The Letter to the Church in Laodicea
by Mark Bates
The pipes in our home sprung a series of leaks. Since most of my neighbors had replaced their plumbing, I knew it was time for me to do the same. However, hiring a plumber to do this would cost thousands of dollars. My friend, Monte, had just repiped his house himself and offered to help me with mine. I am not a handyman, but I am a tightwad. So, I figured, he could be the plumber and I could be the plumber’s helper. Within a week, I had a new plumbing system.
A few days later, when my wife and I returned home one evening, we opened the door and water came rushing out. Apparently, I had failed to connect one the pipes properly. Water was an inch deep throughout the house.
Embarrassed by the problem, I didn’t want to ask for help in fixing it. So, I drove off to Wal-Mart to buy a mop and a squeegee. I soon discovered that my mop and squeegee were no match for the small lake in my home. Like it or not, I needed help. My delusion of self-sufficiency was only making the problem worse.
In His letter to the church of Laodicea, Jesus warns us about the danger of self-sufficiency. Laodicea was a wealthy banking center and proud of her rich resources. In AD 60, the city was destroyed by an earthquake. Rather than accepting aid from the Roman Empire, the people of Laodicea refused any help and rebuilt the city themselves with their own resources. They did not need anyone’s charity.
Yet, while Laodicea appeared to have everything, it actually lacked the most basic of resources — water. Unlike the mountain towns that had cold water streams or nearby Hierapolis that had access to hot springs, Laodicea had no water supply of its own. Water had to be piped in through aqueducts. By the time it arrived, the water was lukewarm and full of sediment. Cold water is good for drinking, hot springs were reputed to have healing qualities, but lukewarm, sediment-filled water neither refreshes nor heals. It is disgusting.
Jesus tells the Laodicean church that they are just like their water. “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” (Rev. 3:15–16).
Jesus is not saying that He wishes they were either spiritually hot or spiritually cold rather than being spiritually lukewarm. Nowhere does God desire for His people to have cold hearts. Rather, Jesus explains what He means by being lukewarm in the next verse. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (v. 17). The lukewarm person is not one who is mildly passionate about God. Rather, the lukewarm person is one who has lost his dependence on God. In his arrogance, he believes he has no need of Christ’s righteousness because he has enough of his own.
Whenever we take pride in our own moral goodness, we have fallen into the perilous sin of the Laodiceans. We are like lukewarm water. We are forgetting that all of our righteous deeds are nothing more than filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). Jesus finds this sort of spiritual pride so offensive that it makes Him sick. He will spit out of His mouth all those who think that they are rich in their own righteous works.
Walter Marshall said, “Your heart is addicted to salvation by works.” As a result, we often wear our good deeds like spiritual merit badges on preening chests, thinking we can impress God with our righteous acts. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18, we pride ourselves that we are not like other men. After all, we are not engaging in the perversity of our culture. Instead, we fast, tithe, read our Bibles, and serve in the church. Yet, we must realize that arrogant self-sufficiency results in disgusting works, no matter what these works may be.
Unless we see that we are poor and needy, Jesus will have no part of us. We do not begin the Christian life poor and then grow into the riches of our own righteousness. Rather, we begin the Christian life spiritually bankrupt. As we grow, we come to understand even more the depth of our sin and our great need for a savior. It is only when we see our poverty and neediness that we can truly become rich. That is why Jesus says, “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 not calling us to wallow in our spiritual poverty but to delight in the riches of His grace.
Be ruthless in rooting out spiritual pride. Remember that Jesus is nauseated by self-righteousness. Whenever you are feeling self-sufficient, ask God to open your eyes to your own nakedness. When you see your own bankruptcy, cry out to Jesus so that you may delight in the riches of His grace.