by Al Maxey

Issue #684 ------- December 29, 2015
The sick are the greatest danger for the
healthy; it is not from the strongest that harm
comes to the strong, but from the weakest.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

The Vomit-Inducing Church
Nauseating Laodicean Lukewarmness

Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), who was born and raised in New Hampshire, was an influential American author, teacher, and religious leader, primarily noted for her groundbreaking ideas about spirituality and health, which she characterized Christian Science. She articulated those ideas in her major work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," which was first published in 1875. The movement that grew from these convictions came to be known as the Church of Christ, Scientist (not to be confused with the group denominated Churches of Christ which emerged from the Stone-Campbell Movement). On page 313 of the above mentioned book, we find this insightful observation: "Jesus of Nazareth was the most scientific man that ever trod the globe. He plunged beneath the material surface of things, and found the spiritual cause." Perhaps nowhere is this penetrating perceptiveness evidenced more convincingly than in His pointed evaluation of the seven churches of Asia Minor (which assessment may be examined in Revelation 2-3). One may gain a deeper appreciation for this ability of our Lord in the following two Reflections, which are thorough treatments of His in-depth evaluation of His disciples in the cities of Ephesus (Issue #69: A Lordly Lampectomy) and Pergamum (Issue #179: Tolerating the Intolerable).

In this present study, however, I want to narrow our focus to our risen Lord's assessment of the body of believers in the city of Laodicea (which is found in Rev. 3:14-22). Of the seven churches evaluated by Jesus, the ekklesia in Laodicea has the "grim distinction of being the only church of the seven about which the risen Christ has nothing good to say" [Dr. William Barclay, The Revelation of John, vol. 1, p. 137]. This group of disciples has the further distinction of being the only group of believers who made the Lord feel like vomiting! So, who were these people, and why did they nauseate deity? Let's go back a bit and notice some of their history. The city of Laodicea was founded by Antiochus II, a Seleucid king who reigned from 261-246 B.C. It was named after his wife, Laodice, who later showed her appreciation by poisoning him. It was located in what is now southwest Turkey, in the famed Lycus Valley, and quite near the cities of Philadelphia, Colossae and Hierapolis. It was originally built as a strong garrison on the strategic eastern trade route. After 190 B.C. it grew to become a wealthy center of industry, and was especially famous for its quality black wool. It was also a major center for financial transactions, and regarded as the home of bankers and millionaires. There was a very famous school of medicine in Laodicea, which was noted for its production of a remedy for weak eyes (this remedy was known as "Phrygian powder"). It was extremely wealthy and self-sufficient. After an earthquake in 60 A.D., they refused any help from the Roman Empire in rebuilding the city. Tacitus wrote: "The same year Laodicea, one of the most famous cities of Asia, having been prostrate by an earthquake, recovered herself by her own resources, and without any relief from us." Such wealth attracted the Jews, and it is estimated that there may have been as many as 11,000 or more living there. The city was further a center of Hellenic culture and a center for Emperor worship. The Cult of Carian Men was located there: a group identified with the god Zeus. The people of Laodicea were known for their arrogant self-sufficiency, a trait many outsiders found almost unbearable. Much later, in 361 A.D., the Council of Laodicea was held here, at which the New Testament canon was established.

It is interesting to note that each of the seven congregations of believers took on characteristics of the city in which they were located, a tendency of religious bodies and congregations since that time. The Lord refers to these various characteristics in these epistles and draws spiritual applications from them. For example, even though the disciples in Laodicea regarded themselves as wealthy and in need of nothing (Rev. 3:17), Jesus said they were actually poor, blind, naked wretches (vs. 17). Thus, they needed to buy from Him pure gold, and white garments, and a special eyesalve. Here we see reference to the banking industry, to the black wool produced there, and to the ointment for bad eyes produced by the medical school. Each of these references would have had great meaning to the citizens of this city. "Each of the seven epistles is of course concerned with a Christian church rather than with a city, but the Christians were citizens, and the spirit of the city could not be kept out of the church. Thus, the allusions to the circumstances and character of Laodicea are unmistakable" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 1, p. 684]. Jesus was clearly "using imagery drawn from the city's daily life" [Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 862]. But the Lord's reference to their water supply is the comparison I want us to examine particularly in this issue of Reflections. "You are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth" (Rev. 3:15-16, NASB).

