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Makestraightpaths.com examines the teachings of the religious group variously known as “the Family,” “The Family International,” the “Children of God,” or the “Family of Love,” and evaluates these teachings from a Christian perspective.

This page is one of a series examining the role and function of discipleship within the Family.

 

Hot, Cold or Lukewarm

Rev 3:15-16

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

NASU

The common interpretation of this passage in the Family is that ‘hot’ means enthusiastic, wholehearted or zealous. ‘Lukewarm’ means half-hearted, uncommitted, wavering, indifferent. Someone who is ‘cold’ would then be antagonistic and hostile, rejecting the Gospel. The verse is taken to mean that Jesus would prefer that people make a firm decision either for or against Himself, rather than show nominal, half-hearted interest. People who say they believe the Gospel but are not enthusiastic about it, or who do not commit their lives to Christ actually make Him sick.

The founder of the Family used these verses to condemn ‘churchianity,’ church leaders and ‘Sunday Christians.’ On occasion he applied them to specific Family members who, in his opinion, had not been as committed as they should have been, and therefore had made decisions for their own benefit rather than for the good of the Family as a whole. These people were then labelled as ‘God’s Vomit.’

More generally, these verses are used to encourage Family members to remain 100% committed to the Family. As leaving the Family is generally seen as leaving the Lord, those who decide to leave the Family are often seen as the ‘lukewarm’ referred to in this passage.

The terms ‘hot,’ ‘cold,’ and ‘lukewarm’ are obviously used metaphorically in this passage. ‘Hot’ could very well represent those who enthusiastically follow the Lord. However, if ‘cold’ represents those who energetically campaign against the Gospel, then in this passage Jesus Christ says that His wish is for people to be either accepters of the Gospel, or rejecters, that He would prefer someone to be either His friend or His enemy rather than indifferent. This reading does not sit very well with Christ’s mission: He gave His life to redeem us long before we accepted Him.

Rom 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. NASU

Jesus wept over unbelieving, hostile Jerusalem:

Matt 23:37 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. NASU

His wish was that all would come to Him (Matthew 11:28). It is difficult to understand how He could prefer enthusiasm over salvation.

 

The context

While the ultimate goal of Bible study is to determine contemporary or personal application, the first steps in this process involve finding out the meaning of the passage as its original readers would have understood it. This involves researching the Biblical, historical and in this case, the geographical contexts.

 

Letters to Laodicea

The passage in question is included in the letter to the church at Laodicea. It is the seventh and final letter dictated by Christ to the exiled apostle John, with specific directions that it be sent to the believers in the town of Laodicea.

This was not the first time the Laodicean church had received a letter of instruction; Paul had written them some time earlier. At the time that he wrote his epistle to the Colossians, Paul also wrote to the Laodiceans, and gave instructions that after each church had read their letters, they should exchange them. The Colossians should read his letter to the Laodiceans, and vice versa.

Col 4:16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. NIV

Obviously, that letter to Laodicea has been lost. However, it is plain that the towns of Laodicea and Colosse had a lot of contact with each other. Paul and his co-workers wrestled in prayer and worked hard for both cities (Col 2:1, 4:12-16).

 

The town of Laodicea

Laodicea was close to Colosse, and not far from Ephesus.

Fausset’s Bible Dictionary:

A city of Phrygia. Originally Diospolis, then Rheas, then Laodicea. Site of one of the seven churches addressed by Christ through John (Rev 1:11; 3:14). In Paul’s epistle to the Colossians (Col 4:13-16) Laodicea is associated with Colossae and Hierapolis, which exactly accords with its geographical position, 18 miles W. of Colossae, six miles S. of Hierapolis. It lay in the Roman province “Asia,” a mile S. of the river Lycus, in the Maeander valley, between Colossae and Philadelphia. A Seleucid king, Antiochus II, Theos, named it from Laodice his wife. Overthrown often by earthquakes. It was rebuilt by its wealthy citizens, without state help, when destroyed in A.D. 62 AD (Tacitus, Annals 14:27).

