Because you are lukewarm

When I started this quest to locate and destroy strongholds in my life and the church, I thought it would be a quick thing. Now, more than two weeks later, I have identified the strongholds and started to attack them, but I have also begun to realize the enormity of the task. As I reach the final letter to the churches of Revelation, I am compelled to realize that it, too, has something to say to us as Jesus takes aim at the stronghold of what He calls lukewarmness.

Frankly, I have always been fascinated with this letter. And I guess I’m not alone; I can’t tell how many sermons and devotionals and youth group lessons I’ve heard from this text in my years. I know only that it’s a lot. As I enter this seventh letter, addressed to the church at Laodicea, though, I know that there is good reason. I mean, who in the church more than six minutes hasn’t heard that the church there wasn’t committed, wasn’t on fire, wasn’t gung ho for Jesus? And who in the church hasn’t been told that, because of that lukewarmness, Jesus is about to expel us.

Well, the word isn’t actually expel. Rather, it’s vomit. And who in the church hasn’t heard some preacher dwell in graphic detail on exactly what it means for Jesus to vomit us from His mouth?

But there is a lot more than just lukewarm and vomit going on in this letter. So let’s dig in.

The first thing we see, as we’ve had with all the other letters, is a salutation which includes Jesus’ identity. Once again, the exact wording of this identity is unique. And once again, it is exceedingly relevant to the discussion at hand. You see, Jesus identified Himself to the church at Laodicea as “The Amen.” The word amen is probably the familiar closing of any good prayer, but it’s actually a lot more than that, too. Some familiar translations of the Greek amen are “yes,” “true,” “verily,” and even “agreed.” In fact, it could be translated, to steal a line from the latest rendition of Battlestar Galactica, “So say we all.” Here, it emphasizes Jesus’ absolute, uncompromising consistency and faithfulness. He is, as the word would suggest, 100% true. Every time. And it’s not just something that He does; it’s who He is. He is not just the epitome of these things, but the very definition of consistency, faithfulness, and truth. No one and nothing else even comes close. And to punctuate that, He adds to this identity “the faithful and true Witness.” Do you get the point? He is who He says He is. He does what He says He does. He is faithful. He is consistent. He is never wishy-washy or two-sided or uncommitted.

Sadly, though, that doesn’t seem to have been the case with the church in Laodicea. As we enter verse 15, we discover that Jesus knows their works. In the letter to the church at Philadelphia, this was a compliment, but here, it is anything but. Instead, He indicates that their works indicate that they “are neither cold nor hot.” And then Jesus laments, “I wish that you were cold or hot.” In stark contrast to Jesus’ truth, faithfulness, and consistency, the readers of this letter were trying desperately to put one foot in the kingdom of God while simultaneously keeping the other foot planted firmly in the kingdom of the world and everything about it that was – and is – broken. They were fence-straddlers. Undecided. Lukewarm. And Jesus didn’t like it one bit.

He says so in verse 16: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth.”

The warning, then, is that a failure to commit 100% to Jesus will result in rejection by Jesus. And not just a gentle rebuke or reproof. That word “vomit” is intense. If you’ve ever had the flu and vomited, you know what it’s all about. This past weekend, my family got plenty of experience with this. My daughter had the flu, and Sunday morning, we awoke to find her vomiting in bed. But this wasn’t just regular vomit. It was, in reality, projectile vomit, and it was all over the foot of her bed, the carpet, and pretty much everything else between her and the door to her room. That’s the kind of vomit Jesus is talking about here. Violent. Projectile. Expulsion of everything in His mouth.

Because people who won’t commit fully to Him make Him sick.

It’s a powerful image, to be sure, but it gets even more so. How many times did Jesus exhort His disciples to remain in Him so that He would remain in them? This is the epitome of not remaining in Him: He just vomited you out.

That’s scary stuff, but to be honest, it gets more scary. You see, while none of us want to admit that we’re lukewarm, Jesus provides some tremendous insight into the symptoms of this condition in verse seventeen. He notes that people who are lukewarm will consider themselves rich. That is, they’ve got the resources to take care of themselves. Perhaps those resources are money. I have enough money that I don’t need God. Perhaps they’re works. I’m such a good person I don’t need Jesus. Perhaps they’re friends. I’ve got enough friends that I don’t need to be part of the Body of Christ. Perhaps they’re the church itself. I’m part of this phenomenal church with kicking worship and an awesome preacher; what more do I need?

