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
This page is one of a
series examining the role and function of discipleship within the
Hot, Cold or
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.
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.’
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
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.
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
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
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
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,
The town of
close to Colosse, and not far from Ephesus.
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
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.”
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
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.
letter to Laodicea
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.
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
- Neither hot
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).
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
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
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.
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.
covered in detail
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
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.”
tepid, lukewarm: metaphorically, of the condition of a soul wretchedly
fluctuating between a torpor (an apathy) and a fervor of love (Thayer’s
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)
of taking the word lukewarm to indicate indifference, we may refer to a
geographical phenomenon particular to Laodicea and arrive at a different
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)
Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words
“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
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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
Study (external links):
How to Make Jesus Sick
by Keith Krell
This is an in-depth look at the letter to Laodicea.
Lukewarm Church by John Macarthur,
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
Seven Deadly Sins of Bible Study by Jack Kuhatschek
(on Make Straight Paths)
Introduction to Biblical
Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard,
2004, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, p.233.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words,
Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN.
Easton’s Bible Dictionary.
Fausset’s Bible Dictionary.
© 2007 Make Straight Paths