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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
M. L. Moser, Editor
From The Baptist Challenge, March 2014
[This message on “The Church of Laodicea” was preached July 1, 1979, and is printed “as preached.” It is one of a series of 113 messages on the Book of Revelation preached at the Central Baptist Church, Little Rock, Arkansas over a period of two years, 1979-1981.]
“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; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.
“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: “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.
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
“To him that over-cometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev. 2:14-22).
We begin our study of the last of these seven churches. There will be this message tonight and I think there will be two more messages that will deal with this seventh church, the Church of Laodicea.
This is the seventh and the last of these seven churches. This church represents that period of time immediately preceding the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It represents that period of time beginning around the 1900’s until the coming of the Lord. If we were to title this church or to give this church a name that would be characteristic of it, we would refer to it as the “lukewarm, self-satisfied” church. I think we could also refer to it as the church age characterized as the age of indifference and apostasy.
We have looked at six churches already, and as we approach the seventh church, though we have compared our church to each of these other six in order to find out what things about that church might be representative of our church, I believe that this last church is the one that we really need to pay more attention to.
This church of Laodicea is representative of the churches of that last dispensation, that last period of time, just before the Second Coming of the Lord. As you and I know, that is the period of time in which we are living today. So that really, as we think of our generation, we should be able to see that the majority of true churches are going to be similar to and like this church of Laodicea.
Now we’re not talking about churches that are not true churches. We’re not talking about false churches, but this church of Laodicea is representative of true churches of the last days, not false churches, but true churches. So we read and as we study about the church of Laodicea, this is the church that we ought to think about more than any of the other churches because it is this church that most churches of our generation are going to have
a similarity to.
As we usually do, let us look at the background of this church to begin with, before we actually get into a study of the letter itself. The city of Laodicea is about 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia and about 40 miles east of Ephesus. Again we find that we are in this circular pattern and we have made a complete circuit to where we are now, just about to come back to the church at Ephesus, and the church of Laodicea is the last one. It is located in the Lycus valley and it is in the province of Phrygia.
This city was founded by Antiochus II of Syria. He named this after his wife. Her name was Laodicke or Laodice. That’s where it got its name Laodicea, much as we find cities today. Some cities have their names after important people. As some of you know, they have this huge King Ranch in Texas and he named some of these cities and towns after his daughters. Alice, Texas is one of the cities. I can’t remember the others, but there are several of them named after the man’s daughters. He named them himself.
Stalingrad was named after Stalin, and they do have other cities named that way. The city itself was destroyed by an earthquake in the year A.D. 60 and when aid was offered unto them, manufactured in and around Laodicea, including an especial ointment for the ears, and a black powder that they used for the eyes.
Of course, when you get down into the scripture here where the Lord talks about them needing eyesalve, it probably has reference to the fact that this was what many of them maybe manufactured as part of their living. The Lord says that you don’t need that kind of eyesalve, but you need some spiritual eyesalve for your own eyes.
As we mentioned, it was a city of bankers, traders, and financiers. It was a great commercial center and brought great wealth to all of its inhabitants and that included those who were the believers and the members of the church of Laodicea as well. But it still was a city that was a center of idolatry. They not only had the worship in the Temple of Men Karou, but they also worshiped a goddess called Askalepios. It was a provincial city for the court where Cicero lived, and Cicero wrote many of his letters from this city of Laodicea.
The name itself, Laodicea, comes from two Greek words. One word laos meaning “the people,” and nikeo meaning “to rule.” Combined they mean “the people rule.” Now this was the very opposite of the Nicolaitanes which built a hierarchy that dominated and ruled the people. Here we find a rulership on behalf of the people. Here the people rise up and rule themselves just as Paul predicted that they would do.
Paul said: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:3). Paul said that this very thing would occur, that the people would not endure sound doctrine. They would not listen to the preachers that God gave them to preach to them the Word of God. They would not heed the sound doctrine, but instead would turn in rebellion against those God had sent them. Instead they would seek out and find preachers who would preach unto them those things that they wanted to hear.
