No Middle Ground in Christianity
Sermon Text: Revelation 3:14-22
Sermon Theme: Be zealous and repent for Jesus will not tolerate indecision or apathy in the Christian life — there is no middle ground in Christianity.
Laodicea was the last and worst of the seven churches of Asia. Here our Lord Jesus styles himself, The Amen; one steady and unchangeable in all his purposes and promises. If religion is worth anything, it is worth every thing. Christ expects men should be in earnest. How many professors of gospel doctrine are neither hot nor cold; except as they are indifferent in needful matters, and hot and fiery in disputes about things of lesser moment! A severe punishment is threatened. They would give a false opinion of Christianity, as if it were an unholy religion; while others would conclude it could afford no real satisfaction, otherwise its professors would not have been heartless in it, or so ready to seek pleasure or happiness from the world. One cause of this indifference and inconsistency in religion is, self-conceit and self-delusion; because the Lord sayest. What a difference between their thoughts of themselves, and the thoughts Christ had of them! How careful should we be not to cheat our owns souls! There are many in hell, who once thought themselves far in the way to heaven. Let us beg of God that we may not be left to flatter and deceive ourselves. Professors grow proud, as they become carnal and formal. Their state was wretched in itself. They were poor; really poor, when they said and thought they were rich. They could not see their state, nor their way, nor their danger, yet they thought they saw it. They had not the garment of justification, nor sanctification: they were exposed to sin and shame; their rags that would defile them. They were naked, without house or harbor, for they were without God, in whom alone the soul of man can find rest and safety. Good counsel was given by Christ to this sinful people. Happy those who take his counsel, for all others must perish in their sins. Christ lets them know where they might have true riches, and how they might have them. Some things must be parted with, but nothing valuable; and it is only to make room for receiving true riches. Part with sin and self-confidence, that you may be filled with his hidden treasure. They must receive from Christ the white raiment he purchased and provided for them; his own imputed righteousness for justification, and the garments of holiness and sanctification. Let them give themselves up to his word and Spirit, and their eyes shall be opened to see their way and their end. Let us examine ourselves by the rule of his word, and pray earnestly for the teaching of his Holy Spirit, to take away our pride, prejudices, and worldly lusts. Sinners ought to take the rebukes of God’s word and rod, as tokens of his love to their souls. Christ stood without; knocking, by the dealings of his providence, the warnings and teaching of his word, and the influences of his Spirit. Christ still graciously, by his word and Spirit, comes to the door of the hearts of sinners. Those who open to him shall enjoy his presence. If what he finds would make but a poor feast, what he brings will supply a rich one. He will give fresh supplies of graces and comforts. In the conclusion is a promise to the overcoming believer. Christ himself had temptations and conflicts; he overcame them all, and was more than a conqueror. Those made like to Christ in his trials, shall be made like to him in glory. All is closed with the general demand of attention. And these counsels, while suited to the churches to which they were addressed, are deeply interesting to all men.
(From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)
- Amen is transliterated from Hebrew into English. We use this word at the end of prayers, but what does it mean? The Hebrew word means “truth,” “affirmation” or “certainty.” It refers to that which is firm, fixed and unchangeable. Jesus often used this word at the beginning of sentences rather than the end. Wherever in English you see Him saying, “truly, truly, I say to you” the word in Hebrew He is using is “Amen, Amen, I say to you.” The word denotes the complete truth and veracity of the pronouncement. When God says, “Amen” it means “this is true.” When we say “amen,” we mean “let it be so.” Christ is certainly the Amen in the sense that He is the God of truth incarnate. But there is more in this rich title than just an affirmation of His deity. In 2 Corinthians 1:20 Paul writes concerning Jesus Christ, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are Yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” It is through the person and work of Christ that all God’s promises and covenants are fulfilled and guaranteed. All the Old Testament promises of forgiveness, mercy, loving kindness, grace, hope, and eternal life are bound up in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He is the Amen because He is “the faithful and true witness” that we can depend on.
- Have you ever thought of “not what I think of God, but what does God think of me?” How readily do we believe a lie when it fosters in us a high opinion of ourselves.
