Revelation 017 – The Curse of Prosperity

Revelation 017 – The Curse of Prosperity
Revelation 3:14-20 • Dr. Andy Woods • October 14, 2018 • Revelation


Andy Woods

The Curse of Prosperity    10-14-18

Revelation 3:14-20                Lesson 17

Good morning everybody. If we could take our Bibles and turn to the Book of Revelation, chapter 3 beginning at verse 14. If time permits, probably today, probably in the next week we’re going to try to make it through the end of the chapter, verse 22.  The title of our message this morning is The Curse of Prosperity.   And here we are continuing through the Book of Revelation, in that middle section of the book where John is specifically told to write down the things that are; seven letters to seven churches in Asia Minor back in the first century, John receiving a visitation from Christ Himself on the Island of Patmos in A.D. 95, writing to each church.

We’ve seen Christ’s words to Ephesus, the loveless church, Christ’s words to Smyrna, the persecuted church, Christ’s words to Pergamum, the compromised church, Thyatira, the corrupt church, Sardis, the dead church.  You say this is depressing.  Well, cheer up, it gets worse today.  We did spend a few weeks on Philadelphia, which is the highlight of this whole set of letters, the mission minded, missionary church.  But we sort of moved from the height of this section to the low point, Christ’s final words to Laodicea.  We would call Laodicea the man-centered church.

Here is sort of our outline we’re going to be using as we take a look at Christ’s final words to Laodicea.  And look at this, we’re making progress, we’re at the end of that middle section of the book and pretty soon we’ll be raptured into heaven, chapter 4, and we’ll get into the futuristic section of the book.

Notice what Jesus says to this church at Laodicea there in verse 14.  Notice how he gives the destination.  He says, “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:”  Notice the word “church,” that’s very important.  As I’ll be sharing with you there’s a great temptation on the part of many commentators to say these folks are so far off the mark there’s no way they could be saved.  I’ll be showing you that I believe these folks were saved; one of the reasons we think they were saved is they were in church, they were meeting in a church.  Going to church, of course, doesn’t make you saved but in the first century there’d be no real reason to go to church unless you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

It says, “To the angel of the church in Laodicea” now all the way through I’ve been trying to explain that I think the angel to each church is the messenger, or the pastor of each church.  So if this is truly the pastor of the church at Laodicea this is a guy I really feel sorry for because he had to bear a great burden as he watched his own church become progressively man-centered, anthropo­­centric, centered on man rather than Theocentric, centered upon God.

The destination is Laodicea, there’s where Laodicea appears on the map, it’s the final church in this section that we’ll be looking at.  Laodicea was about forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia, about forty miles east of Ephesus.  And everything we know about Laodicea was it was a place of great wealth.  It was a place of great commerce.  The standard of living was very, very high and that, as I’ll be sharing with you, was part of the problem here at Laodicea.

In fact, the name Laodicea itself really reveals the heart of the problem.  Laodicea is a compound word which basically means two words making up one word.  Laodicea comes from Laos meaning people and then the Greek word dikeo or dicao meaning to rule.  And literally what Laodicea means is the people ruling.

William Newell in his commentary on The Book of Revelation says this: ““The name comes from laos, people, and dikao, to rule: the rule of the people:” and then he says “‘democracy,’ in other words.”  [William Newell, The Book of the Revelation (Chicago: Moody, 1935), 75.]  So this is a mindset in that particular culture where God had no say about anything, man is the center of all things.  And that spirit of the world sadly invaded the church and this is what happened to Christ’s final church that He addresses here.  It became very, what we would call, worldly or man-centered.

Of course this is very applicable to those of us living in the United States of America because we too, compared to the rest of the world, enjoy a very high standard of living which can have a very negative spiritual effect on us.  We are also in a very humanistic man-centered culture.  In fact, humanism is the dominant doctrine taught in the school system today in the United States of America.  Humanism basically is the belief that man is the center of all things; God, if He exists at all is irrelevant to man.  So anthropocentrism eclipses in the United States theocentrism.  So this is a little bit about the culture of Laodicea.

Now you’ll notice here in part two how Jesus Christ describes Himself to this church.  He doesn’t just surface things just to be irrelevant in His information; He surfaces things that would be relevant to them and their mindset.  You’ll notice there in verse 14, the second half of verse 14, Jesus describes Himself in four ways.  Take a look if you could at verse 14, the second part of the verse.   “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:” four descriptors of Jesus.  Number one, He is The Amen.  When we say “amen” after a prayer for example, we’re saying it is certain, or it is true.  Jesus, in describing Himself as the “amen” is basically describing Himself as the one who guarantees confirmation and certainty of all that He says. What Jesus said is absolutely true.  And that’s why we, as Christians, are called not to be double-tongued; we’re to be called people of truth.  Our character should be backed up in the things that we say.  We should be just like that.

