Laodicea had the infamous distinction of being lukewarm. It lived the lie by claiming to be the church of Jesus Christ while its Christianity was merely a thin veneer of half-hearted service to the Lord. The Lord finds such lukewarm Christianity nauseating, saying, “because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:14-16).
Not the sort of thing a church would want to hear. The Church in Laodicea knew all about that word, lukewarm. Laodicea struggled to get cool water piped in from far away because the lukewarm water in their vicinity was nauseating; drinking it made you spew. So to hear that Christ accused them of being lukewarm must have rocked them.
The trouble, says Hendriksen[i], was that they had that ‘we’re-all-good-people-here-in-Laodicea’ attitude. Their Christian lifestyle was half-hearted, compromising, indifferent.
Life seemed good. They were prosperous, part of a thriving city. Laodicea was renowned for its banking, medicine and weaving industries. The people were cultured but also business minded. In fact, they were so prosperous that when an earthquake destroyed much of the city they declined financial aid from the emperor and rebuilt the city themselves.
Christ had established His church in Laodicea, so what happened to make the members lukewarm? They’d been in touch with the Word of God, and even now they weren’t indifferent to the Word, but Christ’s influence remained on the outside. It hadn’t touched the heart to make it glow in radical, wholehearted service to the Lord.
Says Holwerda[ii]: The Christian bankers were a bit kinder that the others, a bit more sympathetic. But in essence they were driven by the same economic considerations as their non-Christian colleagues. The Christian manufacturers were a bit more humane than their fellow businessmen but in essence they operated on the basis of the same economic principles and methods, because they were after all in the business of making a profit. The ladies of the church followed the same fashions as their unbelieving neighbours, though they may have been a bit more conservatively dressed. The lifestyle of the Christian family didn’t differ a great deal from that of the neighbours across the road.
In other words, the heart of the Christians did not glow for Christ. The business people hadn’t developed a Christian way of doing business and the people had not reflected a wholehearted lifestyle of service to the Lord. Being a Christian in Laodicea meant being a little more reserved at their feasts, a bit more conservative in their dress sense, a little less brash in being out to make money. The world set the standard and the church followed a little behind, a bit more tempered, but not so very different.
But thereby they lived a lie. Van Popta says:
“The problem in Laodicea was that their confession and their lifestyle did not harmonise. Thy confessed to be Christians, but it did not show, and so their confession was a lie…”[iii]
Holwerda[iv] expands on how Christ’s church smothers the truth with the lie when it is lukewarm. He says that we have to see truth and lie in the deeper meaning given by Scripture. It’s not a question of more or less honesty in business but of whether or not one is walking in the truth, of being bound to the Word right through to the roots.
Christ makes Himself known to this church as “the Amen, the true and faithful Witness, the beginning of God’s creation”. This world is the world of the lie because it has broken loose from Christ who is the incarnate Word of God and because it is governed by the father of lies. But Christ Jesus has come into the world to bear witness to the truth, to shine the light of God’s Word on this world again. That’s why He is the true and faithful witness, because He again makes God’s truth known. He teaches the people again that only Christ, the incarnate Word, gives the right understanding and certainty to life.
Christ not only preaches the truth, He is the Truth, the Amen, God’s truth in person. And because He is the truth He is also called the beginning of the God’s creation. This simply means that He is the beginning, the foundation on which the creation rests. Creation has no other foundation than in Him. The ordinances of life can only exist in Him, in the Word that He speaks; yes, in Himself.
Finances, credit, bank transactions, business principles and practices, family relations, fashion – they are only secure if they are bound to Him, to His word, to His cross, to His law. And where life divorces itself from Him, where people do business aside from Christ, where people seek bread outside of the cross, where fashion is established outside of his law, there will be no security but rot, and collapse is imminent.
And that’s how it was in Laodicea, says Holwerda. The banking, the manufacturing, the medical industry – they were divorced from Christ. The whole created way of life was broken away from the root, from Him who is the truth and, as such, the beginning, the foundation of creation.
But Christ had come to Laodicea. He who is the truth had also come here to bear witness to the truth. And therefore they all knew here that life was only true or real, only firm or secure, if it was built on Christ, on His grace and on His command. All economic progress and societal abundance is based on the lie and inherently rotten as soon as it is divorced from the Word.
The banks, the weaving industry, the manufacturing shops, the chemists of Laodicea, they needed to acknowledge the rule of Christ, the Amen, in all these areas. And if the bankers, the manufacturers, the gentlemen in their business suits and ladies visiting the fashion shops – if they divorced themselves from the complete authority of Christ in all their pursuits they were serving the devil.
Yes, that gospel had come to Laodicea. The church there heard it and believed. And yet it really bypassed them. It had a bit of influence but quite superficially. Their life was not bound to Christ. And because life went on outside of Christ that life had become so nauseating that Christ was going to vomit it out of his mouth. The fire had come, but it had left them only lukewarm, no more. Paul had preached to them in vain. The Word had not ruled their life.
Nauseous is not, says Holwerda, that the heathens who do not know Christ live like beasts, but this: when Christians are only a bit more well-mannered and correct and precise than the unbelieving world and when the Word of God, instead of being the foundation for their life, merely adds some polish to their lifestyle.
“I shall spew you out of my mouth.” Now you know precisely how Christ thinks about you, noble gentleman, you who conduct your business along the same principles as your unbelieving colleague. You now know what to expect, distinguished lady, you who in your house show that same pattern of life as that of your unbelieving neighbour. You know that Christ is nauseated by your life if you stand in the work place, or sit in the office, neat and correct, but with the same ideals as those of the world.
Laodicea – a lukewarm church – is a reminder of the danger of a superficial Christianity, of being self-satisfied and self-reliant instead living dependent on Christ. He is the Amen, whose eyes probe right into our church life and into our personal lives. He knows our hearts. He sees whether we live out of Him, or whether our lives are merely a little more polished than that of our unbelieving neighbour’s, our religiosity little more than a Christian veneer, our businesses just a bit more conservative than the world’s.
Such a half-hearted, unenthusiastic way of life can only disappear when Christ is the centre of all we do and when our lives are a testimony to Him. Let us show that Christ means everything to us and that our love and gratitude, our devotedness to Him, reflected in obedience to His commands, gives colour to all we do and say and think.
[i] W Hendriksen, More than Conquerors, Baker, Grand Rapids, 1962, p. 76, 77.
[ii] B Holwerda, sermon on Revelation 3:14-22 in Een Levende Hoop (sermon series), J Boersma, Enschede, 1953.
[iii] George van Popta, The Glorious Victory: An Exposition on Revelation, self-published in 2010, p. 82.
[iv] Holwerda, op. cit.