Colossians 4:16

The Epistle to Laodicea


The Epistle Sent to the Church at Laodicea in 60 AD

A. The Epistle (4:16)

1. Who Wrote it:

a. Some believe that the letter to the Laodiceans is the epistle to the Ephesians—since the early manuscripts of Ephesians does not contain the word “Ephesians.”

b. It is possible that it was a letter FROM the Laodiceans to Paul—and Paul wanted the Colossian believers to read it… so he sent it back to the region.

c. It is possible that an unknown person wrote that letter and gave it to Paul to deliver for him… since Paul was sending Tychicus and Onesimus there to deliver letters.

d. The most likely explanation is that it was a letter written by Paul TO the Laodiceans.

2. What It Said:

a. There is no possible way to know.

b. It has never been found and there is no point in speculating.

c. We don’t need to know. God did not intend to have it preserved in His Word…

d. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to know?

B. Greetings Sent to the Church at Laodicea

1. Paul sends greetings—not warnings or rebukes.

2. There is no indication that anything is wrong at the church.

3. Col. 2:1 – the only possible hint of concern for Laodicea is found here.

a. Paul agonized in his ministry of prayer for both the church at Colossae and at Laodicea.

b. In Colossae his concern was for the Gnostic like cult that sought to lure believers back to an odd mixture of Jewish and pagan tradition… and earthly laws… seeking to cause them to no longer seek things above.

c. But we are not told what his concern was for Laodicea.

d. It MAY have been a concern for the same thing—since Laodicea was only 10 miles from Colossae.

4. At the end of this letter, Paul simply sends friendly greetings to a sister church.

5. The DATE of Colossians is about 60-62 AD. In that year—all seemed well at Laodicea.

6. Paul and his co-workers friendly greetings to saints in the city of Laodicea. All seemed well in 60 AD.

7. About 30 years AFTER the letter to the Colossians was written and sent… along with the letter to the Laodiceans… a second epistle was sent to Laodicea.

a. We HAVE the content of that letter recorded in Rev. 3.

b. A lot can happen to a church in 30 years. Laodicea is a good case study to demonstrate that fact.

The Epistle Sent to the Church at Laodicea in 95 AD

A. One of Seven Epistles to Asia Minor

1. Rev. 2:10-11 – John hears the voice of Christ telling him to write 7 letters and to send them to the 7 churches in Asia Minor. (One of which is Laodicea).

2. Rev. 2:12-16 – Christ appears in His glorified state… standing in the midst of the candlesticks, representing the 7 churches… observing… and taking notes.

3. 2:17 – this is not the Jesus of the gospels… but the risen, glorified, Son of God! John falls before Him as dead.

4. Thus, we have a glimpse here of the heavenly ministry of Christ—the Head of the Body.

a. His presence is in the midst of the church… His Body.

b. He is carefully observing all that goes on in the churches.

c. He is pleased with some of what He sees.

d. He is disgusted with other things He sees.

5. The letters are hand written by John, but the letters are FROM the Son of God. Christ is the Author… John acts as secretary.

6. The letters are addressed to the churches but primarily to the pastor of each church: the ANGEL.

a. Angel: messenger
• Used most often of spirit beings, but not always.
• Sometimes it is used of human beings.
• Used of John the Baptist (Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2)
• Used of John’s servants (Luke 7:24)
• The context has to determine what KIND of messenger.

b. If it is an angel, it cannot be a good angel, for Christ rebukes them. (Rev. 2:4)
• The rebuke is to the angel [thee = singular]
• It is not to “you” plural—the whole congregation.
• However, the attitude of the pastor is likely reflected in the rest of the congregation.
• For what the Lord says to the angel… the Spirit wants all the congregations to know as well (vs. 7)
• And the congregations are expected to take heed to what is said in the letters addressed to the other cities in the region as well.

c. Cannot be an evil angel or demon—for the Lord would hardly put a demon in charge of a local church.

d. It must be a human messenger—a man whose responsibility it is to bring God’s message to the church over which he has been called to shepherd… (pastor)

e. The angel of each church is held responsible and accountable for what goes on in that church under his leadership.

f. The Lord has words of praise, exhortation, and rebuke for each of the churches…

g. But for the church at Laodicea, there is nothing but rebuke. The Lord is disgusted with what is going on in that place.

h. Drastic and deadly changes occurred in that church from the time Paul sent his friendly greetings in approx. 60 AD to the time Revelation was written in about 95 AD.

