The Lukewarm Church

Revelation 3:14-21

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2012

We have been studying the letters of Jesus to the seven churches of Asia. Today, we will be looking at Jesus’ letter to the seventh church, the Church of Laodicea. Jesus visited each one of these seven churches and gave them a report card. Each of these churches was different.

One was a backslidden church. One was a suffering church. One was an ecumenical church. One was a tolerant church. One was a dead church and the last one was a lukewarm church. Every church should take the time to see which church describes them.

The last church that we looked at was the Church of Philadelphia. It was the church that received an A from Jesus. Jesus had no criticism for that church. Wouldn’t it be great if he had no criticism or warning of our church? Today, we will be looking at the Church of Laodicea, one of the most messed up churches in the Bible.

That church received an F from Jesus. Jesus had nothing good to say about this church. Nobody in the church was doing anything right. There was not even a remnant in this church of faithful believers. It may have been the worst of the seven churches. Jesus saved the worst for last. It was the only church that gave Jesus an upset stomach.

Some churches make Jesus happy. Some make him sad. Some make him angry. This one made him sick. It made him want to throw up (3:16). Some churches make Jesus sick. They are nauseating. Some Christians make Jesus sick.

It is one thing to say that the wicked have done things to make Jesus sick. It is another thing to say that the church of Christ has done some things to make Jesus sick. Jesus talked about barfing up believers, not the works of believers but the believers themselves.

This is one of the strongest warnings in the NT for Christians. Before we look at the problems that this church had, let’s look at how Jesus described himself to this church. He is described as “the amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation” (3:14).

Description of Christ

Perhaps the strangest title is the first one. Jesus is the “Amen.” It is one of the names of Christ. Every time you say “amen,” you are saying one of Jesus’ names. It was a title of God in the OT (Isaiah 65:16). When we say “amen”, it is usually to close a prayer following the words “in Jesus name”. That is not wrong.

The Lord’s Prayer ends with the word “amen” (Matthew 6:13). It means “so be it” or “may it be so”. It concludes the NT. It is used in one of the last verses in the Book of Revelation. Jesus says, “I am coming soon” and John says, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus”. (Revelation 22:20). Jesus used the word mean times when he said “verily, verily” (KJV) or “truly, truly” (NASB). That is actually the word “amen” in Greek.

The second title is “faithful and true witness”. Jesus was described as “the faithful witness” in 1:5. This says several things to me. Jesus will speak the truth to this lukewarm church, even if it is unpopular. He will be a true witness. He will also be a faithful witness and that is in stark contrast to the unfaithfulness at the Church of Laodicea.

The third title is “the beginning of God’s creation” (so KJV, ASV, NASB, RSV). What does that mean? If you have ever talked to a Jehovah’s Witness about the Bible, you know that they do not believe that Jesus is God and one of the verses they use to prove that is Revelation 3:14.

That passage says that Jesus is the beginning of creation and if Jesus is the beginning of creation, then He must be a created being. He must be the first thing that God created. Are they right? No. Jesus is not a created being.  That is refuted by several teachings of the NT.

1) Jesus is the Creator.

According to two NT writers – John (the author of Revelation) and Paul, Jesus is the creator of all things. He is not the creator of some things or even most things but of all things. John 1:3 says, “Through him ALL THINGS were made; without him NOTHING was made that has been made.”

Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him ALL THINGS were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; ALL THINGS were created by him and for him”.

This could not have been stated any stronger. There is no way that Jesus could have created all things and to be a created being. That would violate the law of non-contradiction. It is logically impossible. The Laodiceans would have known the passage in Colossians.

Paul wrote an epistle to the Church of Colosse and he wrote an epistle to the Church of Laodicea. The two churches were only a few miles away and Paul’s epistle to the Colossians was read to the Church of Laodicea and Paul’s epistle to the Laodiceans was read the Church at Colosse (Colossians 4:16).

2) Jesus is Eternal.

Jesus is called “the first and last” (1:17; 22:13). That is a term used of God (Isaiah 44:6, 48:12). Jesus is called “the Alpha and the Omega” (22:12-13). That same term is used of the Almighty God (1:8).

Just because they have the same title does not mean that they are on the same level. Solomon was a king and Jesus is a king but they are not on the same level but some titles are reserved for God alone. No created being could ever be called “the first and the last”.

