The Scriptures contain a revealing account of a church that made God sick.
Revelation 3:11-22 describes the church of the Laodiceans with this serious indictment, “…I wish that you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
It is logical that readers of this passage would conclude that being “hot” spiritually is understandable and even desired. At face value, this passage also seems to imply that it was acceptable to be “cold” spiritually — a term that could be understood to mean lifeless, even dead.
However, the Lord was not telling them that it was appropriate to be “cold” spiritually. Jesus is not saying that He wishes they were either spiritually hot or spiritually cold rather than being spiritually lukewarm.
Although this passage may sound somewhat confusing today, the people of Laodicea understood exactly what the Lord was saying.
History has revealed that the city of Laodicea was known for its tepid or lukewarm water supply. Nearby were the ancient cities of Hierapolis and Colossae. Both cities had well-deserved reputations for their water supplies.
Hierapolis boasted of hot springs that contained therapeutic, medicinal — and hot mineral water. Colossae enjoyed cold and refreshing mountain spring water. The water in Laodicea, on the other hand, was reportedly dirty and lukewarm.
That’s why the Laodiceans could easily grasp what the Lord was saying in this description of their church. To be “hot” was to be fervent and helpful, and to be “cold” was refreshing and invigorating. To be “lukewarm” was to be undesirable and useless.
Therefore, this important passage is saying that it is much better for Christians to be either fervent (“hot”) or refreshing (“cold”), rather than to be “lukewarm” — something that no one in Laodicea wanted.
The point of this important biblical truth resonates even today. God does not want His followers to be “lukewarm” Christians.
What Does the Bible Say about the Church in Laodicea?
As clearly illustrated by the water supply that was such a big part of the lives of the Laodicean people, the term “lukewarm” means neither hot nor cold. It implies being average, not living fervently for the Lord, and not serving Him with energy and enthusiasm.
The Lord’s concern with the church of Laodicea is that they were going through the motions spiritually. They were content with their wealth and materialism and were unaware of their spiritual poverty. The Lord uses some of His strongest words of criticism in the Scriptures by calling them “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
Perhaps the words, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot,” in verse 15 of this text, present the most revealing characteristic however of this particular group of people. Their service for the Lord was not being done with a genuine desire to please Him.
Their hypocritical and pretentious “works” were not sincere, and therefore were not what God wanted. God wants His people to serve Him with a pure heart.
Christ’s Solution to Being Lukewarm
Readers can find a practical and important solution interwoven throughout the nine verses in this description of the Laodicean church in Revelations 3:14-22. This passage also contains one of the most familiar verses in all the Bible,
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).
The context of these verses makes it clear that this is not an appeal to unbelievers. The Lord here is not asking those who have not put their faith and trust in Christ to open the door of their hearts to accept Him as their own personal Savior.
These people were already church members who were already a part of God’s family. Their problem here was not that they weren’t saved, it was that they were “lukewarm” Christians — and were just going through the motions of their halfhearted faith.
Christ is asking His people to open the door of their hearts to a genuine and consistent walk with Him. He wants His followers to willingly enjoy a deep fellowship with Him that can be both fervent and refreshing.
He wants believers to listen to Him and to follow His lead. He wants His people to willingly and enthusiastically serve Him with sincere hearts.
This passage contains an impassioned plea from the Savior to the lukewarm people of Laodicea, “…be zealous and repent,” He writes in verse 19. The word “zealous” means to be deeply committed to something and the word “repent” means to turn around or to go back.
The idea here is that the Lord is asking His followers in this church to make their faith real — to be genuine and wholehearted followers of Christ. He is asking them to give up their lives of just going through the motions spiritually.
That’s why He instructs them to “repent” — to understand that their lives of playing games spiritually must end. He is looking for “zealous” or totally committed followers who are both fervent and refreshing servants of the Most High God.
Lukewarm Christians indeed make God sick. It’s time for all Christ-followers to be totally committed to serving Him.
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Mel Walker is the president of Vision For Youth, Inc., an international network of youth ministry, and he is also is the youth pastor at Wyoming Valley Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Mel has been actively involved in various aspects of youth ministry for over 40 years. He is also an author, speaker, and a consultant with churches. More information about his speaking and writing ministry can be found at www.GoingOnForGod.com. Mel has written 12 books on various aspects of youth ministry, plus he speaks to hundreds of teenagers and parents each year. Mel & Peggy Walker are the parents of 3 adult children—all of whom are in vocational ministry. You can follow him on Twitter: @vfyouth. He recently wrote a book on discipleship for youth leaders, Discipling Student Leaders: A Strategy for Discipleship in Youth Ministry, which can be purchased on that website.