The Curse of Moderate Christianity

Revelation 3:14-22

January 31, 2012 | Ray Pritchard

Listen to this Sermon

Are you a moderate?
Not many people would answer yes to that question.

When it comes to politics, the moderate has almost become an extinct species. You are either conservative or liberal or maybe libertarian, but you are probably not a moderate. Few politicians advertise by saying, “Vote for me. I’m a moderate.”

Are you moderate Christian? It depends on how you define the term. In the King James Version, Philippians 4:5 says, “Let your moderation be known to all men.” There he means, “Live with a gentle spirit and be considerate of others. Don’t always demand your own way.” That’s the sort of moderation we should all desire.

But there is a kind of moderate Christian that’s not so good. Wilbur Rees describes this person perfectly:

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please

The moderate Christian has a moderate Christ who makes moderate demands.
He keeps Jesus at arm’s length lest this “religion thing” get out of hand.

Rich people are especially susceptible to becoming “moderate” Christians.
That’s exactly what happened at a place called Laodicea.

This is the final message in the series on the seven churches of Revelation 2-3. Of these seven churches, none receives a more scathing condemnation than Laodicea. Located 90 miles east of Ephesus and 45 miles south of Philadelphia, Laodicea was a prosperous city known for the mineral springs located a few miles away. Using a system of aqueducts, the city leaders piped in water that was hot when it came bubbling from the ground but tepid when it arrived in Laodicea.

Of the seven churches, none receives a more scathing condemnation than Laodicea.
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Outwardly the church in Laodicea appeared to be strong and prosperous. Clearly the people who worshiped there considered themselves happy and blessed. They lived in a town others envied. It seems that this church drew some of its members from the wealthy families in Laodicea. Unlike Smyrna, there seems to have been no persecution, and unlike Pergamum, no false doctrine. We find nothing corresponding to the gross immorality of Jezebel and her corrupt legions in Thyatira.

Laodicea was a comfortable place to live and a comfortable place to go to church. That combination made Jesus sick to his stomach.

Let’s take a look at Christ’s message to a church filled with “moderate Christians” who had settled for $3 worth of God.

I. His Identity

A. His Word is True.

 “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness” (v. 14a).

“Amen” is usually the final word of a prayer. It means much more than “I’m finished” or “Let’s eat.” “Amen” is a sign of agreement. At the moment I’m in India on a two-week preaching mission. Yesterday when I preached at the big tent, the pastor sat on the front row with a beautiful smile on his face. From time to time, he would lift his hands and say, “Amen!” It was his way of saying, “Yes, I agree with the preacher. What he said is true.”

Here Jesus calls himself the “Amen.” Ron Scates explains what this means:

Jesus Christ is indeed the last word. The last word in human history. The last word in your personal life and mine. Jesus is the last word. Not cancer. Not divorce. Not bankruptcy. Not death. Not hell. Jesus and Jesus alone, is the last word in your life and mine, and he will have the last word in your life and mine

Jesus is the final Amen to all that God has said. Because he is the “faithful and true witness,” we can trust him completely.

Jesus and Jesus alone, is the last word in your life and mine.
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What he says is true.
All he says is true.
It is true all the time.

For the church at Laodicea it means that when Christ issues his scathing denunciation, they can’t escape it by saying, “That’s just his opinion.” No, that’s the word of the Son of God who is faithful and true in all that he says.

My words don’t carry that weight because I cannot claim to speak infallible truth. But when Jesus speaks, the church must listen because he speaks only the truth.

B. His Word is Authoritative.

“These are the words of . . . the ruler of God’s creation” (v.14b).

This phrase means that all creation comes from his hand. He was there in the beginning, and before there was a beginning, he was always there. The whole universe owes its existence to his mighty power. He is sovereign over every bird that flies, every fish that swims, every flower that blooms, and every rabbit that hops through the forest. Not only is he sovereign, but he is the glue of the universe. If he stopped holding it together, the universe itself would fly apart.

Do you enjoy breathing? I hope you do.
You breathe because Jesus gives you life and breath.
We owe everything to him.

You breathe because Jesus gives you life and breath.
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When he speaks, his word is true and absolutely authoritative.

II. His Indictment

A.   You Are Indifferent.

“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” (vv. 15-16).

I puzzled over the meaning of these words because I wondered why Jesus said, “I wish you were either hot or cold.” Then a thought came to me that made it plain.

What’s another word for “lukewarm” water? Room temperature.
What do you need to do to make water room temperature? Nothing.
Leave water alone and it will become room temperature.

