The Message to the Church in Laodicea
14 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning[e] of God’s new creation:
15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18 So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19 I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.
20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21 Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.
22 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”
Some Background on the City of Laodicea
Laodicea lies 40 miles southeast from Philadelphia in the Lycus Valley. It was part of a long trade route that included the four previous cities to the north. Both Laodicea and Philadelphia served as gateways to the eastern region of Phrygia and as ambassadors for Greek culture. While Philadelphia was successful in this regard, Laodicea failed to do this as evidenced by the continued usage of the native language in their area instead of Greek.
Paul’s Interaction with the Church
Laodicea was the last of the seven cities to which John wrote this book. One of its sister cities included Colossae, to which Paul wrote a letter during his first Roman imprisonment. In Colossians, we discover that he also wrote a letter to Laodicea. He asked that these two cities exchange their letters and read them in their respective churches (Col 4:16). This means that the Laodicean church had the book of Colossians read to them and were familiar with its teaching. Paul’s Laodicean letter, however, is lost to history, although some speculate that this letter and the book of Ephesians are the same.
Some Unique Geography
From a military standpoint, Laodicea had an excellent advantage as a city nestled in the mountains. However, its greatest weakness was its dependence on an outsourced water supply. The city was not established with a sufficient water supply for a large city. As such, they needed water transported in through aqueducts from a spring six miles away. This presented a problem not only because of the potential for the spring to dry up but also because an enemy could discover the underground aqueducts and cut off their supply.
A Prosperous Economy
Laodicea was known in the region for its economic prosperity, especially its bustling wool industry. The sheep who grazed in the fertile Lycus Valley produced beautiful black wool that rivaled its competitors from other cities. Laodicea enjoyed an increasingly wealthy status in the area. Even after suffering from a devastating earthquake, the city picked itself back up without the help of the empire. Many of the wealthy citizens contributed their resources to rebuilding efforts, even in neighboring cities.
One of the scariest verses in the bible in my opinion, vs. 16. What does Jesus mean to be lukewarm? I believe it refers to another big issue in the North American church- apathy. We know the Lord, we understand salvation, but yet we are lazy with our faith, or maybe we have fallen into a spiritual rut. In Laodicea, we find a church that struggled to be productive for the Lord. The problem was they did not even know it. Have you ever had a problem that you did not know about until someone told you? If you have taken a public speaking class, you may have experienced this. In this class, you give speeches of various kinds to your professor and fellows students. The audience gets to critique you on your communication skills. You may find out about your nervous ticks, random hand gestures, and verbal clutter. You would not know about these tendencies until someone told you. Jesus does the same thing for the Laodicean church. Unaware of their spiritual condition, the church is about to get a shocking surprise from their Lord.
After Christ summarizes all the spiritual challenges facing this congregation, he shows them the practical step they needed to take. Obviously, they did not need to go out and buy gold, white robes, and eye ointment. He uses these images to draw them to the real answer – be zealous and repent.
This church’s main problem was spiritual blindness; they didn’t know about their poor spiritual condition. We can avoid this problem through regular self-examination. Paul tells us to examine ourselves whether we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). We should examine the state of our spiritual growth as well. We cannot assume that just because we have salvation that it will tend to itself. It needs regular sharpening and attention to maintain maximum potential. Carefully examine your prayer life, the study of Scripture, your love for the saints, and your gospel witness. These are good indicators of spiritual growth. If one of them is lacking, give attention to it by resolving to obey the Lord in that area.