Jesus is alluding to the water supply of Laodicea, which was not good. They were a wealthy city in many ways, but they had poor water. "Laodicea, for all its wealth, had an insipid water supply -- one that induced vomiting!" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 457]. In fact, the local "physicians used lukewarm water to cause vomiting" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1540]. "One can drink cold or hot water, but tepid water is nauseating. It causes only disgust" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation, p. 155]. "The city's water supply was drawn from the hot springs at Denizli to the south, which was still tepid after flowing for six miles in stone pipes -- unlike the cold water which refreshed their neighbors at Colossae, or the hot water whose healing properties were valued by those of Hierapolis" [The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 1687]. The people, therefore, understood only too well the nauseating qualities of a poor, lukewarm water supply, and Jesus used this awareness to help them perceive their own spiritual lukewarmness and the impact it had on Him.

The Greek word Jesus uses is "chliaros," which is found only this one time in all the Bible, and which means "tepid, lukewarm." The "church-goers" in Laodicea were little more than that: nominal "Christians" who did the bare minimum to be regarded as religious. Dr. James Tolle characterized them "betwixt-and-between Christians" [The Seven Churches of Asia, p. 73], being neither hot nor cold. "The very expression 'a lukewarm Christian' is a contradiction in terms, for a lukewarm Christian has no claim to be called a Christian at all" [Dr. William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 98]. "The lukewarm Christian will do the church more harm than the unsaved sinner! Inconsistent and hypocritical members of the church exercise a more deadly influence against the truth, and keep more people from obeying the gospel, than outright sinners" [Dr. J. T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, p. 62]. "Yes, 'lukewarm,' that is the word! The people of Laodicea knew exactly what that meant: tepid, flabby, half-hearted, limp, always ready to compromise, indifferent, listless, that 'we're all good people here in Laodicea' attitude. You cannot do anything with such people!" [Dr. William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, p. 94]. "As lukewarm water turns the stomach, and provokes to a vomit, lukewarm professors turn the heart of Christ against them. He is sick of them, and cannot long bear them" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].

The Lord desires His people to be on fire for Him and His cause: fervent in spirit! The word translated "hot" in this text is "zestos," which means "boiling hot." It is used of Apollos in Acts 18:25 where he is said to be "fervent in spirit." The apostle Paul tells the disciples of Christ that they are to be "fervent in spirit" (Rom. 12:11). This spiritual intensity and fervor was sadly lacking in Laodicea. Yet, neither were they completely "cold" for "there was interest enough to hold together an external fellowship, and to maintain all outward Church proprieties" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 124]. They had reached a state of self-complacency and self-satisfaction; they were "at ease in Zion," regarding themselves as "having need of nothing," yet unaware that they were "wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked" (Rev. 3:17). Frankly, says Jesus, He would actually prefer that they were cold, for "the unsaved man is more easily aroused to realize his lost condition than the self-satisfied, sleeping Christian who is deceived in thinking himself safe" [Dr. J. T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation, p. 62]. Some characterize the Laodiceans as "corpses in religious garb" -- dressed for a ball, yet dead one and all. "Active opposition may well be less deadly evil than careless ease" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 116]. After all, Jesus made it pretty clear that "tax-collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before" such misguided religionists (Matt. 21:31). Thus, "there is more hope for an unconverted sinner than for one who, having once been roused to a sense of God's will, has relapsed into a state of self-satisfied indolence" [ibid]. Dr. Charles Ellicott describes the "lukewarm" as "those who take an interest in religion, but whose worship of their idol of good taste, or good form, leads them to regard enthusiasm as ill-bred, and disturbing; and who have never put themselves to any inconvenience, braved any reproach, or abandoned any comfort for Christ's sake, but hoped to keep well with the world, while they flattered themselves that they stood well with God" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 550].