What kind of church was the Church of Laodicea? There are two very different ways of looking at this church. Some believe that this was an unsaved church.

Some great preachers and Bible teachers like Charles Ryrie, John MacArthur and Arnold Fruchtenbaum believe that this was not a backslidden church or a weak church but an unsaved, liberal, apostate church that is filled with lost people. What are some arguments for this view?

Arguments for an Unsaved Church

1)  This group of people is called “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

That does not sound like a description of the saved. It sounds more like a description of the lost.

2)  Jesus is on the outside of this church, not the inside. He is knocking at the door to get in.

3)  There is an invitation at the end of the letter (3:20) that is often used in evangelistic meetings.  Jesus knocks on the door of the sinners heart waiting to get in.

4)  Jesus is said to love this group of people which is not limited to the saved (cf. John 3:16).

Others believe that this was a church primarily of saved people. Every church can have some unsaved people in it but they would say that the Church of Laodicea was NOT a liberal apostate church.

Arguments for a Saved Church

1)  Jesus was writing to a church. He was not writing to pagans.

The Church of Laodicea was described as a lampstand. Not every church on the planet is a lampstand (holder of light). Revelation 3:20 is one of the most well-known verses in the entire Bible. It is also one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible.

When people use this verse in an evangelistic context, they take the verse out of context. The gospel is not proclaimed at the end of the letter. We do not hear the words, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”.

This church was told to repent but that was no different than what the other five churches were told to do. The invitation in 3:20 is NOT addressed to lost people. It was addressed to the church, to members of the Church of Laodicea.

It is preaching the right thing with the wrong text. That passage is addressed to lukewarm Christians, not to the unsaved. When Christ enters the door, the result is not salvation but fellowship.

2)  This church had a guardian angel. Liberal apostate churches do not have guardian angels. The demons guard those churches.

3)  Jesus disciplined believers in this church (3:19). The Bible says that God only disciplines sons (Hebrews 12:5-8). He only spanks his own kids, not other people’s kids.

4)  A completely apostate church would not be described as a lukewarm church but a dead church. It would not be lukewarm but cold, because it rejects outright much of the Bible.

The Main Problem of the Church

What was the main problem of this church? It had a different problem than the other churches had. Jesus said that the problem with this church is that it was lukewarm (3:15-16). Everyone agrees that this was an allusion to their water. Laodicea had a reputation for having lukewarm water.

Everyone knew that its water was disgusting. Laodicea did not have its own water supply. They had to get it from other cities. Their cold water was piped in from Colosse, which was several miles to the east. Their hot water was piped in from Hierapolis, which was several miles to the north. All water in Laodicea was lukewarm by the time it reached Laodicea.

Most beverages we drink either hot or cold. We drink hot tea and we drink cold tea. We love a hot cup of coffee in the morning. Most of us like coffee cold, iced coffee (frappuccino). What we do not like to drink is a cup of coffee that has been sitting on the kitchen table for four hours at room temperature.

We drink milk cold and some drink it warm but it tastes disgusting at room temperature. We drink most beverages either really hot or really cold. The Church of Laodicea was lukewarm. That was Jesus’ way of saying that the church was as disgusting as the water in the city. Jesus says, “I want to treat you the way you treat your water”

The Meaning of Lukewarm

What does it mean that the church was lukewarm? Most people believe that that the word “lukewarm” is a description of the spiritual temperature of the Church of Laodicea. Some people are red hot spiritually. They are on fire. They have passion.

Some are ice cold spiritually. They do not believe and are open about it. They are complete pagans and are even antagonistic. Then there are people in the middle who are lukewarm. It sounds good. I used to believe that this is what the verse is talking about.

There is only one problem. If spiritually hot is good and spiritually cold is bad, then spiritually lukewarm is in the middle. It must be better to be lukewarm than to be completely cold and yet Jesus says, “I wish you were either hot or cold” (3:15).

How could it possibly be better to be cold than lukewarm? It is much better to be lukewarm than to be cold in a spiritual sense. It is better to be a weak Christian than a complete pagan. It is better to be a backslidden believer than a complete atheist.

It is better to be alive but sick than to be completely dead. That makes absolutely no sense it is better to be hot (good) or cold (bad) than to be lukewarm. So what then does Jesus mean here?