What do you need to do to make water room temperature? Nothing.
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Suppose you want hot water. You’ve got to do something to make it hot. You’ve got to put it in a pot on the stove or put it in the microwave. Hot water never becomes hot on its own.

Suppose you want cold water. You’ve got to do something to make it cold. You’ve got to put it in the refrigerator or put ice cubes in the water. Under normal circumstances, water will never become cold if left to itself.

So here is the indictment. The Laodiceans were not guilty of some intentional sin, such as committing immorality, sleeping around, promoting false doctrine, or welcoming false prophets. In order to be guilty of those things, you’ve got to do something. You must make some sort of decision to move in that direction.

How do you become lukewarm? Just do nothing, and that’s what you will become. A lukewarm Christian is nothing more than a “room temperature” Christian who has become just like his environment. Rather than changing the world around him, he has slowly let the world change him.

A lukewarm Christian is nothing more than a “room temperature” Christian who has become just like his environment.
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When confronted with eternal riches in Christ, the Laodiceans had settled for $3 worth of God. And to make matters worse, they were happy about it.

Some churches take the middle road, believing the truth but unwilling to take a stand for it. They are evangelical (in name, at least) but they are not evangelistic. I am writing these words from a hotel room in India. This morning one of the local pastors took us through a Muslim town where you could see the green flags flying indicating that Muslim families lived there. Because of ongoing tension, few Christians live in the city. But I did see one church with a cross on it. What church is that? I wondered. The pastor named a particular denomination that once had a reputation for biblical faithfulness. How could such a church survive in a Muslim town? “The Muslims leave them alone because they never evangelize.” If you never tell anyone about your faith, you are unlikely to be bothered. The pastor went on to say, “When they have attacked our workers, the Muslims say, ‘It is because you try to get people to convert to Christianity.’”

The church at Laodicea had become like that church in the Muslim town. They followed the old saying, “Go along to get along.” That’s the very definition of moderate Christianity.

Why does Christ hate lukewarmness so much? Mostly because a person in this condition doesn’t even know it. He slips into a state of such total indifference that he doesn’t care about his own spiritual condition. Nothing matters to him. After all, by definition “room temperature” is comfortable. It feels right. He’s the same as everyone else around him.

If you never tell anyone about your faith, you are unlikely to be bothered.
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Not too hot.
Not too cold.

He’s doing just fine, or so he thinks. Such a man is unreachable unless you shock him out of his condition.

So Christ spits him out of his mouth.

That will get your attention in a hurry. Nothing like this was said to the compromising church at Pergamum or even to the morally corrupt church at Thyatira. In some ways, they were more reachable than the comfortable Laodiceans. At least they could see the error of their ways because it was definite and clear.

Lukewarmness is especially likely among long-time churchgoers.
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Not so with lukewarmness. As I pondered this, it occurred to me that this sin is especially likely among long-time churchgoers. After all, once you’ve been in church for a few years, you “know the ropes,” so to speak. You know how the system works, you know the lingo, you know where to sit, how to get along in a worship service, and you know how the machinery of the church works. What once seemed new and exciting now is old hat to you. It becomes as comfortable as an old shoe.

I realize that I am as prone to lukewarmness as anyone reading this sermon. I’ve been a Christian so long that it’s easy to take it all for granted. What amazes new believers may not amaze me at all. So I pray as I write these words, “Lord, show me the truth about myself. Scrape away the build-up of indifference that blocks the work of your Spirit in my life lest having preached to others, I might find myself spit out by Jesus.”

B.  You Are Arrogant.

“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” (v. 17).

Here Christ reveals that the heart of the problem is in the heart. And until the heart is changed, nothing can change. Note that little phrase, “You say.”

I am rich!
I am clothed!
I can see!

Arrogance had blinded them to their true spiritual condition. Money has a way of doing that to all of us. When I preached on this passage recently, I pulled some money from my wallet and held it up. Immediately all eyes were on the money in my hand. As I talked, the people watched the money, not me.

It happens that way every time.

Money is almost hypnotic.
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Money is almost hypnotic. We can’t take our eyes off it. We love money because with money we can buy whatever we want. I had to finally put the bills back in my wallet so I could finish my sermon. Money does crazy things to people, even to really nice Christian people.

It makes us think we’re doing better than we really are.
It insulates us against the pain of the world.
It gives us proof that we must be doing something right.

Let’s be clear on one point. Money is not the problem. Those bills I held up were just little pieces of paper covered with green and black ink. It’s not money but the love of money that gets us into trouble.

I don’t doubt that the church at Laodicea was doing well compared to the other churches of Revelation 2-3. But the very thing that gave them prosperity sent a wasting disease to their souls. They would have been better off to be poor like Smyrna and to know God’s blessing than to be rich and rejected by Jesus.

