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Revelation 3:14-18 by Robert Dean
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:53 mins 57 secs

Lukewarm Believers Grace Provision and Priorities

Revelation 3:14-18 NASB "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and {that} the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.'"

In these titles of Christ at the beginning there is the foundation for where the Laodicean believers should be in their spiritual life, but they are not. They are not dependent upon that which is always dependable and always unshakeable, their confidence is based on their own abilities and their own works. As a witness Jesus Christ is characterized by faithfulness and truth; they are neither faithful nor true in their witness, they have become lukewarm believers. They are carnal believers, they are operating on the value system of the culture around them and so they are neither faithful nor true. Then last but not least the Lord Jesus Christ is characterized as the beginning of the creation of God, not in the sense that he is a creature but He was the first in creation, the pre-eminent one, in that He is the one who instituted and made all creation, according to Colossians 1:16, 17.

In most of these evaluations there is a commendation, something positive that is stated by the Lord Jesus Christ regarding the spiritual life of the congregation, but that is not found in two of these, including the church at Laodicea. In fact, this is the most spiritually decadent of the congregations in Asia Minor. That which is condemned in them is stated in a very strong and harsh manner. They are condemned by the Lord Jesus Christ because they have completely departed from dependence upon the grace of God. So we come to the condemnation which is found in verses 15-19.

We need to note that it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is speaking to this congregation. This isn't the Lord Jesus Christ of liberal theology often presents, who loves everybody no matter what they have done or who they are. In some sense that is true when it becomes to grace but there is a complete exclusion of Jesus Christ as the judge who is going to evaluate every single believer, not in the sense of salvation but in the sense of rewards and loss of rewards. So the emphasis that we see coming out of verse 14 is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who is capable of judging us.

The phrase "I know your works [deeds]" is one that is found in every one of these evaluation reports. The word "know" is the Greek word OIDA [o)ida] which indicates an intuitive sort of knowledge. The other Greek word for knowledge is GINOSKO [ginwskw] which is knowledge that is gained through study, through learning, through experience. So when OIDA is applied to God it is an emphasis on the omniscience of God, that God has always known all of the knowable. He knows not only what will take place but everything that could take place, the possible or potential events. This is brought out in Matthew 11:22-24 NASB "Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in {the} day of judgment than for you. "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if [the possible] the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in {the} day of judgment, than for you." One of the implications of this passage is that He knows what would happen if something different had taken place. The conclusion is that since Jesus Christ has full omniscience because He is full deity, He is fully qualified to judge and evaluate the local church. The word for "works" indicates production, good or bad. He knows whether the production is in dependence upon the Holy Spirit or in terms of our own sin nature. Remember that the sin nature can produce morality as well as immorality.

He then begins to characterize this evaluation: "that." Now we are going to get a summation of the works that are done in Laodicea. "…you are neither cold nor hot." The word for cold is the Greek word PSUCHROS [yuxroj] which has the idea that it was sweet tasting, cold, refreshing. Sometimes it was used in classical literature of that which was ineffectual or vain, and sometimes it was used metaphorically to refer to persons who were cold-hearted or heartless, or indifferent. The word "hot" is ZESTOS [zestoj] which is that which is boiling hot. So this refers to water that was piped in from either Colosse or Hierapolis. By the time the water got to Laodicea it was lukewarm—CHLIAROS [xliaroj], meaning something that is tepid, room temperature. When this water with all of its mineral deposits reached Laodicea it was no longer of value, no longer usable, and if you drank it, it would just make you sick to the stomach. The cold water that came from Colosse would likewise be lukewarm, so it really wasn't very drinkable, it would become an emetic. The word emetic itself comes from the Greek word used in this passage for "vomit," EMEO [e)mew], which means to spew something out of the mouth or to spit.

What we may have often heard as an interpretation of this is that the Lord is saying, "I wish that you were either cold or hot but you are neither one." What we have probably heard is that cold means that you are just cold, completely hostile to the gospel or to spiritual things. Hot, on the other hand, refers to that which is enthusiastic, passionate toward the gospel and toward spiritual things, and because you are neither hostile or extremely positive to the Word Jesus is saying you are just lukewarm. There is a problem with that interpretation because it doesn't fit the context historically and it doesn't fit the actual context of the text here. If we do a word study on how hot and cold us used in the Greek New Testament this is the only place where cold is used and you don't have another reference of hot in that same sense. So word studies cannot be done to back up those meanings. So we have to look at the text itself and the context. If you were a Laodicean and were reading this you wouldn't think in terms of that type of an illustration, you would think only in terms of the hot water that is coming down from Hierapolis is usable. It is good, usable, profitable. That which comes from Colosse, the cold water, is also usable and profitable. By the time it got there it was just lukewarm and not usable, not profitable or beneficial. This is what the Lord is emphasizing here, that being a lukewarm believer means that you can't be used by the Lord because, as will be seen in the context, you are out of fellowship. This is more than just being out of fellowship, this is the believer that is in extended carnality who is living his life on the basis of the value system of the culture around him. As a result he is only giving lip service to what the Scriptures teach and it is not having any impact on how they live whatsoever.

