Letters to the churches continued…
According to Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary 2003, Laodicea was a very wealthy city having built its wealth in banking, medicine (ophthalmology), and black wool. They were so wealthy they turned down help from Rome to rebuild after a major earthquake around 60 AD. The one thing Laodicea did not have was a water supply but they even managed to buy that and have it routed from 6 miles away. When the water reached the city it was lukewarm or tepid.
Now that we have a brief summary of what Laodicea was like, this letter to the church there makes much more sense.
Description of Jesus:
14 “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:
15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
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, 18 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.
19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; 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 will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down 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.’”
Jesus really doesn’t have anything good to say about the “church” in Laodicea. I put the word church in quotes because while the people may boast and claim to be believers, they are not. Their hearts are not in serving the Lord but themselves.
Laodicea is wealthy and proud. Their pride is in the fact that they need nothing. They are prideful of their own accomplishments and abilities.
Jesus said it best in Matthew 19:24 “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
No truer words have ever been spoken. When a person has everything, when a person is so wealthy they can buy whatever they want, they can lose sight of their need for a Savior.
This world and everything in it blinds them to everything beyond the reach of their money and they lose sight of their brothers and sisters in Christ. They lose sight of the 99% and chose to see the 1% like them.
In verse 17 Jesus says that they do not know they are wretched and miserable and poor an blind and naked. Remember, Laodicea was wealthy because of banking, black wool and eye doctoring. Jesus is saying that everything they take pride in and boast about is killing them spiritually. Wretched, miserable and poor – banking; blind – eye doctoring; naked – black wool. These people are the lost!
In verse 18, it’s like Jesus is being sarcastic and not in a bad way as He is trying to wake them up. He says buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich (banking). Except Jesus is talking more about spiritual richness and growth. When a person of faith goes through the fire of trials and temptations and comes out the other side having grown in their faith their faith has been refined and purified and cleansed by the fires. A person cannot “buy” spiritual growth. Of what use is money to God the Father or Jesus Christ?
Jesus goes on to say… buy from me white garments so that you may clothe yourself. This is a direct hit to them because of their wealth in black wool. Their black wool is worth nothing to God who freely clothes those He saves in the white garments that have been washed clean by the blood of Christ.
Buy from me eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Again, it doesn’t matter their accomplishments on earth in medicine because all the medicine in the world will not open their eyes to their need for a Savior. Their wealth cannot buy them humble spirits faithful to Christ. They cannot buy salvation or entry into the Kingdom of God. The most valuable thing the world has ever known or will ever know, is given as a free gift by God to those who humbly ask in faith through Jesus Christ, and that is eternal life. And it can’t be bought.
In verse 19 when Jesus says “therefore be zealous and repent” it’s interesting to note that the word “zealous” is zeloo (2206) or zeleuo and mean to have warmth of feeling for or against. “Repent” is metanoeo (3340) and literally means to perceive afterwards. Meta, “after”, implying “change”, noeo, “to perceive” = to think differently.
Jesus wants them to get out of their tepid, lukewarm status. He wants them to FEEL. He wants them to feel the warmth for or against and to think differently afterwards.
As always we see Jesus waiting with the open arms of forgiveness and salvation to anyone who answers His call (verse 20).
What a powerful letter! Especially for those of us who live in wealthy countries. One thing to remember is that wealth is fleeting and temporary. It shifts constantly, and it is constantly moving and changing hands. Wealth is also subjective. For example: A person who lives in the US and makes $15,000 a year is considered “rich” to most of the world as a whole. Yet, in the US, $15,000 a year in some places would make that person homeless and if that person had a family to support, well, without charity from family and friends the person would be homeless and/or starve. The point is that money and wealth are subjective.
Wealth is a trap. How much is enough to be thought of as wealthy? No one knows and for each person it is a different number. Those who focus on their wealth to the detriment of their spirit, are lost and have the most difficult time finding their way back to Jesus.
God doesn’t say you have to be poor financially on earth, but those who are poor tend to look heavenward more than those who are wealthy. The poor face their need for a Savior daily. The rich face their need for a Savior in emergencies and crises.
God doesn’t discriminate though so the wealthy have the same road to salvation as the poor. It’s just that it’s more difficult to put aside the world and focus on God when you have to keep watch of the world out of the corner of your eyes.
Wealthy people have much to boast about from their status, to accomplishments and achievements. When they share their goods they are personally complimented. When they do good works everyone sees. The pats on the back are constant and even the most faithful of the wealthy will forget to honor God in all things, at some point. Pride and ego do not allow for a humble, servants spirit. It is a dangerous road to walk in this life and the destination could be eternally disastrous.
This message to Laodicea is for all those who are wealthy on earth. Remember, wealthy is a subjective term. I am not rich but I make enough money to meet all my bills and have a little left over. That could be considered wealthy. If anything in my life takes my focus away from God or serves to create a prideful stumbling block for me in my walk of faith, this letter is for me too and maybe for you.
Is there anything in your own life that works in opposition to your humble serving spirit? Is there anything in your own life that is a cause for blinding pride? Take a good long look and if so, “Be zealous and repent!”
Choices are made for and against God everyday. Sometimes the choice against God made is because NO choice was made. Don’t be tepid or lukewarm. Feel the heat one way or another.