That is exactly what we are to look for and we are to find today. You realize, that in the majority of Baptist churches, (and that’s the only kind of churches I’m talking about, Baptist churches), but in the majority of Baptist churches today, this is exactly what has occurred. Preachers who preach the Word and adhere to the doctrines of the Word of God are not welcome in most pulpits of today. The people want those who will preach to them soft soothing syrupy sermons that do not upset them in anyway at all.
Now, the city itself became known as the “city of compromise.” This was the reputation of the city. We see therefore, that not only was the city called the City of Compromise, but the church took the same characteristics of the community and became the “church of compromise.” This is the dispensation in which we’re living today.
Putting it in other words, it’s called a “middle-of-the-road” church, in a “middle-of-the-road” city. They compromised everything, and they compromised to the extent that they compromised the truth.
They gave error equal billing with truth. Mixing them together they became the church of compromise — middle of the road. Of course, you know that the only things you find in the middle of the road are skunks and yellow stripes. That’s all you get when you go down the middle of the road, but this is the way these churches and this city was known to have been.
And yet, that’s not the way it began. It didn’t start that way. Actually, this church of Laodicea had a great beginning. It had a great start. It was one of the better churches during the days of the Apostle Paul. Turn with me to the Book of Colossians chapter 4, and I want you to note that at one time this church was a very strong, spiritual church and that Epaphras was their pastor. Notice in Colossians:
“And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellow workers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.
“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” (Col. 4:11-12).
Now notice verse 15: “Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” We see then that this church was at one time a very strong church, a very spiritual church, Epaphras was their pastor.
In fact, Paul says that they were the recipients of one of his letters. Somebody says, “Well now we don’t have that letter here in our Bible,” but remember that Paul wrote many letters that were not incorporated into our Bible. They were not the inspired Word of God or else they would have been preserved and incorporated into our Bible.
But he did write another letter to them, for if you will notice in this same chapter he says “For I bear him record” talking about Epaphras,
“For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.
“Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.
“Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church which is in his house” (Col. 4:13-15).
Now note verse 16, “And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans.” So we see then that Paul had written them a letter.
From this we learn from which state this church had fallen. They at one time were in a high spiritual state, and now, they have fallen to this place that we read about here in the third chapter of the Book of Revelation. In these few short years, they have fallen from a place of being one of the more spiritual churches, with a great pastor, a letter from the Apostle Paul commending them, and now they have reached the point where Jesus, the Author of this letter here in the third chapter of Revelation, does not have one good thing to say about the church of Laodicea.
Do you see how rapidly and how quickly that it is possible for a church to be on a spiritual plane and to fall down to such a place that Jesus could not say one good thing about that church. Just a few short years.
As you read through this letter, we find just one outstanding characteristic of this church, and the outstanding characteristic of that church is something that is not to be emulated or imitated, and that is lukewarmness. Throughout the centuries since that time, it is this church, the church of Laodicea, that has remained the classic example of that quality that is most despised in the Lord’s churches, the state of lukewarmness.
Now let us look at the letter itself. “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” (Rev. 3:14). We find here three marks of identification for the Author of this letter. As we learned in each of the previous six letters, the Author is identified. First, Jesus is the Amen. The word Amen is the Hebrew word for confirmation. It means “so be it,” and Jesus here presents Himself as the confirmer of all the truth of God. By Him every word of God is established. Every counsel carried out. Every purpose brought into effect. Jesus did all of this.
The second mark of identification is the phrase “the faithful and true witness.” This is in contrast to all of the false testimony. Now, the Amen is expressed here outwardly by “the faithful and the true witness.” Amen means “so be it” and “Amen” then would be the outward expression designated by the phrase “the faithful and true witness.”
The third mark of identification is “the beginning of the creation of God. The beginning means “the beginner” or “the author.” Who is the beginner of creation? Who is the author of creation? In Colossians 1:16 “For by him” and you read the preceding verses and verses 13 and 14 it shows that it is talking about the Lord Jesus Christ. It says:
“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:16-17).