Because of the condition of the disciples in Laodicea, Jesus makes a stunning pronouncement: "I will spit you out of My mouth!" (Rev. 3:16, NASB). "Spit" (or "spue/spew" = KJV/ASV) may have the advantage of being less crude, but it doesn't convey the intensity of the original. The Greek word here is "emeo" (used only here in the NT writings), and it literally means "to vomit." We get such medical words as "emetic" (a medicine or other substance that causes vomiting) and "emesis" basin (a device for catching vomit) from this Greek word. The Greek scholar, Dr. A. T. Robertson, says this term was used by Jesus to convey the idea of rejecting something from His body "with extreme disgust" [Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword]. W. E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words says it is a figure "of the Lord's utter abhorrence of the condition of the church at Laodicea." They are barf-inducing believers. Not a pretty sight! And yet, even here, one catches a glimpse of the matchless grace of our Lord, for He literally says (although this is not conveyed in many of our English translations), "I am about to vomit thee out of My mouth" (Rev. 3:16, Young's Literal Translation). This is the Greek word "mello," which means "to be about to do; be on the point of doing" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon of the NT, p. 262]. There is still time, but it is short. Thus, may the self-absorbed, self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-righteous, slumbering, sanctimonious, sectarian "saints" in the Body of Christ today take heed from this study, lest they be purged in disgust from the Body of Jesus, who at some point will give in to His nausea and vomit them out.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Georgia:

We just read your last Reflections article: "One Plus Nothing Equals Everything" (Issue #683). That active duty Army officer is attending a school that teaches the very same doctrine that is believed and taught from the pulpit and in the classrooms of our own congregation. I remember talking to a woman who attends here and telling her about your Reflections. She was interested in reading what you had to say about divorce and remarriage and a Christian drinking a glass of wine (both of which are big issues here). When I asked her later what she thought, she said she agreed with what you said. We are very concerned about where we are as a group of believers today. We don't want to leave the Church of Christ (many here are leaving to go to the Baptist Church), but we can understand why some have left. There have been many days that I have been ready for the exit door myself. Somehow we are going to have to be brave enough to move in that direction where we can worship comfortably and use our talents as God wants. Either that, or we will stay and be among the few left here until the doors of this building close permanently. Al, please know that we appreciate what you do for the Kingdom. Your Reflections have given us and others peace and hope through God's Son Jesus Christ.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Your article "One Plus Nothing Equals Everything" is fantastic and heartfelt. I especially enjoyed the letter from the Lt.Col. It was, in a word, powerful. I'm sharing this with some of my friends who really need to read this! I'm sure not all of them will agree with what is said in this article, but I am certainly going to encourage them to read it and see what they think. Again, thank you for this powerful Reflections.

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Al, I hope that you and Shelly enjoyed your vacation. I wanted to let you know that your last two Reflections articles (Issue #682: "He Canceled It and Nailed It" and Issue #683: "One Plus Nothing Equals Everything") have both been really good and could not have come at a better time! I guess it's just my own "black and white" nature, but I find it easy to "fall for" legalism. Your articles have definitely helped me to overcome that weakness.

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Thank you so much for your latest refreshing Reflections ("One Plus Nothing Equals Everything"). I have just done a lesson on Romans 4 (which is the chapter Neal Griffin mentioned in the little article of his you included in your last Reflections). I found myself amazed once again by the simplicity of that chapter in Romans. Why would Paul spend so much time in that chapter talking about Abraham NOT being justified by any works, unless it was relevant to us?! In fact, Romans 5:1-2 should be read along with Romans 4, as it is the conclusion to all that has been said. How exciting it is to know that a man who lived thousands of years ago (Abraham) was justified the very same way we are: by faith. I really appreciated you article, Al, and your comments. Jesus plus nothing truly does equal salvation! Have a very Merry Christmas, brother.

From a Reader in California:

This article ("One Plus Nothing Equals Everything") reminded me so much of the truth conveyed in 2 Cor. 3:6, which says we are "servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." Too many young Christians, excited about their love for Christ, get sidetracked and/or sidelined by the legalism being proclaimed by the teachers (yes, I will say it) of Satan! Though they would recoil in horror at the thought of teaching Satan's doctrine, that is exactly what they are doing when they teach legalism. I'm so glad the Lt.Col. you quoted in your Reflections found that breath of fresh air of freedom in Christ through your writing ministry. May you continue to serve God through this work.

From a Reader in Texas:

I loved your article "One Plus Nothing Equals Everything." Thank you! On a different subject, I had reason to mention, as a comment on one of Bobby Valentine's blog posts, that I believed the expression "obey the gospel" was not necessarily appropriate, unless one believes that the "five steps of salvation" are what constitute the Gospel. Hugh Fulford was shocked at this, and he sought to correct me, saying that this expression ("obey the gospel") was entirely scriptural. I personally believe the Gospel (the good news of our Lord's death, burial and resurrection, and what He accomplished for us) motivates us to obey commands, but in itself has no commands. Your thoughts please. I'm glad you enjoyed your vacation, but am also glad you're back!

