Sermon On The Letter To The Church Of Laodicea – The Self-Sufficient Church

Like the other churches, it was in the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey). It was located on the crossroads of two major trade routes. It was built on the river Lycus. Its original name was “City of Zeus.” Now the modern day Turkish city of Denizli is the same location and has about 640,000 people. The city was prosperous. And the people loved their leisure and games. Many theaters, stadiums, baths, and amphitheaters have been found.

It was only a few kilometers away from Colossae and the church in Laodicea was likely started in part by Epaphras who ministered in Colossae. Paul asked that the letter to Colossians also be read out loud in the Laodicean church (Colossians 4:16).

You can find many descriptions of this ancient city online, but the most important description is Jesus.

Let’s read what He has to say about this church.

Revelation 3:14 – 22 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

I. Jesus’ Character

Each of Jesus’ letters to the churches begin with a description of His character. It highlights His authority and divinity reminding the listener who is speaking and that is paramount to listen. The way He describes Himself to each church is different. He emphasizes certain aspects of His character which are especially important for that specific church to pay attention to. For most of the churches, He takes one piece of the description of Himself from Revelation 1. But for Laodicea, He doesn’t do this. It gives us a subtle hint that His interaction with the church of Laodicea is going to be different from His interactions with the other churches.

Revelation 3:14 – “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

He describes Himself in three ways.

A. The Amen –

Amen is transliterated from Hebrew into English. We use this word at the end of prayers, but what does it mean? It is very closely connected with the idea of truth and reliability. The meaning can slightly change depending on the context.

Interestingly, Jesus often used this word at the beginning of sentences rather than the end. Wherever in English you see Him saying, “truly, truly, I say to you” the word in Hebrew He is using is “Amen, Amen, I say to you.” The word denotes the complete truth and veracity of the pronouncement. When God says, “Amen” it means “this is true.” When we say “amen,” we mean “let it be so.”

His description as the “Amen” is important. It means that He is the truth. Everything He was going to say was completely accurate. Jesus’ letter to the Laodiceans was harsh and painful. Some may have questioned His perspective or even argued with His interpretation of their situation. But He is the Amen. There is no room for any argument or varying perspectives.

B. Faithful and true witness –

This description closely mirrors the first, that He is the “Amen.” Not only does it emphasize the truth of what He was going to share, but it also reminds them of His motives. He is faithful. He is saying these things for their good because He is a faithful friend.

Proverbs 27:6 – The wounds of a friend are faithful.

C. The beginning of God’s creation –

Jesus is the source of everything that is created.

John 1:3 – All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The description is also important for the Laodicean church. He made everything. He knows everything. He is the ultimate authority. As Creator, His pronouncement about their condition is authoritative.

In all things, Jesus’ verdict will stand. There can be no negotiation or compromise. The clear application is we had better listen to His criticisms and follow His advice!

Let’s look at His criticism of the Laodiceans first.

II. Jesus’ Criticisms

To five of the seven churches, Jesus wrote, “I know your works.” The other two He said, “I know your tribulation” and “I know where you dwell.”

Jesus was intimately familiar with the Laodicean church. For most of the churches, this was in part comforting. He knew their love and steadfastness. He offered words of encouragement, comfort, and assurance. But he did not like what he saw in the Laodicean church. This is the only church that Jesus gives no affirmation to. He offers zero words of encouragement or praise. Why? Jesus clearly
makes it a point to comment on the good in the churches. We must come to the simple conclusion that there is nothing good or praiseworthy in this church.

If you look at Jesus’ description of them, it is sad. He was disgusted by them. Their behavior and attitude repulsed him.

Let’s look at His specific criticisms.

A. Lukewarm –

The first and most famous one is that they are lukewarm. That certainly doesn’t seem to be a good thing. To our modern ears that seems to be saying that they lacked passion or zeal. They were apathetic or lethargic. That would certainly be a valid criticism. But to fully understand what Jesus is saying we need to understand the historical context of this city. Then we will see that it is even more scathing than we think.

Laodicea was about five miles (8KM) away from a sister city of Hierapolis. Hierapolis was famous for its hot springs (which are still there). These springs were used a natural spa since the 2nd century B.C. Romans loved their spa, leisurely soaking in the hot water. Great baths were built. The springs were used by doctors as well because of the healing properties of the mineral rich water. Thus the hot water of this nearby city was highly coveted.