So we see then that Jesus Christ is identified as the Author of this letter by referring to Him as “the beginning of the creation of God.” It is His preeminence over all creation that is emphasized here. So Christ, speaking to them, speaks to them as their Creator.
Now notice the Lord has some complaints to make about them beginning in verse 15:
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
“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” (Rev. 3:15-17).
At the very beginning the Lord repeats a phrase that He has used in every case “I know thy works.” This shows God’s omniscience. The Lord shows His supreme knowledge of all things, for He knows all things that this church does. “I know thy works.”
This church is a working church, “Thy works,” and yet, the Lord was not satisfied with their works. They were works that apparently were indifferent works. There was no real aggressive zeal manifested by this church. The Lord had given them work to do, but they went about it indifferently. They, I am certain, continued to have their services. They maintained a church life. They had their work, but their heart was not in it. It was habit or formality or ritualism. Their works were then simply works of indifference.
You’ll also notice here that there was no active opposition to them either. When a church reaches this stage that they are simply content just to go through the formality of working for the Lord, their heart is not really in it, there is no real zeal in their heart for the work, Satan is satisfied. He just lets them alone.
Here is a church that to all outward appearances was a thriving, going church. It might be that the people of the city of Laodicea would have been pleased with that church to be in their community.
Their pastor might be one that they would like to have come down and to speak to their civic and community organizations, or to participate in this ceremony or that ceremony. Maybe to participate in an ecumenical movement, along with the priest over here who was a priest of this temple and the priest of that temple, and the priest of the other temple. Maybe the pastor of this church might be willing to go down there, and yet the Lord says that their works were works that He was not pleased with, and that He was not satisfied with at all. Remember, this is how God judges a church, by their works. Churches are like individuals. They are to be judged by their works.
Notice with me in the seventh chapter of the Book of Matthew.
“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” (Mt. 7:16-18).
We see then that they are going to be judged by their fruits or by their works, as we read to you this morning in Second Corinthians 5:10. It says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
So this is our problem with this church of Laodicea, a problem of having works, but works basically of ritualism, formality. They would have a Sunday school. They would have a preaching service. They would have a Training Union. They would have a preaching service Sunday evening. They would have a Wednesday night service. They might have a visitation program. They might have an Awana club. They might have all these things, but it was all strictly ritual. Their heart was not really in it. And God says I know all about it.
We need to think about our church in this realm. How much of what we have is strictly ritual? How much of our church life is actually built upon the fact of a zeal to serve God, a zeal to worship God, a zeal to be obedient unto God, and how much of it is just habit. Or we’re afraid of what somebody might say if we don’t do it. Or our conscience bothers us if we do not do certain things.
Now the religious state of this church is described for us right here. It is a state of lukewarmness. Outwardly, the church may have seemed very strong, may have appeared very prosperous, but on the inside the Lord says you’re just lukewarm. And the state of lukewarmness, (and this I guess would be a surprise to most of us), but the state of lukewarmness is actually worse than the state of coldness, the Lord says. Now that’s a shocker, isn’t it?
We would think that a church that is cold would be worse, but the Lord says here that He wishes they were either cold or hot. He’d rather they be cold than just plain lukewarm. The Lord says it would be preferable if that church was cold rather than lukewarm. Of course, He’d rather they be hot, but of the three alternatives, He wants them hot first, cold second, and lukewarmness last.
Lukewarmness is very inferior to heat, but as far as God is concerned, at least it seems to us, that it is preferable in God’s viewpoint to be absolutely cold toward the things of God.
Perhaps there is prospect of revival if you were real cold. Perhaps there is prospect for one to wake up and to realize just how cold they really were, then maybe repent and confess to the Lord and return to the Lord. To have only half a heart for the things of God is really bad, but how could it be worse to have no heart at all for the things of God. And yet, God says He’d rather it be that way. Lukewarmness, according to what it looks like here, is the last state of a churches existence where it will still be recognized by the Lord. Lukewarmness!
Now a church doesn’t get lukewarm overnight. As I think about this, I am reminded of the illustration that is used concerning the progression from freedom to communism. We are told that no one goes directly, voluntarily and willingly from freedom to communism; that it is done by a slow and a gradual process.
