Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord- Acts 3:19 NIV
If one had to live in the ancient world Laodicea was the place to be.
Those lucky enough to live in Laodicea were affluent, healthy and proud for all sorts of really good reasons.
Laodicea had it all.
It was a major financial center and home to a medical school that trained some of finest medical professionals in the ancient world. The region was famous for its exports, which included an expensive fabric made from a rare and much sought-after black wool and an eye powder renowned for its healing properties. The city was so affluent that when it was leveled by a major earthquake in A.D. 60 the city leaders refused to take any financial assistance at all from Rome. They didn’t need to.
The Laodiceans were a pull themselves up from their own bootstraps’ kind of a people.
The church in Laodicea had taken on the characteristics of the city of Laodicea. The people in the church were wealthy, sophisticated and self-sufficient. They were also far from God and uninterested in an authentic relationship with Him. The first century church in Laodicea did their level best to avoid hard teaching and controversy and as a result they suffered zero oppression or persecution. They managed this feat despite living in a city that had all the factors that typically created a lot of problems for Christians (a large and powerful Jewish population, active trade unions and an abundance of pagan temples).
Jesus begins by comparing the churches spirituality to the water supply in Laodicea.
This was by no means a complimentary comparison.
For all its resources and natural beauty, the one thing Laodicea lacked was a tasty water supply. There was more than enough water available. However, it all came from a hot-spring located several miles up a hill outside the city. The water had to be piped in and as a result, it had an incredibly unpleasant taste and smell (think sulfur or rotten eggs) as well a warmish temperature, no matter the time of year. Jesus starts out by letting the Christians in Laodicea know that their deeds and lack of zeal is so gross to Him that He wants to spit the whole lot of them out of His mouth.
Jesus was fully aware of what was going on in their hearts and none of it was good or life-giving. The Christians in Laodicea were conceited and ungrateful for their many gifts. On top of that they lacked any kind of self-awareness at all. The Christians in Laodicea were snooty and smug regarding their earthly riches, physical well-being and abundance of resources. Jesus was categorically unimpressed with their worldly success.
The text is clear.
Jesus loved the Christians in Laodicea but was disgusted with their complete absence of good deeds and unfettered arrogance. The church felt good about themselves, their resources and what they had accomplished in life but in all the ways that really mattered, they were shameful, visionless and adrift. Jesus urges the Christians in Laodicea to repent in the some of the strongest and scariest language in all of the Bible (Revelation 3:18-19)
Here’s the thing though:
Laodicea is a spiritual success story.
Apparently, the church took Jesus’ words to heart. The best evidence strongly suggests the Christians in Laodicea heeded the words of Jesus, got their spiritual act together, repented their faces off and went on to make a spiritual difference in their world.
In April of 2021 My husband and I visited Laodicea. Our tour guide pointed out there is ample evidence indicating the church went completely underground by early in the second century (hidden churches, secret symbols, etc.). The church would have had little reason to hide unless they had started to take their faith seriously and, in the process, became offensive to the pagan culture. Moreover, one of the earliest church councils took place in Laodicea. It is highly unlikely Laodicea would have been chosen as a location for an early church council if the church in Laodicea still had a reputation for being spiritually weak, lukewarm and proud of their sin.
The Christians in Laodicea took Jesus up on His offer enter into intimate fellowship with Him (Revelation 3:20).
This makes the final letter to the Seven Churches the most hopeful and encouraging of all the letters to all the churches. The outcome of the most messed up of all the churches tells us that no one is ever too lost to be found and even the most worldly of Christians can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, respond to God’s prompting and become something beautiful and life-giving. It’s critical we understand not all churches fared as well as Laodicea. Some ended in a sad fizzle.
This letter teaches us that our deeds and attitudes matter every bit as much as our beliefs (James 2:14-20, Ephesians 2:1-3).
Jesus cares about what we believe. Doctrine matters (1st Timothy 4:16, Titus 2:1) Every Christian should strive to understand the Bible and every church should teach it with clarity. That being said, ultimately, Christians prove their faith by what they do and how they live. If we say we believe in God and live like unsaved people do we probably don’t believe at all. The key to a thriving faith is to listen to the Holy Spirit and then DO what God tells us to do.
It’s what keeps us spiritually alive and relevant to the world we live in.