B. The Epistle to Laodicea (Rev. 2:14-20)

1. Once again we are told that this epistle is FROM Christ.

a. He is the sovereign Amen behind all that occurs.

b. He is the faithful and true witness of truth. He IS the Truth!

c. He is the beginning of the creation of God.
• ???? – this term has two basic functions.
» When referring to TIME, it means the beginning.
» When referring to AUTHORITY, it means ruler.
• Actually, both concepts are similar in Greek, though not so apparent in English.
» The beginning point in time…
» The beginning of the line of time…
» The beginning of ANY line…
» The # 1 position in that line…
» The HEAD of the line…
» The RULER in that line…
» Similar concepts—all described by this term.
• Christ is called “the beginning” of creation because He is the CAUSE of the creation.
• Consider Col. 1:16-17 – “For by Him were all things created… and He is BEFORE all things…”
• He is before all things in both time and rank.
• He is the ???? – He preceded creation… and ranks ABOVE all creation… He rules OVER creation…
• He is the beginning of creation because creation BEGAN with Him!
• He rules over it; and by Him all things consist.

d. Christ identifies Himself to the Laodiceans as the Supreme Authority and Ruler over the ENTIRE created universe.

e. He is the One before whom John fell as a dead man!

f. They should LISTEN to Him!

2. Christ is nauseated with the Church at Laodicea (2:15-16)

a. He knows their works.
• He knows OUR works too.
• He knows the works of us as an assembly of believers.
• He knows the works of each one of us individually.
• Christ is STILL observing His body and taking notes.
• What would He observe here? In Your life?
• What kind of works would He see in us?
• Would He be pleased or disgusted with the works He observes in us?
• Remember, His eyes are a flame of fire… piercing deep into our hearts. He does not judge our works superficially (what we did; how many works; etc.)
• He judges what SORT of work we do… our motives… intentions… and the SOURCE of our works—flesh or Spirit…
• This ought to be extremely sobering to each one of us.
• What ARE we doing for the Lord? What SORT of service are we performing? Are we doing our best? Are we using the talents and spiritual gifts God has given us for His glory? Do we seek to excel to the edifying of the church? Are we reaching out to the lost? Are our works consistent… are we faithful? Can we be counted upon?

b. They were NEITHER hot nor cold.
• Jesus would PREFER that they be one or the other.
• Most see this statement to mean that Jesus wishes they were either hot (on fire in love for Him) or cold (antagonistic against Him)… anything but lukewarm — namely, neutral.
• That is certainly a possibility, but it is hard for me to understand WHY Jesus would rather have people cold towards Him.
• There is another possibility however, that seems to make more sense in light of the context.
» Context: Christ is rebuking them because they are so gone spiritually that they are UNAWARE of their spiritual condition.
» They thought they were doing well… rich and in need of nothing… but they did not realize the reality: they were actually poor, blind, naked spiritually!
» The issue is a lack of awareness of their true condition.
• Jesus wishes that they were AWARE of their condition.
» When a person is cold—he KNOWS it. He is very much aware of the climate around him… and he does something about it.
» When a person is hot—he KNOWS it. He is very much aware of the climate around him… and he does something about it.
» But when a person is lukewarm… he pays no attention to the climate around him. He is caught up in other things and is oblivious.
» That seems to be the point of Jesus in this text: The Laodiceans were oblivious to their true spiritual climate… and thus paid no attention to it…
» And were thus caught up in other things… giving no thought to the spiritual atmosphere.
• Jesus laments their total lack of awareness of the spiritual climate in the church… and He wishes they were aware…
• He wishes they were either hot or cold so that they would DO something about the climate… make some changes!

