“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16 NIV
It is quite possible to coast along these days as a professed follower of Christ. One can simply be seen to do all the right things, baking for church sales, singing in the choir or worship team, tithing, going to Bible study, etc. etc. and you could have a faith tinier than a mustard seed, or none at all, and no-one would know. These are all good things to be doing of course, and perhaps it’s not surprising that in our surface-obsessed culture there can easily be style without substance even in the place where we are meant to be living out the true meaning of life.
It is more surprising, perhaps, that such lukewarm attitudes were already to be found in the first century in the Laodicean church. In a time and culture where being a Christian could get you killed, it seems quite odd that the Lord should chide any of his followers for being tepid in their faith. But it seems from my research that Laodicea wasn’t persecuted in the same way as other churches at the time, and perhaps this, coupled with the riches they had that Christ goes on to talk about, had left this group feeling complacent, self-sufficient and therefore quite akin to a lot of our own faith communities in the western “developed” world today.
Staying ambivalent and comfortable is very tempting when there is nothing pushing us to be different or shaken. And yet the heart of the gospel is to be counter-cultural, and Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind (Matthew 22:37), indeed with our everything. Following Jesus is an all or nothing venture. It isn’t something we hang up in the wardrobe along with our Sunday best to harbour mothballs for the rest of the week. If it is, then we really have not understood our calling to be disciples. Loving Jesus means being willing to do the work we are given, where we are chosen to do it, and often involves sacrifices and worldly discomfort and disappointment.
People who are apathetic about God are the hardest to persuade of his love. It is the comfortable middle classes who see no need for a saviour, and that appears to have been the problem in this church nearly two thousand years ago. Human nature does not change very much! Even atheists have a kind of religious passion that one can engage with, but an agnostic or a tepid believer is often happy sitting on the fence, dangling his or her legs over each side, hedging their bets and perhaps picking and choosing the bits of Scripture that they find easiest to live with. They are the people who hold the spread of the gospel back far more than any persecution, and there is a bit of them in all of us.
That bit of us that doesn’t want to be challenged, that wants to read a cosy book about how easy life is supposed to be, wants to hear about gentle Jesus meek and mild, to sing about a personal saviour but which will avert its gaze from a bloody crown of thorns and go pale and indignant at the thought of sharing in the sufferings of Christ and glazed and distant at the idea of falling into the mystery of love.
Let us then, come back to that first flame of love, and fan it with our deepest longings for God, so that there is no danger of his finding us distasteful!
Photo on Yahoo used under creative commons license.