Jesus also here is called “faithful,” faithful means trustworthy.  In fact, He’s the only one in your life, people let you down all of the time, He’s really the only one that you can count on.  He’s described that way many places in the Bible, not the least of which is 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins He is” what? “faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unright­eous­­­ness.  Aren’t you glad Jesus is not duplicitous as we confess our sins to Him… oh, I forgave him last week but not this week… NO, He’s absolutely consistent in His character.

And He’s also described here as the “true witness.”  You probably have memorized John 14:6 where Jesus called Himself “the way, the truth,” definite article in front of “truth” “the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but by Him.  [John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”]

This is who Jesus Christ is; He is the amen, He is faithful, He is true, in fact, He is everything that the church at Laodicea was not.  These people were not faithful to anything but themselves and so Jesus holds Himself out here in terms of His character by way of contrast.

And it’s interesting here at the end of verse 14 He actually calls Himself, the NASB translates it this way, “the beginning of creation.”  I think it might be better translated through that Greek word archē meaning beginning, the originator of creation, the source of creation.  Some have even argued that what it’s actually saying is Jesus is the ruler of creation.  And that sort of becomes a big deal because there are many people throughout history that attack the doctrine of the Trinity, probably one of the earliest individuals in the history of the church to do this was a man named Arius, who basically said there was a time in which He was not.  Jesus had a beginning point.  And the Nicene Creed was formulated to refute Arius because there is a clause in the Nicene Creed concerning Jesus that says this: Begotten and not” what? “made.”  “Begotten” meaning unique, but He was never made. In fact, not if but when the Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at your door they will put on a song and dance about how Jesus actually is a created being.  They are, in essence, recycling the ancient heresy of Arius that was corrected through the Nicene Creed.

Jesus was not  a created being.  Jesus is part of the eternally existent Trinity.  In fact, not only is Jesus NOT a created being but Jesus Himself is the one who created everything.  For example, in the Book of John, chapter 1, verse 13, it says, “All things came into being through Him” that’s Jesus, “and apart from Him noting came into being that has ever come into being.”

Colossians 1:15-16 says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, [16] “For by Him all things were created both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him”  If you find yourself thinking that somehow there was a time in which Jesus was not and Jesus Himself came into existence at some point in history, you’re in great theological error and  you’re in a church that’s promulgating a Trinitarian heresy.  In fact, it’s an attack, if you will, on the Trinity itself.

A lot of people have this idea that with the virgin birth Jesus came into existence.  And that simply is not true, Jesus has always existed.  He is the uncaused cause, just like the Father is., just like the Son is.  The only thing that happened with the virgin birth and His incarnation is in a moment of time eternally existent deity, what was added to that was humanity.  The virgin birth was not a subtraction; it was not an exchange.  It was an addition to something that already existed.  Jesus is, at that point, !00% God/100% man because only such a person could qualify to be our Savior.  But the point of the incarnation, the point of the virgin birth, the point of the virgin conception was never the beginning of Jesus.  Jesus has always been and will always be.

Now we move away from the description of Christ to the commendation; He commends each church … what happened to the words that are positive that He shared with each church, every single church where they’re doing something right.  Some churches He seems to be struggling to find something to say but He always acknowledge something.  You’ll notice that the Laodicean letter completely deviates from that pattern.  He gives no word of affirmation; in other words, there’s absolutely nothing positive happening within this congregation so He skips that step altogether.  It’s the opposite of what He did with Smyrna, no rebuke; Philadelphia, no rebuke, but He gets to Laodicea and there is no word of praise.

So what in the world is wrong with these people?  Well, we find out in verses 15-17 where He immediately launches into a rebuke, and He rebukes them here for four things: number one, their lukewarmness.  Notice, if you will verses 15-16, notice what it says. “I know your deeds, that you’re 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.  [Revelation 3:15-16]  Notice that He  says there in verse 15, “I know,” this is something that He has said virtually to every church, “I know,” I know exactly what’s happening, I know what’s happening within this culture, I know what’s happening within this congregation, I know exactly what’s transpiring because I am the Creator of all things and I am head of the church.  You can’t pull the wool over Christ’s eyes, in other words.

John 2:23-25 says this and I’ve used this verse many times to describe the omniscience of Christ.   It says, “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. [24] But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them,” why not?  “for He knew all men, [25] and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”  He knew exactly what group of people or what individuals to entrust Himself to and which ones to avoid because through omni­science He could see the true motives of people.

