Excitement rippled through the exquisitely dressed congregation as the visiting speaker announced he would read a letter dictated by Jesus to John the apostle. Anticipation buzzed as he described Jesus’ dazzling appearance standing among seven golden lampstands dressed in a robe with a golden sash, and having hair whiter than wool above eyes that burned like fire. Feet glowing like brass in a furnace and a voice like rushing waters must mean divinity. They understood the sharp two edged sword coming out of his mouth emphasized he was speaking God’s words, but what did the seven stars mean? The buzz increased when he said that one of those lampstands represented their congregation and this letter was written directly to them.
A shock wave of accusation drowned the buzz as they reeled at Jesus’ categorizing them as “lukewarm” and threatening “to vomit them out of my mouth.” Then in spite of their expensive clothes, the Lord called them “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:16, 17 NKJV). How could he do that? Didn’t he know they were rich? Couldn’t he see the beautiful colors splashed throughout the crowd? Slowly, the fear that he was right began to spread. They looked reproachfully at their friends while hanging onto the thought that surely the Lord didn’t mean me.
The Lord sent seven letters to seven different churches which many believe are representative of the church as a whole, but Laodicea had the only condition that made him want to vomit his followers out of his mouth. It therefore behooves us to examine how the Laodiceans reached such a pitiful state, and, perhaps more importantly, to ask how we might avoid slipping into this nauseating condition.
Webster defines a lukewarm person as one having little passion, emotion, or conviction. At first glance, one might conclude that having a little passion is better than having none at all, but apparently this is wrong since Jesus said he would rather they be cold or hot. Is that because lukewarm Christians do more damage to the image of God’s kingdom than a person totally indifferent to the Lord? Do lukewarm Christians portray a dead, inactive, and unloving faith in the Supreme Creator which causes outsiders to not want to become a part of the royal family?
No Christian ever deliberately set out to become lukewarm, but perhaps we let the pressure of today’s urgency push aside our devotion and service to God. Jesus’ words imply that the Laodiceans fell into this condition because they were comfortable. From a worldly standpoint, they weren’t poor. They were rich, living was easy, and there is no indication of persecution from anyone. They were involved, but whatever they did was without passion. They were just going through the motions.
Think about their situation and consider if this comfortable lifestyle sounds like our present-day America. We live in the richest nation that has ever existed since the beginning of history. Life is not easy for everyone, but for the majority life is comfortable. Never have so many things competed for our attention, with many promising to make our life easier. Not becoming lukewarm may be American Christians’ greatest challenge.
Self-examination to determine if we are sliding towards lukewarmness or have already arrived is critical, but correctly recognizing our situation may be extremely difficult. Lukewarmness provides contentment that all is well, and we are doing everything we need to do. Since lukewarmness assures us that we are comfortable, we feel righteous, saved, and in need of nothing. The Laodiceans didn’t realize their condition; they thought they were rich and had everything they needed; yet they were found wanting.
To assist our personal examination of our spiritual temperature, the following suggestions are presented in the comedic form used and made popular by Jeff Foxworthy, but these are not meant to be funny. Nothing can be more serious than how we are viewed by Jesus.
You may be a lukewarm Christian if you don’t feel excitement as the time nears to gather and worship the Lord. We have the opportunity to meet with the royal family and worship the Supreme Being who created the universe and everything therein. Our family will recognize and respond to our passion whether we realize it or not, and family members are rarely fooled. Lukewarmness can be contagious to our friends and family. Someone must generate heat, and working together we can warm each other.
You may be a lukewarm Christian if reading the scriptures doesn’t move you to want to know more. These are the words of our God and they are written directly to each of us so we can live a more productive life for God, ourselves, our family, and everyone we meet. Although the Bible is an old book, nowhere can we find more appropriate words for today’s living and learning the criteria we need for valid self-examination. In the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
You may be a lukewarm Christian if singing praises with the congregation doesn’t lift your heart and spirit. Read the words and make them your thoughts as you raise your voices in song. Don’t be a listener only, and don’t just mouth the words. As Paul said, “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts” (Eph. 3:19).
You may be a lukewarm Christian if your possessions don’t make you want to give to further God’s kingdom on earth. We are the most affluent people who have ever lived and we can help others in our community and throughout the world learn about our savior so they can make him their savior. Giving our money can extend our reach to places and people we will never see in person. That is exciting.
You may be a lukewarm Christian if you leave worship feeling empty and unfulfilled. It is the responsibility of those who preach and lead the worship to edify, but worship is an individual act. No one can lift our voice in praise and honor God except ourselves. No one can listen and evaluate the sermon but us. Being with a group praising God for his love and blessings requires our wholehearted involvement, and wholehearted involvement keeps us from being lukewarm.
You may be a lukewarm Christian if you don’t have confidence that prayers, both those of the congregation and personal ones, can impact your life and the lives of those mentioned in the prayers. Our prayers must be with conviction and made with preparation. Peter warned that our family relations may prevent our prayers from being heard (1 Pet. 3:7).
You may be a lukewarm Christian if you don’t look forward to communing with your Lord each Sunday and remembering his death until he comes again. It’s a special time to join with our fellow Christians as we celebrate why we worship and to rejoice that our sins are forgiven and the Lord is coming back for us.
You may be a lukewarm Christian if you leave Jesus in the worship assembly and don’t demonstrate your passion to be an example to all you meet. Jesus told us to “do unto others as we would have them do to us” (Luke 6:31). If you hadn’t yet heard the gospel, wouldn’t you want someone to tell you the good news? Our lives are powerful teachers, but our example alone will not produce faith in anyone’s hearts because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Our faith can open our lips to share with others.
You may be a lukewarm Christian if you think your life is pleasing to God based on the life of your father, mother, or grandparents. We aren’t God’s grandchildren. We are his children. John said, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). It doesn’t matter how many generations our families have been Christians. It only matters if we believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that we are saved by his grace through obedience to him, not by our works but through his blood.
We may drift toward lukewarmness, but we must pull ourselves back into the warmth of God’s love. Being lukewarm is like being in quicksand. The longer we stay there, the harder it is to get out. Fortunately, Jesus assured the Laodiceans and us that lukewarmness didn’t have to be permanent; they could buy gold refined in fire and white clothes from him. Repentance and prayer are still the answer today. Listen to Jesus’ encouraging words: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent” (Rev. 3:19).