Revelation 3:15-18

Sermon preached on March 18, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Many years ago we were visiting at Marg's folks place and at one point in my visit I decided to make myself something to eat. I forget what it was exactly, it was probably a sandwich. So I made my sandwich, got a plate out of the cupboard and sat down in the kitchen to eat it. I was halfway through my meal when Marg's mother entered the kitchen and remarked,

"Oh, Larry, you're eating off the cat's plate."

She didn't say it as she rushed over to take the plate from me. It was just an offhanded comment and she went on to something else. I guess they used to wash the cat's dish and put it away in the cupboard and since everyone there knew it was the cat's plate, it wasn't a problem for them.

But I felt like gagging. Yuk! Why would someone keep a cat's dish in the cupboard with all the normal plates? No one else seemed that upset about it but I was horrified that I was eating off the cat's dish. If I had had food in my mouth I would have spit it out. I still get a bit queasy when I think about it. It was awful.

I mean, I don't like animals that much anyway. I used to like animals when I was little kid and we always had a dog and a cat. But one time we had this dog and he got the mange. That's a skin disease caused by parasitic mites. They irritate the skin and the dog scratches and he loses his hair at that spot. With our dog when he scratched all the hair off the spot got all infected it was pretty horrible for awhile. I was grossed out. That dog was disgusting to me. I didn't want him near me at all.

The great question you all need to ask yourselves is:

are you disgusting to the Lord?

Are you so distasteful to Him that He is tempted to spit you out of his mouth? I don't think there's anyone here that sitting on the edge of their seat thinking,

"Yep, that's me. That's me exactly."

The problem is that even if that were true of us, we probably wouldn't be thinking that. The church at Laodicea was so disgusting to Jesus that He was ready to spit them out of His mouth, yet their opinion of themselves was quite different Their attitude was,

"I am rich; I have acquired wealth
and do not need a thing."

But that opinion was far removed from reality. Jesus said to them, (verses 17-18)

"But you do not realize that
you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."

A lot of professing Christians think that they're just fine in Jesus' eyes and yet they're not. Jesus is not at all pleased with them. Take Ananias and Sapphira for instance. They didn't seem to be worried right before the Lord struck them dead. They had no idea that they were so displeasing to the Lord.

So what I want to do this morning is look at

the great danger of complacency.

Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, (verses 15–16)

"I know your deeds,
that you are neither cold nor hot.
I wish you were either one or the other!
So, because you are lukewarm—
neither hot nor cold—I am about to
spit you out of my mouth."

Some commentators take Jesus word's here as referring to spiritual fervor. The idea is that we should be on fire for Jesus. That could be the meaning and it teaches an important truth—that as Christians we should be very zealous for Jesus and His glory. Indeed, that's what Jesus tells us in verse 19. They needed to be zealous. But the fact that Jesus also says that He wishes that they were 'cold' is a problem for that view. But it could be explained by the fact that some say that those that are cold toward Christianity are more likely to repent than those that are lukewarm. Again, that could be true but it seems a bit of a stretch. As G. K. Beale says, (Revelation, p. 303)

"it is unlikely that Christ would commend that extreme of complete disloyalty…"

But there is a better explanation. Hierapolis, a city six miles to the north, had hot springs. Colossae, another near-by city, had a cold mountain stream for drinking water. Laodicea had neither. It's local water was lukewarm and was full of sediment. It wasn't suitable for drinking. So they had a six mile pipeline constructed to bring in water. Compared to the hot nearby springs and the ice cold water of Colossae, their local water, lukewarm and full of sediment, was valueless. Craig Keener writes, (Revelation)

"The real point is that whereas hot and cold water both serve important functions… lukewarm water does not…"

Robert H. Mounce writes, (Revelation, NICNT; p. 109-110)

"The contrast is between the hot medicinal waters of Hierapolis and the cold, pure waters of Colossae. Thus the church in Laodicea 'was providing neither refreshment for the spiritually weary, nor healing for the spiritually sick. It was totally ineffective, and thus distasteful to its Lord.' On this interpretation the church is not being called to task for its spiritual temperature but for the barrenness of its works."

The church wasn't doing its job. Just like the tepid local water, the church at Laodicea was useless to the town.

Some have suggested (Beale) that that works that they failed to carry out was their duty to be an effective witness to the lost of Laodicea. The unbelievers in Laodicea were missing out on hearing about Christ because the Christians there were neglecting their duty. Beale tells us that there are two things that suggest this. First of all, this was the issue with all the other churches. They were either praised or condemned on the basis of their witness. Not only that, but Jesus introduces Himself to the church at Laodicea as the,

"faithful and true witness…"

and that is a rebuke to them because of they were not witnesses. They were complacent.

The first great lesson from our text is that

you need to work hard at being a good witness for Jesus.