The historical context suggests that both cold water and hot water were valuable. The question is, why would the Lord would ever say I wish that you were hostile to Me, or cold or indifferent? That doesn't make sense. If we skip down to verse 20 we see the solution. This is important for us to understand because to understand the solution helps us to understand more clearly the problem. The solution stated in verse 20 is not a salvation message addressed to unbelievers. First of all, He is addressing the church in Laodicea, so he is addressing them assuming that they are believers. That is the underlying assumption, but we have more to go on than that. In versed 19 we read: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten," indicating that He is rebuking the congregation. He is disciplining them in this very evaluation report and He refers to them as "those whom I love." In English we have basically one word for love but in Greek there were a variety of different words that were used, and two primarily are used in the New Testament: the verb AGAPAO [a)gapaw]which is the word that refers to the universal love of God for all mankind in John 3:16, believers and unbelievers.  But in verse 19 here we don't have AGAPAO, we have the verb PHILEO [filew] which emphasizes a more intimate love, a love that is based more on attraction, love that is restricted to only believers. Nowhere in the Bible does God express PHILEO love for unbelievers. This is a love that is expressed in the verb that is used only for God's love for those who are believers, those who are members of His royal family. So that indicates that these lukewarm individuals in Laodicea are believers, but they are rebellious members of the family who make the Lord Jesus Christ sick at His stomach. The solution to this problem of being a lukewarm believer is getting back in fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the imagery of verse 20: "If anyone hears my voice and opens the door." They have excluded Jesus Christ from being a part of the spiritual life of the congregation. They have an external form of spirituality, they talk about the Bible, but it is just lip service, just a form of spirituality, a nod in the direction of the Bible because that is what we should do, it shows somehow that we are a Christian, and then we never get into the text again. But the Scripture is such that it is the Word of God that is alive and powerful. Jesus said that it is the Word that the Lord uses to sanctify us, so we have to know what the Scripture says.

So they have excluded the Lord Jesus Christ, they have excluded in the same way the Holy Spirit, so there is no fellowship, no rapport, there is no spiritual dynamic from the Holy Spirit who is the supernatural empowerment for the spiritual life going on in this church. As a result they are not only out of fellowship, not only are carnal, but this carnality has gone on for so long that the church, this congregation, doesn't look and act any differently from the culture around them. They have the same value system as the pagans in Laodicea. They basically have the name of being Christian but they are operating like pagans. So if the solution is to get back in fellowship then the problem is that they are out of fellowship and they are living on the basis of their own resources. That is exactly what we see in the expansion of the condemnation in verse 17. "Because you say, I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing, and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked." He is talking about the fact that they have transferred their self-reliance to their spiritual life, they think they are rich spiritually, they think that they have become wealthy spiritually, and they think that they have need of nothing spiritually. Spiritually, they thing they have arrived, that they don't have any problems. They have succumbed to arrogance. It is very easy for a believer to slip from God-dependency to self-reliance, especially when he goes through the prosperity test, as these believers were.

One of he most dangerous areas of sin that we can fall into is the mental attitude sin of arrogance. There are a number of proverbs that warn against this. Proverbs 11:12 KJV "He that is void of wisdom despises his neighbour: but a man of understanding holds his peace." Proverbs 16:18 KJV "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." So once we get arrogant we become blind to certain realities about our own condition, and it is very easy then to make decisions that are self-destructive. Proverbs 29:23 KJV "A man's pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit." Genuine humility will only come when we recognize that God is the only one who can do everything and provide everything for us. It is through grace orientation that we must be dependent upon God. This is illustrated in James. In James 4:6 NASB "But He gives a greater grace. Therefore {it} says, "GOD IS OPPOSED  [He resists] TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." Earlier in James 3:14, 15 we have another dimension of arrogance mentioned. NASB "But if you have bitter jealousy {envy} and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant [do not boast] and {so} lie against the truth. This wisdom [human viewpoint grounded on arrogance] is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic." In other words, this may seem to work for you for a while but its ultimate source is not from God, it is from man. It is characterized as being earthly, sensual and demonic.

When we look at those three adverbs there we have to understand something. Earthly means that is has its source in the earth, in human civilization, human character, not in God's character. The second, sensual, is a poor translation. This is the Greek word PSUCHIKOS [yuxikoj], meaning of the soul. It is wisdom that is characteristic of unregenerate mankind and that is demonic because it is the same kind of wisdom that characterizes Satan, it is based upon arrogance. James 3:16 NASB "For where jealousy [envy] and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing." That is what characterized the Laodicean church. Because of arrogance they are completely self-absorbed and focused on doing whatever is right in their own eyes. 1 Peter 5:5, 6 reiterates some of these same principles that we have in James. NASB "You younger men, likewise, be subject to {your} elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time."

When the believer is out of fellowship and is carnal, when he lives in extended carnality he begins to pick up the thought forms of the cosmic system around him. The Greek word for "world" is KOSMOS [kosmoj] and that is a term used to refer to the believer who still operates on the value system of the culture around him. When we become a believer we have to recognize that God has spoken to us in His Word, that the ultimate authority comes through the Scripture, it is revelatory. It is not autonomous reason, it is not autonomous experience, it is not mysticism. Reason and logic have to be fed by the truth of God's revelation of God's Word. In order to get along in the culture around us we often succumb to cultural values and this makes us worldly Christians. We buy into that wisdom that is earthly and natural and demonic. This is exactly what is going on with the congregation in Laodicea. They have completely bought into the problem-solving approaches of the culture around them, but this is only of temporal value.

The solution is going to be in verse 18: "I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire."