Empty Church (Revelation 3:14-22)

A.W. Tozer writes in his classic work, The Pursuit of God, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.” Complacency is a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s accomplishments. An uncritical satisfaction with oneself is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. When was the last time you critically examined your spiritual walk with the Lord? Every fall we hear of football teams growing complacent and losing games that should easily win. Likewise, we hear of Christians who have grown complacent and are losing battles that should easily win. Complacency in one’s spiritual walk opens to the door to town of stupid where Christians have drifted into secret sins and destructive patterns that cripple one’s life. Listen again to Tozer’s quote in context, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.”
Spiritual complacency is birthed from a lack of desire for Christ. Do you desire Jesus to be manifested in your life? Is your greatest passion to know Christ and to make him known? Are consumed with his glory, zealous for his name, driven by his mission?
I drink coffee every morning. This fall I have been pumpkin spice creamer. It is delicious. And in all capital letters on the side of the bottle, it reads, “SHAKE WELL BEFORE USE.” I believe that God desires to shake us up before we can be effectively used by him. Complacency lulls us to sleep while Christ-centeredness wakes us up. I pray that I will help to shake you up so that you will be ready to be used by the Lord. I believe this was the Lord’s goal in his letter to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3.
Laodicea was a wealthy city on the main Roman trade route and the last stop of the postal route that made up the destinations of all the seven cities addressed in this letter. It was known for his soft, raven-black wool and its famous medical school known for its eye salve. The church had fallen victim of the prosperity of the city. Like Thyatira, commercial success in Laodicea meant participation in the cultic practices of the city. It appears that the church had compromised her integrity and fallen into the trap of financial gain.
Who is your Authority?
Jesus establishes his authority at the outset of this letter by offering three titles to himself. In each title, he is showing how he is different than the believers in the church at Laodicea. Revelation 3:14, “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” This is only the second place in all of Scripture where Amen is given as a name. The other being in Isaiah 65:16,
so that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes.
The Hebrew for truth in the verse is “˒āmēn.” Amen was used to confirm or verify a prayer or hymn in Scripture. Jesus used the word often to highlight and emphasized important teaching. Jesus is establishing that his word can be trusted, unlike the Laodiceans.
Jesus again refers to himself as the faithful and true witness. Revelation begins with referring to Jesus as the faithful witness (1:5) emphasizing his faithfulness to death on the cross. In Revelation, witness is connected to martyrdom. Jesus was the true witness who was slain for our sins. He was willing to die to show God’s love while the Laodiceans’ witness had become non-existent as its’ compromised, complacent lives had little reflection of Christ.
Jesus last tittle would have been especially familiar to the Laodiceans as it is a clear reference to the letter to their sister church in Colossae. Jesus is the beginning of God’s creation. The great hymn of Christ in Colossians 1:15-20,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Jesus is author of creation and he is the beginning of the new creation through his resurrection from the dead. The Laodiceans had forgotten this reality. In their prosperity, there were living as if they were in control. They may have claimed Christ, but they were functioning as atheist. They were living as their own sovereign, autonomous and separate from Christ’ authority. Jesus was reminding them that He alone is in control. He is the source of all their wealth and power.
Prosperity breeds forgetfulness. Deuteronomy 8 is a powerful reminder that this has always been the danger of God’s people. “Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deut. 8:17:18)
How do you look at your wealth? Do you view it as primarily yours or the Lords? What about your home? Your car? Let’s shake up our view of our wealth. How often are your decisions primarily decided by money? How often is your peace primarily governed by your bank account? How often are you anxious about money? Do you pray before big purchases? Do you pray for how many specialty coffee drinks you get a week? Are you unwilling to admit you have a problem with spending? Debt?
Friend, if God is the Amen, the faithful and true witness who died for your sins, the beginning of all creation and the firstborn from the dead, is he not trustworthy with determining your resources. One of the reasons we do not seek the Lord regarding our wealth is because we are afraid what he will ask us to do with it. We want to hold on to it, so we don’t ask God what to do with it afraid that he will ask us to give it. It is a small view of God and a weak view of his mission. We should ask God if we are able to give it so that we can participate in his kingdom. Do we view God as our authority? And not just as our authority, but as our good, wise and loving authority who desires what is best us.
Laodiceans were struggling not with the mental assent of God’s authority, but in practical application.
How is your Application?
Wisdom is not only about knowing what to do but doing it. Jesus is not concerned with your head knowledge, but how that knowledge governs your life. Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your works: you neither cold nor hot. Would that you either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Jesus offers a stinging rebuke of the church. It is important to understand the context of the Laodiceans to fully appreciate Jesus’ words.
Laodicea was a prospering city, but it had no water supply. It depended on an aqueduct system to receive water from Hierapolis and Colossae. By the time the water arrived in Laodicea it was only a tepid, lukewarm. Jesus was trying to show the absence of spiritual fruit in their lives. The hot waters of Hierapolis were known for its medicinal healing effect while the cold waters of Colossae were pure, drinkable, and had a life-giving effect. The Laodiceans were neither providing the healing balm of the gospel to the city or the radiating the life-giving transformation that comes from knowing Christ. They were like the barren fig tree that Jesus withered (Matthew 21:19). The city was experiencing no spiritual healing and no life because of the compromising witness of the church. Jesus will vomit out the church for their lack of witness for his namesake.
Have you applied the gospel to your life? Friend, have you decided to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior? We all have sinned and need a Savior. God has provided a way to Him through his Son. Jesus died for us. He was raised for us. Anyone who puts their trust in Him will be saved. It is not the amount of our faith that will save us on judgment day, but the object of our faith. We must have faith in Jesus Christ to be saved from hell. We may not want to talk about hell, but in the quietness of your heart when you think about meeting God there is fear. If there was no fear of hell, people would not be afraid to die. But we are because there is. Friend, Jesus has provided a way to salvation. He died for all those who would turn and put their faith in Him. If you turn from your sins, and trust in Christ, you will be saved.
