There is no form of Casual Christianity which we want to have any part of. Here is what we have looked at so far.
1st – We considered what it means to be a Christian – Acknowledging Jesus; Believing in who he really is; and Committing ourselves completely to Christ by denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus.
2nd – the Christian Atheist – Christians who live as if there is no God
3rd – the Cultural Christian – Christians whose faith is guided by what the world thinks
Now we are examining a third form of casual Christianity – the Lukewarm Christian! Some have called this the Comfortable Christian
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 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.
21 To the one who is victorious, 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. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The book of Revelation gives us seven letters to seven churches located in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. These cities are in the very middle of the first century world which are New Testament times. The churches in these seven cities were suffering persecution and tribulation from the Roman government, or they would very soon (as history reports they did). There would be pressure to conform to the times. To worship just like everyone else. To set Christianity aside, at least for a moment or two to so they would fit in with the rest of society!
Laodicea is the seventh church that Jesus talks too, the last church he addressed in Revelation. Just like the other six churches, Jesus knows all about what they are experiencing. His vision is not blinded to the struggles the church goes through. He knows how the church is reacting to the pressures they are experiencing. Jesus is with the churches and gives them solutions to their problems. And with Laodicea we find the solution to the problem of being lukewarm Christians – Christians without zeal for the Lord.
Jesus who is the Amen and the Faithful and True Witness has nothing at all good or positive to say about them. His words are words of discipline. These people are not as they should be and Jesus’ words, his promises, and his judgments will happen for sure. They are God’s values, they are God’s judgments, and of course that is exactly who Jesus is, he is God.
Jesus is also the “firstborn of creation” or rather the “originator” of it all. Implying that he rules it, he is the ruler of all.
So we’ve got a church that is lukewarm! They are not cold like the water in Colossae which comes to them from about 10 miles away, nor are they hot like the springs that come from Hierapolis that comes from about 6 miles the other way. The water from these two spots were piped into Laodicea because it did not have a water supply of its own. So once you got the cold water from Colossae to Laodicea, it wasn’t cold, it was lukewarm. And once you got the water from the hot springs at Hierapolis to town, it was lukewarm. In fact, the water that came into Laodicea didn’t taste very good. It was disgusting.
The hot water, when it was hot was good for medicinal purposes and the cold water as long as it was cold was refreshing to drink. But lukewarm water was blah.
The point of describing lukewarm water is that it is disgusting. Jesus finds the lukewarm church to be other than what HE, their Lord desires.
The reason for their self-satisfied, uncommitted manner is that they think that since they are rich, that they were wealthy people, that they really didn’t need anything. They thought they were fine, they were set for good. They were coasting as Christians and here’s why they had this attitude.
Laodicea was a banking center. Because of the wealth, there were leisure and cultural aspects, such as gladiatorial games (think modern day sports) and theatre (our movies and celebrity worship); comfort (time off, freedom to do whatever we please), diversions of all kinds and all sorts of things to relax with and take your mind off of things. It was an important city because it also had a major textile industry. Clothing was made there and they had a very unique product, black wool. Since it was a rare and exotic fabric, it was expensive, very valuable. Oh, and, there was a medical school there and the city was famous for its eye salve among other medical breakthroughs.
So their attitude was, “We are doing great! We don’t need anything.”
Jesus is telling the self-satisfied church, “I want water that will refresh me, but you remind me instead of the water that you are always complaining about. You’re lack of zeal makes me want to vomit.”
Their wealth was a problem. It had made them too comfortable and blinded them to what their faith was about.
What are the dangers of material wealth which can lead us to Spiritual poverty?
- Self-sufficiency, trusting in what you have acquired, it is enough, I don’t need anything else. So I don’t pray, I don’t rely on other Christians, I don’t pay attention to the preaching and teaching (it really doesn’t matter), I don’t even have to go to church. I’m alright!
- Pride, look at what I have done, at how much I have accomplished by myself, for myself. One church I was with was raising $20,000 extra dollars to add to the building, purchase a van, and accomplish a couple of other things for the church’s ministry. In less than 3 months time, all the money had been pledged and more than half of it had been received. One of the elders, while leading songs one Sunday said to the congregation, “Give yourselves a hand for what you’ve done.” Pride goes before a fall and I can tell you about that another time.
- Thinking you don’t need or you don’t want any outside help including help from the Lord. Prosperity causes blindness to reality.
Bible commentator Craig Keene says “I fear that the problems of Laodicean Christians are most like our own.” We’re just like them in many ways. American Christians are very self-satisfied and many individuals and some churches have no energy and zeal for doing anything, loving and trusting God and Christ and sit back with the attitude, “We’ve got it made!”
Richard Sterns of World Vision (he was formerly CEO of Lenox Inc. makers of fine China), “If the book of Revelation were written today and there was a letter to the church in America, I think it would decry the fact that our materialism and wealth have deafened our ears and blinded our eyes to the cause of the poor.”
Every American is rich. Even those that are considered poor by our standards in America are wealthier than a majority of the rest of the world. Wealthier even than the wealthiest of kings from the past up until the last 500 years or so! And many Christians cannot see their spiritual need, how poor and blind they are because they have so much. They are comfortable and settled and trust in what they have and ignore what God says about things and the needs of others.
