Hopefully, this has been a nauseating week for us all … and I have chosen my words carefully, so let me repeat and say the same thing in a different way: hopefully we have been sickened in the past week, as we’ve read, heard or watched the news. And hopefully a few news items have caused this, but I’m going to focus on the Syrian gassing, as we look at the church at Laodicea in Asia Minor.
I don’t want to show the horror afresh on our screen, but suffice it to say that the gassing and suffocation men, women and children would have really upset Jesus. To use the illustration from last week, if
represents Jesus’ normal vital signs … these events of injustice, persecution and suffering would have raised his pulse rate, blood pressure and breathing; and should raise ours as the Church of Jesus Christ as well … this is what happens when we get angry … and this is an event which demands righteous anger. Unless, ….. we are like Sardis, which we looked at last week
which was dead, so its vital signs were non-existent, it had flat lined;
or, unless we are like Laodicea in today’s reading, described by Jesus as lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. Their vital signs would remain unchanged as they read this week’s headlines
A more accurate rendition of the Greek would be to say that Jesus wants to vomit them out because they make Him sick … literally, they nauseate Him … and they nauseate Him, they make Him sick because of their underlying problem which is …. apathy. They are not hot … they are not cold … they are lukewarm, neither one thing or the other. As a result, they remain unaffected by the things that affect Jesus … especially things like cruelty, injustice, suffering and pain. These things upset Jesus and they should upset His church. In a Laodicean church, the Sunday following such events would be just like any other Sunday.
What are they guilty of: the answer as I’ve said, is……….. apathy
There apathy has arisen from a very common spiritual disease in nations, churches and individuals, which are not poverty stricken, so this is a common disease in the Western church. It’s called Iclamty and the main symptom is apathy.
Iclamty stands for: I Can Look After Myself Thank You and its unfortunate side effect is that because We Can Look After Ourselves Thank You … we expect others to look after themselves as well.
Laodicea has a serious form of Iclamty: they had become self-sufficient; some see that as a virtue. They were a very wealthy banking city, renowned all over the Greek world. In A.D. 61 it was devastated by an earthquake; but so rich and independent were its citizens that they refused any help from the Roman government and out of their own resources rebuilt their city. Serious Iclamty.
It was a great centre of clothing manufacture. The sheep which grazed around Laodicea were famous for their soft, violet-black, glossy wool and they mass-produced outer garments. They had a renowned medical school, famous for two things throughout the world, ointment for the ear and ointment for the eyes which was exported all over the world in solidified tablet form.
Notice what Jesus says to them: You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
The main symptom of Iclamty is that you don’t see yourself as God sees you, and friends we are all, but for the grace of God, wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked; but until we see ourselves as such it is impossible for us to see others as God sees them and so we remain lukewarm, apathetic, indifferent, neither hot nor cold.
Speaking of hot and cold: Laodicea was between Colossae and Heirapolis in Asia Minor. Heirapolis was famous for its hot springs (like Bath in England) and Collossae was famous for its icy cold water which flowed year round from a mountain behind it whose peaks were covered with snow year round, which melted and formed these beautiful ice cold waters. People went to both the hot springs and the cold springs for rejuvenation, revitalising and healing, for refreshing; as they still do today. In these verses, both hot and cold are good … it’s not that hot is good and cold is bad … no, both are good, which is why Jesus wishes they were one or the other … Jesus would never want people to be bad. Both are good, both are useful.
Laodicea didn’t have its own water supply … all its water supply had to come by underground aqueduct from springs no less than six miles away and by the time that water reached Laodicea … it was lukewarm, the people didn’t like it, but had to tolerate it … lukewarm, tepid water, which they often had to spit out. So in this letter, Jesus is saying to the Church: “You have become like your water.”
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
They knew exactly what Jesus was talking about … well, at least as far as water goes.
Laodicea has the grim distinction of being the only Church of which the Risen Christ has nothing good to say. Even of the dead church Sardis He could say:
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
But nothing good to say about Laodicea. And yet … He has a word of grace for them, just as He did for dead Sardis. A word of grace:
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Isn’t that beautiful … perhaps one of the better known quotations from the NT … and it’s given to the worst church in the NT. Pure grace.
But notice … He knocks, but the people inside need to hear His voice. They hear the knocking … but do they hear the voice? People with Iclamty will hear the knock, but in their indifference will say … “It’s the postman … or a cold caller … or a beggar … I’m not expecting anyone” and they don’t listen for the voice … therefore they don’t hear the voice.
Jesus is knocking on the doors of our hearts all the time … all the time. This isn’t just a knock you hear once at your salvation … He is knocking all the time in many different ways … and if we hear the knock, we need to listen for the voice … what is the Lord trying to say through this situation?
His knock can be through a news headline, or through a disease diagnosis, sometimes through a telephone call, letter, a redundancy notice, even a sermon … Jesus can and does turn many events into His knocking … His trying to get our attention … so that we can hear His voice.
And sometimes the events he uses might get us all heated up, hot under the collar, righteously angry. Our vital signs go over the top. Hot is good.
Sometimes they might leave us stone cold, almost unable to move; raw or icy to the degree that life and movement are … drained from us. Our vital signs slow down, we breathe slowly. Cold is good.
A sign of good spiritual health is that the same situation causes both: In response to the gas attack we get heated up, angry, this shouldn’t happen … but we cool down, think more clearly, breathe … then suddenly we are worked up again and ready to do anything, just tell me what …. Then we calm down and perhaps reflect, maybe pray, or turn to Scripture.
My experience, and this seems to be backed up as I study the Scriptures, is that I seem to hear God’s voice better when I’m cooler … when I’ve cooled down. It’s in the cool of the evening, or in the shade of trees, or in caves, or on the top of high mountains, it’s in cool places, when people are cooler, that the voice of God seems to best be heard. Cold is good.
So He knocks through our heats of passion and our cool reflection. Hopefully we don’t spend much time being lukewarm, we just pass through as we go from good hot to good cold, back to hot. Hopefully we never become lukewarm … because that really is useless.
So, what is the message of Laodicea for us today?
Be passionate in all things (your work, your play, your relationships) … be hot, be cold in the revitalising, rejuvenating, refreshing way that hot and cold can be … don’t be lukewarm.
In all things and in every situation in your life, Christ is knocking … listen for His voice.
And specifically for Syria … what might God be saying to you? Does He want us to campaign for an end to chemical warfare; does He want us to campaign for more refugees to be welcomed from Syria to Norwich; does He want us to give money to the humanitarian organisations working there; does He want us to pray and fast for a peaceful, miraculous resolution; does He want us to send someone there just to be present with them and be the presence of Christ, etc.
One thing you can be sure of, the Laodicean church wouldn’t bother itself with such questions. They would just carry on looking after themselves, thank you and expect others to do the same.
I’ll end with the words I started with: I hope this has been a nauseating week for us all … hopefully we have been sickened as we’ve read, heard or watched the news.