So Rich, Yet So Poor (Revelation 3:14-22)

 

 

Are you rich?  

John D. Rockefeller’s three simple rules for anyone who wants to become rich:  

  1. Go to work early.
  2. Stay at work late.
  3. Find oil.  

 

Laodicea found oil but they lost Christ.

 

A story is told about a certain old, rich man who had quite the miserable disposition.  One day he went to visit a rabbi.  The rabbi took the rich man by the hand and led him to a window.

“Look out there,” he said. The rich man looked into the street.

“What do you see?” asked the rabbi.

“I see men, women, and children,” answered the rich man.

Again the rabbi took him by the hand and this time led him to a mirror. “Now what do you see?”

“Now I see myself,” the rich man replied.  

Then the rabbi said, “Behold, in the window there is glass, and in the mirror there is glass. But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver, and no sooner is the silver added than you cease to see others, but you see only yourself.”

Like the old man, Laodicea got a little silver and they could only see themselves – and no longer Christ.  

 

Proverbs 13:7 says, “One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.”  What is true for men is true for churches as well.  What appears to be is not always reality.  Like Sardis, the church that had a reputation for being alive but was in reality dead, we come to Laodicea – a church not what it appeared to be.  Where Sardis was a church that looked alive because it was active, vibrant, and busy, Laodicea had the appearance of success because it was lavished in luxury.  But its material strength was its spiritual weakness.  They were a self-sufficient, self-satisfied and complacent lot.  They had become a church confident in their own resources and no longer seeing a need to rely upon the Lord.  Having it all they thought they lacked nothing.  

 

But they lacked one thing in particular:  the praise that comes from Jesus Christ.  This was a church that Jesus had nothing good to say.  Someone once said “Measure wealth not by the things you have, but by the things you have for which you would not take money.”  The Laodiceans traded the praise of Jesus Christ for worldly wealth.  This was a church that was loaded – no budget problems, nicest building in the region, well-dressed, driving the best and fanciest transportation, adorned with the finest jewelry.  Rich in so many ways but spiritually they ran around in rags – spiritually they were standing on street corners holding signs, spiritually they were sleeping under bridges.  Their poverty truly is seen in this one fact alone:  they were pictured as a church that had actually put Jesus outside of its fellowship.  They had allowed the Treasure of all treasures – Jesus Christ – to be put out of their walls.  Laodicea:  so rich, yet so poor.  

 

[Jesus presents Himself as, “the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Ruler of God’s creation.”]

 

This church had 2 Problems.  Notice as we identify their two problems what problems they did not have:  they weren’t worshipping other gods and they weren’t into immorality.  But their problems were serious.

 

First, they were distasteful. They had a very poor taste to the Lord. Verse 15-16 explains, “….”

 

Illustration. I used to think that I ate very well when I was single. And not too long ago Annie went to Indiana with the kids to visit her folks. I had a week where I was bachen it. Now one thing a bachelor does not do well is cook. But, I thought, I will try one of my old favorites that I haven’t had since I’ve been married: Tuna Helper. Admittedly I’ve longed for it since Annie forbid it from our house, (I think she had it in our wedding vows). So I went to the store, bought some boxes for the week, cooked some up, threw on an old John Wayne western and sat down to eat. The first bite into it I spit it out. I thought I must be sick or something, because I remembered it tasted a lot better. Then I realized that my tastebuds hadn’t been treated so good as since I’ve been married. I was used to good food, and now I realized how gross that stuff was.

 

That’s how the Laodiceans tasted to the Lord. He is pure and holy, and, they tasted disgusting to Him. The Greek for “spit you out of my mouth” doesn’t mean to spit like you’re spitting a seed out of your mouth. It literally means to vomit – gut-turning, food poisoning, sick to your stomach vomit. This was a church that made Jesus puke. If this sounds graphic to you and makes you cringe, it’s meant to. Jesus means for them to understand that they taste disgusting to Him.

 

How do we taste to the Lord?