One of the aspects of the Christian life is about work—about working hard for the Lord. Of course we are not saved by our works. We are saved by Jesus and His work—His substitutionary work for us on the cross. Salvation is a free gift. We receive it by faith. But that is not all there is. There is such a thing as sanctification, where we grow in holiness. Justification and sanctification go together. They are distinct yet they go together. Michael Horton writes, (The Christian Faith, p. 649)

"In the act of justification, works and grace are totally opposed. However, once our persons are justified, so too our works can be 'saved' in spite of their imperfections. The faith that receives Christ apart from works for justification also receives Christ for works in sanctification."

But one of the reasons that Jesus saved us so that we would work for Him. As Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:10,

"For we are God's workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do."

We are Jesus' servants. On the last day, some people are going to hear the words, (Matthew 25:21)

"Well done, good and faithful servant!"

Others are going to hear the Lord say, (Matthew 25:26–30)

"You wicked, lazy servant!"

Jesus then went on to tell what would happen to them.

"Whoever does not have,
even what he has will be taken from him.
And throw that worthless servant outside,
into the darkness, where there will be
weeping and gnashing of teeth."

You need to work hard for the Lord. On the day of judgment the righteous will ask the Lord, (Matthew 25:37–40)

"Lord, when did we see you hungry
and feed you, or thirsty and give you
something to drink?
When did we see you a stranger
and invite you in,
or needing clothes and clothe you?
When did we see you sick or in prison
and go to visit you?"

The King will reply,

"I tell you the truth,
whatever you did for one of the least
of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

1 Corinthians 9:24 tells us that all runners run in the race but only one gets the prize. It tells us to,

"Run in such a way as to get the prize."

1 Corinthians 15:58 tells us to,

"Always give yourselves fully
to the work of the Lord,
because you know that your labor
in the Lord is not in vain."

Although we are going to get into heaven on the basis of Jesus' work and not our own—we are judged by our deeds. To the churches Jesus says, "I know your deeds."

The second lesson from our text is that

you should use the material things that God gives you to further His kingdom.

Many people get material things and they selfishly use their wealth to indulge their fancies. Or they are miserly and refuse to spend it so that it is of no use to anyone. Both of those extremes are wrong.

There is such a thing as private property. It is something that God gives us and in His grace, counts it as our own. As Peter said to Ananias about the property he sold. (Acts 5:4)

"Didn't it belong to you before it was sold?
And after it was sold,
wasn't the money at your disposal?"

Yet, in another sense, nothing really belongs to us. We are just stewards of God's gifts. We only have them for a short time.

If God blesses you with earthly riches, rather than becoming complacent, you need to realize that you have been given a great responsibility—you and everything you have is to further God's kingdom. The things that God gives us, are to be used for that purpose. Notice what Jesus says in verse 18,

"I counsel you to buy from me gold
refined in the fire,
so you can become rich;"

Or to put it another way, we are to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. We also need to remember what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:10,

"For the love of money is
a root of all kinds of evil.
Some people, eager for money,
have wandered from the faith
and pierced themselves with many griefs."

Rather than love money and set our hearts on earthly possessions, we are to remember what the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:8–11,

"And God is able to make
all grace abound to you,
so that in all things at all times,
having all that you need,
you will abound in every good work…
Now he who supplies seed to the sower
and bread for food will also supply
and increase your store of seed
and will enlarge the harvest
of your righteousness.
You will be made rich in every way
so that you can be generous
on every occasion,
and through us your generosity
will result in thanksgiving to God."

Just like spiritual gifts are to be used for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Peter 4:10) so too the material things that God give us are to be used for God. We own nothing. Everything belongs to God. We are just stewards of His gifts.

One of the things that is characterized as meaningless in Ecclesiastes is the accumulation of wealth. We read, (Ecclesiastes 2:18–19)

"I hated all the things
I had toiled for under the sun,
because I must leave them to the one
who comes after me. And who knows
whether he will be a wise man or a fool?
Yet he will have control over all the work
into which I have poured my effort
and skill under the sun.
This too is meaningless."

Rather than just accumulating wealth, we should be using it for God's glory. In Luke 16:9 Jesus said,

"I tell you, use worldly wealth
to gain friends for yourselves,
so that when it is gone,
you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."

Jesus used the unjust steward to illustrate a great truth. As John Calvin puts it,

"by acts of charity we obtain favor with God…"

The point is not that we are to be like the unjust steward in cheating our employer. No, the point is that if we help those in need, God takes it as done to Himself and we will be richly rewarded by Him.

The third lesson we see from our text is that

it's not about you.

The Christians at Laodicea apparently thought that it was God's job to make them happy and once that happened they became complacent. When earthly blessing came they thought that they could relax because God was so pleased with them.

That's the attitude that many Christians have today. I saw a little video on the web this past week of Michael Horton, a professor at Westminster Seminary West, in California. He said that some people think that
God exists to make them happy. They have the attitude that when God does that for them they can say,

"I should take life easy. I have many goods laid up for many years."

But wait—that was the attitude of the rich fool that Jesus condemned. So obviously we shouldn't have that self-centered and self-serving attitude.

The question of why God exists is a deep and profound one. I'm not even sure we should go there because I don't think the Bible addresses it directly so it might just lead to unprofitable speculation. But one of the most superficial, most self-centered and most incorrect answers to that question would be,

"God exists to make me happy."

