Christianity 201

October 20, 2015

When God Becomes Ill

“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16)

Wild WaterfallTwo great commentaries on the same passage today. Neal Pollard is in pastoral ministry in Colorado. This is his first appearance here at Christianity 201 and he gives this immediate, practical application. Then, InterVarsity Press publisher Andy LePeau clarifies the background on the cold water in this passage; and how we are a lot like the Loadiceans.

Part One:

How to Make God Sick

When speaking of God’s attributions and actions, the Bible often resorts to a literary device called anthropomorphism (where human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to God—“the hand of God,” “the eyes of the Lord,” etc.).  But, there is one personification that’s absolutely terrifying.  Jesus utilizes it in describing the spiritual condition of Laodicea. He says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). Some translations, knowing “vomit” is felt to be too strong and graphic to the sensitivities of some readers, have gone the more antiseptic route by translating it “spit.”  But the Greeks had a word for the phrase “spit out” (you find that word translated in John 9:6, Mark 7:33, and Mark 8:23).

It has been said that what makes God sick often is what makes our culture tick. When you look at the Laodiceans, they were guilty of the following:

  • Indifferent to mission (Rev. 3:15-16).
  • Incorrect in self-analysis (Rev. 3:17).
  • Insensitive to need (Rev. 3:17).
  • Impenitent (Rev. 3:19).

Certainly, the world is blind to God’s purpose for their lives, is numb to its true spiritual condition, and is deaf to the biblical plea to repent and depend on God and His will. But these words are directed to Christians as a warning to us.  Our mission is to engage in the work He has us on earth to do, which is not to accumulate wealth, indulge in fleshly pleasures, and pursue the honor and praise of this world. Our need for God’s strength and help every step of the way must drive us to depend on Him and repent of a lack of zeal for and involvement in the work He has called us to do as Christians.

When we get so wrapped up in this world that we ignore His mission, when we get so conditioned to rely on our assets and attributes that we ignore His power, and when we get so hard-hearted that we ignore His grace and forgiveness, we make God sick.  No matter how you look at that, the very thought is just chilling! He loves us, pleads with us, and wants to reward us (Rev. 3:19-22). But that requires us to live differently from those ancient Laodiceans. We must let Scripture properly diagnose our spiritual condition or it will make God sick.

Part Two:

A Lukewarm Interpretation of Hot and Cold: Revelation 3:15-16

This verse from Revelation 3 certainly must rank as one of the most misused in the Bible. In the last month alone I have heard two speakers give it the same incorrect interpretation.

In the first three chapters of Revelation we find seven letters from Jesus to seven churches in late first-century Asia Minor (now western Turkey). In the letter to Laodicea, he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” As a result, he will spit out their tepidness.

Often this is misinterpreted to mean that Jesus is tired of namby-pamby middle of the roaders. He would rather people be passionately against him or for him. This is ridiculous on two counts. First, Jesus simply does not want people to turn resolutely against him. He wants all to come to him and be saved.

Second, when Jesus refers to hot and cold water, he is drawing an analogy from the fact that Laodicea did not have a good water source. Instead, using Roman aqueducts, it received hot water from the north, from the city of Hierapolis, famous for its soothing and healing hot springs. Refreshing cold water came from the south, from Colossae, eleven miles away, from snow melt on the mountains. Unfortunately, by the time the hot water and the cold water got to Laodicea, both were lukewarm. As Richards and O’Brien say in Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes, Jesus “wished his people were hot (like the salubrious waters of Hierapolis) or cold (like the refreshing waters of Colossae). Instead, their discipleship was unremarkable.”

The problem was not that Laodicea lacked zeal. The problem was that the church was good for nothing.

So why describe the church as lukewarm? The answer found in the next verse. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

Laodicea as a city had a reputation for its many banks, for its excellent medical school and for its clothing industry. But, Jesus says, actually it was not rich but poor, not healthy but blind, not well clothed but naked. Their resources led them to rely on themselves instead of on Jesus. Their problem was not lack of fervor but a sense of self-sufficiency. They relied on themselves instead of on God.

For a culture that prides itself on its massive economy, the best medicine in the world, and a fashion industry second to none–Revelation 3, correctly interpreted, becomes all too relevant.

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