In a parking lot that I frequently use, there is often a car with the license plate “LAU-7xx.” “Lau” is the German word for lukewarm. When I drive past the car, a song by Bro. Rubin Schimann comes to mind, “Nur nicht lau!” (“Anything but Lukewarm!”). This gets me singing the chorus of the song, thinking about this serious thought, and then praying: “Lord, keep me from becoming lukewarm!” What does spiritual lukewarmness mean? Isn’t a little warmth better than none at all when serving God? What does Jesus have to say about this?
“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: ‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth’” (Revelation 3:14-16).
Pretty serious words! How does spiritual lukewarmness come about? Obviously, there was a higher spiritual temperature or spiritual fire in this preacher and congregation in the past. Through some cause or causes, the fire was extinguished, and the soul began to cool. It is not yet so cold that you can easily observe spiritual decay, but the damage is done. And Jesus, who sees and judges everything correctly, expresses His disgust at such a state: “I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
What is the cause of lukewarmness? Negligence! Negligence in our prayer life, and indifference in drawing strength from the Word of God and the source of life. In addition, there is often a gradual cooling in one’s daily relationship with Jesus. We begin to see Him as an addition to everyday life instead of the central focus. The Christian feels comfortable in his own skin and in the bustle of the world. In Revelation 3:17, Jesus says: “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.’”
The great danger with lukewarmness is that you often don’t recognize your condition. The church in Laodicea thought everything was fine. But Jesus stood unnoticed outside the door, knocking sadly but lovingly (verse 20). Our own state of lukewarmness is probably so difficult to recognize because it develops gradually. We can progressively become accustomed to a slowly deteriorating spiritual state.
Why does the Savior say “Oh, that you were cold or warm!”? Precisely because a person who is already completely cold (dead) is more likely to discover his spiritual deficiency than someone who is lukewarm. In a lukewarm state, you can look at certain external characteristics and convince yourself that you are still a good Christian. “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing!” Who doesn’t want to be “rich” in their service to God? It can be easy to see yourself as richer than others. But how does the Lord see it? “…and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” How great is the danger of lukewarmness!
Lukewarmness rarely develops overnight. It is almost always associated with a longer process. It can simply be that you become so accustomed to serving God that doing so becomes a habit. Your daily time with God gradually becomes normal, even boring, and leaves little impression on the soul. Maybe it’s because we are too well off. And that brings us to the dilemma of our heavenly Father: If, in His gracious love, He gives us as His children too much good, we desire Him less! If He blesses us too abundantly with earthly benefits, we behave as if we don’t need Him much. If we see ourselves as rich and prospering and having need of nothing, our relationship with God will change. Oh, may God remind us continually of the truth that without Him we are indeed nothing!
How can I be saved from lukewarmness?
Let’s look at the words of Jesus. He says in Revelation 3:18, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire.” Laodicea was an affluent city, and the Christians there were probably no different. It may have been easy for them to get ensnared in collecting earthly gold. But Jesus strongly counsels them to acquire other gold – His gold! What is this gold? It is gold that has been refined in the fire of the Holy Spirit. It is fundamentally different from earthly gold, even if such is 99.9999% pure. It is the gold that you receive when you give up everything else to obtain Him, Jesus. It is a burning love for God, His kingdom, and His children, generated by the Holy Spirit. It is a life sacrificed and sanctified to His exclusive service. Gold refined in holy fire. How precious and glorious!
Jesus further advises the lukewarm: “I counsel you to buy from me… white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.” Lukewarm Christians do not recognize their spiritual decay, that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. And in a lukewarm state, it doesn’t take long for dirt to get on your garment. You rub a little and try to wipe away the stains, but without the blood of Jesus it never works. Only white garments will stand before God. So take the Savior’s advice and let Him give you white garments. If you are a child of God on the right path, then keep your garments white! Only purity of heart will save us from lukewarmness or falling away.
In verse 18, Jesus goes on to say: “… anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” Laodicea was renowned as the source of a special eye salve, and yet Jesus gives the pastor and the church the urgent advice to buy eye salve from HIM so that they can recognize their spiritual condition. To stay safe from lukewarmness, stand regularly in the light of God. Let yourself be examined by His Spirit and His Word, verify that everything is in order, and determine whether the fire of the Spirit is still burning hot within you.
Finally, Jesus says in verse 19: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” Although He threatens to vomit them out, He lovingly pleads with those who have become lukewarm. “Be zealous and repent. There is still time and there is still grace, and it is there for you! I love you and will chasten you to draw you to Me.” How great and sublime is the love and compassion of our Savior! He wants to help you and me, but … anything but lukewarm!