Easton’s Bible Dictionary:

The city of this name mentioned in Scripture lay on the confines of Phrygia and Lydia, about 40 miles east of Ephesus (Rev 3:14), on the banks of the Lycus. It was originally called Diospolis and then Rhoas, but afterwards Laodicea, from Laodice, the wife of Antiochus II., king of Syria, who rebuilt it. It was one of the most important and flourishing cities of Asia Minor. At a very early period it became one of the chief seats of Christianity (Col 2:1; 4:15; Rev 1:11, etc.). It is now a deserted place, called by the Turks Eski-hissar or “old castle.”

Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

A city in the fertile Lycus Valley of the province of Phrygia  where one of the seven churches of Asia Minor was situated (Rev 3:14). About 65 kilometers (40 miles) east of Ephesus and about 16 kilometers (10 miles) west of Colossae, Laodicea was built on the banks of the river Lycus, a tributary of the Maeander River.

The words of the risen Christ to Laodicea in Rev 3:14-22 contain allusions to the economic prosperity and social prominence of the city. Founded by the Seleucids and named for Laodice, the wife of Antiochus II (261 BC - 247 BC), Laodicea became extremely wealthy during the Roman period. For example, in 62 BC Flaccus seized the annual contribution of the Jews of Laodicea for Jerusalem amounting to 20 pounds of gold. Moreover, when the city was destroyed by an earthquake in  A.D. 60 (along with Colossae and Hierapolis), it alone refused aid from Rome for rebuilding (compare the self-sufficient attitude of the church of Laodicea in Rev 3:17). Laodicea was known for its black wool industry; it manufactured garments from the raven-black wool produced by the sheep of the surrounding area.

 

Christ’s letter to Laodicea

Rev 3:14-22

14 To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.  17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,  18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that  the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.  19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.  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 will dine with him, and he with Me.  21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

NASU

Each of the seven letters to the churches in Revelations chapters two and three opens with a designation to whom the letter was to be sent, and a title or description of Christ. In this case, Jesus refers to Himself as the “Amen,” the “faithful and true Witness,” and the “Beginning of the creation of God” (vs.14). The last phrase may also be translated the “Originator of God’s creation” (as in the NET Bible) or the “Ruler of God’s creation” (as in the NIV).

From this letter, we may see that the church at Laodicea was “lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold” (vs.16). Although it was rich and thought it needed nothing, it was actually “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (vs.17). There is a quick succession of metaphors; the Laodiceans are described as:

  • Neither hot nor cold
  • Lukewarm
  • Nauseating
  • Wretched
  • Miserable, pitiful
  • Poor
  • Blind
  • Naked

They then are advised as to how to remedy their grave situation. Jesus says, “I advise you” (NASU), “I counsel you” (NKJV, NIV, RSV), “take my advice” (NET). Again, there are a number of metaphors applied to their restoration (vs.18). They are to:

  • Buy refined gold from Christ to become rich
  • Buy white garments to become clothed, to cover their shameful nakedness
  • Buy eye salve to anoint their eyes that they may see

In a word of comfort, Christ then says that this letter of reproof and discipline was sent because He loves them. Their response to this rebuke was to “be zealous and repent” (vs.19).

Those who heard Christ’s knock were to open the door that He may dine with them (vs.20).

The passage concludes with a promise of tremendous blessing to those who overcome or who are victorious (vs.21). They would be granted permission (NET), or given the right (NIV) to sit with Christ on His throne. The believers are then requested to examine their hearts: “He who has an ear, let him hear” (vs.22).

 

On Revelations 3:20

Much is made of Revelations 3:20 in the Family. It is seen as a generic salvation verse upon which the concept of ‘asking Jesus into one’s heart’ is based. On this topic, several points may be made.

First, there is nothing in the Gospels to suggest that Jesus told people to ask Him into their hearts.

The expression in Greek does not mean entrance into the person, as is popularly taken, but entrance into a room or building toward the person. Some interpreters understand the door here to be the door to the Laodicean church, and thus a collective or corporate image rather than an individual one (NET Bible footnote).

Although there is a clear personal element to this passage (“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,” “He who has an ear”), the letter is nonetheless addressed to an errant church. Out of love, He rebukes and chastens them and calls for the Laodiceans to repent. Those who did so would be restored to fellowship with Him.

Next, salvation is not attained by following a set formula. Mere repetition of the ‘salvation prayer’ does not assure salvation, as though the words “Jesus come into my heart” contained spiritual power. Salvation is redemption from the power of sin, it is release from the sentence to hell, it is forgiveness and mercy. Salvation is not primarily Jesus living in one’s heart. Once a person is truly born again, Christ indeed dwells within him or her, but the crucial aspect of salvation is salvation from sin and reconciliation to God.