- Consider who and what God is. He is the original uncreated beauty, the sum total of all natural and moral perfections, the origin of all the excellences that are scattered through this glorious universe; He is the supreme good, and the only proper portion for our immortal spirits. He also sustains the most majestic and endearing relations to us: our Father, our Preserver and Benefactor, our Lawgiver, and our Judge. Is such a Being to be put off with heartless, lukewarm services? Is lukewarmness a proper temper towards Jesus Christ? Is this a suitable return for that love which brought Him down from His native paradise into our wretched world? Oh, was Christ indifferent about your salvation? Was His love lukewarm towards you?
- Look at many of the churches today and mark their feebleness, the slow progress of the gospel among them, the low lives that the bulk of professing Christians are living, and answer the question: is that the operation of a Divine Spirit that comes to transform and to quicken everything into His own likeness? or is it the operation of our own selfishness and worldliness, crushing down and hemming in the power that ought to sway us? But consider the lukewarm state, if it be the transitional stage to a warmer, is a desirable state (for a little religion, if real, is better than none); but most fatal when it is mistaken for a safe and stagnate state — having religion enough to lull the conscience in false security, but not religion enough to save the soul. For the man whose life is characterized by lukewarm Christianity has no desire to lose Christ for the sake of the world, but he has too much desire for the world to forsake its call in favor of discipleship to Christ! This state of spiritual fickleness—this state of being spiritually lukewarm—is extremely distasteful and revolting to the Lord because it is so contrary to His own character (note John 4:34) as well as being so contrary to the purpose of His redeeming work (note Titus 2:13-14). God calls us to be useful. He has designed us for a purpose. Are you fulfilling your purpose?
- Is lukewarmness and indifference a suitable temper with respect to a future state of happiness or misery? Let us see how this lukewarm temper agrees with your duties as a believer. Consider the view of a lukewarm believer in prayer. The words proceed no further than from your tongue—you do not pour them out from the bottom of your hearts; they have no life or spirit in them, and you hardly ever reflect upon their meaning. And when you have talked away to God in this manner, you will have it to pass for a prayer. But surely such prayers must bring down a curse upon you instead of a blessing—such sacrifices must be an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 15:8). Or consider how you regard the Word of God. You profess it as the standard of your religion and the most excellent book in the world. Now, if this be the case, it is God that opens your eyes and heart when you are reading or hearing His Word. How impious and provoking then must it be to neglect it, to let it lie by you as an antiquated, useless book, or to read it in a careless, superficial manner, and hear it with an inattentive, wandering mind! You modern Laodiceans, are you not yet struck with horror at the thought of that insipid, formal, spiritless religion you have been contented with? Consider the difficulties and dangers in your way. You must be made a new person, quite another creature than you now are. And can this work be successfully performed while you make such faint and feeble efforts? Consider how earnest and active people are in other pursuits. Is religion the only thing which demands the utmost exertion of all your powers, and alas, is that the only thing in which you will be dull and inactive?
- Because there is no man more hopeless than a man on whom the power of Christianity has been brought to bear, and has failed in warming and quickening him. Is that your condition? Laodicea was famously self-sufficient and that same attitude clearly spread to the church. The people were well off and they knew it. They became prideful, focused on their worldly wealth. Successful in the eyes of the world, they were the classic self-made man. Thus they were a church that said, “We don’t need God. We are doing fine ourselves.” They had pushed Him out, and excluded Him from His own church. What kind of a church does this? Is it even a church at all? It was a church in name only for the power of God was absent from their lives. Perhaps going to church was like a social club for them. A place to look good, feel good about themselves, see their friends, and swap stories of their successes. Sadly there are many churches like this in the world today. How does Jesus describes them? He said they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. What a terrible reproof. And it’s a reproof for people who were in a church, respectable, good-looking people. They looked good in their own eyes, but not in the eyes of God. He viewed them for what they were and rebuke their misplaced pride. For the people had love for Christ, but it was not ardent. The people had charity among themselves, but it was not fervent. The people received spiritual blessings, but they did not thirst for them. The people wrought good works, but not zealously. The people prayed, but not fervently. They gave, but not liberally or cheerfully. The whole heart was not given to anything in connection with church life.
