Laodicea

“I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see” (Revelation 3:18).

The Christians in Laodicea thought they had everything. In fact, they had nothing.

God had given Jesus a vision to give to John on Patmos; it began with messages directed to the seven churches of Asia, of which Laodicea was the seventh (Revelation 1:1-3:13). Jesus had at least something good to say about the previous six churches; He has nothing good to say about Laodicea.

Laodicea was a prominent city of Asia in the Lycus River valley. Many of the things which made the city famous are spoken of in some way by Jesus: the water which came into town from hot springs outside of the city would be lukewarm by the time it arrived. The city was known for its garment manufacturing, a great medical school and a local powder used as an eyesalve, and for its great wealth, placed on important trade routes. When the city was leveled by earthquake in the 60s it did not obtain Imperial assistance to rebuild; it used its own resources. A lot of people would have considered Laodicea a great place to live; no doubt many would be tempted to hold the church and its members in high esteem. They believed in Jesus; they partook of the wealth of which the city had become famous.

And yet that wealth had blinded, paralyzed, and deformed the Christians of Laodicea spiritually. Jesus indicted them as lukewarm, being neither cold nor hot (Revelation 3:15-16): they provided neither warmth in cold nor refreshment in heat, but wavered in the middle, leading to instant revulsion. How did they manifest lukewarmness? They said to themselves they were rich and thus had need of nothing. Jesus told them they, in truth, were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17). Jesus brought home the message in a most devastating way: the Christians who had a lot of gold needed to buy from Jesus gold refined by fire; Christians who enjoyed a thriving garment industry needed white garments from Jesus with which to clothe themselves; Christians who had easy access to the best eyesalve of the day needed Jesus’ eyesalve so they could see (Revelation 3:18). Jesus said such things because of His love for them: He reproves and chastens those whom He loves, and so the Laodiceans ought to prove zealous and repent (Revelation 3:19).

What had gone so wrong for the Christians in Laodicea? How could they have reached the point where Jesus could say nothing positive about them? How could they have been so deceived and deluded? By the moment Jesus wrote to them, the Laodicean Christians had become as “thorny” soil, deceived by their wealth (Matthew 13:22/Mark 4:19/Luke 8:14).

Riches and wealth prove alluring for all sorts of understandable but ultimately unprofitable reasons. With wealth we are able to provide for ourselves and others, yes, but we also start putting our confidence in looking toward the future in that wealth. We feel self-sufficient and in charge if we have wealth. Other people start treating us as more valuable and honorable because of that wealth. Soon we might find ourselves seeking to preserve and grow our wealth for the sake of maintaining it. Some people are able to grow wealth without actively harming or oppressing others; far too often, however, wealth is gained by one at the expense of others. With wealth comes decadence in its many forms: often no appetite is left for seeking justice, advocating for those less fortunate, or zeal for a cause, lest these pursuits somehow jeopardize our wealth and standing. We want to please all people; we want to avoid suffering at any cost. With wealth we become fat and happy.

On a spiritual level wealth proves a disaster. God is the Source of all blessings and gifts; without what God has given, there could be no wealth (James 1:17). One’s wealth all too easily displaces God from the center of one’s life; the wealthy tend to serve Mammon more than God (Matthew 6:24). Maintaining wealth works against all of the demands of believers in Christ Jesus toward dependence on God, humility in disposition, zeal in righteousness and justice, and willingness to suffer affliction so as to grow in faith (cf. Ephesians 4:1-5:21, Colossians 3:1-17). Furthermore, even if there are spiritual warning signs to be seen, the great discomfort which would be caused by recognizing the dangers leads to strong resistance to think of them as problematic. In this way the Laodicean Christians presumed themselves rich and sufficient but proved spiritually wretched, poor, and blind.

Thus Jesus counseled them to suffer, buying gold from Him as refined by fire (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7); they were to again turn to Him in repentance for cleansing, receiving white garments to cover their nakedness and shame; they were to prove willing to open their eyes to see their true condition before God in Christ, anointed with eyesalve so as to see (Revelation 3:18). Only through suffering would they learn true humility and faith; only by repenting could they find a way to trust in God in Jesus; all these things could only take place if they proved willing to see their true condition. And so it continues to be with the wealthy.