Salvation is a gift from God. It is accompanied by, or demonstrated by, or manifested in repentance on the part of the believer. This is not to say that repentance brings salvation, any more than saying “Jesus come into my heart” brings salvation. Rather, the believer repents because he or she believes. If there is no repentance, there is probably no belief, and hence no salvation.

Salvation is covered in detail here.

 

Hot, cold and lukewarm

What was wrong with the Laodicean church?

The words “hot,” “cold” and “lukewarm” are used metaphorically in the passage, as are the terms “blind,” “poor” and “naked.” There are a number of ways we can interpret them, and so the lessons we can apply to ourselves can also vary substantially.

For example, if we take “lukewarm” as meaning “indifferent,” then Jesus wanted the Laodiceans to become spiritually fervent. This interpretation is, of course, possible, despite the difficulties noted above about the interpretation of “cold.”

NT:5513 Lukewarm: tepid, lukewarm: metaphorically, of the condition of a soul wretchedly fluctuating between a torpor (an apathy) and a fervor of love (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon)

There were two problems in this church: First, there was something wrong with their commitment. They were neither cold nor hot. They were suffering from what someone has well called “the leukemia of non-commitment.” And, also, there was something wrong with their self-image, as we will see in Verse 17. They thought they were rich, but they were really poor. (Stedman)

However, instead of taking the word lukewarm to indicate indifference, we may refer to a geographical phenomenon particular to Laodicea and arrive at a different conclusion.

Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard

The letter to the church at Laodicea (Rev 3:14‑22) provides an intriguing example. In the Lord’s description of this church, he condemns it for being “neither cold nor hot.” He goes on to state, “I wish you were either one or the other!” (v. 15). He finds no reason to commend the people of this church; they are completely useless − neither like hot water (as in a comfortable bath) nor like cold water (as in a refreshing drink). Apart from insight growing out of archaeological studies, interpreters might seriously misconstrue the point. That is, we must interpret “hot” and “cold” in light of the historical context of Laodicea, which was located close to both hot springs (by Hierapolis) and a cold stream (by Colossae). Now both hot and cold water are desirable; both are useful for distinct purposes. But the spiritual state of this church more closely resembled the tepid lukewarm water that eventually flowed into Laodicean pipes. Neither hot nor cold, it was putrid and emetic. Jesus is not saying that active opposition to him (an incorrect interpretation of “cold”) is better than being a lukewarm Christian.

The NET Bible

Laodicea was near two other towns, each of which had a unique water source. To the north was Hierapolis which had a natural hot spring, often used for medicinal purposes. To the east was Colossae which had cold, pure waters. In contrast to these towns, Laodicea had no permanent supply of good water. Efforts to pipe water to the city from nearby springs were successful, but it would arrive lukewarm. The metaphor in the text is not meant to relate spiritual fervor to temperature. This would mean that Laodicea would be commended for being spiritually cold, but it is unlikely that Jesus would commend this. Instead, the metaphor condemns Laodicea for not providing spiritual healing (being hot) or spiritual refreshment (being cold) to those around them. It is a condemnation of their lack of works and lack of witness. (footnote to Rev 3:15)

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words

chliaros NT:5513, “tepid, warm” (akin to chlio, “to become warm,” not found in the NT or Sept.), is used metaphorically in Rev 3:16, of the state of the Laodicean church, which afforded no refreshment to the Lord, such as is ministered naturally by either cold or hot water.

According to this interpretation, Christ said that the Christians of Laodicea were like their own water, neither hot, like the spring in Hierapolis, nor cold, like that in Colosse, but tepid, foul, and disgusting. Hot and cold water are both extremely useful, the one for cleansing, and the other for refreshing. The Laodiceans were neither healers nor refreshers; on the contrary, they spread spiritual disease. What disease was this? From the passage, it is clear that they believed that they were spiritually rich, when in fact they had gone bankrupt. They thought they could see, but they were blind. They thought they were healthy but they were corrupt. They thought they were fully clothed but they were naked.

There was a stark contrast between their opinion of themselves and reality. They thought they were well off, but in reality they were starving to death. They were spiritually content and self-satisfied although actually they were wretched and pitiful.