Jesus says, “You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” The water in Laodicea was lukewarm. It was bad. Hot water would have been good. It was healing. Cold water would have been great. It was refreshing but lukewarm water was useless. No one liked it. No one wanted to drink it.

What is a lukewarm church? It is a church that is spiritually ineffective. Lukewarm churches are not spiritually refreshing. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13).

Jesus said that Christian are the salt of the earth but if the salt begins to lost its flavor, it becomes completely useless. It becomes completely useless in cooking to season food. A lukewarm church is also completely useless.

Signs of a Lukewarm Church

What are some signs of a lukewarm church? There are lukewarm churches all over the country. Is your church a lukewarm church?

1) Lukewarm Churches are Boring

You fall asleep in those churches. They are dull. There is no excitement, no passion, no enthusiasm for the things of God. You walk into the service and you do not meet God. You may be entertained but you don’t meet God. It is a sin to be boring. It is bland and mediocre. It does not stand out and does not appeal to anyone. They make absolutely no impact on the community.

2) Lukewarm Churches do not Preach the Word

They churches are weak on doctrine. The whole counsel of God is not preached and the saints are not fed. Lukewarm church members have no interest in any type of serious in-depth Bible study.

3) Lukewarm Churches are Non-Offensive

Since they do not preach the Word, no one is ever offended. They are very tolerant and accepting. They are politically correct.

4) Lukewarm Churches Do Not Emphasis Evangelism

Lukewarm churches do nothing to reach the lost. Their philosophy is if they want to come, they will find us.

5) Lukewarm Churches Do Not Emphasize Prayer

You cannot be ineffective and pray. Prayer changes things.  Most churches today do not even have a prayer meeting.

6) Lukewarm Churches Do Not produce Spiritual Growth

Lives are not changed (which is not surprising since they do not emphasize the Bible and prayer). The church is supposed to be a hospital for the sick and that is not just the unsaved. Sometimes we have some sick saints.

7) Lukewarm Churches are Spiritually Blind

The real problem of this church was not that they were lukewarm. The real problem was that they didn’t know they were lukewarm (3:17). They were spiritually blind.

They thought they were doing great but they were doing terrible spiritually. They thought their church was great. They would have been offended if you criticized it. This was the only one of the seven churches in which we find what the members of the church thought of the church.

It tells us what they thought of themselves. The problem is that Jesus thought the exact opposite of what they thought. They thought that they were rich but Jesus called them poor, blind and naked.

The Remedy for this Church

The remedy for this church is found in 3:18. Jesus says, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich.” He does not say, “I command you” (which is what we would have expected him to say).

A master does not counsel his servants. He orders people around but not Jesus. Counseling is big business today. People pay big money to go see a counselor. Here Jesus gives some counseling to the Church of Laodicea and it is free.

What counsel does Jesus give them? Go buy gold. Every day we hear commercials from people to buy gold. Here Jesus says to buy gold but not from Lear Financial but from Jesus. The point is that the church was to come to Jesus.

They were to get what they needed from Him. The city was known for three things: its wealth, its clothing industry and its medical school. Jesus takes these three things and turns it around on them.

The Promise

There is a beautiful promise at the end of the letter. It is an invitation. Jesus says, “Here I am! 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” (3:20).

Here we have Jesus outside of the church and he is knocking on the doors to get in. He is excluded and apparently the church does not even know that he is not there.

Is Jesus knocking at the door of your church? A.W. Tozer once said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, ninety-five percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, ninety-five percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”

1. It is individual

Jesus was talking to the whole church collectively but now he speaks to individuals in the church (“If ANYONE hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with HIM”). This is personal.

2. It was voluntary

Jesus will knock and He will call but notice two things about this interesting exhortation:

Implications of Revelation 3:20

a) Jesus will not break down the door.

Jesus knocks on the door but He does not force His way in or use violence to get in.  It must be opened by an act of the will.

b) You must open the door.

Jesus knocks on the door but he does not open the door. You have to open the door. How do they let him in? They let him in through repentance. Jesus said, “Be earnest and repent” (3:19). The word “earnest” means to be zealous. Literally, it means “be hot”. This was lukewarm and Jesus is commanded it to repent and to be hot.