And through His omniscience He is giving a peak here of the church at Laodicea.  Now within Laodicea, at least nearby, there was a well-known hot springs so he is using language from their own culture that they can relate to, to communicate a spiritual point.  He says, “you are neither not nor cold, you’re lukewarm.” Many people misunderstand this and they think what Jesus is saying is if you’re not going to be hot spiritually I’d rather you be cold, which really doesn’t make any sense because why would Jesus ever want us to be spiritually cold. What He is saying is your lukewarm state makes you of no use to me, because I can do something with hot water, and they knew all about that because they had a hot springs; think of all the things you can do with hot water, hot coffee, laundry, dishwasher.  And then you could do things with cold water, can’t you?  You can quench someone’s thirst.  But what in the world can you do with water that’s lukewarm?  It’s become useless for anything.

So if you’re not hot I wish that you were cold because I could at least use you for something but because you’re neither and have become useless, because of your worldliness I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  [Revelation 3:15, “’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.”]

I think a similar kind of statement made in Scripture you can find in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:13 where Jesus says to the believers, “You are the salt of the earth;” think how critical salt is in terms of a preservative, “You are the salt of the earth but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”  If salt becomes tasteless what can you use it for?  Virtually nothing, it loses its power as a preservative to the culture.  That basically is what you have happening here in Laodicea; they’re not hot; you can do something with hot water.  They’re not cold; you can do something with cold water.  But they’re right in the middle in sort of this lukewarm state which means they have no utility to Him in terms of using their lives to advance His purposes.  And we saw the Lord’s reaction to that at the end of verse 16, where He says I’m about to “spit you out of My mouth.”  When you take in lukewarm water it gives you that sort of feeling, doesn’t it, feeling of nausea.  I mean, what can you really do with lukewarm water, it doesn’t even taste good, it doesn’t even taste right.

So Jesus here is commenting on the nauseous state that He Himself is under when He looks at the man-centered church there in Laodicea.  A lot of people misunderstand this verse and they think it means you can lose your salvation.  For Christ to teach you can lose your salvation here would be to contradict what He said in John’s other book, John 10:27-29 where He said:  “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; [28] and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish;” double negation in Greek followed by the word eternal, “and no one will snatch them out of My hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

If you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ  you are what I like to call in the double grip of grace.  Not only are you in the Son’s hand but you are in the Father’s hand and absolutely nothing can remove that condition.  But that doesn’t mean that your life can’t become nonproductive for God as we become worldly.  It doesn’t mean God can’t look at the life of a Christian, not in terms of his position but in terms of his practice and feel absolutely nauseous when He looks at it. And that’s sort of the description that you have here, taking place in Laodicea.

Well what in the world is wrong with these people?  The problem is what I like to call the curse of prosperity; they just had too much of this world’s power and possessions and influence.  In fact, they were so blessed materially they forgot God and forgot their need for God.  I mean, it’s sort of hard, isn’t it, to pray for your daily bread if you own your own bakery?  Isn’t that difficult?  Why would I pray to God for it, I own my own bakery, I don’t need to pray to God any more for my daily bread.  And this is what I like to call the curse of prosperity; a lot of people today, particularly in the United States, see this as the height of spirituality. There’s even a whole gospel for this movement called the “Prosperity Gospel” which equates material prosperity with spiritual prosperity.

What our Bible is saying is it could be the exact opposite.  This is what was happening in wealthy man-centered Laodicea.  You see, it’s hard to pour water into a cup that’s already full.  And that’s how a lot of people are;  you share with them grace… I don’t need grace, I mean, my life is going pretty well, I’ve got things figured out, I’ve pulled myself up by my own bootstraps.  Dependence on God, well, what would I depend upon God for, look at how self-sufficient I am.  And this mindset of the culture sadly invades the church and the church becomes very man centered.

Look at the whole problem there in verse 17, Jesus speaking to the church, “’Because you, Laodicea, say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’” in fact I’m so wealthy and I’m so popular and I’m so powerful and I’m so healthy that I don’t even need God any more, and this is what I would call the curse of prosperity.  The curse of prosperity is spoken of many, many times in your Bible.  Here’s a few verses: Deuteronomy 8:11-14, the children of Israel about to enter Canaan were warned of the prosperity that they would experience in the land of Canaan  and the detrimental impact it would have on their spiritual lives.  It says this: “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your GOD by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today,  [12] otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, [13] and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies,” in other words when you achieve the American dream,  [14] “then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

He’s essentially saying it’s actually more advantageous to you when the manna would appear day by day because that way you had to depend upon Me.  But you’re entering into Canaan where there won’t even be a need for me to give manna any more; that land flows with milk and honey, the land is capable of sustaining its inhabitants and you’re going to really begin to prosper, your career is going to take off.  Your financial assets are about to dramatically increase and I want to warn  you what could happen to you.  You’re going to forget Me if you’re careful; the curse of prosperity.