What brought about this lukewarm living? What is the problem with these Christians? They had the audacity to say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (3:17). The case against Laodicea revolves around the idea of self-deception. They were self-deluded… The church at Laodicea was made up of Christians who were trusting in themselves and their wealth or what they thought their wealth could buy them. (Keith Krell)

So being lukewarm can mean useless and self-deceived. They thought they were of great value but were hypocritical, promoting themselves as those who saw the truth, when in fact they did not. Perhaps they actively covered their sins with a cloak of religious observance.

 

Applications

There are a number of things that should be considered from this letter.

In the first place, if being “lukewarm” indicates indifference, then it becomes imperative to “be zealous and repent” (vs.19). One very important point would then be to ensure that we are zealous for the truth, otherwise we risk being “cold” rather than “hot.” Family members should be very careful at this point to understand that truth is defined by the Bible alone. Those Family doctrines that are contradicted by the Bible are not truth, and therefore those who zealously defend them may actually be spiritually “cold.”

Second, if being “lukewarm” indicates uselessness, then we should look well to the particular ministry to which we are called. Christians may be healers or refreshers or have some other ministry, but all may be of service. In fact, those who refuse to be of help to others will suffer strong condemnation. In the parable of the talents, the servant who hid his talent in the ground was strongly rebuked (Matt 25:14-30).

Third, the Laodiceans were spiritually self-satisfied. They thought they could see the light, they thought they were healthy and clothed, yet in actuality they were the opposite. They thought they had all they needed for spiritual health and wealth, yet they were deluded. It is this aspect of the Laodicean church that relates closest to the Family. Consider these points: Family leadership actively discourages its members from learning from Christians who are not members. The founder of the Family actually disapproved of his followers from studying the Bible, saying that he himself was the source of the up-to-date Word of God. Current Family leadership concurs, writing and publishing all spiritual reading material for Family members. Family members are taught that they are the elite, the spiritual avant-garde of the church, and that contact with other Christians may be spiritually corrupting. Many Family doctrines are unbiblical, yet its members believe them to be true only because the founder taught them.

Although Family members believe they see new and “strange” truths being directly revealed to them through prophecy, in reality many of those things are false teachings, and so they are blind. Although they memorise many Scriptures and think they understand the Bible, and therefore are rich in spiritual wealth, in reality they do not study the Bible, and as they actually know very little about it, they live in abject spiritual poverty. Although they think they are clothed with obedience to God in their choice of lifestyle, the Family is rife with teachings and actions that directly contradict God’s will as revealed in the Bible. Thus, they are shamefully naked.

The only cure is indeed earnest repentance.

 

Conclusion

Far from being an exhortation for enthusiastic Family membership, the letter to the Laodiceans contains some severe warnings. Being ‘lukewarm’ may indeed refer to indifference, in which case it becomes imperative to be zealous for the truth as revealed in the Bible alone. On the other hand, it may indicate uselessness, in which case it is important to know and use the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit within us. Finally, the letter is a damning indictment on Christian groups that are so exclusive and self-contained that they refuse to acknowledge or learn from others. They become the blind guides of Matthew 23:16 who consider themselves the source of truth, yet in reality are “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”

What did Jesus have to say in conclusion?

The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 3:22 NET).

 

Further Study (external links):

How to Make Jesus Sick by Keith Krell

This is an in-depth look at the letter to Laodicea.

 Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church by John Macarthur, Part 1, Part 2

Macarthur takes the view that the Laodiceans were completely apostate. Although they were unsaved they were religious, and it was to this blindness that Christ was referring. Regarding the symbolism of those who were ‘cold,’ Macarthur says that this refers to the unsaved who have heard little about the Lord, or at least those who carry no pretence of religion. The point then would be that those with hypocritical religion have greater resistance to the truth than those who make no claim to goodness or spirituality.

The Poor-Rich Church by Ray C. Stedman 

Understanding the Book of Revelation by Rowland Croucher  

The Seven Deadly Sins of Bible Study by Jack Kuhatschek

 

See also (on Make Straight Paths)

Salvation

 

References

Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard, 2004, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, p.233.

The NET Bible.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary.

Fausset’s Bible Dictionary.

 

 

 

 

© 2007 Make Straight Paths

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