When Jesus says, “Pastor, I’m about to spit you and your church out of my mouth,” we need to listen.
The Lukewarm Church
Revelation 3:14-16 reads, “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, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
If you want to read the letter to the church of Laodicea in it’s entirety, it is Revelation 3:14-22.
If you have ever heard this passage of Scripture preached from or taught on, you have likely heard something along the lines of, “Be hot, passionate, and fiery in your faith; do not be cold, lifeless, and frozen in your faith!”
Although that preaching and teaching is not necessarily wrong, it’s a good message many Christians need to hear, it is not what this particular passage is talking about.
The passage tells us that Jesus wishes the church was hot or cold, but that it’s currently neither, it’s currently lukewarm.
The Water Reference
If you were a church member of Laodicea, you would have known exactly what the reference meant. Let’s just say that Laodicea had the reputation of having the worst water around. Their water traveled a very long distance through pipes and by the time it got to the city it was lukewarm and barely drinkable.
Let me explain. The two towns that surrounded Laodicea had great water. The water supplies of these two towns weren’t slightly better, they were exponentially better.
One of the towns was called Hierapolis. Hierapolis had hot springs that served as the spas of the day. Essentially, they had hot-tubs all around town and people traveled from all over to use the water of Hierapolis for relaxation and medicinal purposes.
The other town was called Colossae. Colossae had ice cold water that came down in streams from the mountains. People came from all over to drink this water that was clean and refreshing.
Now think about, if Laodicea brought their water in from pipes from either of these neighboring towns, it was neither hot nor cold by the time that it arrived.
Be Hot or Be Cold
When Jesus’ letter essentially said, “Pastor, I’m about to spit you and your church out of my mouth because you are lukewarm,” everybody understood the reference, but what did it mean?
Let’s add in the context to the verses we read above from Revelation 3:14-16 above, “Hey pastor! Hey church! You guys are like your water! You are lukewarm! You are barely drinkable! You are making me sick! You need to be like the hot water of Hierapolis which is used for relaxation and medicinal purposes! You need to be like the cold water of Colossae which is consumed to refresh and renew! Being lukewarm is not an option!”
In other words, “Just like there are other towns that have good water, there are other churches being faithful; but neither is your water or your obedience good right now.”
The message to Laodicea was that just as people would travel to Hierapolis and Colossae for their hot and cold water, people were traveling to Laodicea to hear of the Living Water (gospel of Jesus Christ).
The spiritual climate of the church was to be like hot water that brought rest and healing and/or like cold water that brought refreshment and renewal, however, the church’s reputation in the town was the same as the water’s reputation in the town, both were lukewarm and disgusting.
Revelation 3:17 reads, “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.”
Now, we do not know for sure what the church of Laodicea was being rebuked for, but we do know two things:
- They were God’s children. God disciplines His children and they are referred to as a “church” meaning that they in fact were God’s people – they were just not living like it.
- They were being greedy. Maybe they weren’t providing for the poor and needy, or maybe they weren’t taking care of the foreigners/travelers, whatever the case, they were known for being greedy and not generous – a trait that God does not want His people to be known for.
Be Hot and Be Cold
Now, what does this have to do with you and me? God still rebukes and disciples His children. He does so to churches corporately and He does so to Christians individually.
God doesn’t do this to be rude or mean, but He does it out of love (Revelation 3:19). His ultimate goal for churches and Christians is for them to become like Christlike (Romans 8:29). When we are going in the wrong direction, God’s rebuking is simply Him taking the wheel and getting us back on track of this goal!
The passage ends with Revelation 3:22, which reads, “Whoever has ears, let them hear!” When God gives you a rebuke in your heart and tells you to stop doing something or to start doing something, don’t ignore Him, but obey Him, it is for our own good and the good of our neighbors!
He only rebukes us to make us more Christlike, and part of being Christlike is being hot and cold towards our neighbors, and being a source of rest and refreshment.
FINAL THOUGHT: Hot and Cold in this passage are virtually the same thing.