The Laodicean church was not pleasing to the Lord, and in fact was in danger of losing its relationship with the Lord, of not being recognized as one of His. What was the church’s problem? Unlike Pergamos, the problem wasn’t a compromise with the evil practices of the idolatry around them. Unlike Thyatira, the problem wasn’t toleration of sexual immorality. Laodicea’s problem was more associated with the problem in Ephesus. In Rev. 2:4 Jesus said that Ephesus had left its first love. The problem was more one of bad attitude than evil practice, although no doubt their wrong attitude had at the very least influenced the way they were going about doing good things. In Rev. 3:14-22 Jesus says several things about the church at Laodicea:
First, He says they were LUKEWARM – Rev. 3:15-16. They were neither hot nor cold. Think of tea that has assumed room temperature. It speaks to an attitude that is lacking eagerness, enthusiasm, and passion. You might say they were just going through the motions. Their worship might have been in truth (done the right way), but it was likely lacking what Jesus called spirit in John 4:24, which Jesus said was a “must” if worship was going to be pleasing to God. Their service might have been right down the line of what God wanted, but it was likely lacking the love that 1 Cor. 13:1-3 says is necessary for our service to please God and be of profit to us.
Jesus says two things about this lukewarmness. First, He said that He would rather they were either hot or cold. There are two possibilities about what that means. It could be that hot and cold speaks to two acceptable conditions. Think of the tea illustration: Both hot and cold teas are valuable. Hot tea warms and soothes the body; cold tea refreshes the body. But lukewarm tea? It is neither soothing nor refreshing. Or it could be that hot and cold are stark contrasts. Think of an oven. Hot is fully functioning (that’s good), cold is totally dead (that’s bad). But what about the oven that is half-working – it won’t hit 350 degrees, but it will get to 175? Jesus could be saying that He would rather the Laodiceans be all the way in or all the way out, than in this mediocre, half in/half out condition. I’ll accept either explanation; the point is still the same. The Lord never has and never will put up with anything less than worship and service that is eager, enthusiastic and passionate.
Then, Jesus makes one of His most stark, shocking statements ever recorded: “Because you are neither cold nor hot, I WILL VOMIT YOU OUT OF MY MOUTH.” What is vomiting? It is the violent expulsion of something that is making the body nauseated. Jesus is not saying that lukewarm Christianity is mildly annoying to Him, or that He sure would like it better if the Laodiceans could work up a little passion. Jesus is saying, “Your lukewarmness nauseates me to the point that I want to vomit you out of me.” Is anyone unclear about what the Lord thinks of dispassionate, ho-hum Christianity? To fail to show passion for Him who was and is so passionate about us that He sacrificed Himself on a cross is both inconceivable and insulting to Jesus.
Second, Jesus said that they were SELF-DECEIVED – Rev. 3:17. Not only did they not realize their condition, they imagined themselves to be in the exact opposite condition. They imagined themselves to be rich and in need of nothing, but Jesus said they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. How in the world could that happen? It is actually quite common in the Bible.
Perhaps the best example of that is Luke 18:9-12. The Pharisee made three mistakes: 1) He judged his spiritual condition mostly on what he did not do; 2) He judged his spiritual condition by comparing himself to someone he considered to be worse than himself; and 3) When he finally got around to judging his spiritual condition on what he did, he focused only on ritual. He was the epitome of Mat. 23:23, where Jesus condemns the Pharisees for tithing mint, anise and cummin, while neglecting the “weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith.” In verse 24 Jesus says they were spiritually blind.
How easy it is for us today to become like the Christians in Laodicea – settled into lukewarm Christianity and blind to our true condition.
Third, Jesus said they were BIBLICALLY IGNORANT – Rev. 3:17. He charges, “You do not know.” To be as blinded as they were to their spiritual condition requires a very shallow understanding of the Bible. When you have the opportunity to learn the word of God, take advantage of it – 2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Tim. 3:16-17.
Fourth, Jesus said they were MUTABLE (they could change) – Rev. 3:18-20. Four things Jesus tells them: 1) They may have quit loving Jesus, but Jesus still loved them; 2) Jesus still wanted a relationship with them; 3) They could be zealous and repent; and 4) They could overcome.
They had every power and opportunity to have for eternity what faithful Smyrna and Philadelphia would have – a home in heaven. But they would have to “be zealous.” (The root word in the Greek means “to boil with heat.” Passion can be restored.) And they would have to “repent.” (Repentance is a change of heart that leads to a change of action.) All of that would involve recognizing the surpassing value of the spiritual over the physical.
Notice in verses 20 and 21 that Jesus’ invitation to open the door to Him and overcome is individual. “If ANYONE” hears My voice.” “To HIM who overcomes.” Salvation is not congregational, it is individual. Churches change only as individuals change. And churches are saved only as individuals are saved. The Laodicean Christians might have been in the sinking ship together, but each Christian individually would have to swim to rescue. So it has ever been, so it is today.