Matins Devotional: December 15, 2022
When Jesus tells the church in Laodicea:
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (15-16)
What does he mean?
Some take these words to mean that Jesus wants the Laodiceans be either completely committed believers or rank enemies of the gospel rather than somewhere in-between. But I don’t think this is right. It goes against the character of our Lord to suggest that he finds unbelief more desirable than faith--no matter how weak that weak may be.
Rather, a plain reading of Jesus’ words suggests that both the qualities of hot and cold are things that he finds pleasing—while lukewarmness is what he finds disgusting. So how do we make sense of these words?
Well, it helps to know a little about the background of Laodicea. While Laodicea was known as a very prosperous city in the ancient world, one thing that it lacked was its own water supply. It had no direct access to either cold mountain water or the hot water found in natural springs. Therefore, it had to pipe the water in. In excavations of the city, archaeologists have discovered that the Laodiceans used a system of clay pipes and stone aqueducts to bring water to the city. By the time the water arrived—whether it began its journey from the mountains or from the springs—it was no longer hot or cold—it was lukewarm. It had lost its distinctiveness.
In other words, what Jesus is saying to his church in this prosperous city is that they—like the water supply—have acclimated to the cultural climate around them. They’ve become tepid. They have lost their distinctiveness. They have become just like everyone else. We see the same language used in the Old Testament. God brings the Israelites into the Promised Land in order to be a distinct people—a light to the Gentiles. If they lose that distinctiveness--if they become just like every other nation--God threatens that the land will “vomit” them out. It’s also similar to when Jesus tells his disciples that “you are the salt of the world.” Salt is useful for seasoning food and preserving food—but if it’s not serving that purpose then it’s no good. You might as well throw it out.
Christ’s Church is to be distinctive. We are to be in the world but not of the world. There are plenty of voices calling for the Church to capitulate to culture. To look just like the world around us. But we don’t get to determine the Church’s character or its mission. If you name the name of Christ—if you make a faithful confession—then you’re going to stick out. You’re not going to look like you belong. You’re going to be distinctive. In this world, we’re sojourners and exiles. This world is not our home. We’re making the journey toward a better country. One that will be revealed to us on the Day of Christ’s return. Until then, we are called to be a peculiar people.