- It is considered rude to ask real questions like “what is God doing in your life?” or “What are you going to obey from the sermon?” In many churches if you ask these questions, there would be a long awkward pause. People would be extremely uncomfortable. And they would be offended. You are crossing an unspoken line. Jesus isn’t really someone they talk about or need. That is too personal. The fact is, that many people love the gifts of God more than they love God Himself. They put Him into a box and He is not welcome to come out and intrude in their nice, successful lives. Do not be a Christian who possesses status, wealth and knowledge, and does not use it for the benefit of the faithful. For Paul declares in 1 Timothy 6:18 that “they are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”
- What riches are you seeking after? Is your spiritual life being practically smothered to death by affluence? The Laodiceans had not experienced the riches of God’s grace and forgiveness because they had not come to Him asking for it. Instead of seeking the riches of grace from God they sought the riches of this world. Neither were they rich in good works. A faithful follower of Jesus can be prosperous financially. But if he is, he should use it generously for serving God. And there is no evidence that the Laodiceans were providing neither refreshment for the spiritually weary, nor healing for the spiritually sick — it was totally ineffective. Their story is like the rich fool in Luke who stored up treasures for himself his whole life: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be’” (Luke 12:20)?
- What is this thing that helps to cure lukewarmness? Christ’s unique and special love for His elect is the key that opens the barred door of the sinful heart. To rebuke means to bring sin home convincingly to the judgment and the conscience. To rebuke is a very different thing from fault-finding, and as high above it as heaven is above the earth. Nothing but love can do it — high-purposed, firm, holy love. It means the setting of sin so clearly and fully and convincingly before the mind and conscience, that you carry the person with you, and he is convinced. That is what love tries, and what only love can accomplish. And that is what Christ is doing continuously with us. He is setting the truth of our condition before our consciences, in holy and tender mercy, that shrinks not from giving pain in order that it may heal. But this were not enough, unless something is done to help the sinner out of his evil estate. For the Lord to have reproved or convinced the Laodiceans would not have been enough. Without conviction there is and can be no repentance; but He could not have stopped short with it, any more than the physician may stop short with telling us our disease. Therefore He adds chastening to rebuke. We must dismiss the ides, of punishment. That does not lie in the word. Punishment is the deed of a judge; chastening is the work of a father. We must start from the realized fact of our sonship in the Divine family. The word “chastening” brings into view, under the new covenant, the whole process of earthly training for heavenly issues, which God in His wisdom ordains and conducts, and of which suffering forms so large an element. And this is the issue to which the rebuke and chastening of love should lead: “Be zealous, and repent.” Let the zeal show itself in this line. It is a man taking God’s side against his own sin, and looking to God to deliver him from it. It results, not from the will of the flesh or the will of man, but from God’s work in the conscience. It has its birth in a true apprehension by faith of the mercy of God in Christ.
- How do we change our attitude in order to follow Jesus’ counsel? How can we guard ourselves against self-sufficiency? How can we grow in depending on God rather than on ourselves? The Lord Jesus Christ stands outside, at the door, seeking re-admittance into the life of His church and the hearts of His people. The Laodiceans had become infatuated with the wealth of the world, filled their lives so much with the “good things” of the world that there was no room for their Lord and Savior. He was “squeezed out of one room after another” until He was finally “pushed out the back door!” The Lord is now calling upon this church to grant Him “re-admittance” into their lives and to once again submit to His lordship. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7).
- Who, I should like to know, seeks the good of every man, woman, boy, and girl, as Jesus does? And whose counsel when adopted has resulted in such untold good to millions of our fellow creatures as His? Yes, look at it how, when, and where you may, ring it as you please, weigh it, measure it, or bring any other test you please to bear upon the counsel offered by Jesus, and its genuineness will be made the more evident. For Jesus counsels us what we are to believe. The faculty of belief is as certainly possessed by man as is the faculty of vision; the one is a physical and the other a mental power, but both are possessed by us, and both are to be exercised. Jesus says, “I counsel thee what to believe.” To believe in God, in His perfections, His power, wisdom, justice, grace, mercy, truth, love. In His providence and care over you, to believe in such a way as that we shall revere, obey, and love God. To believe in Jesus — “Ye believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1) — that I am what the prophets said I should be, the true Messiah. Believe in the fullness of My love, the sufficiency of My atoning work, My ability and willingness to pardon and cleanse, and in the absolute and unchanging truthfulness of all My words. Believe in the Holy Ghost; in His convincing, converting, renewing, sustaining, and sanctifying energy. Believe in the duties pertaining to personal life and godliness as I have revealed them.
