And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things said the Amen, the faithful and true witness…
It was a wealthy city in which this Church had her home, and it was large and beautiful also. It stood on one of the great Roman roads which led away to Damascus and Arabia. Hence there was a large stream of traffic continually flowing through it, and its inhabitants became very rich. At the time when this letter was sent them they were building for themselves one of those huge amphitheatres which the Greeks and Romans of the day were wont to build in all their chief cities, and where those too often barbarous and degrading sports, in which they so much delighted, might be carried on. As a further evidence of their wealth, it is recorded how, when their city was almost destroyed by one of those earthquakes by which the whole region was so often disturbed, they rebuilt it entirely at their own cost. A Church was early formed there, and was one of considerable importance. It was probably founded by one or other of those earnest-minded brethren, who, like Epaphras, whom Paul names in his letter to the neighbouring Church at Colossae, and who were commissioned by St. Paul for such work, probably during his sojourn at Ephesus. We know that Epaphras was a near neighbour, Colossae being only some six or eight miles distant from Laodicea; and hence it is likely that he - "faithful minister of Christ, and beloved fellow servant," as St. Paul calls him (Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12) - had something to do with the planting of the Church there. And we can have no doubt but that the Church was once in a very flourishing condition. The Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians was intended, it is all but certain, as much for the Laodiceans as the Ephesians, if not more so. The high praise which we find in that letter is therefore to be regarded as given to Laodicea, which now, when St. John writes to it, is so sadly fallen. And in Colossians 2:1, 5, St. Paul speaks of them and of the "steadfastness" of their "faith in Christ" (cf. also Colossians 4:13-16). But a sad change had come over them, and the result is this letter before us now. Note -
I. THEIR CHARACTER AND CONDITION. They are charged with being "neither cold nor hot," but lukewarm. That is to say, that whilst there was not absolute denial of the faith and disregard of all Christ's claims, there yet was neither the fervent zeal, the devout spirit, nor the all-sacrificing love, springing from a vigorous faith, which would make a Church glow with holy fervour and sacred heat. And this half and half, neither one thing nor the other, condition is all too common amongst not a few who profess and call themselves Christians. How many Churches, and how many churchgoing people, may, and probably have, seen their portraitures in this sad letter to the Church at Laodicea! They cannot be said to be cold and so utterly disregardful of religion, or of Christian faith and custom; but as certainly they are not "hot," not filled with love and zeal and desire towards Christ, willing to do all, bear all, be all or anything or nothing, so only as the honour of his Name may be increased, and the boundaries of his kingdom enlarged. Christians are to be known by their ardour, and so tongues of fire came and rested upon their heads on the great Pentecostal day. But Laodicea and the like of her show nothing of this kind, nor will nor can they whilst they remain as they are. And the common run of men like to have it thus. Cold makes them shiver; heat scorches them, - they like neither; but to be moderately warm, tepid, or but little more; that is pleasant, is safe, is best every way, so men think. The cynic statesman's parting charge to one of his agents, "Surtout, point de zele," is, in fact, what the ordinary Christian vastly prefers for himself and for others. They confound zeal with eccentricity, fervour with wild and ill-considered schemes, earnestness with rant, enthusiasm with mere delirium and extravagance; and, under pretence of discountenancing these undesirable things, they desire neither for themselves nor for others that glow of Divine love in their souls which is desirable above all things else. They congratulate themselves upon being moderate, sober-minded people, and they pity the poor deluded enthusiasts, to whom it is a dreadful thing that sin and sorrow should prevail as they do, and who, therefore, are in the very forefront of the battle against them, Laodiceans think well and speak well of themselves, and other people credit them with what they say, and hence they are self-complacent and well satisfied, and wonder why anybody should doubt or differ from them. They do not hear the world's sneer or see its mocking look when their names are mentioned; still less do they hear the sighing of the sorrowful heart which yearns to see the Church of Christ rise up to her Lord's ideal and intent. But they go on saying and thinking that they are well to do, and have need of nothing. But their condition is abhorrent to the Lord; he cannot abide it, nauseates it, would rather far that they were either cold or hot; either extreme would be better than the sickening lukewarmness which now characterizes them. To such it was that the Lord said, "The publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." Whilst of the irreligious multitudes he only said, as he looked on them with compassion, "They are as sheep having no shepherd." Elijah said, "If Baal be God, serve him;" "better be hearty in his service than serving neither God nor Baal, as you now are." And experience confirms this seemingly strange preference which the Lord declares. We could understand that he would men were "hot" rather than "lukewarm;" but that he would rather that they were "cold" without religion altogether - than as they are, that seems a strange preference. But, as St. Paul says, "If a man think himself to be wise, let him become a fool that he may be wise;" by which he meant that a man who thinks himself wise when he is not, there is more hope of a fool becoming wise than he, for his self-conceit stands in his way. And so in the matter of a man's real conversion to God, he who knows he has no religion is more likely to be won than he who thinks he is religious and has need of "more" nothing. There is hope, therefore, for the cold than for the "lukewarm," and hence our Lord's preference. And this condition is one which drives the Lord away, chases him forth from his Church. Christ is represented, not as in the Church, but as outside, standing at the door, and knocking for admission. He has been driven out. He cannot stay either in that Church or in that heart which loves him with but half or less than half a love. We do not care to stay where we are not really welcome: we get away as soon as we can. And our Lord will not stay where the love which should welcome and cherish his presence is no longer there.