3. They were in danger of being vomited out of His mouth! (vs. 16)

a. This does NOT mean that they would lose their salvation.

b. Rather, it means that they were in danger of making their Savior SICK… and a loss of fellowship and rewards.

c. As a congregation, Christ was ready to reject it. (I will = mello = I am about to, ready to… unless…)

d. This is similar to what He told the church at Ephesus: that unless they repented, He would remove their candlestick.

e. A church is only a church if it is connected to Christ its Head. If the Head rejects the Body, that assembly is but a Christless, religious club.

4. Their TRUE spiritual condition:

a. Wretched – used only 2 times, here and in Rom. 7:24 – O wretched man that I am! (A believer who was defeated, powerless, and unable to walk in newness of life!)

b. Miserable –Used on 2 times –I Cor. 15:19 –“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable!”

c. Poor – figurative of their true spiritual condition…

d. Blind – they could not see the danger they were in!

e. Naked – They wore the finest clothing… but were naked spiritually…

5. Exhortations

a. Buy of Me gold tried in the fire that ye may be rich.
• These folks WERE rich in earthly treasures.
• But they were poor spiritually…
• They had lots of money… and earthly gold… but all their money and earthly gold was perishing. They had nothing lasting.
• Jesus tells them that there is a BETTER kind of gold—one that will last through the fire.
• I Cor. 3:12-15 – Paul speaks of the judgment of our works by fire.
» Works of the flesh: wood; hay; stubble; all is burned and there is a LOSS of reward.
» Works of the Spirit: gold, silver, precious stones; purified by the fire—for which there is an eternal reward… a crown…
» Some true believers will come before the Bema seat of Christ and have ALL their works burnt up… as worthless…
» They will be saved so as by fire… (vs. 15) but will LOSE out on eternal rewards in heaven.
» They had much gold on earth = they will have precious little in heaven.
» They HAD their reward in this life… the momentary, earthly, and temporal.
» They chose to heap up treasures on earth… like the Laodiceans.
» Thus, they make it into heaven, but they forsook their eternal rewards…
» And they are losers for being so short sighted spiritually… for there is no going back to regain rewards lost in this life.
» Instead of living with eternal values in mind and living for Christ, they lived for the here and now… for me, myself, and I…
» Saved—so as by fire… by the skin of their teeth… with little to show for it…
» This was the true spiritual condition of the Laodiceans—and of many believers today!
» Hence, Jesus WARNS them to BUY gold from Him.
· He uses language these merchants could relate to: BUY something from me!
· Buying involves and exchange of one thing for another.
· Buy – in the sense of Phil. 3:7 – But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.”
· There are works of the Spirit… heaping up treasures in heaven… using our time and talents and spiritual gifts for Christ instead of self.
· Those kinds of Spirit filled works will go through the fires of the Judgment seat and not only survive—but will be purified and rewarded!
· Selfless submission to Christ and sacrificial service done in His name will be rewarded in heaven with crowns… eternal rewards for the glory of God.
» Notice that Jesus exhorts them to BUY this gold from Him!
· Receiving this true gold from heaven… heavenly rewards… involves a sacrifice of the things the flesh loves: our earthly gold…
· That which we consider precious and valuable on earth… is often the PRICE for true heavenly treasures.
· There IS a price to pay for eternal rewards… sacrificing SELF on the altar… picking up a cross to follow Christ… a willingness to suffer in this life…
» Jesus presents them with a clear choice: He challenges them to EXCHANGE their earthly gold for eternal gold!
» And there is a price to pay: but one day we will exchange our earthly cross for a heavenly crown!
» The HEARTS of the Laodicean believers were in the wrong place.
· They treasured their earthly trophies.
· Paul had earlier written to these folks and told them to read the epistle he wrote to the Colossians: “Set your affection on things above, not on things of the earth!”
· Evidently, they did not take heed.
· Consider the words of the Old Rugged Cross: Cherish the old rugged cross TIL my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.
· This is quite similar to the exhortation of Christ to the Laodiceans.

