Divine Disgust – The Lukewarm Believer

Divine Disgust – The Lukewarm Believer

Divine Disgust – The Lukewarm Believer.

“Enough! How long will you defend the evil-doers? How long will show kindness to those who do wicked things? You’re here to defend the defenseless, to give justice to the weak and fatherless, to maintain the rights of the oppressed and needy. Your job is to rescue the powerless and stand up for them, to deliver them from all who exploit them!” (Psalm 82:2-4).

As we continue to grow in our relationship with God, we discover that we yearn to progress in loving what God loves and hating what God hates.  If we are not growing in those two areas of God’s character, it’s doubtful we even have a relationship with God to begin with. Following the example of Jesus in the gospels, loving the sinner while hating the sin itself is crucial to our growing in the character of the Lord. If God finds certain behavior morally disgusting, but we find it acceptable, then we are not where we should be. It might be surprising to realize that God can have hate in His heart. We know that God is full of love, that He is in fact Love. But hate? That is a difficult concept to digest. But think about it more, and it starts to make sense. Like the Father He is, God loves us so much that He hates whatever might be destructive to us, whatever might come to harm us or our relationship to Him. God’s hatred for evil comes out of His eternal protective instinct. Another thing to think about… God is purely righteous, virtuous, filled with goodness through and through. Out of His goodness, He established a moral universe. Since the profoundly tragic fall of mankind, the overall moral universe remains, but immorality has to be dealt with and judged. Because of the way God created the world, there are rights and wrongs, the moral and immoral, the righteous and the unrighteous. God hates the wrongs. It’s no wonder the early Christians called them the ”deadly sins.” God wants to give us life, the evil one wants to give us death. God hates whatever might be deadly to us. God hates whatever in the world was not a part of His righteous plan for the world. Simply put, God’s hate comes out of His righteous love for us and His world. Yes, God hates. But He hates whatever is worth hating. God speaks plainly in His Word about what He loves and what He hates, about what God embraces and what He rejects. The category entitled “Divine Disgust” is intended to be a biblical catalogue of what God hates, what God finds abominable. Naturally, as we are becoming aware of what God hates, we will also learn what God loves. The truth is, if we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus and thus the character of God, we show our fearful love of God by joining Him in hating what is evil. (Proverbs 8:13). Or as the Psalmist says, “Let all those who love the Lord hate evil! (Ps. 97:10).

‘I know who you are, inside and out; I know your works. You are neither cold with apathy nor hot with passion. It would be better if you were one or the other, but you are neither. So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth… Those I love I also correct and discipline. Therefore, be shamelessly committed to Me and turn back. Be diligent and turn from your indifference.” (Revelation 3:15, 16, 19).

Lots of spending money. Plenty of possessions. Comfort, luxury. A lifestyle in the pursuit of entertainment and material things… The latest fashions, the best investments, the most up-do-date medical care. An interesting mix of ethnic groups. Convenient transportation and ease of travel. Believers that have grown accustomed to a high standard of living. A church that reflects the values of all this prosperity. A nonprofit church that reflects for-profit culture. We’re talking about America in the 21st century, right? No, this is western Asia, the city of Laodicea, in 95 AD. And St. John’s words to this ancient prosperous church have a lot to say to us, 1,925 years later.

John’s prophetic word to the Laodicean church is in his book that closes the New TestamentThe Revelation of Jesus Christ, in chapter 3verses 14-22. Using John as His mouthpiece, the revealed Jesus wants to have a word with this particular church. This is Laodicea’s come-to-Jesus moment. He will not mince words, He will not hold back because of shyness about being offensive. Jesus is saying, “Listen up! Here comes the truth!: The threat of judgment hangs over the  believers here. Why is that?

Laodicea was a bustling urban center in western Turkey, on the well-traveled trade and travel route from Ephesus to Syria. It was a city well known for its amusements, since excavations have recently uncovered two theaters and a 1,000-foot-long stadium. It was a wealthy city widely known for its banking and financial operations, its garment and carpet industry, and its medical school which produced famous eye ointment. Laodicea was a prosperous mix of Syrians, Jews, Romans and Greeks, and their wealth seemed to make room for everyone to live peaceably. There were plentiful amounts of goods and materials… gold and coinage, wool from world famous sheep grazing in their land, and a local stone that, when crushed and compounded, healed all sorts of eye ailments. Laodicea was the secular capital of western Asia and renowned for its prosperity. It was by far the wealthiest of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation, and is in complete ruins today.