 

Notice He describes them as lukewarm. They were not hot, and, they were not cold. What a strange thing to say.  One interpretation of “lukewarm” is that they are useless to the Lord.  Things are usually most tasteful either hot or cold.  Lukewarm drinks are not pleasant.  We like hot coffee and cold pop.  I can’t tell you how many half cups of coffee I pour out because I get busy and forget about my coffee only to come back take a sip and spit it right back into the cup.  Drinks are not supposed to be room temperature – and neither are Christians.  Our spiritual temperature should not match the environment of the world around us.  Otherwise, if we’re too much like the world we lose our usefulness to the Lord.

 

Another interpretation says “lukewarm” means they were indifferent.  Someone can be “on fire” for the Lord. The disciples walking to Emmaus said their hearts were burning within them. Paul told Timothy to “fan into flame” the gift given to him. The OT prophet said God’s word is like a fire shut up in his bones. Hot means zeal.

 

But if someone was not hot, Jesus would rather they are cold.  In what sense?  Does Jesus really prefer someone to not be “on fire” for Him?  No.  But, I do think its possible Jesus is referring to someone who is backsliding and getting off track here.  Why would Jesus be disappointed the Laodiceans weren’t backsliding.  It’s not backsliding he wants, its zeal and earnestness and wholeheartednesss.  So, I think Jesus would prefer a believer who is backsliding BUT who is also sensitive to their backslidden ways, and who realizes they are not okay where they are, and that they need to do something about it – I think Jesus would rather deal with someone like that than someone who simply just doesn’t care.  

 

***Someone who is unmoved by Jesus Christ, who is lax, complacent and totally unresponsive is worse than a responsive backslider.  You see rebukes like this throughout Scripture.  Indifference is a problem for Christians, not unbelievers.  Complacency is dangerous for a Christian and God has only contempt for it (Isa. 66:4; Ez. 33:31-32; Amos 6:1; Zeph. 1:12).  Complacency is usually the byproduct of prolonged comfort.  

 

Application:  Discomfort is a common tool God uses to keep us from complacency.  Our comfort is not God’s priority – but, our consecration is.

 

Perhaps nuance here is this:  getting off track with the Lord is a problem, but the real problem is what a person does about it.  Stubborn, self-willed, who insist on going their sinful ways and won’t respond to correction or rebuke are the real problem.  Someone who is off track but is willing to be led back to the right track is not so much a problem.

 

What causes indifference?  What is it that makes a Christian complacent?  Watch out for these in your heart so you don’t fall under the fatherly discipline of God:  

 

1) Preoccupation with the things of this world (Matt. 22:5).

2) Letting worldly health and wealth give you your sense of security (Isa. 32:9; 47:8; Ezek. 16: 49).  

3) Creature comforts trump devotion to the Creator (Hag. 1:4-11 see Luke 12:21).  

4) Unconcerned for God’s honor (Neh. 13:11; Hag. 1:4-11).  

5) Stubborn devotion to sin (Ezek. 33:31-32).  

6) Not wanting what God has promised (Numb. 32:6; Jsh 18:3).  

 

Second, they were deceived. They were not only distasteful, but, they were deceived.  Verse 17 spells it out, “…” We see what Jesus thinks about a church that thinks more about its money than Him.  Laodicea was a church rich in every worldly way, but poor in every spiritual way. They were the opposite of Smyrna, the church that was in utter poverty but whom Jesus said was rich. Laodicea had lost the very treasure that 30 years earlier Paul prayed they would gain in Colossians 2:1-3.

 

Their wealth deceived them into thinking they didn’t need anything. They were independent.  Going over their bank accounts they said to themselves:   “With man this is impossible, but, with money all things are possible”. But Jesus said in John 15:5, “Without me you can do nothing.”  Yet, sadly, while the money was coming in Jesus was put out.

 

We see how powerful the deceit of worldly riches can be. They measured their success by their worldly wealth and possessions. They validated themselves by the riches they acquired. They grew comfortable, complacent, self-sufficient and conceited because of their money. They traded Almighty God for the Almighty dollar – Christ for coin – the Lord for luxury.  Yes, Jesus did say, “You cannot serve both God and money.” and they had made their choice.  Jesus also said in Luke 12, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” – nor does a church’s life. He said in the same chapter that it will not be good for anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God. Laodicea was rich towards themselves, but, poor towards God.