Didn’t Jesus talk about this all of the time in His ministry?  Didn’t He say things like this: Matthew 19:20-23, “And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. [24] Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  The problem with having this world’s goods is you’re used to buying your way out of  your problem and if you’re used to buying your way out of  your own problems through your own self-sufficiency, isn’t it interesting how there’s a tendency to ignore God as  your provider.  I don’t think the Bible is against financial resources, that would be a doctrine called asceticism which is equally wrong.  But I’ll tell you this much, having this world’s goods, there’s severe warning to us in the Bible about this detrimental to one’s spirituality.

Paul, in fact, instructed young Timothy, who was pastoring the church at Ephesus in 1 Timothy 6:17 and he gives a command that Timothy is to relay to the rich in Ephesus.  And he says, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited” isn’t that interesting how wealth makes us arrogant, “not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches,” you have a tendency to place your confidence in your worldly goods, “but instead fix their hope on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”  Notice he says that having money, having nice things is not necessary evil in and of itself. The Bible never says money is the root of all evil; it says what?  “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.”

The issue is not do I have possessions, rather the issue is do my possession possess me. It’s not do I own things but do the things I own actually own me.   And during seasons of great prosperity in our lives we have a tendency to forget God.  That’s why I so like Proverbs 30:8-9, the prayer of Hagar, kind of an unknown person named Hagar is given a slot there in Proverbs 30:8-9, “Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion,  [9] That I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the LORD?”   Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.’”   You know, Lord, don’t make me so poor that I have to steal and dishonor you but at the same time don’t make me so rich and prosperous that I have a tendency to forget You.  And so this, in essence, becomes a problem at Laodicea; it’s all there in verse 17.  He’s narrating what they’re thinking because Jesus knows all things.  You’re saying I’m rich, I have become wealthy and I don’t need a single thing.

He corrects them also for another issue, their own spiritual blindness.  The most tragic thing about Laodicea is the people were in this condition and they didn’t even know it.  In fact, if you were to serve them and interview them they would probably think everything’s fine, thumbs up about everything and they were blind to their own spiritual condition before the Lord.  Look at what He says there in the second part of verse 17, “You do not know” now watch this, look at these descriptors, “that you’re wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”  Isn’t it interesting in verse 15 Jesus says I know, but then you drop down to verse 17 and He says “You do not know.”   You do not know what I know because of your own spiritual blindness.  And these descriptors are incredible, five adjectives, “wretched” he’s talking to God’s people here in their daily life, “miserable, poor, blind, and naked,” not in terms of their position but in terms of their practice.

Think back to the second church we studied, the church at Smyrna, the struggling church, the church that was really on the bottom shelf in terms of the poverty level.  Remember what Jesus said to that church, Revelation 2:9, “’I know your tribulation and your poverty” but remember that parenthetical comment, “(but you are” actually “rich)”, it’s the opposite with Laodicea.  They had material prosperity but they were in a place of spiritual poverty.

What do you do with a group like this?  He moves directly there, verses 18-20, into the exhorta­tion and he exhorts these people to do four things.  You’ll notice how he begins there in verse 18, “I advise you to buy from Me,” you guys think you’re rich, you think you’re prosperous, you think you have everything so I’ll tell you what; you need to buy from me these items and once  you receive these items these things, once they come into your life are going to put you back into a position of dependency that you need before me.  Notice the sarcasm here, God can be very sarcastic when you study the Bible and He’s very sarcastic with these people.  You guys are rich, okay, here’s what you need to purchase, here’s what you need to put on your credit card, here’s what you need to go down to the mall and buy and get these five things straight and then you’ll be straightened out.

Charles Ryrie in his Ryrie Study Bible has a fascinating note here on verse 18.  He says, “These perhaps refer to the cities three main sources of wealth.  Number one, banking; number two, production of wool or cloth and number three, medicines.”  Jesus is giving some analogies that they would understand from their own world concerning cloth and the industry that existed there, banking and the industry that existed there, and Laodicea was also well known for its very effective medical school which based on what we know from history had a particular eye ointment that could be used to correct many deficiencies in terms of seeing and so forth.  That’s how badly Jesus wants to communicate with people.  He doesn’t just start rattling on and on about things that they would not know anything about but He starts using the spiritual lessons from their own culture and their own world that they would readily understand and grasp.

