a call to the church today
There are seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3. They represent all churches of all time. These seven churches were chosen because there were characteristics true of them which are true, at one level or another, of all churches, i.e. the struggle of purity in living, the importance of purity of doctrine, the trials of persecution, the seduction of the secular forces of humanism and idolatry. To be sure, there are certain of these seven churches which better represent individual churches or even time periods in church history than others. Laodicea is one of the churches which parallels, to an alarming degree, the church in America in the 21st century.
If ever there was a church in the Biblical setting which mirrors our time, it was the church in Laodicea. In earthly terms, they had it all in Laodicea. It was a wealthy city. There was a thriving clothing industry there. Woolen cloth and carpets were made from the shiny, black wool from the sheep of the area. The city was a strong fortress, planted on the line of a great Roman road which ran from the west coast of Asia Minor to the inland parts. The road passed right through Laodicea. It was a banking center with a flourishing money changing trade. There was a Roman military outpost there, and a famous medical school which was known for the development of ointment for the ears and powder for the eyes. Laodicea was so wealthy that during the time of Nero’s reign, in the 7th decade of the first century, when the city was destroyed by an earthquake, the city was rebuilt entirely out of the pockets of the citizens rather than from any subsidies of the Roman state.
There was a Christian community there too, but something was very wrong in the church. The mood of this letter is a somber one. It is only one of two letters to the seven churches without a commendation whatsoever (the other being the letter written to the church at Sardis – cf. Rev 3:1-6). There is only rebuke and warning here. The church in Laodicea was comfortable and self-deceived. The church was flourishing materially, but crumbling spiritually.
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:15-17).
In their satisfied complacency the Laodiceans were self-deceived. They thought they were something that they were not … and they failed to recognize what, indeed, they were. The Lord says to them that they don’t realize the condition they are in. In this verse He says, “You think you are rich, but you are poor. You think that with that powder you put on your eyes you can see, but you are blind. You think you are comfortable with all the luxuries your money can buy, but you are miserable and wretched. You think with the woolen fabrics you wrap around yourself that you are well dressed, but you are naked.”
They were looking at themselves in material terms and were quite satisfied. But the Lord, who sees the condition of the heart, was looking at them in spiritual terms and His searching pronouncement was that they didn’t recognize the wretchedness of their lives. In terms of goods, they were wealthy, but in terms of that which is eternal, they were paupers.
Jesus calls to the church in Laodicea (and to our church) saying, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Rev 3:18).
Christ is saying, “Do business with Me. Have your commerce with Me. I will make you richer than you ever imagined. I will give you joy, love, patience, peace, faith. What bank is there that can secure those things for you? What stock options will give you comfort when you are fearful? What 401K plan will give you hope when you are on your deathbed? Come to Me in your humble nakedness and I will clothe you with righteousness. Come to Me in the darkness of your blindness and I will anoint your eyes so you can see life as you have never seen it before. You will be able to discern spiritual truths that you never knew.”
We are so passionate about our possessions and our purchases and our paychecks. Let us be even more passionate about the matchless grace of God and the spiritual food of the Bible and the salvation secured for us in Jesus Christ. Beloved, do not set your life’s priorities thinking only of the springtime of youth when the strength of your body is unabated, nor thinking only of the middle of your bustling career, when ambition grips your soul. If you want to set your priorities properly, go out to a windswept cemetery and realize that the grave is your earthly end. And then, looking back over your short life, decide what things to set your affections on … the things that are eternal … the things of heaven. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches … including Bethel Baptist Church.
Praying for increasing spiritual desire,