On the other side of Laodicea, only 10 miles (15KM) away was the city of Colossae. That is the location of the church of Colossae, to whom the letter of Colossians was sent. Colossae had cold water coming down from the mountains. It provided cool refreshment on a hot day.

Thus the water of both Colossae and Hierapolis were attractive. Each was useful in its own way.

On the other hand, the city of Laodicea had no such advantage. Aqueducts brought water in from around 6 miles away (9 M). By the time it arrived it was lukewarm. Visitors to the city would sometimes react by spitting the water out. It was tepid, worthless, without any redeeming quality. The water of Laodicea was just like the church of Laodicea, no redeeming qualities at all, disgusting. The Laodiceans would have instantly understood what Jesus meant here. They had likely complained about their poor water many times. It was the worst feature of the city. And now Jesus compared them to the the water they drank.

So when Jesus is saying, “I wish you were either hot or cold” some think that means “I wish you were either on fire for the Lord or hostile to Him.” No, Jesus doesn’t wish that people are hostile. He does wish that the Laodicean church would have redeeming qualities, fruit indicative of a close relationship with Jesus. He wishes they would be useful, valuable. But they are not. They are disgusting to Him and rejecting them, He spits them out.

B. You say, “I am rich, I have prospered and I need nothing.”

Laodicea is the self-sufficient church. The materialistic church. The city of Laodicea was quite wealthy. It was located at at a crossroads of two major trade routes. Two major industries thrived there. First, it produced a rich, black wool. It was very fine and prized around the world. Native Laodiceans were generally clothed in this luxurious, black wool.

Secondly, it was renowned for medicine and was home to a famous medicinal school. Their most popular product was an eye salve, which was supposed to be able to cure various types of eye diseases.

The riches generated from these industries spurred a banking industry, which further multiplied the wealth. The banking center was home to a gold and currency exchange. And many came there to receive loans.

In AD 60 an earthquake shattered the city. Rome offered to send funds for rebuilding. But Laodicea was so rich and self-sufficient they declined outside help and rebuilt from their own store of wealth.

The city was famously self-sufficient. And that same attitude clearly spread to the church. The people were well off and they knew it. They became prideful, focused on their worldly wealth. Successful in the eyes of the world, they were the classic self-made man. Thus they were a church that said, “We don’t need God. We are doing fine ourselves.” They had pushed Him out, and excluded Him from His own church.

What kind of a church does this? Is it even a church at all?

It was a church in name only. But the power of God was absent from their lives. Perhaps going to church was like a social club for them. A place to look good, feel good about themselves, see their friends, and swap stories of their successes.

Sadly there are many churches like this in the world today. Many scholars have drawn parallels between these seven churches and different eras in the historical church. Scholars that hold to that point of view point out that the church of Laodicea bears a striking resemblance to the modern church, especially in the West.

In the last hundred years, the Western church has been a prosperous one. People are well off. And many are materialistic and self-sufficient. Many churches are like social clubs. People get dressed up and go to church. They meet their rich friends. They listen to a pep talk. They go to lunches. They play golf. They expand their facilities. In their riches, they have forgotten God. It is considered rude to ask real questions like “what is God doing in your life?” or “What are you going to obey from the sermon?” In many churches if you ask these questions, there would be a long awkward pause. People would be extremely uncomfortable. And they would be offended. You are crossing an unspoken line. Jesus isn’t really someone they talk about or need. That is too personal. The fact is, that many people love the gifts of God more than they love God Himself. They put Him into a box and He is not welcome to come out and intrude in their nice, successful lives.

Matthew 19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 

That was the problem for the rich at Laodicea.

They say to the Creator, “I don’t need you.” It is no wonder that Jesus is disgusted by them and says, “I will spit you out of my mouth.”

We have seen how they describe themselves. Let’s see how Jesus describes them.

He said they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

Wow. What a terrible reproof. And it’s a reproof for people who were in a church, respectable, good-looking people. They looked good in their own eyes, but not in the eyes of God. He viewed them for what they were. It’s also interesting that His rebuke directly attacks their areas of misplaced pride.

C. Poor –

The Laodiceans were rich in the eyes of the world. They had banking. They had trade. They had industry. But it was all for naught. They didn’t have riches where it counted. Spiritually they were bankrupt.