What happens if they do repent and let Jesus in the door? Jesus comes in and has fellowship with you. It is not a picture of salvation but of fellowship, intimate fellowship. You don’t go to his house but he comes to yours and has dinner with you. The letter ends with a final promise to the overcomer (3:21). What is that promise? The overcomer will share in the reign of Christ.

Many believe that the throne of the Father and the Son are the same but 3:21 clearly distinguishes the two thrones. The Father’s throne is in heaven and Christ’s throne is on earth. Is Jesus sitting on the throne of David now? No.

Jesus is right now sitting on his Father’s throne. He is sitting at the right hand of the Father One day, he will return to earth, set up the Millennial Kingdom, sit and the throne of David. The throne of David is an earthly, political throne. King Solomon sat on it (I Kings 2:12) and we will get to sit on that throne as well. We will rule and reign with him if we are overcomers.

9 Responses to The Lukewarm Church

  1. gladys says:

    Hi again, its Gladys. I wanted to ask is this passage where the whole ideah that god dosent like people who are on the fence come from? Because you mention one of the problems with the church was

    • admin says:

      I do not think that this is where the idiom sitting on the fence (i.e., being neutral or unable to make a decision about something) came from but I am not sure about the origin of the phrase.

  2. gladys says:

    Sorry hit the enter by acciadnet, like I was saying you mention that one problem wat that the church was Lukewarm Churches are non-offensive

    Since they do not preach the Word, no one is ever offended. They are very tolerant and accepting. They are politically correct.
    but I am tolerant and accepting of things, for example I have gay friends and I accept them for who they are, I believe people are born gay, (most gay people I should say, I have a friend who chose it and whent back to straight) but I still think it is a sin, I mean we are all born liars but that dosent make it okay to lie, I feel the same about being gay, its a sin wether your born that way or not. Same way with abortion, I think its a sin and I woudlnt do it, but I wouldnt try to tell someone else they couldnt get one (If a case of incest or rape or something like that) SO would something like that make me lukewarm?

    • admin says:

      No, not at all. It is good to have friends like you have. You would only be permissive if you told your friends that you thought that it did not matter how anyone lived and that you had no right to ever make any moral judgments on behavior at any time (because that would be judgmental). You would be permissive if you told them that God does not care whether we live a sexually immoral or pure life. I dealt with this a little in “A Woman Caught in Sin”. A church is different. A local church has to make decisions on who should and should not be members of the church. They would be lukewarm if they do not practice any church discipline at all and allow members who are living in open sin and are unrepentant. Does this answer your question?

  3. gladys says:

    yes yes it does thank you. Now this question is related but not related to me personally, but if a chruch didnt allow these people in because they pratice open sin, how would these people change. I mean dont get me wrong I dont think any amound of religion will make someone who is genualy gay straight, but I know that there are a lot of gay people who choose jesus over there sexual orientation, but if our churches dont let them in at all what do we expext there reaction to sin be?
    Just a randome thought.
    PS I was about to ask a question under the tattoo section just to give a fair warning. GOD BLESS O and I hope your wife and kids are dong awsome!

    • admin says:

      I get your point. There is a difference, however, between anyone who can attend a church service and someone who is a member of a church. There are more expectations and responsibilities placed on a church member. Churches should be open to help ANYONE who struggles with any sin (regardless of what it is). The problem becomes when someone is an actual member of a church and not only refuses to change but refuses to deny that there is even a problem or that a particular behavior which is strictly forbidden in Scripture is even sinful and flaunts that behavior. Then, it should be a matter of church discipline by the church leaders. Unfortunately, few churches today practice church discipline, even though it is a biblical practice.

  4. gladys says:

    I think people are affraid to say anything because in this modern day, an opinion can come across as hate speach when it comes to relgion.
    I sometimes think that simple human progress is a bigger problem for christianity than any diffrent religion.

    • admin says:

      That is true but taking a moral stand on an issue is not the same thing as calling for the persecution of a group of people. They are two different things. One has to do with stating a moral conviction and the other involves advocating violence. This has nothing to do with hate speech but the politically correct audience does not understand the difference.

  5. Charlie says:

    I guess “lukewarm” is a spectrum. The church I’ve been attending is guilting of 4 (or 5) of the 7 signs of a lukewarm church. I think it’s still “lukewarm” but maybe a bit warmer than some.

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