Beloved, how have you applied the gospel to your life? The gospel is not the diving board into the Christian life, but it is swimming pool. We never move on. We want our lives saturated with the gospel. We want the gospel to affect every area of our lives. And if we do, then we should never grow complacency in our walk with Christ. There is always room to grow. We can rejoice with words of John Newton, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” We are all works in progress, but we are in progress. We labor and strive to go deeper with Christ. We should want to grow in our love for God, our knowledge of his word, in our love for the saints, and in our love for the lost. But do we?
We should, but that may not be the reality. “SHAKE WELL BEFORE USE.” The Lord desire to use us for his purposes. We may not be shaken up before we are ready to be used by him. God shakes us up with trials. He shakes us up with discipline. He shakes us up or prunes us, so we can bear more fruit. Are you applying the gospel in your life?
What do you Appreciate?
One of the ways we can determine if we are applying the gospel in our lives is by analyzing what we appreciate or value. The church of Laodicea valued their wealth but was spiritually poor. They valued their self-sufficiency but were in desperate need. Revelation 3:17, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Jesus showed their true spiritual condition. They were rotten to the core. Their hearts were deceitful, and they were far from God. There are five aspects of the same condition. They claimed spiritual and material wealth, but they were spiritually bankrupt. They claimed excellent sight and the town was even known for its eye slave, but they were blind to the things of God. They were known to make beautiful, raven-like wool, but they were naked, a sign of shame before God. Everything that they boasted in or appreciated about themselves, was a sign of their wretched state.
What we value in our lives reveals our spiritual condition. If we value the opinions of others, we may be more willing to gossip or lie or unwilling to speak the truth, because of fear of losing status in the eyes of others. If we value own wealth, we will be more willing to use our resources for personal gain rather than the corporate benefit of the church. It is clear the Laodiceans were valuing the wrong thing. What about you? What do you appreciate? Not just what you say you appreciate, but based on your time, your checkbook, your thoughts, ask the Holy Spirit what you truly value. This is heart work. This is gospel work. John Flavel writes, “The greatest difficulty in conversion, is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God…It is the hardest work; heart work is hard indeed. ”
Jesus is after the hearts of Laodiceans. Jesus is after our hearts. And in his kindness, he lovingly invites us back to himself, Revelation 3:18-19, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Jesus goes back and addresses every one of their blind spots. He invites them to be spiritually rich with gold refined by the fire. He invites them to clothe their nakedness with white garments. And he invites them to receive true salve to anoint their eyes that they may see. Jesus invites them to Himself. This is the most amazing reality in all the universe that a holy God would invite sinners into fellowship.
This spiritual complacent church is being reproved and disciplines so that they can know the Lord. I love to encourage people. I would much rather bring a word of encouragement than a word of rebuke, but God disciplines those he loves. Parents, disciplining your children is act love. Pastor/Elders, discipling the saints is an act of love. Church members, discipling each other is an act of love and gift of God. We should desire discipline. We may not desire discipline because we have become complacent. We do not value growth, so we hate discipline. The righteous should look for discipline. Proverbs 15:31–33, “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”
Friend, we all have areas of growth. Someone graciously pointed out a way to me this week of an area where I can grow in my use of words. Do you appreciate discipline? Do you value growth? Or are you complacent? Do you have an uncritical satisfaction with yourself and your achievements? Complacency is a deadly foe to spiritual growth.
How will you Answer?
Jesus desires to be in fellowship with you. There are excellent statements in the gospels about the purpose of the Lord Jesus. Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Matthew 11:19, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many to seek and to save the lost so that they could eat with Jesus. Jesus desires intimate fellowship with his people. Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus is surprisingly outside the church. The church had drifted so far from the Lord that there was not even a definable remnant in the church. And yet, Jesus still desires to come in and eat with us. To share a meal was the beginning of reconciliation. Jesus desired to be reconciled with his church.
He is knocking on the door of the church. He is asking to come in. He is not forcing himself into the gathering but simply stands at the door and knocks. How will you answer? Will you repent and let him in? Or will you keep Christ shut out by staying in your satisfied in your complacency? Friend, where are you satisfied? What thing do you not want to give up? What area do you love more than Christ? How will you answer the glorious knocking of Christ? The King of glory condescends himself and invites you a wayward, complacent, wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, naked sinner to his table. He wants you!! How will you answer? We all know how you should answer, but that is not the question. How will you answer? 
How we answer determines our future. When we open the door for Jesus, we not only get to enjoy the messianic marriage supper of the lamb but also get to reign with Christ. Revelation 3:21-22, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” The one who keeps their heart in Christ will be granted the privileged seat with Christ. It is not earned by our labors but given to us because of the labor of Christ. Jesus conquered the death and the grave through his resurrection from the dead. He has sat down with the Father on the glorious throne. He invites us to share in that victory. If we endure with him, we will reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:12).
Jesus wants to “SHAKE US BEFORE USE.” He wants to wake us up from our complacency. And it is only through the holy shaking of the Lord that our lives will be mixed with the good spiritual nutrients of a life devoted to Christ. Complacency is a deadly foe to spiritual growth as critical self-examination is essential for a life saturated by the Spirit and consecrated unto Christ.
Jesus has ended every one of these letters the same, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Friend, Jesus means for you to be changed by his words. We do not want to be hearers only, but doers of His Word. Allow the word to shake you out of complacency and spiritual malaise so that you can be a faithful and true witness unto Christ, daily dying to yourself and ONE DAY reign with him in age to come.