What do these people need?  Number one, they need to purchase some things from Christ.  Number 2, they need to be zealous.  Number 3, they need to repent.  Number 4 they need to restore fellowship with Him.  What do they need to purchase from Christ?  Three things from their own industries that they would understand.  The first thing you need is you need to buy gold from Me.  Now here in the United States we’re kind of gold bugs, aren’t we?  Everybody is telling us the stock market is going to collapse, the economies of the world are going to collapse (and maybe that’s true) and let’s stock up on gold.  Jesus here starts talking about gold but He’s obviously not talking about material gold, He’s talking about a spiritual lesson from something that they would under-stand.  He says, verse 18, “I advise you to buy from Me”

“I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich,” that’s very, very interesting; “gold refined by fire,” [Revelation 3:18a] what could that be?  We have an answer, don’t we, in 1 Peter 1:6-7. It defines what gold refined by fire is.  It says in 1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, [7] so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than” what? “gold which is perishable, even though tested by” what? “fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  Translation: you know what you need in Laodicea?  You need a trial, you need a problem, you need adversity, you need a frustration,  you need a setback, because it’s only if that setback, whatever it may be, comes into your life are you going to come to the end of yourself and you’re going to recognize your dependence upon Me because after all I’m the Creator and you after all are the creation.

When you compare this with the church at Smyrna I would interpret it this way: self-sufficiency makes you poor, that’s what your Bible teaches.  If you’re self-sufficient then you have all of the resources and you have all the answers to the point where why even pray any more, where your prayer life just kind of dissipates and becomes just sort of an empty ritual, because you really don’t need God.  Spiritually speaking that puts you in a position of poverty.

But isn’t it interesting how reliance and dependence upon God has the opposite effect; it makes a person rich.  I am reminded of the story of the rich man, he’s described in Luke 12:16-21.  [Luke 12:16, “And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive. [17] And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ [18] Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. [19]‘And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’  [20] But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ [21]So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”]

He talks about his productivity and how he’s going to have to tear down his barns and build bigger barns because a lot of the prosperity that he had, and he was saying to himself in Luke 12:19, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’”  Verse 19, the American dream.  Verse 20 though says, “But God said to him,” you what? “‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?”  [21] So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

You’re so rich and successful and so powerful that you’ve even forgotten that you’re here for a brief moment, you’re like mist that appears for a little while and then it’s gone and this very night you’re about to die.   You’re not thinking about that, are you?  You’re not thinking about it because you’ve stopped thinking of yourself as a dependent creature and creation of God.  This is the curse of prosperity, this is Laodicea.

James 1:9-11 puts it this way: “But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; [10] and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. [11] For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.”

Are you today in a position of need before God?  A  position of dependency, whatever the issue is, health, finances, relationships?  Then you ought to glory in your position because at least you can recognize your  need before God.  But if  you’re here today in a place of self-sufficiency you should find yourself in humiliation in your very low position because you’re in a state of deception that Jesus sees and that you cannot see.

This is why the Apostle Paul had, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 a thorn in the flesh.  I don’t have any idea what the thorn in the flesh was, many people speculate, but I know this much, a thorn hurts.  It was something that was in his life, it says in that passage that he asked three times for God to take it away.  In fact, it says he pleaded with God to take away this problem.  But God said to him each time, no,  [9] “My grace is sufficient for you.” Therefore Paul says, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. [10] Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am” what? “strong.”

I mean, are you here with some issue in your life and you keep asking God to remove it?  And no matter how much you pray about it and how sincere your prayer is and how many people you get on the prayer chain to pray for it the issue never gets resolved, could it be rather than thinking God is your enemy, could it be that very thing, whatever it is a gift, because it’s helping you recognize your dependence upon God, and as you’re walking in dependence upon God you’re a pliable, usable vessel.  Gosh, they sure didn’t have that in Laodicea, did they?

Go to one of the richest areas in the United States; go to Beverly Hills and try to start a church there that wants to teach the Word of God, it doesn’t want to cater to the masses but it wants to do the kind of ministry we do here, teaching the Word of God even when it’s uncomfortable.  What kind of reaction would you get there?  That’s what you get here in Laodicea.  So I am advising you, number one, purchase from Me gold refined in the fire.   [Revelation 3:18, “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.”]

Now there’s something else they need from their industries that they would understand; they need some white garments.  Look again what he says in verse 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….  What is this business here about white garments?  White garments is the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  It’s something that is supplied to us by way of grace; we receive it at the point of faith when we trust in Christ we become positionally righteous. Philippians 3:9 says, “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law….”

I hope when you stand before God one day you’re not planning on standing before God through your own loin skins, and the works of religiosity that you have created, which isn’t going to get you zip with God and my works of righteousness aren’t going to get me zip with God either.  What I need is what the Protestant Reformers called alien righteousness, transferred righteousness, righteousness from the outside.

And these folks, I would think this, maybe they had received that but they had forgotten all about it.  There’s a verse in 2 Peter that’s very interesting, it’s talking to Christians, and it says this, 2 Peter 1:9, “For he who lacks these qualities is blind and short-sighted,” and people say well that’s unbelievers.  NO! “having forgotten his purification from his former sins.”  These are people that have experienced purification from former sins, they were saved.  And yet the pressure of the world was so profound in their minds they had forgotten their identity and so consequently weren’t living according to their new identity at all.  That’s what you have in Laodicea.

