Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reflections on Lukewarm Laodicean Saints, Rev 3:14-18

I read these verses recently and something seemed to hit home for me.  They contain words John heard in a vision of Jesus Christ, who spoke messages to the Saints in Laodicea. 

14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. (Rev. 3:14-18)

First, let’s look at verses 15-16.  We usually interpret these verses to mean that the Lord prefers us to be either for Him or against Him, but that He can’t stand our apathy.  But if we think more carefully, we see that this interpretation doesn’t quite work because it doesn’t make sense for Jesus to want someone to be a “cold” enemy.  He wants all to come to Him.  So we have to ask, “Why do both hot and cold seem to be preferable to lukewarm?” 

I got a little bit of a clue from Keith Krell’s online article at Bible.org called “How to Make Jesus Sick (Revelation 3:14-22).” (Kind of an off-putting title, but the article is good.)  In it he suggested that in these verses both cold and hot were positive terms for drink temperatures.  This made sense to me.  Both hot and cold drinks are helpful to us at different times.  Cold drinks are lovely when we have worked up a sweat and need to cool down, while hot drinks (hot chocolate, anyone?) are wonderful when we are cold and we need to raise our core body temperature.  Cold drinks refresh, and hot drinks warm. This suggests that there are “cold saints” and “hot saints” and that both are good. 

Okay, so how could “cold saints” be refreshing?  Well, when we are worried, busy, and wrought up, a “cold saint” is one of those serene people who would calm us down, help us understand that things will work out for the best, and remind us that Heavenly Father will help.  On the other side, when we are reluctant and sluggish, a “hot saint” is one that encourages us, reminds us of our duty and great privileges, who warms us to life and action, and helps us catch the fire again.  When we look at it this way, it is obvious we need both types of saints for the particular good they can do at the right moment! 

A lukewarm saint, however, is useless for either need because they are not enough of either.  They don’t have enough serenity to calm and reassure others, nor do they have enough warmth and passion to encourage and motivate.  We would do well to see where we fall on the continuum of hot and cold.

Okay.  What else did Jesus say to the Laodiceans?  It is clear that he sees their true situation and He also knows how they see their situation.  The two are polar opposites.  

Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: (v17)

The Laodiceans seem to think that things can’t get any better—they have wealth, they have plenty of goods, and they don’t need anything more from life.  But Jesus knows it is a showy sham.  He applies five adjectives to describe them:
1.     Wetched – of poor quality or condition, very unhappy, morally reprehensible, deserving or inciting pity, having physical misery
2.     Miserable—very unhappy or uncomfortable, of the most contemptible kind, contemptibly small in amount.
3.     Poor—having little money or few possessions
4.     Blind—unable to see, unable or unwilling to perceive and understand
5.     Naked—unclothed, without protecting or concealing cover

I suspect that “poor” was meant to refer to the size of their store of treasures in heaven, that “blind” meant they couldn’t see their own condition for the tragedy it was, and that “naked” meant that their sins were obvious, had not been repented of, and thus had not been covered by the Atonement.

I have to say here that if we’re in comfortable circumstances, it is very easy to become like the Laodiceans.  And even if we’re not in a cushy place, that cushy ideal is a big part of the programming in our societal messages, the place we aim for.  Can we imagine ourselves rejecting that ideal?  I wish I could say that I was independent of it, but I sadly, I realize that it is part of me to the extent that when I try to imagine myself without it, I feel odd, a bit unmoored and at sea.

To remedy the situation, Jesus counsels the saints of Laodicea to buy from Him (and He is the only source) the following:
·      “gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich” – If Jesus is the only source of this gold, then it is highly symbolic, referring to the refinement of the soul. Through this expression we learn the principle that the refining of our soul through trials is what makes us rich.  These are the kinds of riches that can’t be stolen.
·      “white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear”—The white clothing is purity and we buy it from Christ through repentance and then He covers our sins.
·      “anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see”—Jesus wants to heal our perspective so we can see the spiritual realities of life.

If we notice, the counsel Jesus gives is meant to address the three conditions of “poor,” “blind,” and “naked.”   I imagine the conditions of misery and wretchedness would naturally take care of itself.

It seems to me that the remedies Jesus lists have to be done in a certain order.  First the eyesalve so we can see our status for what it really is, then the white clothing as we repent, and then the gold tried in the fire, as we become better through our trials. 

At bottom, Jesus used a different standard to measure the Loadiceans’ lives from the one they used for themselves, and His standard was based on different priorities from the world.  To the Laodiceans, the ideal was wealth, security, and needing nothing.  To Christ, the ideal was to be refined by trials and purified while keeping an eternal perspective. 

In what ways can we reach more toward Christ's standard?  I think paying tithing and fast offerings is one way that we demonstrate that; can you think of any other things?