Why Being Lukewarm is such a Problem

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 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. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
-Revelation 3:14-22

The last of the seven letters is to the church in Laodicea, and they got the harshest treatment of all. Jesus typically started off a letter with some praise for what the believers were doing, or some compassion for what they were going through. Not Laodicea. He just went straight after them, comparing them to lukewarm water. Their problem was that they were neither hot water nor cold water — they were somewhere in the middle. Cold water is refreshing and revives the spirit on a hot day. Hot water is comforting and healing, relaxing the muscles after a hard day’s work. Lukewarm water is basically useless. You don’t want to drink it, and you can’t bathe in it. I suppose you could give it to the dog, but that’s about all that it is good for. The point that Jesus was making is this: We need to be useful for something in God’s kingdom.

Being Lukewarm isn’t about Passion

For a very long time, I thought that Jesus was talking about being hot or cold in our love for him. I thought that Jesus would rather we love him A LOT or be completely indifferent to him, just don’t be somewhere in between. I was taught that being lukewarm means being wishy-washy. It means coasting through life without taking God seriously. We’re supposed to be passionate for God. We’re supposed to be on fire for him. And if we’re not, then we’re the kind of Christian that Jesus despises. Our only two acceptable choices are unbeliever or passionate believer.

But I don’t think that’s what this verse is saying. Being hot or cold isn’t about passion; it’s about purpose. I’m pretty sure that everything I was taught about this passage is wrong, and that has pretty significant implications for a lot of people who just couldn’t live up to the demand of being a passionately on-fire for Jesus 24/7. I mean, just think about the metaphor for a minute. When you want a cold drink and you drink something cold, you’re happy. When you want a hot drink and you drink something hot, you’re happy then, too. But when your drink has been sitting out for a while and it gets to room temperature, what kind of face do you make when you drink it? A contortion of disgust, right? When you want a cold Coke or a hot coffee, do you even finish the one that’s at room temperature? I’m guessing not.

Being hot or cold isn’t about passion. It’s about purpose.

Jesus isn’t secretly saying, “I wish you would be hot all the time.” He’s not putting pressure on us to live at an unsustainable level of passion all the time. What he’s saying actually cuts much deeper. He’s telling Laodicea, “I wish you were good for something.” I mean…dang.

A church is lukewarm because it isn’t good for anything. It’s not doing either of the things it’s supposed to do. Again, being hot or cold isn’t about passion, it’s about purpose. Let’s quickly look at four things that the church does as cold water, and then four things the church does as hot water.

The Church as Cold Water

The church needs to be cold water in order to satisfy the thirsty. Those who are spiritually thirsty need to have that thirst quenched in the church. Our secular world is parched for meaning and purpose. Jesus said that his followers will have springs of living water welling up inside of them. Is our plenty meeting the world’s need?

The church needs to be cold water in order to refresh the weary. I drink a lot of ice cold water when I work out. (Side note: lukewarm Gatorade is also nasty.) It literally refreshes my body to keep going. We’ve all had this experience, and the same principle applies in life. Jesus called the weary to come to him and be refreshed, and the same has to be true of his church. We should refresh the weary (and not just outsiders, but one another as well) just like a cup of cold water refreshes a runner.

The church should refresh the weary like a cup of cold water refreshes a runner.

The church needs to be cold water in order to revive the sleepy. I don’t take cold showers because that’s what insane people do, but, for one reason or another, I have had to take them from time to time. Nothing gets you going in the morning like ice cold water all over your body!

The church needs to be cold water in order to strengthen the busy. What I mean by this is that we often get so caught up in the things we have to do that we forget to drink. I mean that both literally and metaphorically. The church should offer us the rhythmic reminder to stop and drink from the life-giving wells of God.

The Church as Hot Water

The church needs to be hot water in order to heal the sick. So many of our home remedies for sickness involve hot water: tea, soup, a hot bath. One of our primary responsibilities is to offer healing for the sick, and historically the church has done this. Just look at the names of the hospitals near you. But let’s not abdicate this responsibility to an increasingly-secular and sterile health system. There’s still room for the home-based, welcoming and healing environment that the church can offer for the sick.

The church needs to be hot water in order to comfort the hurting. So many people in our culture are living with profound emotional and mental pain, carrying the weight of their trauma by themselves. Humans weren’t designed to carry that great a burden alone, and the church can be a place where we don’t have to.

The church needs to be hot water in order to settle the anxious. Our performance-based culture is an absolute factory of anxieties, especially for the young. Pick whichever culprit you want — education, social media, divorce — you won’t be wrong. It seems that everything drenches us in anxiety these days. But Jesus offers us peace: peace within ourselves and peace with God. We’ve got to be giving away that kind of priceless peace.

The church needs to be hot water in order to wash the sinner. This is all of us. We each need to be cleansed of our sins through the forgiveness we receive in Jesus Christ. The news of this forgiveness is a fundamental part of the Gospel, the core message of the church. Let’s not be stingy with it.

The Lukewarm Church

Jesus gets mad any time that his people become useless to the kingdom. How does such a thing happen? It happens because the lukewarm church becomes so focused on itself that it loses all self-awareness. The church in Laodicea thought they were doing great. They saw themselves as rich, but Jesus knew they were poor. In fact, their true spiritual state was much worse than that. Look at the words Jesus used to describe them: wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

A lukewarm church has become a hospital that only treats its own doctors and nurses.

A lukewarm church has become a hospital that only treats its own doctors and nurses. It doesn’t welcome new patients. It doesn’t send out ambulances to find the sick and dying and bring them in for care. It doesn’t write a prescription for anyone that doesn’t have the proper address. The only people the lukewarm church cares about are the people already in the pews. It’s like a business that only enriches its own investors, caring nothing for the people it employs or the quality of the products it produces. It is corrupt. It is good for nothing.

The solution for the lukewarm church is to listen to Jesus. He may be angry, but he’s still giving the lukewarm an invitation: “Come and buy from me.” Stop thinking you’re rich and get rich by buying the gold of Christ. Stop thinking you’re healthy and get healthy by eating Christ’s food. Stop thinking you’re alive and be revived by the spring of living water within Jesus. Be cold water. Be hot water. Just don’t be lukewarm anymore.

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