“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”  Revelation 3:14-22

Christ’s indictment of the church had to due with the church’s complacency. Christ used the physical nature of their life situation to make a metaphor regarding the spiritual condition of the Laodiceans. Laodicea’s water supply traveled 6 miles through an underground aqueduct before it arrived at the city foul, dirty, and tepid. It was neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm — just as Christ describes the church there. This was in contrast to other nearby cities. The city of Hierapolis was noted for the soothing, healing properties of its hot springs, while Colossae was esteemed for the fresh, cold waters of the springs that supplied it with water. The metaphor is that cold or hot water is good for something, but lukewarm water is not. The point of Christ’s rebuke was the utter worthlessness of what the congregation had done and was doing. The Laodiceans  lacked any true passion for Christ.

The church in Laodicea proclaimed themselves to be wealthy and in need of nothing, when in reality they suffered from spiritual destitution. Laodicea was a wealthy city; it was known as a banking center, it was famous for its textile industry, which produced soft, black wool, and it was the location of an ancient medical school which produced an eye salve. The Laodiceans had placed more trust in the creature comforts which came from material prosperity than they had in the Lord. They were so contented and smug that they couldn’t see that they actually lacked everything important, and thus Jesus had to remind them that only He had what they needed: gold refined by fire (spiritual currency), white robes (to cover their spiritual nakedness), and salve for their eyes (so their spiritual sight might be restored).

Now all this is fairly condemning stuff, yes? Yet there is a promise of redemption in this for the Laodiceans. Jesus’ reproof and discipline are for those whom He loves. Despite the church being neither hot nor cold – of no use to the Lord – and despite the church’s misplaced trust, Jesus still loved the Laodiceans. He still loved even the most “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” of his people. And thus He calls them to “be earnest, therefore, and repent.”

The last sin that any Christian or any church wants to admit to is that they are Laodiceans, that they are — as New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III has put it — “complacent, lacking in zeal, self-centered in behavior, and accommodate too much to the secular culture outside the Church.” And yet that is the state of many of our churches today, and many of the Christians that sit in the pews inside them. The fact is that too many churches are comfortable with mediocrity, and sadly that is why many churches – in many denominations – are in decline.

Are we in the Church of the Nazarene ourselves Laodiceans? To the extent that we are complacement about certain things, I believe that we are. When we fail to confront injustice, when we tolerate and condone gossip, when we do not challenge spirituality that is at best mediocre, when we stand idly by during the slow, painful death of some of our churches, when we do nothing to minister to our local communities, when we do and say nothing when other peoples’ dignity is stripped from them … then we are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. We don’t stand on or for anything in the midst of such complacency, certainly not for Christ.

It’s certainly appropriate to ask if we as individual Christians and as the Church as a whole are being obedient to God. If not, then may our repentance be earnest and sincere, and may He show His love through mercy extended to us.