As we enter Revelation 3, the church of Laodicea has always been somewhat confusing to me. They are neither hot nor cold.
Rev 3:14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
Rev 3:15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
Rev 3:16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Rev 3:17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
Rev 3:18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
I think that my propensity to think about this verse in the wrong way has come from the dichotomy of hot and cold. We are often talking about Christians being on fire for Christ, so when you come to this verse where God is talking about preferring a church that is either hot or cold, it brings to mind that imagery of a church on fire, and why would God prefer a church that is far away from being on fire as opposed to one that is at least nearer? Cold seems like the absolute worst place to be whereas lukewarm might be approaching an understanding of how to be on fire for Christ.
However, I don’t think that this passage necessarily means that. Another thing about lukewarm water is that it really does not have very much use for human consumption. Hot water makes things like tea, and cold water is obviously refreshing. They are different, but they have definite purposes kind of like churches.
The church in Laodicea is a church that has become complacent. They don’t have need for anything materially, so they have lost their vision and their drive. I don’t know that the comparison here is about being on fire for God. Rather, I think that the illustration here might be about having a purpose. They have simply become indifferent. They don’t care.
This complacency has been made them unaware of the problems that they do have as a church. Even though they seem to be together from the outside, they have to address these issues. They simply don’t care because they are stuck in neutral. They don’t have a vision for the purpose that God has for them, and as a result, they are simply not acceptable where they are.
Obviously then, we don’t want to see this happen in our lives or our churches. We don’t want to become lukewarm. We don’t want to become indifferent and to virtually useless. Rather, we want to find out what purpose God has for us specifically, and it might be different than the purpose for someone else. You might be hot, or you might be cold. However, when God calls us to a purpose, the worst thing to do is simply not care about it and ignore that type of message. It did not work out well for Jonah.
Well, we made it to the final book of the Bible! Revelation is clearly one of the most interesting and controversial books in the entire Bible which people have disagreed on for years and years. Let’s see what we can do by going through it together.
Revelation 1 begins with John seeing Jesus Christ. He turns around to find a frightening vision of the Man that he had known very well during his time on earth, but John essentially passed out in fear.
Rev 1:12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
Rev 1:13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
I want to highlight the candlesticks because later in the chapter we a given a direct interpretation from Jesus Himself that the candlesticks are representative of the seven churches this letter is addressed to.
Rev 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
Jesus did preach that Christians need to be the light of the world, and as we will find out over the next few chapters, some of them were doing it better than others. However, even among the ones that were not doing well, and this chapter says that Jesus was among all seven of the lampstands.
This seems significant to me. Even when we are running away from God, we really are not. Maybe we are refusing to recognize that He is there or are trying to run away from Him, but as Jonah found out, it is really not possible to do anything on earth that will take God away from us.
As we read about what is said to each of the churches, it seems significant to me that God was still among them. Even if they were struggling, God was willing to forgive them. Granted, they had to ask for forgiveness, but it is not as if God gave up on them because they had shortcomings. God will be there for us as well.
It’s no secret that many people have disagreements, and even the church is going to have conflict in it. Ideally, it should not happen, but we are human, and people do not always get along. However, we need to be very careful that these disagreements do not become hatred. In 1 John 4, there is very strong terminology used for people who carry hatred with them.
1Jn 4:20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
1Jn 4:21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
Brother here does not necessarily mean a familial relation. According to my Greek dictionary, brother here can be literal or figurative. It is the same root word used in Philadelphia also known as The City of Brotherly Love.
As a result, this seems to indicate to me that we cannot hate either our Christian or our non-Christian brethren. Keep in mind that this does not say anything about how the act towards us. Jesus speaks about the world hating him and his disciples, but as Christians we cannot reciprocate that. If we do, John says that we cannot simultaneously say that we love God and hate our brother.
Getting back to my original thought at the beginning. Churches are not without conflict, and feelings are hurt without a doubt. However, Christians need to be careful not to fall into hatred. John uses strong words, and I don’t want to discount them. If we’re supposed to be people that are marked by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, then what does it say to the world around us when we hate each other in the church? Discipline might certainly be appropriate and necessary in certain situations, but at the same time, should we not characterize our interactions specifically within the church but also with everyone with grace, forgiveness and mercy?