Jesus’ message to the church in Laodicea should be heard as a clarion call to repentance for Christians today. In the Western world all of us, even if poor by modern standards, maintain far more wealth than was present in the ancient Roman world, and enjoy far greater security, comfort, and health than even the wealthiest Romans. The church in the modern era has all too often fallen into decadence, like Laodicea, presuming itself wealthy and in need of nothing, but truly wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. The state of the church in the Western world speaks for itself.

And so Christians today do well to turn to the Lord Jesus and buy from Him that gold refined by fire, proving willing to suffer for the Cause. In the New Testament the Christians who suffered more in life and in persecution tended to be more spiritually mature than those who did not suffer. The way of Christ offers no bypass around suffering: if we wish to reach Zion, we must go through Calvary. Christians must repent of their trust in material wealth, entitlement programs, or their own ingenuity, but repent and seek clothing from Jesus. We are exposed in nakedness to all sorts of dangers even if we have nice clothing and comfortable homes; only Jesus can cover our nakedness and shame. Christians must prove willing to see their plight and not turn aside from its ugliness. How many will enter perdition because they were deceived by the riches of this world? May we prove willing to suffer for the Lord Jesus, repent of our confidence in riches, and gain the victory in faith!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Zealous For Good

And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good? (1 Peter 3:13).

We have again come to the time of the year known as “March Madness,” when the eyes of many in the nation are focused on the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament. Even people who have not really followed the teams so far this season fill out their brackets, and millions tune in to see who will be upset and who will be able to win it all.

The passion that people bring to sporting events is, of course, legendary. In America, baseball and basketball are cherished sports, but nothing seems to inspire more passion than college and professional football. In most other countries it is soccer that inspires fanatic devotion. Untold amounts of money, energy, and time are expended in following and cheering on these sports teams.

And for what? Most of the teams, by necessity, lose. The focus then goes to the next season. But what happens when your team wins? You may go and get an honorary t-shrirt or hat or the like, but even here, the focus goes to next year. And then the year after that.

As the Preacher indicates, all is vanity, or emptiness (Ecclesiastes 1:1). So it is with fanatical passion regarding sports– teams win, teams lose, and the world goes on, and nothing is really gained in the end. But this goes beyond mere sports– it is true with almost everything in life. Politics– actions are done, actions get reversed. Elections are won and elections are lost. The world moves on. Business corporations succeed. They stagnate. They fall. Others begin to succeed. The world moves on. All remains vanity!

How much human effort, energy, and resources are expended toward that which is ultimately futile? How many people devote all the energy they’ve been given in this short life to things that do not ultimately profit?

Believers in God, on the other hand, are invited to invest their time and energy into something that will endure forever– the Kingdom of God (Daniel 2:36-44). We are invited to lay up treasures in Heaven, where thieves cannot steal and moth cannot consume (cf. Matthew 6:19-20). We are able to participate in God’s eternal plan, promoting His purposes to those in His creation (cf. Ephesians 3:10-11). And then, when everything that humans have expended their effort to obtain is burned up into nothing, we have the opportunity to experience the eternal weight of glory with the Father forever (2 Peter 3:9-12, Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:17).

Therefore, we have been given the greatest encouragement, incentive, and purpose that could ever be. Whereas any effort we direct toward any other purpose or cause will not endure, our effort in the Lord is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). All the gold in the universe will melt, but treasure in Heaven will be perpetual. When all is destroyed, it will not matter who won the Final Four, the Super Bowl, or the World Cup. All that will matter is whether we were found to be obedient servants of the Lord Jesus Christ and that we were zealous for His purposes (cf. Matthew 25:14-46)!

It is easy to become zealous for sports, zealous for politics, zealous for business, or zealous for thousands of things “under the sun.” Yet our overreaching passion and zeal should be directed for the good– for the promotion of God’s message of salvation in this world, reflecting Jesus Christ to everyone in our lives. Let us be zealous for good, and not allow our energies to be misdirected!

Ethan R. Longhenry