Ephesians 1:7-8 – In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.

The Laodiceans had not experienced the riches of God’s grace and forgiveness because they had not come to Him asking for it. Instead of seeking the riches of grace from God they sought the riches of this world.

1 Timothy 6:18 – They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.

Neither were they rich in good works. A faithful follower of Jesus can be prosperous financially. But if he is, he should use it generously for serving God. And there is no evidence that the Laodiceans did.

Their story is like the rich fool in Luke who stored up treasures for himself his whole life.

Luke 12:20 – But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

Remember that Laodicea was a banking center. People came to them for loans. But they should have been coming to God for His riches.

D. Blind –

People came from far and wide to purchase eye salve from the Laodiceans. Thus they thought that not only could they see well, but they could help open the eyes of others as well. It was a case of the blind leading the blind. They should have come to Jesus to have their own eyes opened. But they did not even know that they were blind.

E. Naked –

The Laodiceans prided themselves on their luxurious tactile industry. If you were to visit ancient Laodicea, you would see them wearing the rich, black wool which they sold to nobles and the wealthy far and wide. God was not impressed in the least. He saw right through their beautiful clothes to their heart condition.

The Laodiceans were like the Emperor who wore no clothes. The emperor strutted through the streets showing off his luxurious new clothes with its bright patterns. He believed he was the most finely clothed person in the kingdom and he was quite proud of it. In reality, he was naked. He was shaming himself in front of his entire kingdom.

That is like the Laodiceans in God’s sight. They strut around in their fine wool. But God looks and sees them in the condition they are, naked.

In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus mentioned that every person must wear the clothes given by the king. One person attempted to wear his own clothing and was thrown out. No person can come to God depending on himself. If you say that you need nothing, you cannot get in. You must be clothed in the clothes that He provides.

Who is more needy than a person who is blind, naked, and poor? That is about as needy as you can possibly get.

So were there believers in this church? It certainly doesn’t look like it. And if there were any, they were a small minority. These were people who attended church. They they thought they were in. But they were wrong. If nothing changed they would be in for a rude awakening at the judgment.

Application – Evaluate your own spiritual condition. Going to church like the Laodiceans did does not save. Calling yourself a Christian does not save. Do not trust in your riches. Do not value materials and worldly success over a proper relationship with God. Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven. We must realize that without Christ we are blind, naked, wretched and poor. Thus we must humbly come before Him and repent, asking Him to clothe us, open our eyes, and make us rich spiritually.

And that is in fact the counsel that Jesus gives to them.

III. Jesus’ Counsel

Revelation 3:18-19 – I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

Even with having received such a terrible rebuke from Jesus, there is still good news for the Laodiceans. Jesus says in verse 19 that He loves them. He doesn’t immediately cast them aside and condemn them because of their hypocrisy. Instead He tells them that there is still hope. If they will heed His words, repent, and take action, He will be there for them waiting with open arms just like in the story of the prodigal son.

Jesus gives three specific pieces of counsel.

A. Buy from me gold refined by fire –

The Laodiceans were used to visiting the banking center to make deposits and exchange gold. It was time they stopped focusing on worldly wealth and turned to the Lord. He is the only one who could give them spiritual riches. What is the gold refined by fire? I believe it is the spiritual counterpart to their earthly gold which they stored up. Simply put, it is eternal life. Eternal life will last. It will stand the test of time. It can never be burned up, never rust, and never be stolen away.

Jesus’ point is clear. Stop spending all your time at the bank counting your money and start visiting His bank. The wealth He offers, lasts.

Application: Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “where you treasure is, there will your heart be also.” There are three tests we can apply to ourselves to evaluate what is important to us. What do you spend your time thinking about? What do you spend your time doing? What do you spend your money on? These three questions will reveal what is important to you. If you spend your time thinking about how to make money, working as much OT as possible to get more of it, and then spending it all on yourself and your own desires, then you probably love money. We live in a very materialistic culture. When faced with career decisions, most people simply look at which one pays the most and then choose that.