As Christians, it is important that we encourage each other. In Hebrews 3, the author is discussing the wanderings of the Israelites and how their hearts had become so hard. The author obviously wants the church to avoid that same problem.
Heb 3:12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
Heb 3:13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
We encourage each other every day so that we do not fall into sin. I think it is a lot easier for someone to kind of fall off the path of righteousness and into sin if they are alone. If you have people beside you who are supporting you and encouraging you, you are much less likely to fall into problems.
Therefore, there’s responsibility for all of us in this picture of the church. We have to obviously want to keep ourselves on track, but we’re somewhat responsible for our brothers and sisters as well. They make their own decisions, but we’re supposed to be involved in their lives. We’re supposed to be caring and supportive. For some people, that does not come naturally. However, this doesn’t seem to be an optional responsibility. Rather, as a family, we support each other.
That is one challenge that we see rise from the text. Today, maybe we can find someone to encourage in their walk with Christ. Maybe we can remind someone about all the hope that we have as children of God. Maybe we can remind someone about the power of Jesus. I don’t know exactly what situation will come up in anyone’s life specifically, but I do know that this is something that we can and should do.
In 1 Thessalonians, it is interesting to see the almost viral nature of early Christian belief. People were sharing that rapidly, and that of course begs the question as to why.
1Th 1:5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
1Th 1:6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
1Th 1:7 So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
1Th 1:8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.
It seems to be the case that these people were motivated by the Holy Spirit. They were acting on those convictions, and God was providing the increase. The people in Thessalonica were examples to other people, and those people were excited about what was going on.
I wonder then if that is the wraps that we should be taking in our society today. We are not nearly the minority status that the early church was or face similar persecution, but there are undoubtedly a set of cultural pressures that seem to be similar.
These people were living as examples that others wanted to follow. They were living lives that displayed the evidence of the Holy Spirit, and people wanted to live like that.
Clearly, outreach is a vital mission of the church, but we want to make sure that we remain strong at home. The Christian life is by nature attractive. Following the will of God is the best way to live, so if we do that, people will notice. If the two most important commandments are loving God and loving other people, then it seems to me that a life characterized by those two things will draw people and make them want to be a part of it.
It seems like that was what was happening here in 1 Thessalonians. The Holy Spirit is working, people were living attractive lives, and the Word was spreading. It must of been a very powerful testimony.
Obviously, churches are more than physical buildings, but it is interesting that in the Ephesians 2, Paul uses the illustration of a building to describe the church and the people who make it up.
Eph 2:19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
Eph 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
Eph 2:21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
Eph 2:22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
The foundation was laid by the apostles and prophets. Those who have gone before us have been building a foundation that we are now able to build upon. Think about mathematics. If I want to do a particular problem, I do not need to do the formal proof to show that every theorum they used is valid. I don’t need to prove the Pythagorean theorem; I am able to use it because of the foundation that has been made.
I find our life in the church at the same way. If you think about someone like Thomas Aquinas, he developed his five ways. I am able to benefit from what he has done, and then I am able to build on it. It is great to have a foundation of thought in the church.
However, it is also important to remember that while we certainly do have this foundation from others who have gone before, Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone. He is the part that holds everything together. After all, with that Jesus Christ, what would Christians believe anyway? Therefore, while it is awesome that we have such a great intellectual tradition in the church and it is incredibly important, we can’t forget about our most important part. Jesus Christ is what the entire church is also upon.
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul has a lot to say about speaking in tongues. Personally, I’m not sure that he is speaking about tongues in the sense that we understand it today in the Pentecostal setting. I think back to the day of Pentecost, and the apostles were able to speak in tongues that were actually understandable languages. For their missionary ventures, they needed to be able to reach the world in a variety of languages, so it seems to make sense to me that they would have received this type of miraculous gift of communication. I don’t want to start the debate over that though because it is not in my opinion overly relevant to the main point I want to draw out of this passage.
Part of me says that is what Paul is referring to in this passage sees it was clearly a very important moment in the early church. That would have been relevant to all of his audience, and we know that that indeed happened. However, even if Paul is talking about speaking in tongues in the sense that our modern Pentecostal brothers and sisters experience that, we are cautioned that we cannot become wrapped up in either form this gift.
