A few weeks ago our younger son Kelan made a funny remark. He said “It smells cold out.” Our older son Landon replied: “That doesn’t make sense! You can’t smell temperature!”
The conversation reminded me how temperature-obsessed our culture is. If you’re like me, you check the weather app on your smartphone numerous times a day. Many of our cars have high tech climate control settings. And what about cooking thermometers? Thanksgiving is coming, and so many people are thinking about either using their digital Bluetooth thermometers, or buying a new one. Temperature even influences our everyday language. We say things like “That lady was boiling, she was hot around the collar,” or, “That guy gave me a frigid stare, an icy look.”
Interestingly, God cares about temperature too. In his letter to the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22), Jesus indicates he’s taken their spiritual temperature and has found it deeply troubling. He states, “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” (Rev. 3:15-18).
A little history will help us better understand Jesus’ references. Historians tell us Laodicea was a prosperous city due to three major industries. First, it was a major center for banking and finance. Second, it was a significant producer of textiles, and was especially known for its production of a shiny, black wool. Third, Laodicea had a prestigious school of medicine, which contributed to the production of a special eye ointment known as “Phrygian powder,” that supposedly healed various eye maladies.
However, in spite of the city’s wealth and prominence, it lacked a stable water supply. In fact Laodicea was dependent on a six-mile aqueduct running from a rivers to its south. New Testament scholar George Beasley-Murray explains: “Since… the River Lycus dried up in the summer [and because] Laodicea had to use a long viaduct for its water, the water was not only tepid but impure and sometimes foul, making people sick.” Essentially, Jesus is using the temperature and quality of their water as an illustration of their deplorable spiritual condition. They are lukewarm and foul like their water supply.
What’s the consequence? Jesus states, “I am about to spit you out.” Their spiritual condition is unacceptable.
Why were they lukewarm? It appears the church was coasting: they were going through the motions in their knowledge of Jesus Christ. Scholar Alan Johnson gives this diagnosis: “It was a city with a people who had learned to compromise and accommodate themselves to the needs and wishes of others; they did not zealously stand for anything… they were useless to Christ because they were complacent, self-satisfied, and indifferent to the real issues of faith in him and discipleship.” It seems the church had adopted the attitude of the city’s service based culture.
Yet all was not lost! Jesus asserts, “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” (Rev. 3:19-20). Jesus is declaring “I love you enough to rebuke you and discipline you.” Like a parent who disciplines their child for disrespect or laziness or impulsivity, so the child will grow and mature and reach his/her potential, God disciplines us so we will know him and grow in him.
Moreover, Jesus commands them to “be earnest and repent.” The word “earnest,” in the original language, means “zealously.” Simply put, Jesus instructs them to zealously repent: turn away from your sins of self-sufficiency and complacency and return to me. Why? Jesus continues: “I am knocking on the door of your heart and life. Open it—let me in. I will come in and eat with you.” This word “eat” can be translated “dine with.” In first century Roman culture it referred to the main meal of the day, what we call dinner or supper, taking place in the evening. It was a time to relax, connect and talk.
To summarize: Jesus challenges them, and us, to zealously repent of your self-sufficiency and complacency, open the door to your heart and let me in, and we will dine together. We will converse and have an intimate, face-to-face relationship.
I am curious: what is your spiritual temperature? Are you hot: that is, passionately following Jesus? Are you complacent and lukewarm, going through the religious motions? Or are you cold—keeping Jesus distant from your heart and life?
This November, as fall turns to winter, it’s a fitting time to take our spiritual temperature.