Brothers and sisters, let us not get sucked into the materialism of the world. Take a moment and look around you. Look at the most expensive things in your home. Which of the things you see right now are going to last? The only thing you can see that will last is people, and even their bodies will not. The only thing around us that will last is souls. So why invest your time and money into all of these things that don’t last? You need to think how to apply this. How are you going to stop being materialistic? It might mean you need to change your job. It might mean you need to say “no” to overtime. It might mean you need to be more generous with what you have. It might mean stopping spending all your spare time on investing in this world. Instead get gold from the Lord. Invest in eternity.

B. [Buy] white garments so that you may clothe yourself –

As mentioned before, the Laodiceans prided themselves on their luxurious, black wool clothing. It may have impressed most people, but it did not impress Jesus. Imagine facing Jesus and He asks, “why should I let you into heaven?” The answer, “look at my fine clothes.” It’s laughable isn’t it? However, the clothes you wear are important. The only clothes that will be accepted are those which He provides.

Our very best deeds are as filthy rags in His sight. We don’t have garments good enough for the occasion. So we must come to Him and will clothe us in His righteousness.

Revelation 3:5 – The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.

Revelation 4:4 – Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.

Here are just a couple of the many references to white clothes in Revelation.

Application: Are you wearing clothes from our Savior? The Laodiceans prided themselves on their clothing. Perhaps you pride yourself on something else. Maybe it is your good lucks or your athletic ability. Maybe it your successful career. Perhaps it is your reputation or even your Bible knowledge. We must stop strutting this stuff around and instead humbly receive and appreciate white robes from His hands.

C. [Buy] from me salve to anoint your eyes that you may see –

The third counsel from Jesus hit the third industry they took pride in, their medicine center for eye salve. The salve they produced and sold could not open their eyes spiritually. Jesus could. He is the light of the world.

Today many people make the same mistake. Huge amount of time and effort are spent on the physical body. Health shakes, fitness gyms, exercise apps, longevity treatments, spas, and more are all the rage. Most people focusing on these things do not realize that their physical bodies will die and they will not be ready for eternity. The wise person would come to the Lord and depend on Him for spiritual life, for a glorified body which will last for all of eternity. Keep fit, it’s good. But don’t let that take precedence over a right relationship with the Lord. Ask yourself, do you spend more time on health and fitness physically, or on developing a better relationship with God.

IV. The Invitation

Revelation 3:20 – Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

They had excluded Him. Having taken His name and called themselves Christians, they wanted nothing else from Him. They didn’t need Him. They were doing fine on their own. But Jesus extends an invitation to the church of Laodicea. He wanted to part of their lives. He wanted a relationship with them. He says, “I am knocking. I want to come in.” Notice that it says “anyone” who hears His voice could open the door. Perhaps most people would reject this message and this warning. But every individual has His own decision. It is a personal decision. No one can make it for you. Perhaps your entire family, entire country, or entire so-called church reject Christ. You can accept Him. Open the door. Invite Him in.

Then it says that “I will eat with him, and he with me.” Eating signifies a close, personal relationship. It shows fellowship. You won’t normally eat with just anyone off the street. We eat with our friends, our families.

Jesus wants that relationship with you.

He then says that the one who conquers (overcomes) will sit with him on His throne. True believers will join Him in heaven and even rule with Him. What do we need to overcome? It’s clear in this passage that we need to overcome the allures of this world: materialism, pride, pleasure, and the love of money. These things vie for our affections and seek to pull us away from our love for Christ. Through Jesus, we can overcome.

Conclusion:

He who has an ear let Him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Are we hearing what He is saying to us this morning? There are many who are in the church who think they are OK. They are called Christians, taking the name of Christ. But they live as if He doesn’t. They keep Him a little box which they can pull out from time to time when they feel they need to. The rest of the time they enjoy the pleasures of the world. They are self-sufficient and materialistic.

Could that be describing you today? I know one thing for sure. It would be a terrifying thing to face Jesus one day and hear Him say, “you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

He is standing at the door knocking. He wants a real relationship with you. He wants to come in. He wants to transform you. He wants to be part of your life. Will you let Him in?

Perhaps you have invited Him in to your life, or most of it. But perhaps there is some part of your life where He is not welcome. You are keeping Him out because you think you can handle it, or maybe because you are enjoying the sin. Will you let Him in?

Spend some time in prayer. Invite Him in to every part of your life. Surrender yourself to Him. Humble yourself in His presence and come before the throne of grace. Ask Him to clothe you in white. Ask Him to give you sight. Ask Him to help you overcome the attractions of this world.

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