You need to go back and remember how you got saved and why you’re saved to begin with.  And by the way, you’d better quit trying to live the Christian life through your own power because the grace that saved you is the grace by which you live.  Didn’t Paul say in the Book of Galatians, chapter 3 and verse 3, “Are you so foolish, having begun by the Spirit,” obviously saved people, unsaved people don’t have the Spirit, “having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh?”  You’ve forgotten grace.  You’re trying to work out the Christian life through the energy of human power and human flesh.

And by the way, you’re in a man centered culture that says you can do anything.  So that has been brought into your Christian walk, that has been brought into your Christian experience and you don’t even understand your own position any more.  You don’t even understand that you were saved by grace and if it weren’t for the grace of God you’re not even going to survive Monday morning.  But you’ve become so self-sufficient in your own eyes  you’ve for­gotten your position.  And so you need these white garments.  You need to remember, number one, what  you have, and number two, you need to recollect that the power of God that saved  you is the power of God that’s going to keep you.

There’s something else you need to buy because you have a medical school there so let me give you a third illustration.  You need this eye ointment, eye salve.  You see it in verse 18, “white garments so that  you may clothe yourself and that the shame of  your nakedness will not be revealed,” look at the end of verse 18 “; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.”  You’re dealing with people in the body of Christ that are in essence in a state of blindness over their own condition.  That’s why I read to you a little earlier 2 Peter 1:9,”For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-cited, having forgotten his former purification” or his purification from his former sins.”

If these people are so blinded they don’t even see their condition how do you get your eyes opened?  You need eye ointment for that, and the eye ointment that you need is the Holy Spirit.  You want to see your condition?  Then ask the Lord through the Holy Spirit to open your eyes because He’s the only one who can help you see spiritual things.  What did Jesus say to Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot” what? “see the kingdom of God.”  The unsaved person can’t even see it without the Spirit. The saved person that quenches the Spirit may become blind again.   So you need the Holy Spirit to start to reopen to reorient your thinking so you can see your true condition.

1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God….” Does this sermon sound foolish to you?  You’re in a very dangerous class of persons if the whole thing sounds foolish to you.  “…, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”  But what the Spirit of God will do for the unsaved (and for the saved) is He’ll really open your eyes to reality if you let God do it.

1 John 2:27 says, “As for you the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you so that you have no need for anyone to teach you, but as His anointing teaches us about all things and is true and it is not a lie, just as it has taught you, abide in Him.”  Do you want to be growing in the Christian life?  Do you want to keep progressing in the Christian life?  Do you want to keep seeing the world and yourself the way God sees you?  Then continue on with the abiding ministry of the Holy Spirit. But if you’re so self-sufficient that you don’t even see your need for the Holy Spirit then expect  yourself to go right back to the deplorable condition you once were in.   You didn’t lose your salvation but you’ve forgotten the grace that’s been given to you.  That’s the church at Laodicea. You need gold?  That’s a trial.  You need white garments? That’s the righteousness of Christ, positionally and practically.  Number three, you need the eye ointment or eye salve, that’s the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  And you need to purchase those things from Me.

He says in verse 19 to be zealous.  Look at what he says there in verse 19, “To those whom I love and reprove and disciple,” that’s 19a, we’re going to come back to that, maybe not today but down the road, “To those whom I love and reprove and discipline therefore be zealous and repent.” [Revelation 3:19]  What does it mean to be zealous?  It means to be motivated concerning the things of God.  You know, zeal is sort of a tricky thing, isn’t it  Paul talks about those in Romans 10:2 who have zeal but it is not according to knowledge.  [Romans 10:2, “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.”]

Just because someone is zealous about something doesn’t mean they’re right about something.  The prophets of Baal were very zealous, weren’t they.  In fact, 1 Kings 18:28 says, the prophets of Baal, “So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them.”  Sounds like a pretty zealous group of people.  But the fire of God never fell because they were zealous about the wrong thing.  I would say the 9/11 Hijackers were very zealous people but they died in the wrong cause, didn’t they?  John 16:2, Jesus says, “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.”  People out there killing Christians thinking they’re serving the Lord.  Zealous but not according to knowledge.

And then you have other people that have knowledge but there’s no zeal; it’s sort of a sit, soak and sour mindset; oh, I’ve heard that before.  Yeah, but where’s the energy?  Where’s the excitement?  Where’s the [can’t understand word] of your life.  What happened to the evangelistic fervor?  Oh, I’ve heard all that before.  In fact, you give them a doctrinal test they’d pass with flying colors but they’re just apathetic.  So you have zeal without knowledge, you have knowledge without zeal.  What are the Laodiceans?  They didn’t have either.  Isn’t that terrible.  They didn’t even know what condition they were in, no knowledge.  So number one, you need to acquire knowledge,  you need to acquire a proper perspective on your spiritual walk. And number two, you need to be zealous for what you’re learning.

