14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: 15 “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Did the Church at Laodicea experience the damnatio memoriae, the condemnation of a person’s memory? What could the church had done to warrant such a punishment? Many opinions exist but of the two that garner the most support I favor that of Adolf von Harnack, a much respected German scholar. In later times, the church in Laodicea sadly fell from grace. It is his theory based on scripture from the book of Revelation referring to the letter to Laodicea, which makes sad reading… in the letter, to the church of Laodicea the risen Christ, says in that vivid phrase: ‘I am about to spit you out of my mouth’ (Revelation 3:16). So what was damnatio memoriae? It would have resulted in the church at Laodicea records being erased from all books, obliterated from all inscriptions and chiseled out of all memorials. It would be as if they never existed. The biblical equivalent of our current day cancel culture. What did they do that would merit such punishment? The answers lie within the scripture and can be an uncomfortable recognition of current attitudes.
Laodicea was a wealthy city during the Roman period. Located on major trade routes that passed through important cities like Ephesus, Smyrna and Sardis, Laodicea also was a center of textile production and banking. Like the city it resided in the church had done well, as noted in Revelations 3:17 it was a wealthy church. Wealth has a way of corrupting our character, lessening our resolve to follow the right way and hampers good intentions for the sake of acquiring more of worldly things that cools our faith. The scripture indicates that the people had become lukewarm and that attitude was shown by their deeds. In Revelations 3:14-21 the Lord describes them as such. There are many examples of analogies to be found among the scriptures. The people of Laodicea would have picked up on this one in these verses. Those who would read John’s “Revelation” would have also. The cities drinking water came by aqueduct from a spring six miles to the south of the city and when it arrived it was lukewarm, not refreshing at all. There were hot springs near by that people bathed in, seeking to heal their bodies. Hot water can clean and purify, cold water can refresh and give life to a tired soul. Lukewarm water could do neither. Scripture tells us that the seven churches in Asia Minor each received a letter, the harshest being the one to the church at Laodicea. Their deeds or lack of drawing the Lord’s displeasure. In the eyes of Jesus, this is a dead church. This church practiced a faith of convenience being neither hot or cold. They had become comfortable in their wealth and were arrogant to others around them.
Mark 10:23 (ESV)
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
Jesus and scripture often equates deeds as an indicator of a person’s spiritual health.
Matthew 7:16–17 (ESV)
16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
The Church at Laodicea was prosperous in material goods and its people were also. They enjoyed the fruits of their physical labour but in return they became victims of their wealth and allowed themselves to become comfortable with a semblance of the faith… Their attitude of self-sufficiency and lukewarm faith placed them in constant danger of the evils of this world.
Where are you and your church in this world today? Have we become so comfortable in the things of this life that our legacy will be that of the church at Laodicea? I hope and pray not.
Join us in the Pew next week….
Life is Good