The Call for Passion
Revelation 1:17-20, 3:14-21 June 25, 2023
For many of us, the Book of Revelation has many disturbing and perhaps confusing symbols. It was written to encourage and inspire believers to a greater faith and trust in Christ Jesus. The book comes from a vision or series of visions that John had while he was in exile on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. God gave John a message for the seven key churches in Asia Minor at the beginning of the second century. The churches were maturing and experiencing both the blessings and the drawbacks of maturation. John wrote God’s message to the seven churches in an area that is now part of the nation of Turkey. Each church had their own set of problems and strengths, and Jesus addresses each church and calls them to a greater level of faith commitment and living.
One of the churches was in the city of Laodicea and John directs Jesus’ message to the Christians there. Laodicea was located on an important east-west trade route. It was not a small backwater town. The location made the city both a commercial and Roman administrative center. Three key businesses made the city wealthy. It was a banking and financial center. People had surplus monies to save and invest. In addition, the city had a thriving clothing manufacturing industry. They were known for their soft velvet, black glossy wool. And they also had a medical school which, among other things, produced ointments for treating eye and ear disorders. The medical center was well known. And the city had a large population of Jewish people. The economic and business life of the city was booming. People had a high standard of living.
John writes God’s message to the Christians in the church in Laodicea. He is writing to a people who once were excited about the Lord. Now they were caught up in economic prosperity and had a comfortable life. Some say their situation parallels what has happened to the church in America and Europe. John writes for the Lord: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent (Revelation 3:17-19).” The Christians in Laodicea were living a comfortable life. In their comfort several things happened.
First, they began trusting their own resources and strengths rather than trusting in the Lord. Have you noticed that the times when people are closest to the Lord are when they have run out of their own resources and strength? In a similar way, have you noticed that the times when people feel confident and self-sufficient they feel little need for the Lord? When things are going comfortably, we tend to stray from the Lord. When we are going through difficulty, even the shadow of death, we turn to the Lord. We live in a spiritually dangerous time. Most Christians are anything but economically disadvantaged. Most Christians have plenty of money for the necessities and some left over. This is a spiritually dangerous time for the church because we are more likely to stray from the Lord when we are living in comfort. All that we have can be taken away in a second. Even if we had all the wealth in the world we are completely dependent on the Lord. People have been surveyed about their favorite Bible verse. One of the most favored verses is, “God helps those who help themselves. However, you will not find that in the Bible. Contrary to the false Bible quote, God helps those who place their trust in him.
The second criticism the Lord makes against the church at Laodicea is a heavy one. Actually, the letter to the church at Laodicea is the only one of the letters to the seven churches where the Lord sees no spiritual strengths in it. He comes down hard on them. He says, “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).” In their comfort and wealth the church had cooled off and is lukewarm. Lukewarm is not good. I enjoy tea. I like it hot or cold but not lukewarm. In the same way, how many like lukewarm coffee? The Christians in Laodicea were once excited about the Lord. They had enthusiasm for Jesus. The Christians in Laodicea were filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit. However in their wealth they let their spiritual fires cool. They did not tend to the spiritual fire within. The norm for Christianity is a fiery passionate faith in Jesus, not a lukewarm religion.
John Wesley once was asked why people came out at 5:00 AM to stand in cold fields and listen to him preach. Most normal people would rather be snuggled in their warm beds at that hour. Wesley replied, “I catch on fire for God, and they come to see me burn.” In school what was your favorite teacher like? I am certain he or she was someone who had enthusiasm for what they were teaching. When I was a freshman in college, I took Religion 100. It was a required course, mandatory for graduation. The professor was excited about the Bible. Each class session was a delight. Even those who were taking the course to get a requirement out of the way enjoyed listening to him. Those who most influence us are the ones who are excited about their subject, and are enthused about what they teach, and their energy, excitement and enthusiasm are contagious.
The Reverend Dr. George Carey, the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury and the former leader of the Anglican Church in England, preached at a service during their general conference that in part was about enthusiasm. He spoke about seeing a memorial plaque fixed to a wall of a church near Cambridge. At one point, he said, “As you know, the Methodists were determined to bring joy and life to the church; the institutional church seemed determined to keep them out. Yet there’s an extraordinary plaque inside the church. It commemorates an incumbent at the time of the Wesley brothers, and the plaque reads like this: ‘Erected to the memory of the Rev. [so and so] who served as vicar among us for 30 years, without the slightest trace of enthusiasm.’” Imagine having a pastor for 30 years who served with no enthusiasm. I am certain he put people to sleep during his sermons. The early English Methodists were criticized for their enthusiasm and excitement about Christ Jesus.
Rev. Carey continues: “Now that’s not the kind of memorial I’d like to leave behind me. So you ask the question: what does it mean, he worked for 30 years without the slightest trace of enthusiasm? Well, you see, the “enthusiasts’ were the Methodists. And he kept them out of his parish. Alas! Religion has that effect on some people. Instead of liberating, it imprisons. Instead of bringing joy, it desiccates.” While the Rev. So-and-So was honored with a plaque for his unenthusiastic service in an Anglican Church, Jesus tells us that a lukewarm faith upsets his stomach.
There are many words which have multiple meanings. Passion is one of them. Especially when it comes to the things of God many want nothing to do with passion, especially religious passion. For some it speaks about emotionalism. For others it speaks about fanaticism. For still others the word, passion, has physical connotations. Passion for Christ Jesus is not about being a religious nut. It is about taking Jesus seriously and living the Spirit-filled life he calls us to. It is about loving the unlovable. It is about being good managers of the world God has placed us in. It is about kingdom values in contrast to the values of a corrupting culture. It is about worshipping God with joy and excitement. It is about loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. It is about getting off the fence and putting both your feet on the solid rock of God’s kingdom. It is about listening for God to speak and then doing his will. It is about being open to a move of the Spirit regardless of the personal cost it might entail. It is about building up treasure in heaven. It is about recognizing our total dependence on God and trusting him for everything.
In his book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, Dr. George Hunter, Distinguished Professor Emeritis of the E. Stanley Jones School of Mission and Ministry at Asbury University, writes of passionate disciples of Christ Jesus who brought the Gospel to Ireland: “They never claimed to be other than they were, or more than they were. They were devoted, compassionate, sold out citizens of Heaven. They relied, through ‘prayer without ceasing,’ upon the Triune God’s providence and power. They could do anything they could to help other people find the Way [of Christ Jesus].” I have been lukewarm. I fight the battle against spiritual stagnation. That battle is part of our faith. We do not give up or give in. When you have seen the fire of God, you will never want to settle for a lukewarm religion. When you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you will never want to go back to the cold draughts of religion. When you are passionate about your faith in Christ Jesus, you are a citizen of the Kingdom, and are excited and enthused about him.
Our Lord called the Christians in the wealthy city of Laodicea to become passionate and have enthusiasm for him. He wanted them to have passion for the Gospel and have a passion for being fruitful disciples who were active in mission and ministry. He calls us to be his passionate people in this world. Remember that a teacher, a disciple, who is enthused about his or her subject, is the best teacher. As you are enthused about your faith in Christ Jesus, your enthusiasm will rub off on others. Don’t settle for lukewarm religion.
A sermon preached at Veterans Memorial Chapel by Chaplain (COL) Michael W. Malone