The danger of a Bible church like us, that focuses so heavily on the exposition of Scripture, and I love it that way, I wouldn’t change a thing, but the danger is the apathy that can set in through the perpetual giving out and intaking of information to the point where you start to look at knowledge as sort of the end game when the reality of the situation is God never gave knowledge as an end game, He gave it not as a last step but as a first step.  Brethren and beloved, if the knowledge  you’re gaining at this church is not turning into action in your life, you might as well just go ahead and go to church somewhere else because the only thing it’s doing is it’s increasing your level of judgment at the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ because “to whom much is given, much is required.”  [Luke 12:48]  That’s just expected, that’s the order of God.

And so we need to be people of knowledge.  We don’t downplay knowledge at all but that’s not the end; there’s supposed to be a zeal in the learning of knowledge.   [can’t understand word] need to get knowledge, a proper appraisement of yourself, my eye salve will give that to you through the Holy Spirit and  you need to become zealous over that and you need to repent… repent!  Isn’t that what Jesus is saying to five of these seven churches, the word “repent.”  Isn’t that a lost word today in modern day evangelicalism.  When was the last sermon you ever heard  in many churches on the subject of repentance.   You know in the south what they used to have?  They used to have altars that you could go up to and they had Kleenex at those altars and those were basically called, not prayer stations but crying stations where there was an opportunity for people in church services to sort of come forward and literally emote or weep over their own spiritual condition.

Isn’t that appropriate in the Bible?  Doesn’t the Book of James when we fall into sin say weep over that.  Weep and wail.  [“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. NIV]  When was the last church you went into with a crying altar in front of it. I mean, it’s almost a practice that’s a relic of the past.  I don’t even know how that would fit within our contemporary ministry philosophies.

But he says here very clearly, verse 19, “Be zealous and repent,” what does it mean to repent?  The word “repent” as  you probably know means to change your mind.  It’s the word metanoeō, meta means change, noeō means mind, it means change your mind.   You have to do that to get saved because you have to change your mind about Jesus and trust in Him and Him alone for salvation.  So we believe in that sense that repentance is a synonym for true saving faith.  A person can’t believe without truly repenting; repentance is always involved in saving faith because it involves a change of mind, away from my own works and religiosity into Christ and Christ alone for salvation.  I’m trusting in Christ, I obviously can’t do that unless I’ve changed my mind about Him.  See that?

A lot of people say well, you know, I’ve repented already.  He’s dealing here with Christians.  All of these letters are written to saved people; five of the seven letters are written to save people and so what happens with a saved person is God loves we as we are but He loves us too much to leave us as we are so He moves us away from phase one of salvation into what?  Phase two, which is your growth in Christ, your development in Christ, your maturity in Christ.  That’s called progressive sanctification, a single moment of repentance is necessary to be justified but what does it take to walk with God?  It takes perpetual repentance because the Holy Spirit as you walk with God will bring things into your mind that says that’s not right with Me, you need to change your mind about that, you were sort of short tempered with so and so, that’s not right, and I’m going to bother you about that and you need to change your mind about that and you need to rely upon My empowerment to become less short tempered.  Or you’re gossiping about something and the Holy Spirit will say that’s not right either, I need you to change your mind about that.  Or you’re into compulsive spending and the Holy Spirit will say that’s not right either, that’s not good stewardship, change your mind about that.

And over and over again this is what the walk of God is; this is why there was these crying stations  in churches because people were, the way God has designed it, to be mournful over their own sinful condition.   And so this is something that Laodicea desperately needed to hear, it’s something they desperately need to do, they needed to change their whole mindset concerning where they were and they needed to get back to dependence upon God and looking to Him for their sufficiency rather than to themselves.

And look at verse 20 and we’ll conclude with verse 20 and jump back to verse 19a next week.  There’s something else you need to do, and I need to spend a few moments on this because this is probably one of the, if not THE most misquoted verses in the whole Bible.  Revelation 3:20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door I will come into him and will dine with him and he with Me.”   You need to restore broken fellowship with me God says.

And 99% of the time when you hear this verse it’s in an evangelistic appeal to the unsaved. The greatest evangelists in the world use this verse; in fact, a lot of people get saved through the use of this verse, my own mother included.  But that’s not because of their use of this verse, that’s in spite of their misuse of this verse because God can take a lousy presentation of the gospel and turn it around for His glory, can’t He?  This verse is not evangelistic at all; this verse is a broken fellowship verse.  In fact, not a single time in the whole Bible will you ever hear the expression, you need to invite Jesus into your heart.  And yet people teach this perpetually, they base their understanding on Revelation 3:20.  [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 will dine with him, and he with Me.”]