b. BUY of Me white raiment.
• The second exhortation was in light of their true spiritual condition.
• In the earthly realm, they were rich and were well dressed… fancy clothes… gold jewelry… all the best for themselves.
• Jesus said, “I know thy works.”
• The GOOD works of believers are sometimes referred to as white raiment… good works for which they would be rewarded in heaven. (Revelation 19:8)
• These wealthy believers had fancy clothes on earth, but in reality, they were NAKED spiritually!
• They looked GREAT from earth’s perspective… well dressed.
• But from Christ’s perspective, they were BLIND and did not see that they were actually NAKED spiritually!
• They did NOT have good deeds for which HE could reward them.
• Hence, Christ encourages them to BUY some white raiment from Him… an exchange of the earthly for the heavenly… a sacrifice of the earthly for the heavenly…
• Perhaps these wealthy folks were philanthropists! Perhaps they started foundations (in their names) for the poor.
• But philanthropy is the love of MAN. It is possible to be a philanthropist (a lover of men) and a hater of God… leaving God out.
• In fact, it is possible to “bestow all my goods to feed the poor”… and to have no love… and it profits NOTHING spiritually! (many bestow their goods to the poor to make themselves feel good… to make themselves look good… etc. It is actually SELFISH!)
• Love is sacrificing SELF for the good of others.
• One is earthly and of no profit spiritually; the other is Christ centered and profitable now and in eternity!
• Christ encourages these rich folks to be rich towards HIM!
• Christ suggests that this spiritually NAKED condition was SHAMEFUL before the Lord.

c. Buy of Him some eye salve.
• Because they were BLIND… and unable to SEE their true spiritual condition.
• This was their real problem: blindness.
• They thought they were rich. They could not SEE through the eyes of faith to see that they were really poor spiritually!
• They thought they were dressed to the hilt… but could not see that they were really naked spiritually.
• They could not SEE their true spiritual condition as God saw it. They were truly blind.
• They needed an “eye salve” to correct their vision.
• God wanted them to see SPIRITUAL things: “that the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, ye may know what is the hope of your calling…” (Eph. 1:17-18)
• II Peter 1:5–9 – as soon as believers stop growing… stop hungering and thirsting… stop progressing from glory to glory… we go backwards… become blind and forgetful.
» There is no settling down and relaxing spiritually.
» There is no rocking chair for the Christian… no plateau we can arrive at and sit on our laurels.
» If Christ is our goal… then we are to be constantly STRIVING to go on to perfection… pressing toward the mark.
» Once we settle for where we are spiritually… we have begun the process of backsliding… regression… and blindness set in.
» It is a most DANGEROUS condition!

6. God was ready to CHASTEN them. (Rev. 2:19)

a. The church of Laodicea was an assembly of BELIEVERS.

b. They were born again… but extremely worldly and self centered.

c. This nauseated the Lord. He was ready to vomit them out.

d. He was ready to CHASTEN them.

e. The Lord LOVED them… they were His sons… but they were not loving the Lord. They were loving themselves.

f. God only chastens those who are truly His sons.

g. Whom the Lord loveth—He chasteneth. (Heb.12:6 – and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.)

h. Chastening is an expression of God’s love for a wayward son.

i. Heb. 12:10-11 – God chastens us—disciplines us SO THAT we would respond to the discipline and partake of His holiness… and bear good fruit.

j. But if there is NO response to His chastening, God may even take the LIFE of a believer.

k. As John wrote, “There is a sin unto death.”

l. The church in Laodicea was getting close to that place.

m. Hence Christ exhorts them to REPENT! Change your mind… and demonstrate that change of mind with a change of lifestyle!

