Thursday, 3 October 2013
"I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth!" (Rev 3: 15-16)
A dragon tail of mist gently pushes up from the valley. It lends a freshness to the morning, a sense of lightness that is all at once new and wonderfully familiar. The sun warms but does not sting, the breeze refreshes, but does not chill. "Breathe deep, moments like these are treasures to keep. Listen close, look along, breathe deep"...
I take another deep breath. This time it is held a bit longer. The scripture verse before me is not sweet, it does not hold a gentle, comforting or reassuring message. But I believe it can bring renewal, so lets go out on that limb and see what the Holy Spirit wants us to see...
A letter to a church, an unsaved church. A proud church. Christ himself the correspondent ("The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God, says this:" v 14). And this is a good way to begin the letter, because it affirms to the people in Laodicea that He knows what He's talking about. That whatever assessment He gives of the church is absolutely accurate, whatever promise He offers, was and is confirmed in His perfect work. When He talks about their unredeemed condition, He is a faithful and true witness to that condition. When He offers them the promise of fellowship in verse 20, which is a promise of salvation, He can offer that, because He is the Amen who has sealed the covenant of God, the promise of God.
Laodicea was an important city, situated on a trade route. A rich city. The Jews in this city lived in the midst of a pagan culture. They probably went there because they were entrepreneurs and wanted to start their businesses. They found themselves in the midst of pagan culture and morality and they became mixed with it. Here they lived a life of ease and indifference. There would have been a synagogue there for sure, and since there were a lot of Jews, it would probably have been a very large one.
What fascinated me when I read about this city was it's water supply at that time. There were some streams in the area, but as the population grew, the supply was not sufficient and even dried up in the winter times. But being an entrepreneurial people, they built an aqueduct that brought in water underground. Very impressive, but this left them weakened in other ways. The enemy could come along and conquer them by just cutting off the water supply, finding where the aqueduct was, identifying it, sealing it off and then just waiting until the siege of the city was accomplished, as the people had no water. On the surface the city was fortified, seemed strong and secure, but a lack of water would leave them helpless....
Another interesting discovery was that it was evident, at least, that the water that reached the city was not all that wonderful, for thick deposits of impurities can still be seen almost choking the surviving section of the pipes. So whatever water finally got to the city was dirty and impure. Tepid and lacking freshness. The kind of stuff we would spit out, should we be given a drink of it...
It was also a banking centre... It became so wealthy that they even rejected an offer of help from Rome to rebuild their city after an earthquake, claiming they had plenty of their own, thank you very much. They also had a strong wool industry with a sought after glossy black wool which was made into luxurious items of clothing. To top it all, they were famous for their medical school with well-known teachers and researchers. Here they manufactured an ointment that could cure almost any eye ailment. (Remember all this when you read the last extract from Revelations after the conclusion...)
So it had a church - a church founded at the same time as the others in Paul's ministry in Ephesus. But this church got "infected" with a deadly virus: heresy. Misrepresenting the deity of Christ. They had allowed themselves to be corrupted to the point that they were only a church by name, it's heart lost and unsaved. Lukewarm, like the water my mom used to give me to drink to make me vomit. Not a pleasant image.
"I know all the things you do" - we are known by our deeds. In Romans 2 verses 6 to 8, Paul makes it as clear as anywhere in the Bible, "God will judge you on the basis of your deeds." "God will render to every man according to His deeds." "To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, He'll give eternal life. To those who are selfishly ambitious and don't obey the truth but obey unrighteousness, He'll bring wrath and indignation".
And then we think - hey, but we were saved by grace and faith and all of those good things. This is true, but whether we are saved or not shows up to the world by what we do (or don't do). This does not mean we have to make a "list" of good things to do each day, that would actually defy the purpose of the cross. A heart conscious of the cost of it's salvation and quickened by a true love for it's Saviour, overflows with an abundance of sweet fruit.
He says I know your deeds and therefore I know your heart. I can see by what you do, what you are. A person who is saved shows it. What do I want to show the world? What do I want to show the One who offered His life and blood, so that all this sickness and dirt could be removed from my soul and that I, without anything to bring to the cross, could stand before Him without a single blemish or stain?
Some churches made the Lord weep, some made Him angry. This one made Him sick. He would rather have people be cold - reject Him outright, than to misrepresent Him to the world. To be hot, means to be on fire, zealous, spiritually alive, eager, bubbling over. Yes, to some we will "feel" uncomfortable to be near to, but to those hungering and cold, the heat will be inviting, glowing, irresistible.
This is a church of "professing" Christians... go to church, claim to know the Lord, but aren't saved and do not follow him. Content with self-righteous religion. Hypocrites playing games. To Christians like these Jesus says in Matthew 7: "Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, and I will say to them: Depart from Me, I never knew you. You may have done many works in My name and prophesied and cast out demons, but I don't know you."
We do not need to accept a "form" of godliness without power. Or be like the Jews in Romans 10, who have a zeal for God, but not according to a true knowledge. Be touched by Christianity but not belong to Christ.
The sad, sad truth is that Jesus says to us, there is more hope for those who are "cold". Who have not been touched by the gospel at all. This is a excerpt from a commentary that made me stop in my tracks: "There is more hope for those who make no pretence of knowing Him, than there is for the one who makes the pretence, but his life illustrates that he does not really honour Christ at all. In fact, I would say there's no one farther from the truth in Christ than the one who makes an idle profession without real faith. He is really in Satan's hands. They had bought a satanic lie about Christ. They were in religion up to their necks. They called it Christianity. They said they were a church. Satan was in control."
It carries on to say: "Perhaps none of the seven letters is more appropriate to the twentieth century church than this. It describes vividly the respectable, sentimental, nominal, skin-deep religiosity which is so wide spread among us today. Our Christianity is flabby and anaemic, we appear to have taken a lukewarm bath."
What is our hope then - how should we live? I wish I had an answer for everyone who struggles with this as much as I do at times. But the answer lies in Christ and Christ alone. He is the way, the truth and the life. The source of the healing stream, the fire that will ignite a heart ready to be revived. He does not want a single soul to be lost. He is saying: You are poor, you are blind, you are naked. Let me fix that.
"I advise you to buy gold from me -- gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. And also buy white garments so you will not be shamed by your nakedness. And buy ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I am the one who corrects and disciplines everyone I love. Be diligent and turn from your indifference. "Look! Here I stand at the door and knock. If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal as friends.
I will invite everyone who is victorious to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne." (Rev 3:18-21)