What is “true religion”? James tells us. It is to look after widows and orphans, or to apply it to our times, those who are poor, helpless, and oppressed and to keep yourself unstained by the world, to be pure in heart, to be holy, to be free from sin @James 1:27.
What Richard Sterns was getting at is that we can hear about suffering elsewhere and often we will find theological or even sociological reasons that it won’t happen to us, and we even avoid actually spending our wealth, even in the church on those needs. Our walk . . . can make us spiritually poor.
There is a church that a friend of mine used to preach for. He was their minister for many years, but resigned after challenging them and they balked and refused to act. They had accumulated an excessive amount of savings, in the tens of thousands of dollars and wouldn’t touch it for any reason whatsoever. There were missions in need and they wouldn’t help. The camp they supported could have used extra funds and they refused. There were people struggling with rent and utilities that they could help but they would not touch this money that they had been saving for decades. It had been ten years since I last heard about this church, but I just learned that they are still the holding the money, they still haven’t touched it. They are rich in wealth, but where is their spiritual sense of purpose and action.
The lukewarm church and lukewarm Christians are people who possess the name Christian, but do so without the power of God because they think what they have makes them ok.
Jesus has a solution to lukewarmness. Here’s what he says in the text.
1st – Though you possess what makes you feel comfortable, Jesus advises that you buy true wealth from him. Trust in him not in your material riches. Material riches are not for making us comfortable, that is an American doctrine not a Biblical doctrine. Riches are for you to help spread the good news and provide for the needy. Besides, your riches will be destroyed sooner or later.
2nd – Though you think you are clothed, you are naked before God, so buy clothes from Jesus that will cover your nakedness. The true clothing of Christianity is not self-sufficiency but humble trust in Christ. One of my favorite series of sermons is looking at what the scriptures tell us to wear.
3rd – “Repent and become totally committed to me,” Christ says. “Let me build a fire of zeal for true faith and true religion in you and free you from what makes you taste horrible to me. Then you will be like refreshing water.”
4th – Open the door and let Jesus come in and eat with you. The last meal of the day is the meal of intimate fellowship. That is where the relationship grows and bonds are enlivened. Let Jesus come in and let him develop the relationship of faith and hope and trust and joy with you. He wants to be your life.
John is helping the church see their behavior as Jesus sees it. Their vision has been cut off due to their complacency. They have relied upon themselves and not God. By their own self-sufficiency they have shut Jesus out.
Jesus is calling them on it. He loves them, so he will discipline them inviting them to repent and become committed again. He promises them that if they will come alive, they will rule with him. That does not mean we will be kings like Christ is king, but that as his people, we are the ruler’s people, we belong to him, we are his people, the King’s people.
You trusted in your riches and wealth and thought you were good. But you are actually wretched and poor, blind and naked. You are not as you think you are. You have not examined and evaluated your life. Because it is distasteful to me, if you remain this way, if you do not change, you do not let me in, then your eternity that you once trusted in is at stake.
Let’s examine the characteristics of the lives of those who are NOT lukewarm Christians (taken from Voice of the Martyr’s book, _________________________ with my comments added).
1. They have an eternal perspective and are energized by what the rest of the world cannot see or even perceive. They see beyond this world to the eternal realities. Rather than live for the moment, which is a worldly characteristic, they look to the next knowing this life is not all there is.
In the fall of 1982, the Michigan State Spartans came to Madison, Wisconsin to play the Wisconsin Badgers. During the game, when the Michigan State would make a play or score, the crowd would cheer. Though their team was being trounced, the home crowd responded as if they were winning.
As it happened on that very day, eighty miles away the Milwaukee Brewers were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the World Series. Football fans at Badger stadium were listening on portable radios as the Brewers soundly defeated the Cardinals. The cheers had nothing to do with the action in the football game the cheers were related to a reality no one could see.
2. They have committed, trusting faith in God which is usually bracketed with prayer and the Bible. Their faith is out of this world because they have complete dependence on God and when they pray they KNOW God hears and answers their prayer and that His Word, the Bible will guide them into truth, understanding, and wisdom.
When we think about someone whose total dependence is in God, we will think of missionaries who have no one to rely on than God, or martyrs who have lost their lives for their faith. People like Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (you know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
When they wouldn’t bow to the idol, and were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace, they said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” Daniel 3:17-18
Total dependence on God!
3. They take obedience seriously. Obedience to God has powerful implications for every aspect of our lives. God revealed his will for us in his moral law, epitomized in the Ten Commandments, and Jesus summarized the law and highlighted its importance with this statement: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” @Matthew 33:37-40. Then, just before returning to heaven Jesus left his disciples with this admonition: “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the end of the age” @Matthew 28:18-19.
So if we are determined to obey God, we must continually ask, “Do my actions express love for God and my neighbor?” and “What can I do to bring the Good News of Christ to others, to make disciples?” And then do it!
Why does this work? How does this inspire zeal and devotion to Christ? Because once a person has become a Christian, they continue to allow Christ into their lives.
Let me show you from another passage and a different lens eternal perspective about committed Christians.
@Hebrews 11:13-16; 32-40; 12:1-3
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[a] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.