Anytime we think we have enough that we don’t need to fully rely on Jesus, we are lukewarm.

And suddenly, I realize that I’m guilty of this. I mean, how many times have I gone into something thinking that I know what I’m doing. How many times have I neglected to seek Jesus’ direction and blessing before I proceeded? For goodness’ sake, I’ve even been guilty of digging out all my study Bibles and commentaries and sitting down to prepare a sermon without first asking Him to direct and inspire me. And that doesn’t even touch all the times I’ve said, “Oh, yes, I’m a believer, I’m a Christ-follower” and then done something completely contrary to that claim!

If that’s the definition, I’ve been lukewarm.

And I think it’s a pervasive issue in our church and the Church.

I hate admitting all of that. But it’s true. So the question we must ask ourselves, then, is this: what do we do about it?

Fortunately, Jesus provided the answer to that question and the strategy for conquering this stronghold of lukewarmness starting in verse 18. And His solution included five steps:

  1. “Buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich.” The advice stands in stark contrast to the presumption of the lukewarm in vs 17. It implies that we’re not really as rich as we thought we were. But there is much more to it than this. In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, the apostle Paul exhorts people to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ “with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw.” He’s talking about the things that we do and are, and he’s telling us that we need to make sure that they’re truly pure. This, as opposed to merely good. I mean, how many times have I found myself doing things that I thought were good but were still tainted in one way or another: usually, they were things that I wanted to do rather than what God wanted me to do. Jesus told the church at Laodicea to make sure they were getting everything they really needed from Him.
  2. “Buy… white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed.” Again, this stands against the presumption of the lukewarm in verse 17, reinforcing the notion that, rather than truly rich, they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” White clothes in the Bible are about holiness. We are told that Jesus would clothe us with righteousness – His righteousness – when we believe. And as we grow in Christ, even this side of heaven, we’re supposed to be growing into that righteousness. And all of this in comparison to the filthy rags that our own stuff is. We need to depend on Jesus to make us truly righteous, through and through, in God’s eyes.
  3. “Buy… ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.” The lukewarm assume they know all there is to know. They’ve got the world by the tail, perfectly balancing “faith” and world. They see everything perfectly. But Jesus tells them that they need to get their eyes checked. More than that, He declares that their eyes require ointment – that is, medicine – to make them able to see straight. Truly, we can’t know God or His will until we’re fully committed to Him and the Holy Spirit clears our spiritual eyes to see Him and His ways. So if we’re going to break the stronghold of lukewarmness, we need to ask God to fix our eyes so we can really see.
  4. “Be committed.” Ultimately, this is where the rubber meets the road. We need to commit ourselves 100% to Jesus. Now, obviously, that doesn’t mean we’ll be immediately perfect. But it does mean that we’re not going to trying desperately to contort ourselves in such a way as to keep one foot in the world. We need to decide that we’re after Jesus. We need to resolve that, come what may, we’re going to follow Jesus. We need to be committed.
  5. “Repent.” In short, it means to stop what we were doing and be sorry for it. In other words, failing to commit wholly to God is unacceptable, and we must be firstly sorry that we did it and secondly resolved to change our behavior from this point on.

Five steps to overcoming the stronghold of lukewarmness, but to be honest, just about every one of them is far easier said than done. So I think that verses nineteen and twenty also contain two additional, significant keys. First, in verse nineteen, Jesus reminded the church at Laodicea, “As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline.” It means that Jesus’ challenging of our lack of commitment is not intended to hurt us or despise us; rather, it’s all about love. He loves us. His love compels Him to correct us. But it’s still Him loving us. In fact, if He didn’t correct us, it wouldn’t be love.

And the second key, found in verse twenty, is a powerful reminder in those moments when we’ve failed in this pursuit of commitment. Jesus says, “Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.” Here’s what this tells me: it’s our job to open the door. Jesus doesn’t expect us to have everything picked up. And He doesn’t need dinner to be utterly perfect. We may slip up and fall back from time to time, but as long as we keep that door open, He’ll come in.

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