Letters to the Churches: Laodicea
We arrive at the last church to which our Lord spoke—and it is the worst of the bunch. Whereas the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia are materially poor but spiritually rich, the church of Laodicea is materially rich but spiritually poor. We must assume that they have garnered their wealth through compromise with the local authorities in idolatry, either by eating food offered to idols at the pagan temples or participating in the imperial cult—the polar opposite of Smyrna and Philadelphia who suffered for refusing to do these things. And because they are materially wealthy, they think that a sign of spiritual favor—a huge mistake in Kingdom economics.
Laodicea represents a church plagued by a sin all too common throughout history and especially in America—complacency. This generally happens during times of plenty and prosperity. Such are rich, have prospered, and need nothing materially—all the ingredients that lead to such spiritual lethargy. But Christ says that such are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” And though we have no temples to Artemis today, there are still a thousand ways to compromise one’s witness. It is this complacency that so sickens our Lord. Hot water cleanses and heals while cold water refreshes; but, lukewarm water suits no purpose—just like complacency, lethargy, and satisfaction with one’s walk with the Lord—a matter with which one should always feel an amount of conviction and discontentment in this life.
And so what does the divine merchant recommend they purchase from him for their own benefit? 1) “Gold refined by fire”: This speaks to purity and the need to cease compromising with the worldly powers that they may be truly rich; 2) “White garments”: Trading their filth for the righteous deeds which saints commit (19:8), that the shame of their nakedness be covered; and, 3) Salve for their eyes that they may see and stand in horror of their true condition and rush to the throne of grace begging these remedies.
Our Lord is the Great Physician who reproves and disciplines those he loves. He introduced himself to the Laodiceans as the “faithful and true witness,” which is exactly what he wants them to become, what he wants every church to become. There is no room for spiritual lethargy in the Christian’s life. We must be ever growing drawing closer to him through worship, Scripture reading, prayer, and insight into how to navigate the choppy waters of this life without compromising our witness. All of this requires discipline, effort, diligence, fervor—and most of all, God’s grace.