Some time ago, as I read the letter to the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22), it startled me to realize that false converts had overtaken the church that, at one time, shared Paul’s epistles with the Colossian church (see Colossians 4:15). It floored me to realize how rapidly a church could abandon sound doctrine! By the time John had experienced his revelation, the Laodicean church had evidently deteriorated so drastically that they had no real connection with the Lord. Think about this sad passage with me:
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 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. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (ESV)
Not only did this congregation lack passion for the Lord, but it had no idea of its impoverished condition. Yet our Lord, in His abundant grace, offered salvation and restoration to this rebellious church. If they continued in their indifference and false pride, He would vomit them from His mouth in mutual rejection. But if they repented and zealously heeded His Word, He would draw them into fellowship with Himself.
I believe many 21st Century churches, like the Laodiceans, find excitement in their music, their various outreach programs and/or their attempts to be “relevant” to the world while they demonstrate boredom with the doctrines that reveal Christ’s nature. The may read the Bible, but usually only to see how it might benefit them personally. They don’t realize how much they need salvation.
Individual Christians can also wander into spiritual poverty by focusing on secondary issues to such a degree that they lose sight of the Lord. In this election year, we see an example of evangelicals losing perspective as they support Donald Trump. Trump voters within evangelical circles want change in the Republican Party so desperately that they’re willing to support a man who (despite his claims to be a Christian) leads a life flagrantly opposed to Biblical Christianity. His evangelical supporters have apparently forgotten that they originally joined the GOP out of a desire to honor the Lord.
I’m not judging every Christian who votes for Trump, but I do believe his evangelical supporters should think very carefully about their reasons for voting for an admitted adulterer who pretty much made his fortune through the gambling industry. How does supporting such a man reflect godly values? And have you replaced devotion to Christ with a devotion to politics? Has your zeal to “make America great again” eclipsed your interest in proclaiming the Gospel and worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ?
Of course, being overly devoted to politics is only one example of how evangelicals can become lukewarm. Looking back at the passage, we see that the church at Laodicea suffered spiritual poverty for an ironic reason: they believed they were spirituality rich. Secure in the past commendation Paul gave them, they stopped looking to Christ and acknowledging Him as their Source of strength and Object of worship. They lost sight of Paul’s words in that letter to the Colossians:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)
Whether it’s a church in general caught up in seeker-sensitive gimmicks, an individual exalting politics or any other distraction from wholehearted devotion to the Lord, we must guard against forgetting our absolute dependence on Him. Yet the Lord still offers us hope, if we’ll just admit our spiritual poverty and look to Him. This passage makes me marvel at God’s patience with those who passively reject Him, and even more at His willingness to restore repentant churches (and individuals) to Himself!