Socialism is the means used to transfer us from a position of freedom to a position of communism by having us go gradually through a period of socialism, until, all of a sudden we wake up and find we have no freedom left at all. Now that is true. For you that are 40 or 50 or 60 years of age, all you need do is to look back at the history of the United States and you can see how much of our freedom has been eroded away just during our generation and how we are already on the road to socialism right here in the United States.
The illustration has been used of a frog. You can take a frog, drop that frog into boiling or hot water, and he’ll jump out immediately. But you take that same frog, put him in cool water, and gradually heat the water, and that frog will just sit there until he burns up and dies, because it is so gradual. That’s exactly the way it works in a nation or a church.
A church can be on fire for the Lord, they can be spiritual, they can be on the move for the Lord in a great way, but this idea of coldness for the Lord can come about so gradual that you hardly are aware of it at all. If it came over night, you’d “jump” out of that church and you would really raise cain. You’d gripe about the coldness that was there.
But what happens is that it comes about so gradual that the first thing you know, we look around us and ask ourselves, “Where is our spirituality?” It’s gone. Where is all of our warmth? It’s gone. Where is all of our fire? Where’s all of our heat? Where’s all of our evangelistic spirit? It’s gone. What happened? It went gradually.
But remember this, it did not go any faster than what we ourselves went, and this is what happened to this church of Laodicea. They are now a lukewarm church. The fire is still there. The heat is still there. It’s still lukewarm. It can be rekindled, and the fire and the zeal and the enthusiasm can still be brought back into focus again, but in this church it apparently didn’t. So where is that church today? Dead! Gone! What happened to the church at Laodicea can happen to Central Baptist Church here in Little Rock.
I think every one of us can look back in history, if you have been here for any length of time. Maybe I’m speaking to just a few, and maybe not to as many as I might think, but you know I grew up in this church. We came here when I was less than six years of age, so I’ve been in this church for all these years. I wasn’t saved all that time, but at least I remember things that took place, and I can remember how our church used to really be on fire for the Lord. It was not too many years ago that I can remember that when we met together for visitation on Tuesday night, and we would have many here, and nearly every one of our officers, workers and Sunday School teachers were present. Where is our fire? Where is our zeal gone?
I can remember when we used to have Training Union services that were crowded with people. Where is our zeal for the things of God? Training Union and the study of Bible doctrine is about as important as anything you can find. It is directly a part of the Great Commission where God says that the church is to teach the “all things” which means the doctrines of the Word of God.
I didn’t get to hear all of it, but I heard one of our teachers tonight in a Training Union class talking of missions, and I can’t think of anything more important than this study of missions, as he is giving right now to our church. That’s the very heart and core of what being a church is all about. But how few there are of our church who actually were in attendance of our Training Union. Where is our warmth?
As we go through a study of this church of Laodicea it will give you an opportunity to study yourself and to find out just what your temperature is. Just how cold are you? Or, how warm are you? You see, it’s when we begin to make it personal that we can begin to understand this church of Laodicea. It’s hard to be very critical of this church of Laodicea if we find that they are pretty much what we are. It’s hard to be critical of them if that’s the way we are. And yet, all of us would be very critical of the church of Laodicea. But are we lukewarm, or are we maybe even a little colder than that?
I don’t think I’m going to try to go any further with this tonight. We’ll pick it up next Sunday morning. But you know, this is something to think about. When you go home tonight, what’s your temperature? It’s a serious matter. This church is not a plaything. When we’re talking about dealing with God, we’re not talking about playing a game. It’s serious, and we ought not to just listen to it with one ear and let it go out the other ear and forget all about it.
It is a serious matter with God. Now I am sure that the church in Laodicea didn’t really consider it all that serious. They weren’t concerned with it all that much, but we ought to be because God is. Don’t just forget it. We need to think this thing through. Where are we? What is our temperature? What is God’s attitude toward us? You see, God’s attitude toward the church of Laodicea wasn’t the same as it was toward the church of Philadelphia. A lot of difference, and the reason was because there was a lot of difference between the two churches.