Folks, the Bible doesn’t say that; it never says invite Jesus into your heart.  I don’t know where that idea came from, some para church ministry somewhere, there’s not a shred of biblical data to support it. What the Bible says 150 times is you need to trust Christ for salvation.  That’s what you say to the unsaved person, you need to believe or trust (synonyms) Christ for salvation.  You don’t tell them to invite Jesus into their heart because the Bible never does that.  In fact, look at all of these salvation experiences through the Bible.  How did Abraham get saved?  He invited Jesus into his heart?  It doesn’t say that does it?  It says, “Abraham believed in the LORD and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  [Galatians 3:6, “Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”  James 2:23, “and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,’ and he was called the friend of God.”]

It’s as simple as John 3:16, “For God so  loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever” invites Jesus into their heart… it doesn’t say that!  “whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  “Sirs” the Philippian jailor, Acts 16:30-31, “what must I do to be saved?”  [31] They said,” invite Jesus into your heart, fill out this card and walk this aisle…  No, it says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved….”

So if this not talking about evangelism what is it talking about?  It’s talking about Jesus outside the door of His own church.  It’s talking about a group of people that are having Christianity without Christ; that’s how out of fellowship they are with God.  It’s about the Lord wanting fellowship and re-admittance into His man-centered Laodicean church that has kicked Him out a long time ago because they’ve got everything figured out.  I don’t need God any more.  We’ve got our vision statement and our plans and our programs and we’ve got our budget and we’ve got our staff and we’ve got our academic degrees and I even have a logos program that allows me to search every Greek and Hebrew word ever known to man, why do I need to cry out to God for understanding?  May God help us to see this.  I don’t want to come in here and give some kind of sermon based on some word study that my intellect came up with.  I want to go before the Lord and say Lord, these are Your people, what do they need to hear?  And I need the Lord to touch my heart just like you need the Lord to touch your heart.

You’ll notice in verse 20 he says I want to come in, and what does it say, “dine with him.”  [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 will dine with him, and he with Me.”  That’s a meal.  Here in the western culture  we go through drive through’s, we eat, we think nothing of it.  In the ancient world when you ate with somebody that was fellowship.  That was intimacy.  After all, Jesus had with the disciples the last what?  Supper, check it out in the Bible, if there’s a meal it’s intimacy.  That’s what Jesus is saying here.  I want intimacy or fellowship restored with My church, is what I want.  I want you to exercise 1 John 1:9, not to get saved but to get back in fellowship with Me.  [1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”]

I want you to go back to the vine and the branches discourse which was only given to believers, because Judas had left the room.  Eleven believers, He talked about a branch in the vine bearing fruit and a branch out of the vine not bearing fruit.  That’s not saved versus unsaved folks; that’s in fellowship, out of fellowship, unconfessed sin breaking fellowship with God.  That’s what that is.  And what He’s saying when He’s outside the door of His church, knocking on the door, He’s not knocking on the heart of the unbeliever, He does that by the way, through conviction, that’s not the context.  What He says is I want fellowship restored, I want to dine with you.  I don’t want Christianity any more without Christ.  I don’t want church without Jesus.  I recommend the booklet, we may have a few in the back, if we don’t we’ll get some more, by Dennis Rokser, it’s called Seven Reasons Not to Ask Jesus into Your Heart, kind of a provocative title but it’s reorienting the church back to what the gospel is.  The gospel is not invite Jesus into your heart; the gospel is trust in Christ for salvation.  There’s a lot more we could say about that which we won’t do because it’s 12:32.

When we reconvene next week we’ll look at the rest of this letter, the consequences if they don’t which includes divine discipline.

If you’re here today and you’re unsaved we’re not going to tell you to invite Jesus into your heart, we’re not going to tell you to walk an aisle, we’re not going to tell you to do anything other than a simple condition that God has given for salvation which is to trust or believe in Christ; you stop trusting in self and trust exclusively in the Savior for the safekeeping of  you soul and in a nanosecond… in a nanosecond that makes you justified before God.  And then the calling on your life is to grow as a Christian, which we’ve talked about in the middle tense of our salvation. So if you’re here today or listening somewhere,  your computer or online, our exhortation is to trust Christ for salvation.  And for the rest of us we need to have a walk with the Lord with dependency so we are more Philadelphian in our walk with God, rather than Laodicean.  Shall we pray.

Father, we’re grateful for the things in the Bible that sometimes are a little bit harder to digest, the letter to Laodicea is one of those things but help us to take in this truth as part of Your Word. We’ll be careful to give  you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen!