When I was a kid, I remember some of my parent’s corrections feeling way too harsh. I was convinced I didn’t need that strong of a rebuke. Now as an adult myself and having the opportunity to see some of my sister’s parenting, I understand that correction, particularly on important issues, can’t be overly soft. Situations which are dangerous or creating bad behavior in children need to be stated firmly without wavering. While there is a place for gentle “no’s,” there is also a place for a seemingly harsh rebuke as both are done out of love.
Jesus didn’t address this final church with a gentle “no:” He met them with a harsh rebuke. His motivation was that of a loving parent who corrects theif child. He cared enough about them to not leave thdm in their sin.
The church in America today should take particular notice and warning from the church of Laodicea. Let us not shy away from this harsh rebuke, but lean into the deep love of God that is behind it.
Write this letter to the angel of the church of Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen–the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation.
I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one of the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!” And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me–gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.
Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open thr door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne just as I was victorious abd sat with my Father on his throne.
Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.
The city of Laodicea was quite self-sufficient. They were very wealthy and had many resources. They were famous for their textiles, particularly those made of black wool. They had a first century medical school there that made ointments for the ears and eyes. They were well off and knew it.
One thing this ancient city did lack was quality water. It was well known back then that the water of Laodicea was full of sediment and not good for drinking. In the surrounding areas there were hot springs and cold mountain water. Laodicea had to pipe in water from these outside areas, and by the time it got to them, it was lukewarm. Hot water is desirable for bathing and cold water is refreshing to drink, but in comparison to this, lukewarm water was repulsive. I’m sure every time these self-sufficient people sipped on their room temperature water, they were reminded of their lacking in this area and were disgusted.
Jesus’s words to the church would have cut particularly deeply because He referred to them as that which they hated: lukewarm water. Instead of being people who refresh Him, this church were a people who in essence made Jesus want to vomit. They made Him sick.
A poor church will remember their need of God. A self-sufficient church checks their boxes of going to church and giving God a lip service on Sunday, yet, in reality, they worship themselves. They don’t think they truly need God to save them because they have enough on their own. They may have been physically wealthy but they were spiritually poor. Despite all their wealth, clothes, doctors, and independence, Jesus said they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” In the sight of God, they were the opposite of everything they boasted about. They lacked fervor for the God who saves them. Their faith in God was inauthentic as they truly only believed in themselves.
Yet, as the loving God that He is, Jesus did not rebuke them out of spite or hate. No! He rebuked them in love! He addressed their issues because they are important issues and these people are important to Him. He says, “I correct and discipline everyone I love.” He says he wants to share a meal with the Laodiceans. He not only does not reject these people because of their sins, but he wants to hang out with them and have dinner together. He wants them to have real value. He wants to give them white garments to stand out from the world they’re in. He wants to give them sight in a blind city. But this can’t happen if the people clutch to their own “wealth.” In clinging to themselves they are rejecting God and hold nothing of true value. Still, He cares deeply for the people of this church despite how they’ve hurt the heart of God.
We cannot get in the habit of many do in current culture by believing that “loving” another person means never correcting them and only ever affirming them. This is not love. My parents loved me which is why they disciplined me. Sometimes I needed them to even be a bit harsh so that I could understand the severity of my actions and the consequences that would follow. God is a good Father. He disciplines out of the great love He has for us. He desires for all to be saved and none to fall away therefore, He takes serious matters seriously. We cannot miss that this reprimand to the church of Laodicea and to us in the church today was done out of love.
The American church has become very self-sufficient. It thrives and the majority of Americans Christians are in good financial states and are relatively comfortable compared to our suffering bothers and sisters in the persecuted church around the world. We share in the dangers and the Lord’s rebuke to the church of Laodicea. We cannot trust fully in ourselves and God all at once. We cannot worship two masters (Matthew 6:24). If we stay self-sufficient relying on ourselves and ignoring God, we will be like neither the usefulness of hot water nor the refreshment of cold water. We will be lukewarm and make God sick.