A “successful” church is not always a church God approves.
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And the worst of it was, they thought they were doing just fine. In our day they would be big church with a nice building, a fine parking lot, a big staff, a large budget, many programs, and a good reputation in the community. Nothing wrong with any of those things, but this passage ought to remind us that a “successful” church is not always a church God approves.

III. His Invitation

Wake up!

“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” (vv. 18-19).

Laodicea was known as a city of banking (thus “gold refined in the fire”) and beautiful garments made of wool (thus “white clothes to wear”) and eye salve (thus “salve to put on your eyes”). He touches the very points of their civic pride to reveal their spiritual poverty.

Until you see your need, you can never get better.

I am struck by the personal nature of Christ’s appeal. If someone said to me, “You make me want to vomit,” I would hardly expect that same person to say, “I love you more than you know.” But when you love someone, you can hate what is destroying them and love them all the more.

Until you see your need, you can never get better.
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Parents do this all the time. If they see their child embarking on a path of self-destruction, they won’t stand idly by and do nothing. They will say something, even if they know what they say will make their child angry.

So it is with our Lord.
He loves us so much that he won’t let us stay the way we are.

The way forward is to wake up and admit your need. Until you do that, you can never get better.

Open Up!

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 him, and he with me” (v.20).

Here the appeal becomes extremely personal. It’s as if Jesus turns from the church as a whole and focuses on just one person.

Jesus is knocking, always knocking.
He waits for someone to come to the door.

I find great encouragement in this thought. Though others may ignore Jesus, you can still open the door. Your husband or wife may have no use for Jesus, but you can open the door. Your friends may be so enamored with the world that the call of Christ means nothing to them. But you can open the door. You may be part of a lukewarm church, but you can still go to the door and let Christ in.

Though others may ignore Jesus, you can still open the door.
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He wants to come in.
He waits to come in.

Not only does he wait to come in, he wants to dine with you. There is no better picture of the Christian life than this. We can have Jesus as our dinner companion every single day. We never have to dine alone. Jesus wants to share a meal with us. And not just fast food from the drive-through lane. He wants a long meal with a lingering conversation in front of a crackling fire.

Isn’t it amazing that the worst church gets the best invitation? Isn’t that just like Jesus? After exposing their indifference, he offers them himself. It’s like those games we play where someone says, “If you could have dinner with any three people from history, who would you choose?” You’re supposed to say something like Catherine the Great, Johnny Cash, and Socrates. It’s a fun diversion. But in our text there is only one answer.

Dinner with Jesus.
Just the two of you.

You and Jesus, talking things over while you share a meal together.

What an offer!
I’d like a meal like that.
How about you?

Into My Heart

Then comes the grand conclusion of this letter:

“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (vv. 21-22).

Sometime we argue about whether or not to use Revelation 3:20 when we lead people to Christ. I think it is a beautiful picture of Christ coming again and again to the human heart. He comes, he knocks, he calls for us, and then he waits for our response. Many of you have seen the famous painting by Holman Hunt in which Christ stands at the door of an English cottage. All seems normal until you realize that there is no doorknob on the outside.

Jesus wants to share a meal with us.
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The door must be opened from within.

So it is for all of us all the time. Christ comes to us again and again and says, “I want to spend time with you.“ He calls to us. Then he waits for our response.

For those who open the door, Christ comes in and makes himself at home. I find great hope here for every Christian who feels far from the Lord. In a sense this final invitation speaks to all seven of the churches of Revelation 2-3, and thus it speaks to all Christians, everywhere, all the time.

Christ still stands at the door and knocks.
He waits for you to come and open the door.

Christ comes to us again and again and says, “I want to spend time with you.
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Do not let your sin and failure keep you from Jesus. Christ came for sinners, and it is sinners who need a Savior. So for all the foolish, fallen, messed up, mixed up, worn out, discouraged, backslidden, compromised, downtrodden, unlovely church people who wish and dream and secretly hope for a new start, take heart.

Christ has come for you.
He stands at the door and knocks.
Will you let him in?

To those who answer yes, he comes in and makes himself at home. And then he makes all things new. If we welcome him now, we will reign with him forever. I can’t think of a better deal.

We get Jesus now.
We get Jesus forever.

I urge you to heed the voice of Jesus, open the door, and say, “Lord Jesus, you are welcome in my life today.”

A children’s gospel chorus says it very nicely:

Into my heart, Into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today. Come in to stay.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

May that be your experience as you open your heart to Jesus.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?