From a Reader in Canada:

Brother, the love I feel for you exceeds that which I hold for most every other human I know, for no one has brought into my life more clearly the great joy of salvation and freedom from sin and the wonderful understanding of God's grace than you have! For years I lived my life in fear of God because I knew how flawed and unworthy I was and incapable of doing enough to be worthy of His love. The harder I tried, the more hopeless I felt. I now know that this was how the Jews must have felt trying to live under the Law. We always fall short. Then one day I came across your material, and for the first time in my life I found someone who was saying clearly what needed to be taught: God loves us in spite of ourselves! He will save us and be faithful in His dealings with us even while we are yet sinners. He formed a plan, and set it in motion, that leads to our salvation, and He didn't need any help from me. All He asked me to do was believe. It is not about what I know, but Who I know. Never again will I feel unclean or unworthy, or feel like a failure. All because you opened doors of understanding that I had never seen. Thus, I owe you a debt of gratitude for the very salvation I now enjoy, for you showed me where to find it. Yes, Jesus paid the debt, but you gave me the ability to find and enjoy His gift. For this I will always be thankful. Some day you and I will chat in person, but I expect that won't happen until we both get to heaven. Please continue to tell the legalists and patternists and closed-minded (which is what I used to be) that there really is hope, joy and peace to be found in Christ Jesus. Brother, the best gift under my tree this year will be your next article!

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

I am a longtime "member of the church" and a minister's wife, but I am also a seeker. My studies for Truth have brought me to your articles about baptism and "obeying the Gospel." I have never heard the things you teach in your writings, but everything follows along perfectly with what I have been studying! Maybe "we" (in Churches of Christ) don't have it all figured out after all. This scares me to death, because I don't know what to do with it. Anyhow, I would like to subscribe to your Reflections.

From a Reader in Canada:

Great article, Al; as always, it was right on target. We are indeed saved by God's amazing grace shown in the giving of His Son to be an offering for our sin in order that He might reconcile humanity to Himself. All those who accept by faith the One whom He has sent for our deliverance/salvation receive this reconciliation He has so wonderfully provided for all. Again, thanks for yet another thought-provoking article. May the Lord Jesus continue to guide and direct you in your ministry.

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Along the roadsides of my native North Carolina hills I would see signs from time to time that read simply: "Jesus Saves." It is a simple statement of biblical truth. A sinner has zero capacity to save, or even to help save, himself. He must BE saved by another if he is to experience salvation. When Jesus said from the cross, "It is finished," it was indeed finished. Reconciliation between God and sinful humans had been completed. He paid it all. Thanks, my friend, for keeping the fire hot for God's love and grace demonstrated in the person and work of Jesus.

From a Reader in Wisconsin:

Thanks for your ongoing studies, Brother Al, and also for sharing them with your readers. They are always thought-provoking and helpful.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Please send me signed copies of your following books: (1) From Ruin To Resurrection, (2) Immersed By One Spirit, and (3) Down, But Not Out. My check is enclosed. Thanks!

From a Reader in Mississippi:

I would like to order ALL of the lessons you have placed on CDs, all except for the one titled "From Law to Liberty" (which I purchased a few months back and have thoroughly enjoyed). I have sent along my check to cover the cost of these materials. I want to say that the courageousness of your writings and teachings, as well as the thoroughness in all that you do, is truly admirable! Thank you, and Merry Christmas!

From a Minister in Georgia:

Al, I am just wondering how you deal with the idea that there is no activity of any kind that is connected with our coming into a state of grace/salvation. If I understand your position, you claim that baptism has nothing to do with our salvation, since it is a work (an act of obedience which man performs). So, my question to you involves Christ's conversation with the people in John 6:28-29, "Therefore they said to Him, 'What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'" Is this a "work" that God performs, or is it a work "approved" by God? It could be read either way. But if it is a work that God performs, then that makes God a respecter of persons, since He would be choosing the ones to whom He would give faith. But, if it is a work approved by God, then that entails something that man must do in order to obtain salvation. So, what is your response to this seeming dilemma?

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