1) As Christians, you have to do with solemn realities; you have to do with eternity, with death, with heaven, with hell, with Christ, with Satan, with souls, and can you deal with these things with a cold spirit? Suppose you can, there certainly never was a greater marvel in the world, if you should be able to deal with them successfully. These things demand the whole man. And the day is coming when you will think these things worthy of your whole heart. When you and I shall lie stretched upon our dying beds, I think we shall have to regret, above all other things, our coldness of heart. Ay, and there will be a time when the things of God will seem yet more real even than on the dying bed. I refer to the day when we shall stand at the bar of God.
(From C. H. Spurgeon.)
2) Historical Background: Laodicea (modern Eski-hisar, “the old fortress”) was located in the Lycus valley in southwest Phrygia at the juncture of two important imperial trade routes—one leading east from Ephesus and the Aegean coast following the Maeander and then via the gentle ascent of the Lycus to the Anatolian plateau, and the other from the provincial capital at Pergamum south to the Mediterranean at Attaleia. Five of the seven cities to which John wrote lay in order along this latter road (Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and, some forty miles on to the southeast, Laodicea). Its sister cities were Hierapolis, six miles to the north across the Lycus River, and Colossae, ten miles on up the Lycus glen. To the south lay mountains that rise to over 8,000 feet. The city occupied an almost square plateau several hundred feet high some two miles south of the river. It was founded about the middle of the third century B.C. by Antiochus II to command the gateway to Phrygia and settled with Syrians and Jews brought from Babylonia. Antiochus named the city after his wife (and sister?) Laodice.
In Roman times Laodicea became the wealthiest city in Phrygia. The fertile ground of the Lycus valley provided good grazing for sheep. By careful breeding a soft, glossy black wool had been produced that was much in demand and brought fame to the region. Among the various garments woven in Laodicea was a tunic called the trimita. So widely known was this tunic that at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 Laodicea was called Trimitaria. Agricultural and commercial prosperity brought banking industry to Laodicea. Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher of the last days of the Republic, wrote of cashing his treasury bills of exchange there. The most striking indication of the city’s wealth is that following the devastating earthquake of A.D. 60 the city was rebuilt without financial aid from Rome. Tacitus wrote, “Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us.”
Laodicea was widely known for its medical school, established in connection with the temple of Mēn Carou thirteen miles to the north and west. It boasted such famous teachers as Zeuxis and Alexander Philalethes (who appear on coinage). Ramsay notes that the Laodicean physicians followed the teaching of Herophilos (330–250 B.C.) who, on the principle that compound diseases require compound medicines, began a strange system of heterogeneous mixtures. Two of the most famous were an ointment from spice nard for the ears, and an eye-salve made from “Phrygian powder” mixed with oil.
Laodicea’s major weakness was its lack of an adequate and convenient source for water. Its location had been determined by the road system rather than by natural resources. Thus water had to be brought in from springs near Denizli (six miles to the south) through a system of stone pipes approximately three feet in diameter. Such an aqueduct could easily be cut off, leaving the city helpless, especially in the dry season when the Lycus could dry up.
A large number of Jews had emigrated to the area, so many, in fact, that the rabbis spoke bitterly of those who sought the wines and baths of Phrygia. From the amount of gold seized as contraband following an embargo on the export of currency by Flaccus, governor of Asia (62 B.C.), Barclay estimated that there were at least 7,500 adult male Jews in Laodicea and the surrounding district. Laodicea was the center of the imperial cult and later received the Temple-Wardenship under Commodus (A.D. 180–191). The church was probably founded during the time Paul spent at Ephesus on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:10), perhaps by Epaphras (Colossians 4:12). There is no evidence that Paul visited the church, although he wrote them a letter (Colossians 4:16) that was subsequently lost.
(From New International Commentary – NT)
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