Just the name of that church conjures up all sorts of images in our mind. It was a church that was tepid, bored, and apathetic–overconfident in their own spiritual condition. In short, they were lukewarm.
And, as we all know, Jesus told them plainly, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16).
Spiritually speaking, the Laodicean church could be summarized in a single word that (unfortunately) captures the ethos of our modern culture: “Whatever.”
The problem, of course, with being apathetic is that you can actually be apathetic about your apathy! Put simply an apathetic church does not think it is that big of deal. But, here are some reasons apathy is a bigger deal than we think:
1. Apathy towards Christ can be more dangerous than enmity towards Him. The fundamental reason people miss the problem of apathy is because they assume its better than being an enemy of God. It’s halfway to being committed, they think, and thus better than being against God. It’s a step in the right direction.
But, Jesus disagrees. For him, apathy (at least in some ways) is worse than enmity towards God. “Would that you were either cold or hot!” (3:15).
It is actually the “whatever” type of person sitting in the pew that is hardest to reach. Why? Because they say to themselves, “I need nothing” (3:17).
As the author George MacDonald once said: “Complaint against God is far nearer to God than indifference about Him.”
2. Apathy towards Christ is the religion of our age. Another factor that makes an apathetic church a problem is that it feeds our culture’s perception that religion is best in moderation. Ironically, while Jesus says apathy is the worst spiritual condition, our culture contends that it is the best!
For the most part, mainline churches in modern America are actually aiming for the middle ground. They want enough religion to be respectable, but to not so much that they are viewed as zealots.
Parents tell their children that they shouldn’t be atheists, but, at the same time, they tell them not to take this religious thing too far. Lukewarm religion is actually the goal.
In a culture like this, the last thing the evangelical church needs to do is to feed this misunderstanding. This is why John Stott thinks that the letter to Laodicea may be one of the most important for the modern church:
Perhaps none of the seven letters is more appropriate to the twentieth century church than this. It describes vividly the respectable, sentimental, nominal, skin-deep religiosity which is so widespread among us today. Our Christianity is flabby and anemic, we appear to have taken a lukewarm bath.
3. Apathy towards Christ is out of sync with his worthiness. The core problem with Christian apathy, the thing that makes it so serious, is the thing we are apathetic about, namely the person of Christ.
There is an enormous disparity between the glory, wonder, and beauty of Christ and our bored, tepid, “whatever” sort of response to him. And it is this sizable gap between what Christ is worth and our lackluster reaction to him that makes apathy such a problem.
And that sort of gap raises serious questions about a person’s spiritual health and vitality.
For example, if someone found themselves at a middle school art fair, it would be fairly understandable if they found themselves bored and unimpressed with the quality of the art.
But, if that same individual stood in the Sistine Chapel and looked up at the wondrous work of Michelangelo and was still bored, then there would be something seriously wrong with them.
Simply put, apathy is a problem because it misses the whole point of Christianity: the greatness of Christ.
In the end, these three factors remind us that apathy is a bigger problem than we think. So what can be done about it?
Christ himself gives the answer in his letter to Laodicea: “I counsel you to buy from me” (3:18). A renewed vision of the beauty and greatness of Christ is always the ultimate cure for apathy.
And Christ invites his people to experience him afresh: “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” (3:20).
In this verse Christ is drawing on the Song of Solomon, presenting himself as the groom and his church as the bride. And he is asking his church to fall in love with him all over again.
This is a challenging Scripture to me. Would you say the people in this Church are Christians or not? I would say they are Christians since Jesus refers to them as his Church, however I’m genuinely asking.
I have understood this text to mean hot water has a good use, and cold water has a good use, but lukewarm has none. So these are Christians but they are not fruitful, hot would be a type of good works, and cold would also be a type of good works.
But I understand this article to be saying that hot water means ‘hot’ as we might say ‘on fire for Christ’, and cold water is meant to symbolize ‘cold hearts’ toward God. And lukewarm is somewhere in the middle, not cold toward God (enmity) but not on fire for God (fully committed). In this sense it makes someone who has a little of Christ, a little faith, worse than someone who hates Christ. So I have a hard time going there, because if someone is truly a Christian, even if they are an immature, apathetic Christian, they are infinitely better off than an unbeliever. They are at least in the Ark even if on the bottom level. Even if all their works are burned up they will still be saved even if through fire.
The only way I could accept a ‘lukewarm’ Christian being worse off is if they really aren’t a Christian at all but rather deceived into thinking they are. In that case they are equally separated from God as the person who has enmity toward him. It may be harder to break through to them (humanly speaking) about their sinful state since they would seem to be self-righteous, but they are equally under God’s wrath as the person who hates God.
Perhaps this is similar to Hebrews 6, those who has tasted, then fallen away are are unable to be restored?
“For the most part, mainline churches in modern America are actually aiming for the middle ground. They want enough religion to be respectable, but to not so much that they are viewed as zealots.
Parents tell their children that they shouldn’t be atheists, but, at the same time, they tell them not to take this religious thing too far. Lukewarm religion is actually the goal.”
Yes! This is the default position of cultural Christianity. Few people would want their kid to grow up to be like John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul. While they would be embarrassed if their kid grew up to be a tax collector, they would celebrate if their kid grew up to be the rich, young ruler. Most are not apathetic about that.
I get to clean a primary school art room & often pause to take in the childrens work & it is amazing stuff, rich in so many ways.Little children can be such good examples of enthusiasm & interest.
Scripture reminds us of the deceitfulness of wealth, it actually can rob us of many things if we are not careful.We should be gaurding our hearts & minds but we can so easily doze off.
In regards to Jim Pemberton dare I say even the leadership thought this way? And as a challenge(with all respect) to Dr Krugers comment regarding the Sistine Chapel…could it also be an example of the church in Laodicea.
One more typo I found.
Perhaps none of the seven letters is more appropriate to the twentieth century church than this. It describes vividly the respectable, sentimental, nominal, skin-deep religiosity which is so *wide spread among us today. Our Christianity is flabby and anemic, we appear to have taken a lukewarm bath.
John Hotchkiss says
I have come to interpret hot or cold as being desirable. If this is an appropriate place, could you elaborate on hot as desirable and cold as not? Thanks.
A similar warning was given to Israel upon entering the promised land. Deut 8:1-20. And with biblical hindsight/insight we see the outcome for many that forget the Lord, even after so many warnings from God.
This link goes into more detail. https://bible.org/seriespage/9-message-laodicea-rev-314-22
Now presently in the last days & the gospel of God’s grace with its invitation & warnings spreading across the earth, the call to love God with all our heart & mind & strength remains the same according to Jesus.
The more our modern culture shapes us the less we become like Jesus who lived by the true grit of faith.
So you’re saying the verse In ‘n Out puts on the bottom of their french fry bags echoes Song of Solomon? Didn’t know that. Very encouraging article!