 

They had great wealth, so, they thought they were great.  A traditional saying says “A mule dressed in a tuxedo is still a mule.”  Laodicea was a mule in a tux.  They were starting to remind God of Nebuchadnezzar from ancient Babylon who said, “Is not this great Babylon I have built …by my mighty power for the glory of my majesty?” A quick way to make God deal sternly with us is to turn away from trusting Him and put our trust in money. We must never look for rich people to join our church because we want their money.

 

They not only thought they were rich, but, their riches blinded them to how truly poor they were. Notice verse 17, “…” Laodicea was bankrolled in the world but bankrupt in Jesus Christ. They had become a rich church in their own eyes when actually they were very poor in the eyes of the Lord. They didn’t realize is that you can be filthy rich in this world and be a filthy beggar before the Lord. Jesus said something similar when He said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?” Laodicea was trading the heart and soul of who she was as a church to make earthly gains.

 

Laodicea needed to Wake Up. They needed to re-align their priorities. They needed to change the way they measured success. They needed to switch their trust from their money to the Lord. The Solution was 3-Fold.

 

First, they needed to see Jesus as their Sufficient Source. Notice verse 18, “…” Laodicea was a wealthy city. They had a strong banking and finance industry, they were very successful in clothing being the manufacturer of a glossy black wool cloth, and for their medicine products featuring eye salve which helped protect and heal the eyes.

 

Here is the point:  wealth is found in a Person, not in possessions. Trust this Person for your provision, not your possessions. If you have Jesus Christ you have it all. If you don’t have Him, you can have the world but you have nothing. And from His riches He provides us with everything we need (Php. 4:19)

 

Second, they needed to Learn about Christ’s Love for them. Notice verse 19, “…” Now, when Jesus told the Philadelphian Church that He loved them He did it to reassure them in the midst of their persecutions.  But His love for the Laodiceans wasn’t expressed as reassurance.  His love for them came out as a rebuke.  His love meets our need, sometimes comforting, sometimes cutting; sometimes tender, sometimes tough.  Do not resent his discipline of you (Heb 12:4-12).  It is for your consecration.

 

It stands out to me that Jesus’ solution to the Laodicean’s love for money was for them to understand His love for them.  Love for money is always a symptom, not the cause.  Love for money is a desire driven by fear and by pride.  Fear of not having enough and pride in that we think having things makes us important or special.  But when you know Jesus loves you you have no fear because He will care for you.  And when you know Jesus loves you your pride dissolves because He’s not impressed with what you have – in fact He knows how little we have to offer yet still He loves us tremendously.

 

Third, they needed to Open Up to the Lord. Notice verse 20, “….” When we come to Laodicea see what it looks like to build a church that doesn’t include Jesus Christ.  The Lord is pictured here as standing outside of His own church, wanting to come in and fellowship. He gave an open door to the Philadelphian believers to go through but now in Laodicea Jesus wants a door opened to Him.  This is a sad picture. Some people believe this is an evangelism verse, referring to the lost letting Christ into their hearts. But this is a Church verse, referring to believers letting Christ come back into their lives. He loves these people (v19) and wants in.

 

Opening up to Him also means being rich towards Him.  He has been rich towards them and wants that generosity reciprocated.  Listen to passages describing this to wealthy people (Luke 12:21; 1 Tim. 6:17-19;

 

When did He get put out? This reminds us to not allow the love of the world to grow in our hearts. We can’t love the world and Christ. It also reminds us not to allow our hearts to love money. We can’t serve (love) God and money. And we must give regular attention to our love for the Lord. The Laodiceans I imagine put the Lord out of their fellowship slowly, over time, as they gradually focused more and more on material and worldly success.

 

Conclusion

Live to be a sweet taste to the Lord, and remember that true riches are in Christ.

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