Today, I’ve been thinking a lot about unity and fellowship within the church. A sermon I heard this week made a distinct point that our unity is not found in our “churchiness” but in Christ. We are unified by our adherence to God’s Word, and our love of Christ.
I’d contend, though, that unity is more than that.
Psalm 133 (the context passage for this article) is brief, so I’ll quote it all:
The Excellency of Brotherly Unity.
A Song of Ascents, of David.
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is or brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.”
This passage talks clearly about the blessings that belong to those who are chosen by God. For ancient Israel, these blessings came in the form of a specific anointing, represented by oil. Here, David suggests that this anointing did not stop at the priesthood (symbolized by Aaron), but flowed “down upon the edge of his robes.”
The blessings that were given to Israel were excessive—far too great to be contained by a single priesthood. Likewise Israel was to be “a Kingdom of Priests, and a Holy Nation” (Exodus 19:6). We can see, however, where this blessing comes from; not merely from unity, but from BROTHERS that dwell together in unity (a sort of “unity before unity” if you will!).
That sounds horribly confusing, so I’ll explain. This was a promise applicable quite literally for Israel. Israel, as God’s chosen people, were quite literally brothers; however, the unity of that nation stemmed not merely from brotherhood, but from the fact that God Himself was to be their King. This same concept was fulfilled in Christ for us, as Gentiles. As Galatians says, “we are all sons of God in Christ Jesus” 3:26), born into the brotherhood of Christ Jesus. This is why Peter can say:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 peter 2:9).
This, then, is the basis of our unity: birth into one body, and members of One Kingdom.
THE BAD NEWS: UNITY AND DISUNITY IN THE LAODICEAN CHURCH
What I’d like to suggest, though, is that this great promise of unity is no longer being fulfilled in the churches of Jesus Christ (by which I mean “churches” with regional fellowships, as opposed to THE church, the body of Christ in the manner that it once was—at least in large part. This might sound controversial at first, but bear with me and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
First, I should clarify that I take as given the idea that the churches of Revelation 2/3 represent the history of the church. You can take or leave that particular view, but for our purposes, I will be using the Church of Laodicea as representative of the modern church. I think if you follow, you’ll find the parallels startling.
Of the 7 churches depicted in Revelation 2-3, which was commanded to ensure unity?
None were. This is because, as the passages above have shown, our unity comes not from people coming together, but from the fact that people are drawn together by a mutual love of Christ Jesus. Not only that, but we are figuratively and literally born into the Kingdom of our God through the blood of Jesus Christ.
“This cup is the new covenant of my blood,” Jesus said – and this, this blood, is where the life is. Leviticus 17:1 states that “the life of a body is in the blood” and so it is with us, too. Our life, the life of our body, our unity in Christ, is in the blood. HIS blood. Thus unity should be a given; a default setting for the church of Jesus Christ, united in One body by His blood.
By the time we reach the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3, however, it isn’t unity that Christ compels the churches to, but repentance. Let’s look carefully at Jesus’ indictment of the Laodicean church.
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. ‘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. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
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. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
If you read this passage carefully, you’ll notice something horrific here. This passage is a damning indictment of the church of the modern age. In it, we find Jesus Christ Himself is made literally physically sick by those called to represent Him here on earth… so much so, in fact, that Jesus says that He will “spit you out of my mouth.”
What does this mean? The Laodicean church is so rotten, so “wretched, pitiable, blind, poor and naked” that it will quite literally suffer expulsion from the body of Christ.
…Take a minute to let that thought soak in.
Now before you become outraged at the suggestion that the church of Christ can be divided in such a manner, let’s dig a little deeper. We know, as Jesus said, that He would “lose none that [the Father] gave Him.” Not for a moment would I suggest that any that come to Christ openly, willingly, would be turned away.
However, in this passage, we see Jesus Christ dealing with seven very literal, very real churches. What should strike us here, and what should horrify us first is the truth that Jesus Christ will expel those from the church of Christ; those who are not truly of the body of Christ and second, that in this gut-wrenching instance, Jesus Himself finds the church so utterly unrecognisable that He spews it out in its entirety!
Here, in contrast to the other seven churches of Revelation, we find Jesus Christ Himself on the outside. If, as Scripture claims, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” What does that suggest about Laodicea? The conclusion is clear. This church is characterised not only by lukewarmness, but by the total absence of Jesus Christ in their midst.
This is why the Lacodicean church is counseled by Jesus Himself to “buy gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself.” The white garments here are key; we see them elsewhere in Revelation, where they are used to represent salvation. You will no doubt know the phrase from Revelation 7:14, where the Tribulation saints have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” These robes are likewise worn by the church, represented in Revelation 4 and 5 by the 24 elders.
Here, however, we find the church of Laodicea being counseled by Jesus Christ to obtain such robes – suggesting that this church, despite having the words of “the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God” (3:14), has not laid hold of the salvation of God in Jesus Christ, nor heard the voice of the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world. What a tragedy!
THE GOOD NEWS: ALL IS NOT LOST!
There is, however, a gleam of hope in this passage. If we look at verse 20, we find that even here in this broken, loveless, godless church, Jesus Christ calls unto His own.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
The tragedy here continues. However, this is not a church-wide injunction, but a personal one. The offer of communion extended in the letter to the church of Laodicea is given not to the whole, but to the faithful, “trapped” as it were, within a church on the brink of rejection and expulsion from the body of Christ.
As horrifying as this is, there is comfort here, too. Those of us who take part in these online communities have come from many places, from many churches, from many denominations… and yet here, we have found not only unity in Christ, but also comfort, teaching, and fellowship in Jesus. It is abundantly clear that those who are in Christ in these last days are those spoken of in verses 20 and 21 of Revelation 3.
We are those who have heard the voice of Jesus Christ in a loveless church. We have “opened the door” and we have spent time with Jesus. “We will eat with him, and He with us” (a foreshadowing of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb).
I began with unity, and will end with it.
I realize that this is a hard message to hear, and it will in many respects be controversial…but here it is, nonetheless, in the closing chapters of Scripture, and it is a damning indictment on the state of the church. In 2 Corinthians 6:17 it says: “Come out of them, and be separate” says the Lord. “Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
We know what happens if you eat something unclean. It doesn’t end well. And here, Jesus says ‘…because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Jesus will not receive the church of Laodicea; but nonetheless, He has reserved for Himself a remnant that will quite literally be brought out of her.
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”
We, the body of Christ, will be reunited with the church of Christ—brought out of the loveless, lifeless church of Laodicea and into the fellowship of the saints; one Body, bought with One life, made whole in Christ Jesus.
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will be no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
The body of Christ cannot be divided; cannot be broken; cannot be defeated; cannot be undone. “The life is in the blood” and so it is with us. A popular modern hymn says: “My life is hid with Christ on high.” And there is much truth in that. Our Saviour will lose none that the Father gave Him. “My sheep hear me, and they know my voice.” “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
Brothers and sisters, it will not be long now. Jesus Christ will not leave His own to rot in the church of Laodicea, but will draw us out of her, and unto Himself. We will be reunited with the faithful body of Christ, forged through fire and through blood throughout the centuries, made One with Christ, the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world, and caught up to meet with our beloved! He is our Saviour and our Redeemer, our “very great reward”… and He is coming soon!