“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
When I was in seminary about 38 years ago, we used to go out on Tuesday mornings, if I remember correctly, and do evangelism. We had memorized an array of verses to use at the doors we knocked on (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9-10, John 3:16), and then we had to know Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
This was our call to action; Jesus is at the door of your heart, and He wants to come in and fellowship with you. Over the years, I have used this verse countless times in soul-winning, and I am sure others may have as well. But as I have studied and come to understand things like context, it is clear that this verse has nothing to do with soul-winning, and it has everything to do with the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit in one of His churches.
In these first 3 chapters of Revelation, we see seven letters to churches in the local area near where John was imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos. Each kind of these churches has existed throughout the last 2,000 years of the church age, but as we study history, we see that there are pre-dominant trends of churches. And as we get closer and closer to the rapture (see Revelation 4:1-2), the entire narrative reverts to Israel once again. Churches like the one at Laodicea will be the prominent type of church.
The Laodicean church is mentioned in the letter to the church in Colosse (chapter 2:1). Paul loves this church as we can see that it has a history. Paul died in the mid-60s AD, so this church is at least 40 years old when we see the letter in Revelation. In this letter to Colosse, we see that the Laodicean church is ‘knit together in love’; they long to see Paul, and he to see them. In Colossian 4:16, Paul reminds the Colossian church to make sure that the letter he is writing is also read in Laodicea and that the letter to them would be read in Colosse. This Laodicean church wanted to serve the Lord and honor Him, and they longed for good, Biblical instructions. So, what happened?
We get a glimpse of this in the letter to them written by John. Now, some 40 years or so later, we find that they are plagued by being a rich church (Revelation 3:17). But they are also plagued by a lukewarm approach to serving the Lord. They are not hot enough to properly affect their society towards holiness, and they are not cold enough to be refreshing like a cold drink. They are of no use to anyone, God included, and Jesus writes to put them on notice.
He addresses the letter to the ‘angel’ of the church, and in this context, we understand this to be the pastor or elder. This church had become ‘rich’ according to earthly standards, and they were doing ‘church things,’ ministry of whatever kind they wanted to do. Some in this church were not even saved. Notice in verse 18 that some need to get ‘white garments’ to cover the ‘shame of their nakedness.’
You will go back and see that Adam and his wife covered their nakedness with manmade clothing because they were ashamed; this happened once they had sinned (Genesis 3).
Obviously, some were saved, and this was still a local church addressed as such in Revelation 3:14. These folks were doing church without the leadership of the Holy Spirit. In verse 20, Jesus, the supposed Head of each local church, was on the outside looking in; He longed to be invited in.
Sadly, this happens to a lot of our local churches; we do church out of habit and not in true submission to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. This Laodicean church is doing church but without Jesus. How many of our churches do that? We have the money and the resources to do ministry, do an outreach, and we just do it. We do not ask Jesus if we should do it and submit to His leadership. Remember that Paul wanted to go to Asia to preach the Gospel, but God sent a man in a dream to call him to Greece, called Macedonia at the time (Acts 16: 9-12). Asia needed Jesus, too, but at that time, God wanted Paul to go to Macedonia. I do not think that God’s headship of the local church has changed.
These folks in Laodicea think they are laying up treasure in Heaven, but Jesus tells them in verse 18 that they need to counsel with Him to buy ‘gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich’ spiritually speaking. This local church was no longer seeking Jesus’ counsel in her decisions; she did not need to ask. She had so many resources that she could just do the ministry without Jesus.
Our world is populated with very wealthy churches; we have large buildings, lots of staff, and program after program, and I wonder if this has all become a business. Not all ‘rich’ churches are this way, and some ‘poor’ churches are probably this way. But what we see from the Laodicean letter is that many churches, as we come to the end of the church age, will not be led by Jesus. He will have little or no say in the work they are carrying out in His name.
This is a reality check for me as a pastor. How much of what we do is actually Spirit-led and not simply the actions we are accustomed to doing, kind of like spiritual muscle memory? Is Jesus truly the Head of the local church that you attend? I understand this to be a question that needs to be answered in churches as we get closer and closer to meeting Jesus.
God bless you,
Dr. Sean Gooding
Pastor of Mississauga Missionary Baptist Church
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