesus is not welcome by His own church. He is offered lukewarm wine, the wine of insult. The door has been closed to Him! What a tragedy that a church could grow lukewarm in its love for Jesus!
Let us return to Leon Morris’ powerful statement that “to profess Christianity while remaining untouched by its fire is a disaster. There is more hope for the openly antagonistic than for the coolly indifferent.”
What an image! What a definition of lukewarmness: “professing Christianity while remaining untouched by its fire.” Are you untouched by the holy fire of the gospel?
In contrast to this image, Thomas Merton relays a truly beautiful and memorable story from the desert fathers of many, many years ago.
Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?
I ask you, church: Why not be totally changed into fire?
What not burn bright with gospel passion, gospel enthusiasm, and love for King Jesus?!
Do not content yourself with little faith and little acts.
Burn brightly! Be light! Reject lukewarmness! Ask Jesus to set you on fire with the glory of God Himself!
 Dan R. Crawford, The Prayer-Shaped Disciple. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), p.141.
 Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Revised edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), p.109-110.
 Morris, Leon L.. Revelation. (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (pp. 84-85). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Quoted in Craig S. Keener. Revelation. The NIV Application Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), p.165.
 Francis Chan, Crazy Love. (Colorado Springs, CO: David Cook, 2008), p.68-79.
 Morris, Leon L.. Revelation. (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (pp. 84-85). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Thomas Merton, The Way of the Desert. (New York, NY: New Directions), p.50.