By Clint Oppermann
Undeniably, the United States of America is an incredibly rich country. According to recent data released by the Federal Reserve, the collective net worth of households and nonprofit organizations reached a new high of $70.3 trillion at the end of the first quarter of 2013 . Furthermore, adjusted for purchasing power, our nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) of $50,700 per capita compares favorably with the rest of the world . America has become a rich nation, and we, as a people, continue to add to our physical riches year after year with few interruptions.
Unfortunately, however, wealth usually brings with it a pernicious side effect: spiritual lukewarmness. Jesus addressed this in His letter to 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.
For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,” not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent (Revelation 3:15-19, ESV).
As we study wealth and lukewarmness, let us consider four points from this passage.
First, notice the church’s condition (Revelation 3:15-16). The Laodicean church had works. Jesus acknowledged them; however, He noted they were done with an attitude of indifference. The Laodiceans were not cold, unlike the cold, pure, refreshing waters of nearby Colossae. Neither were they hot, in contrast to the therapeutic hot springs of neighboring Hierapolis. The Laodiceans were merely lukewarm. As such, Jesus wanted to spit them out of His mouth; those Christians made Him sick to His stomach.
Consider next, the cause of their lukewarmness (Revelation 3:17). Jesus explained their spiritual apathy stemmed directly from their wealth. Ancient Laodicea enjoyed immense prosperity from a variety of industries, including financial services, textiles (black wool), and health care (eye salve). In fact, the populace was so rich that they rejected aid from Rome after Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake in 60 A.D.; they rebuilt the city entirely at their own expense. Consequently, they believed they needed nothing, physically or spiritually.
Third, notice the critique offered by Jesus (Revelation 3:17). Jesus saw these Christians differently than they saw themselves. From Jesus’ perspective, the Laodiceans were fooling themselves. Sure, they might have enjoyed physical wealth; however, spiritually they were “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). They were physically rich but spiritually impoverished. They manufactured the best eye treatment available but were still blind. They clothed themselves with fine, black wool, yet remained naked. Rather than praising them, Jesus pitied their wretched souls.
Jesus ended this passage of Scripture with His counsel to Christians at Laodicea (Revelation 3:18-19). Because of His love for them, He urged them to repent and regain their zeal for Him and His Gospel. Instead of focusing incessantly on physical treasures, they ought to search out the spiritual riches available through Him resulting in true wealth (cf. Matthew 6:19-21, 24). Jesus pressed them to exchange their lovely black garments of wool for radiant white garments of righteousness to cover their spiritual nakedness (cf. Revelation 7:13-14; 19:8). His earnest desire was for them to obtain His eye salve and disregard their own to relieve their spiritual blindness. Jesus admonished them, hoping it would lead them to repentance and renewed zeal.
It is my firm conviction that if Jesus wrote a letter to contemporary American Christians, it would look a lot like the letter to the ancient Laodiceans. Like them, we are an extremely wealthy people. Moreover, like them, this wealth has led us to be a spiritually lukewarm people. Generally speaking, we do not study as we should. We don’t pray as we should. We do not give as we should. We do not serve, worship, or evangelize as we ought. We are afraid to think, talk, act, or look differently than our coworkers, neighbors, family, and friends. To top it all off, we walk around as if God is pleased with our efforts; like the Laodiceans, we deceive ourselves!
The condition of the modern American church mirrors that of the ancient church in Laodicea; our pews and pulpits tend to be occupied by lukewarm Christians. Obviously, our vast wealth is a major contributing factor to our spiritual apathy. Needless to say, Jesus is not impressed. We would be wise to follow the counsel of Jesus before it is too late. Noted author William Arthur Ward wrote, “Each of us will one day be judged by our standard of life––not by our standard of living; by our measure of giving––not by our measure of wealth; by our simple goodness––not by our seeming greatness” . Therefore, let us also “be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
Neither Cold nor Hot
By Clint Oppermann