Reading: Revelation 3: 14 – 22
Laodicea was the wealthiest city among the seven mentioned in this last Book of the Bible, and it would not be too far-fetched to surmise that the Laodicean Church was affluent. These seven cities were located in what is presently south-west Turkey, and the order in which they were mentioned would be along a familiar Roman thoroughfare, where this Letter was read to the respective churches. The gist of John’s vision was to warn the Laodicean Church of her self-confidence that led to her spiritual indifference, and to offer a solution to their potentially fatal predicament.
From the context (Chapter 1), we know that Jesus was the speaker. His testimony against this Church is worthy of note, as it is typical of our generations’ well-heeled, worldly-wise ecclesiastical setups. He distinctly identified Himself as God’s Unchangeable Confirmation to all His divine promises (the Amen: 2 Cor 1:20), the trustworthy and true Witness, and the Source of all creation (v.14). In so doing, the Lord drew a comparison between His everlasting faithfulness, and the Church’s lack of it. His language was emphatically scathing and condemnatory, understandably so as she was a part of His own Body – ‘I know your deeds.’ He characterized them as being lukewarm and smug, totally unaware of their own pathetic spiritual poverty, blinded by their own humiliation, and walking around spiritually naked, (vv.15-17). The ‘lukewarm’ analogy comes from the contaminated water supply that fed into the city from an outside source that was neither hot spring water nor cool and drinkable.
What does spiritual lukewarmness look like? The comfort of wealth and material possessions had lulled them into a false sense of spiritual security: ‘because you say, I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ (v.17). The Lord’s discerning conclusion was that they were not totally devoid of faith in Him. In today’s language, we would diagnose that Christ had only a moderate influence in the life of the Laodicean believers: they were neither unresponsive nor enthusiastic toward Him. If there were no repentance and renewal, He would reject and judge them (‘spit you out of My mouth:’ v.16). The faith that saves is certainly not a lukewarm one.
What was the Lord’s solution to their lukewarmness? It is obvious from His perspective, that spiritual wealth can be measured in God’s economy; certainly not from our earthy sensing. His recommendations were a list of three metaphorical products the believers needed to possess to save themselves (they represented Laodicea’s material wealth, extensive textile industry, and her famed medicinal eye salve: v.18). It is always difficult to spiritually hear clearly when one seems to have everything. However, when one is in spiritual poverty and do not possess any divine currency, how does one buy gold, white garments and eye salve? Speaking from a broken heart over intimate fellowship losses, the Lord re-emphasized that He still loves those who belong to Him, and the way out of lukewarmness is to prayerfully repent of their sin and to live zealously for Him (v.19). And to that, they need to be listeners to His voice as He comes to them individually, to commune with each one who invites Him into their life (v.20). It is pertinent to recall that this verse is contextually referenced to believers, and not to non-believers. Then, buying His refined gold (represented spiritual wealth), white garments (purity), and eye salve (a sightedness in the things of God), make sense, as He continues to reprove and refine each one (v.19). The acquisition of ‘spiritual wealth’ is a refining process that only God can walk through with the Laodiciean believers, but His assurance to them is that He will be committed in intimate communion, with each one, through it all (v.20). At the end of the day, the reward would be found in a future time, where they will be reigning with Him (v.21).
As we begin a new year, our Christ-centred face-time with God is crucial. It would be good to repent and to open again the door of our hearts to invite Him in, forthwith to be zealously devoted to Him, so that we will not lack in spiritual wealth and purity, and to participate with God as we see what He is doing in the world. And like any love relationship, it takes hard and persistent work on our part.