1Co 14:2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
1Co 14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
1Co 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
1Co 14:5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
Paul did not have a problem with people speaking in tongues in whichever sense he meant to use that phrase, but he was more determined to build up the church. It was great to have this particular gift, but it was more important to be able to build up the church in some way.
Whether the language was earthly or spiritual, if nobody understood it, it wasn’t going to be a very much benefit to the people around. That makes sense.
I guess for us today then be obvious application that we might have a variety of gifts. There are plenty of gifts in the church, but it is not simply enough for us to have them. We need to use them in a way that benefits the rest of the body of Christ. As we have seen earlier, when we work together, we build a comprehensive whole that can do the work of God around the world.
Again, I want to reemphasize the fact that we do not run this Christian race alone. Of course, God is with us always, but we were also designed to work with other Christians as well. Paul provides one of the most vivid examples of that in 1 Corinthians 12.
1Co 12:14 For the body is not one member, but many.
1Co 12:15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
1Co 12:16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
1Co 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
1Co 12:18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
It is rather obvious that we all have different talents and abilities. It doesn’t mean that we are any less valuable than one another, but what it does indicate is that when we all use them together, the whole is necessarily going to be stronger than any individual part would be.
I think about a braided rope. It is strong because all of the different threads of the rope are brought together as one unit. Individually, none of them are very strong. They complement each other.
We need to remember this in regards to our Christian service. There is value in being a Christian carpenter. There is value in being a Christian grocery store clerk. There is value in being a Christian missionary. The important part is that you are part of the body, and all of us are not going to be like the missionary and go to some faraway place to spread the gospel. However, perhaps our talents need to be used with the people in our office. Maybe we can demonstrate the love of God that way.
We are all talented in different ways, and God knows that. He made us. Therefore, we need to take on the role that we have been given and to the best of our ability.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is speaking about being called as a minister, and he explained that we ought to do our best at that endeavor. He draws an athletic parallel.
1Co 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
1Co 9:25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
1Co 9:26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
1Co 9:27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
He disciplined himself, he worked hard and he was working to win. I think this is an example for all of us. Notice that Paul did not necessarily say that he was trying to be other people. He was trying to do his best. It wasn’t that he was going to undercut somebody else in his mission, but he was going to do everything he could to do his best.
I think that that is something that the church falls into every now and then. We see congregations as competitions. I want to have the biggest church in my town, or I want to have the most kids in our youth group. Both of those are perfectly fine things, and somebody has to be the biggest, but we want to be careful that it does not descend into competition.
Every church ought to do what it does well. Every church ought to run the race just like every Christian ought to individually run the race. However, everything needs to come back to the idea that we’re still on the same team. It is like watching the Olympics when there are two American runners in the 100 m final. They are certainly on the same team, but they each do their best to maximize their own talent and win the race.
If it is Christian, it ought to be better, and the only way it is going to be better is if we do everything to our best.
Humans seem to be wired for community. We generally enjoy being around other people, and we learn a lot from the people we associate with. In the case of the early church, Paul clearly wanted to emphasize in 1 Corinthians 4 that there is value in learning in a community that taught classical Christianity.
1Co 4:16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
1Co 4:17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.
On the surface, some people might argue that this sounds very egocentric. After all, Paul is encouraging people to do what he had done. Was Paul implying that he had everything in order? I don’t think he was implying that at all, but I think he was implying that Timothy would remind the people about this is that Paul did that were in Christ. In other words, he was going to be passing along important doctrines which I imagine included teachings on the resurrection as well as how to live as a Christian in the non-Christian world.
More importantly, I think that this emphasizes the importance of the Christian community. We know that Paul had been taught by the apostles, and we know that Timothy had been taught by Paul. It wasn’t like Paul made up a random cult. Rather, there was a sense of community where all of these guys were working to share a consistent message. They were working together rather than creating derivatives.
We can learn from that today. We might have differences of opinion on certain issues, but at the same time, we can have common ground around the essentials of the faith, and we can work together. We do not need to be tiny islands.