In terms of natural resources, Laodicea had one major problem… water supply. They had to build a six-mile long aqueduct from a hot springs a few miles away, and then have that water flow from there to the city. The water from the aqueduct proved to be barely drinkable. The hot water at one end of the aqueduct didn’t travel far enough to the other end to sufficiently cool down the water. Cold drinking water was not going to happen. It was tepid, lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. Most people found it nauseating, and would spit it out of their mouths when attempting to drink it. The city residents must have found acceptable drinking water through wells and transported water, but they certainly wouldn’t have tried drinking the aqueduct water. Besides being greatly distasteful, lukewarm water was considered to be dangerous because of greater chance of harboring diseases.

Jesus stated that the believers were just like the water being delivered by their famous aqueduct… lukewarm in faith, undrinkable by God, indifferent during worship, stagnant in spiritual growth. They are just like that distasteful water, unacceptable to God, unsatisfying, worthy to be spit out. The believers are tepid, they have no passion for God, they have no fervor to live the Way of Christ. They are satisfied with a lukewarm faith. They meet no resistance from their highly secular neighbors because they don’t stand for anything spiritual in value, they offer no alternative lifestyles or world view. They would never have to pick up their cross and suffer indignities and be thus refined in God’s fire of suffering. They were content with how their comfortable life unfolded. Jesus made the point that the cold springs from nearby Colossae were refreshing and delicious, and the hot springs from nearby Hierapolis were perfect for soothing and healing. But the lukewarm water in Laodicea was neither here nor there, it tasted badly, it couldn’t be used for cooking or cleaning, and so was basically worthless. The Laodicean church had no passion or zeal, but were instead halfhearted and relatively indifferent, so it was worthless just like the lukewarm water. The self-satisfied faith of the believers was repugnant to the Lord and gave Him spiritual nausea to the point of vomiting them out of His mouth.

Interestingly, Jesus said He preferred that the believers there be either hot or cold, either fervent and passionate or sluggish and unenthusiastic. Perhaps He thought that people who were cold and faithless were more likely to be attracted to the hot, lively faith. Maybe Jesus thought that the cold ones were potentially more receptive to be changed because they could see the differences between a satisfying, meaningful life and an unsatisfying, meaningless life. The lukewarm, though, may not be able to see much difference between the hot and cold life, and so aren’t attracted to the zesty brand of faith. The lukewarm believer were inoculated, they had just enough knowledge of God to be “saved,” but not enough faith to become passionate or zealous for Christ.

So how does Jesus follow up with His rather dramatic comments regarding lukewarmness? Jesus has lot to add. He says they are rich, and they are poor. They are rich in what the world has to offer, but poor in what the Kingdom has to offer. They are wealthy in terms of earthly matters, but poverty-stricken when it comes to spiritual realities. Their bank accounts are full, but they are spiritually bankrupt. They may have a lot of gold in town, but they don’t possess the pure gold of God’s treasures. They may wear the finest garments, but they don’t wear God’s robe of righteousness. They may be able to heal all kinds of eye ailments, but they still can’t see the things of the Spirit.

Jesus decided to allude to the very sources of their wealth, the three industries they were famous for, in describing their wretched state. Until their gold is refined by God’s fire, they will remain in spiritual poverty. Until they clothe themselves with Christ, they will continue to live in shameful spiritual nakedness. And until they ask for God to heal their eyes, they will remain spiritually blind. Their sources of wealth are their very sources of poverty. Until they buy these spiritual realities from God, they will be pitiful, they will continue to live under the delusion of self-sufficiency. The Greek word for “hot” in this passage is “zestos,” and that is the perfect word, isn’t it, for what Jesus yearned for in His Laodicean church… Zest!

Jesus wanted to light a fire under the believers, to re-ignite their indifferent faith. He wanted to spark their spiritual dormancy. Their material life was so loudly calling to them, that they didn’t hear the Lord patiently knocking on the doors of their hearts.