The church in Laodicea is famous, though I’m sure if they knew it, they would not be pleased with their legacy. We all know Laodicea was the lukewarm church and Jesus was ready to spit them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). But what exactly does this mean and how can we use their example as a springboard for our own spiritual lives?
For a long time, I read and preached this metaphor as I had heard it from others. Perhaps you have heard it presented this way. The temperatures represent a scale of spirituality. Hot was being on fire for the Lord with amazing zeal. Cold was being as absolutely uninterested and unconcerned about the Lord and spiritual things as possible. In fact, it was more than a lack of interest, it would represent a positive animosity to God and His things. Lukewarm, on the other hand was somewhere in the middle. It was not complete animosity or apathy. But, it wasn’t complete zeal for God either. It represented the person who cared enough to “go to church” perhaps but was just resting on their laurels and not working for the Lord at all.
With this reading, Jesus is saying He would rather the Laodiceans be His complete and utter enemies than act like they are His friends but not really serve Him.
Perhaps that is Jesus’ meaning with this metaphor, but more recently, I have read it differently.
The Tale of Two Drinks
This metaphor is a picture of useful drinks versus useless drinks. We have to ask what makes hot and cold drinks useful. Hot drinks are useful, especially on a cold day because they are comforting and warming. I drank a hot cup of coffee while driving in my cold, heaterless car this morning. It was most useful and I wish had more even now. The cold drink is useful on a hot day because it is refreshing and cooling.
But what happens if the useful drinks are left to sit on the counter for an hour or two? They lose their distinction. As we learned from high school science, the difference in temperature between the drink and its environment will begin to regulate each other. The energy from the hot drink will dissipate. The warmth from the air will heat the cold drink. They will both become tepid, lukewarm and useless.
Now, stop and think. What happened to these drinks?
They lost their distinction. I needed a hot drink on that cold day. I wanted a cold drink on that hot day. These drinks lost their usefulness because they had become just like their surroundings. Instead of having a great impact on their environment, their environment had an impact on them.
Do you see now what Jesus was telling Laodicea. His point was not that He would rather they be His clear enemies than just so-so. He was saying He wanted them to stand out and be different from their environment. He wanted them to impact those that surrounded them. Sadly, the reverse had been true and so they were to Jesus like the tepid cup of coffee–disgusting and useless.
The Springboard for Us
What’s the springboard for us? Stand out. Be different. Don’t try to blend in. Don’t try to make everyone like you spiritually. If that happens, you have probably become useless to the Lord. We are only useful to Him to the degree that we are different from our environment and therefore make an impact on it. Today, don’t worry about what everyone else thinks about your spirituality. Embrace it. No, don’t flaunt it Pharisaically as if you are special for your spirituality. But don’t hide it either, embarrassed that someone might find out you are a Christian. Let your light shine before men so that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.