II. HOW CHRIST DEALS WITH THEM.
1. He reveals to them their true condition. And to make them more readily receive his revelation, he declares himself by a name which ensured that his testimony was and must be infallibly true. He tells of himself as "the Amen, the faithful and true Witness." Therefore they may be sure that he could not err and would not misstate what he, as the Son of God, "the Beginning of the creation of God," saw and knew, and now declared to them to be true. And so he tells them how it is with them, though they knew it not and kept saying the very reverse. Hence he tells the Church, "Thou art the wretched one and the pitiable one, and beggarly and blind and naked." Ah! what a revelation this! how it would startle and shock them! no doubt the Lord intended that it should. Their condition justified these words. They thought that they were certain of their Lord's approval. He tells them that no shivering criminal waiting in terror the judge's sentence was ever more really wretched than they. And that they thought as they did proved them "blind." And as those whom it was designed to degrade were stripped "naked" so as "shameful" were they in the sight of the Lord and of his angels.
2. And by thus revealing their true state, he rebukes and chastens them. What humiliation and distress and alarm must this revelation have caused! But next:
3. He counsels them what to do. He will not leave them thus, but points out the way of amendment. He bids them "buy of me." But if they were so poor, how could they buy? "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." This is the money wherewith they must buy. And when they have laid out this money, and have become possessors of what it will surely purchase, they will tell you, if you ask them, that even this money he gave them from whom they went to buy. And what is it they will get in exchange?
(1) "Gold tried in," etc. This is faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:7). "The trial of your faith, being much more precious than gold and silver." Oh, to be "rich in faith"! They are rich who have it.
(2) "White raiment that," etc. True righteousness of character, the holiness which becometh saints.
(3) "Eyesalve that," etc. The illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit. Such is the way of amendment: coming thus poor to the Lord, gaining faith, holiness, wisdom - so shall we rise up from the condition which the Lord cannot abide to that which he loves and will ever bless. Shall we not follow this counsel? He does not compel, but counsels. Let us also thus buy of him.
4. He waits for their repentance. "Behold, I stand at the door," etc. How true it is he desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his wickedness and live! What a picture this well-known and ever-to-be-loved verse presents! Our Lord, who died for us, standing there outside, seeking to enter in.
5. He encourages them to repent. See his promises.
(1) "I will sup with him, and he with me." Communion with himself. A piece of clay gave forth a sweet fragrance. It was asked whence it had such fragrance. It replied that it had long lain by the side of a sweet-smelling rose, and so it had become filled with its sweetness. So our claylike souls, if we be in communion with Christ, shall come to be as he. Ah, then, "open the door," and let your Lord in.
(2) He holds out to those who "overcome" the same reward as he had when he overcame - "to sit with me in my throne, even as I," etc. (ver. 21). It tells of the highest, holiest joys, of the everlasting kingdom of God. So would he lure them to himself. Shall he not succeed? "Behold, he stands at the door and knocks." - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;