Yet that's how many people view the existence of God. It's all about them, like they're the center of the universe.

There's not even a grain of truth there. They have it totally backwards. Yes, it is true that in the future God is going to make us exceedingly happy. We are going to be made glorious. We are going to be purified and made holy. We are going to be brought near to God and we are going to be filled with delight, with joy, with awe. To be with Him will be the most satisfying experience. How content and fulfilled we will be.

But note this well.
But God doesn't exist for us, for our benefit, to make us happy. We exist for God, for His glory. We're not the center of the universe. He is! He has saved us for His glory. According to Ephesians 1:4–6 we read,

"In love he predestined us
to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ,
in accordance with his pleasure and will—
to the praise of his glorious grace,
which he has freely given us
in the One he loves."

And in verses 11 and 12 of that same chapter we read,

"In him we were also chosen,
having been predestined
according to the plan of him
who works out everything in conformity
with the purpose of his will,
in order that we,
who were the first to hope in Christ,
might be for the praise of his glory."

We exist for God. He is God and we were created for His glory.

Part of His plan is that of leaving His church here in this fallen world to be His witnesses so that others can come to know Him. In John 16:33 Jesus said to His disciples,

"In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart!
I have overcome the world."

Why do we have trouble in the world? Because Jesus has told us how to live—to shine for Him.. Like Jesus was, we are to be a light to the world. The world doesn't like that. As we read in John 3:19,

"This is the verdict:
Light has come into the world,
but men loved darkness instead of light
because their deeds were evil."

In John 8:37 Jesus said to His countrymen, (HCSB)

"you are trying to kill Me because
My word is not welcome among you."

For the church, suffering comes before glory. For example, consider Hebrews chapters 11 and 12. Chapter 11 is about the heroes of the faith, those that pleased God—Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses. The chapter ends this way, (verses 32ff)

"And what more shall I say?
I do not have time to tell about Gideon,
Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets,
who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice,
and gained what was promised;
who shut the mouths of lions,
quenched the fury of the flames,
and escaped the edge of the sword;
whose weakness was turned to strength;
and who became powerful in battle
and routed foreign armies.
Women received back their dead, raised to life again.
Others were tortured and refused to be released,
so that they might gain a better resurrection.
Some faced jeers and flogging,
while still others were chained and put in prison.
They were stoned; they were sawed in two;
they were put to death by the sword.
They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,
destitute, persecuted and mistreated—
the world was not worthy of them.
They wandered in deserts and mountains,
and in caves and holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith,
yet none of them received what had been promised.
God had planned something better for us
so that only together with us
would they be made perfect."

Then chapter 12 begins this way,

"Therefore, since we are surrounded
by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him
endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured
such opposition from sinful men,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Do you see the point? We are to follow in their steps and be good witnesses for Jesus. For Jesus, it was suffering before glory. We are to follow in His footsteps. As Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:20

"Remember the words I spoke to you:
'No servant is greater than his master.'
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also."

We are here to be witnesses for Jesus. It is His will for the churches that they be good witnesses even when that involves them suffering for Him. It's not about you, your happiness, your welfare—it's about Jesus and His kingdom, His glory.

The last lesson for Christians is that

you must be very careful about adopting the attitude of the prevailing culture.

Part of the complacency of the church in Laodicea came from their sense of self-sufficiency. The city of Laodicea prided itself on its self-sufficiency and we see the same attitude in the church in Laodicea. Laodicea was a very wealthy city. It not only was situated on the intersection of two major trade routes, but it was on a plateau above the very fertile Lycus Valley. It was a great area for raising sheep and by careful breeding the people of the area were able to produce a soft, glossy black wool that became very much in demand. Not only that but it was also a financial, judicial, medical and administrative center. The economy was so diversified that the city was basically immune from financial disaster. It was so wealthy that the Roman historian Tacitus wrote, (Annals, 14:27:1)

"In the same year, Laodicea, one of the famous Asiatic cities, was laid in ruins by an earthquake, but recovered by its own resources, without assistance from ourselves."

Most other cites that were affected by the earthquake requested assistance from Rome. But Laodicea refused help and rebuilt itself.

The church at Laodicea thought they were self-sufficient. They thought they needed nothing. They stopped depending on Jesus, not realizing that without Him they could do nothing.

Christians, don't adopt the attitude of your culture. Rather be schooled in God's Word—and adopt attitudes befitting a true servant of God.

Lastly, for you who do not know Christ. Jesus knows your deeds. He knows about your complacency. He knows about how you think you're self-sufficient and how you don't need Him. He knows that instead of serving Him your chasing after things that are meaningless and worthless. He knows it, and yet He's being patient with you.

He knows it. And now you've been told it. As you are, you are getting a total failing grade. You're a sinner. You're unclean and disgusting in God's eyes. One day He will spit you out of His mouth. Unless, that is, you go to Jesus. He can cleanse you. He can wash away your sins. He can give you new life. Go to Him today and avoid the disaster that threatens to befall you. May God give you grace to do so.