The Laodicean church is probably the most infamous church in history.
Preachers use it as an example of how Jesus deals with slack Christians. “Jesus is angry with these guys and he’ll be angry with you unless you get on fire for the Lord!” Demonstrating their expertise on the subject, they refer to an ancient aqueduct that brought lukewarm water to the city. “Just as that water made people sick, you make Jesus sick when you fail to perform.”
Yet there are three things people regularly get wrong about the Laodiceans:
- Contrary to what you may have heard, Jesus did not rebuke them for their lack of zeal
- There was no aqueduct bringing hot water from Hierapolis or cold water from Colossae
- Jesus didn’t hate the lukewarm Laodiceans; he loved them
Are you surprised? It’s all true! Jesus’s acceptance of us is not earned through enthusiastic participation in church activities; most pastors only know the aqueduct myth because they heard it from someone who heard it from someone; and despite their poor behavior, Jesus deeply loved the Laodiceans. But don’t take my word for it. Look at how Jesus closes his letter to the Laodiceans: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev. 3:19).
Those whom I love.
Commentators typically dismiss the Laodiceans as the worst of the seven churches. If so, the good news is that Jesus loves even the worst of us. The Laodiceans were a pompous pack of poseurs. Smug, rich, and full of themselves, they likely had few friends. Yet here is Jesus, the friend of sinners and poseurs, extending the hand of friendship. It is an astonishing display of grace.
Jesus loves the Laodiceans
Jesus’ letter to the Laodiceans is one of the greatest love letters ever written, yet many don’t see it. They hear the rebuke and they picture an angry God who’s out to punish nonperformers. Read the letter to the end. Hear Jesus speaking to “those whom I love.”
A reader once told me the Laodiceans were disgusting and useless, and perhaps they were. But they were also loved, and this makes all the difference. Many people don’t realize this. It’s like they haven’t read the whole letter. Jesus loved the Laodiceans. That’s why he died for them. That’s why he wrote to them.
This love for the Laodiceans is so inexplicable, so unreasonable, that some imagine Jesus is no longer speaking to them. “The last few verses of Revelation chapter three are for the other six churches.”
But that won’t wash. The Spirit is speaking to all the churches, even the wretched and unlikable ones. Words of correction may be directed to certain individuals, but God’s love is for every single one of us without exception.
The Laodiceans thought they merited God’s love on account of their all-round awesomeness and good works, but love that is earned is not love. Jesus shatters their illusion by revealing their wretchedness. Then he says, “I love you in your wretchedness.”
The letter to the Laodiceans makes many people frown. “Look at those awful people. God hates them and I hate them too.” Yet this letter ought to make us smile and jump for joy. “If Jesus loves these guys, he surely loves me!”
Christ’s letter to the Laodiceans is sometimes interpreted as Exhibit A in the Manual on Church Discipline. “Remember what Jesus said to those lukewarm losers.” It ought to be recognized as one of the greatest displays of divine grace. “Remember that Jesus loves Laodiceans!”
What does it mean to reprove and discipline?
“To reprove is to punish,” says the grim-faced preacher. “Jesus punishes those he loves.”
He does no such thing, and why would he, since he has borne our punishment on the cross? To penalize the Laodiceans, or anyone, would be to diminish his own costly sacrifice.
To reprove means to convict or expose. To discipline means to disciple or train. These activities are connected because one of the ways our loving Father trains us is by turning on the lights and exposing the dangers around us.
The Laodiceans were heading the wrong way. Jesus spoke sharply not to shame them but to save them and turn them around. By revealing the bankruptcy of their self-righteousness and the depths of their wretchedness, he hoped they would come to him for grace.
Pride is a prison. It diminishes us and severs our connection with others and the Lord. The illusion of self-sufficiency fills our mind with falsehoods. “I don’t need anyone or anything.” Thank God for the true and faithful Witness who speaks truth to our lies.
When our conceits have deceived us and our successes have seduced us, thank God for a friend like Jesus.
Extracted and adapted from Letters from Jesus.
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