I love the concept of redemption. I love the whole idea that we serve a God that longs to redeem those who have fallen, messed up, gone wrong or gotten off track. God always saw a way back for the person who got on the wrong road, even if they had traveled down that road for a long time. But I must tell you that I believe the most difficult person in the world to redeem is the person who is lukewarm and neither cold or hot. In many ways when Jesus wrote the letters to the seven churches of Asia through the apostle John, there seems to me to be little difference between the Ephesians who lost their first love and the Laodiceans who were neither cold or hot. The two concepts fit together. When love dies down, so does the fervor.
The letter to the church in Laodicea is found in Revelation 3:14-22. In most of the seven letters there was both some good and some bad in the church that needed to be corrected. But when he wrote to Laodicea, there wasn’t a single good thing that Jesus could see about them to comment on. In their minds, they were a great, dynamic, a forward moving church on the cutting edge in reaching the world for Jesus. Here is how Jesus said they spoke of themselves: “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” Jesus on the other hand viewed them as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” How could there be such a massive difference in their view?
Notice that Jesus didn’t mention either any problem in their teaching or in their moral behavior. Other churches were corrected on both fronts. Evidently they were right down the line when it came to their teaching. They hadn’t drifted off into any crazy doctrines like so many of the day. Gnosticism was growing all over the world in that time. It grew in many forms, such as some teaching that our flesh didn’t matter, so what we did with the body made no difference. All that mattered was our spirit. So we could be involved in huge moral failures and it not affect our soul or our relationship with God at all. It was a form of this teaching that John talked about in both I and II John. He called those who bought into such an idea as “AntiChrist.” They denied that Jesus had actually come in the flesh at all. John said that those who followed such an idea were going right on past the teachings of Christ to make up their own teachings and were following those. But Laodicea was not having doctrinal problems. They were teaching the truth. Neither were they having moral problems. The prophetess Jezebel wasn’t having any influence among them. Just from the Lord’s description of them it would seem likely that they had a beautiful church building where they met that had been paid for a long time ago. They had one of the best, most fluent preachers of the day that people came from all over to listen to. They probably were supporting missionaries all around the known world since they had plenty of money.
So what could be so wrong with a church that Jesus would actually say they made him so sick that he wanted to vomit them out of his mouth when their teaching was right and their morals were strong? They had lost all their zeal, their fervor and their fire. The passion was gone. Service to God had become a matter of routine. Their worship times were certainly decent and in order, but no one ever got excited about anything. People came dressed nicely, sat quietly and gave freely of their income. But they left the same way they came with nothing changed.
Laodicea was one of the wealthiest cities of the time. When it was destroyed by an earthquake and Rome offered help in rebuilding they turned it down saying they didn’t need any help. They were known for the black sheep in the area that led to an industry of selling luxurious garments made from the wool that was shipped around the world. It was a great medical center with a medical college where doctors came from all over to train in medicine. It was particularly known for an eye ointment that was effective in treating eye problems. The city was located between two cities, each about 6 miles away. One was known for it cold spring water that was great to drink. The other was known for it hot mineral springs that people thought helped with many illnesses. But the water in Laodicea was lukewarm and sickening. Their wealth led to thoughts that they not only didn’t need other people, they didn’t need God either. They beautiful garments caused them to forget being clothed with Christ. Their eye ointment worked on the physical eye, but they were failing to see the most important things in life, their relationship with God.
When a person is in between, with just enough religion to make them immune from the real thing, it is an awful situation. They believe in Jesus, but think they can do just fine on their own. They worship, but not out of the sense of need for God, but to fulfill their duty. They talk about God, but not as though it were a matter of life and death but just a nice thing. In many ways the most difficult person to redeem in the world is the lukewarm church member. Why is it so hard? Because they can’t see that they need anything.
When was the last time you were broken up because of the sin in your own life? When was the last time you hurt at the thought that someone you love might be lost and without God in the world? When was the last time you actually cried out to God in prayer rather than just saying your prayers? When was the last time you were so excited about Jesus and what he is doing in your life you just couldn’t wait to share it with someone else?
Notice when Jesus confronted the church over being lukewarm, he pointed out the sin, counseled them to buy gold of him, tried in the fire, to anoint their eyes with eye salve and to buy from him white garments that the shame of their nakedness might be covered. He said to them it was because of his love that he was rebuking and disciplining them. The lukewarm are difficult to rebuke. They just can’t understand why you aren’t happy with them. It seems a lot like talking with a married couple after the passion has all died away. They have the form, the ritual of marriage, but there is no excitement. They have lost the passion. Spiritually it is the same problem. A passionless marriage is tough to change. A passionless Christian is difficult to bring to repentance.
Jesus made two huge pleas to them. First, “Be earnest and repent.” Second, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Anytime the zeal is gone, Jesus is outside trying to get back in or get in for the first time. Jesus or His Spirit doesn’t remain in the life of a person whose fire has burned down to just warm ashes. God certainly wants to redeem that person. But it can only happens when we are broken to learn our passion has gone and we repent of the sin, swing the door open and let Jesus back into our lives as the Lord and master.
If we do that, Jesus said, “I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
But what are signs one can search for to see if their passion is dying? Is Jesus and his kingdom first in your life? Are you offering your body each day as a living sacrifice to God? Are you anxious to open his word and learn more about our God and how to serve him? Do you look forward to times alone with God in prayer? Is worship something that you are anxious to be a part of or something that is routine? The fires of passion must be stoked, fed and rebuilt on a regular basis.