7. WHAT A CHANGE in just 30-35 years!

a. When the first letter to Laodicea was sent (60-62 AD), there was no hint of any problem.

b. From a solid church… to a very worldly, materialistic, pleasure loving, self-centered, fleshly church! In one generation!

c. Also note: Col. 4:14 – Paul’s co-worker, Demas! He too started off well. But later, by the end of Paul’s life we read, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” He too had become a castaway… disqualified for God’s service… and he lost his rewards.

d. God’s can’t and won’t use worldly people in His service.

e. Not long after the fall of Demas, the whole church of Laodicea was in the same danger.

f. Not all who start off well, finish well. Many fall away and become spiritual casualties in the good fight of faith.

g. Some fall away because they were never saved in the first place.

h. Others fall away because—as true believers—they made poor choices… and chose to live for themselves rather than for Christ.

i. AND there are consequences of that kind of lifestyle for a believer:
• Castaway… disqualified for service…
• Loss of rewards…
• Chastening hand of God…
• Taking one’s life…

j. This is the dangerous crossroad at which the church at Laodicea found themselves.

8. A PROMISE: The picture of Christ knocking on their door… (Rev. 2:20)

a. What a sad and poignant picture indeed!
• I “stand” – perfect tense (I have taken my stand)
• “Knock” – present tense… (He is patient)
• This is the TRUE picture of what was going on at the church in Laodicea.
• Inside was an established assembly of believers (a 30 year old church)… believers who were wealthy in the things of earth… whose focus was on themselves… a blind assembly who could not SEE their true condition… they were unaware of the spiritual climate all around them… they thought they had need of nothing. (self sufficiency!)
• Perhaps they had established very successful programs… meeting the needs of all the people… keeping everybody happy… and thus growing in numbers.
• Things SEEMED to be going so well when judged by sight… not unlike some of the wealthy and popular super churches of our generation.
• In fact they were desperately needy people: wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.

b. But most sad of all—the Lord had been left out of all their religious activities.
• Inside their place of worship they sat smugly enjoying earthly things… enjoying their well established programs… their dinners and festivities… content with the large number of people their earthly programs had attracted…
• But their successes were NOT the fruit of abiding in the Risen Christ. Their successes were earthly… the work of the flesh.
• On the outside of their place of worship was the Lord Jesus… knocking… seeking to enter…
• Interestingly, the name Laodicea means “the people rule or the rights of the people” (Laos – people; dikao – rule; judge; rights;)
• Whatever was going on inside—as successful as it appeared to be… it was NOT the fruit of the Spirit… and was thus, wood, hay, and stubble.
• It was impressive in the sight of men—but worthless in the sight of God.

c. And this was a dangerous situation spiritually:
• It was a dangerous situation because Jesus was left OUT of their fellowship… left OUT of the affairs of the church (imagine a body trying to function without its head—absurd!).
• And not only so, but Christ was about to spew them out of His mouth… they were about to become castaways… branches apart from the Vine… chastening of their Father… even unto the loss of life.

d. God’s GRACE: If any man hear my voice… evidently, they were not only blind, but most were deaf too… not listening to Christ.
• Christ promised that He would come in and SUP with any individual who would hear and open the door.
• This is not a message of salvation, but of fellowship and communion.
• Christ the Vine sought these broken branches to return to Him… to abide in Him once again…
• They were acting independently of Him.
• He was willing to receive ANY ONE of them back into the place of fellowship and communion… IF they would open the door.
• Is it possible that they could become SO blinded and SO deaf to God’s voice that they were no longer ABLE to see or hear? SO insensitive that they no longer listened? Impossible to be renewed again unto repentance? That was a real danger.

e. Christ is seen here taking a settled stand at this door. He is continually knocking… knocking without ceasing… with urgency.
• He is patiently waiting for the believer to repent of his selfishness and listen to His voice and let Him in.
• Even after all the terrible way they treated Him, He is willing to receive them back into His fellowship…
• BUT—the choice is theirs. They have to listen and open that door.
• Perhaps there are some here today who fit this picture: SELF has been reigning in your life… you have been a lover of pleasure more than a lover of God… heaping up earthly treasures and have had precious little time for Christ… no real, faithful service for Him… just a token moment for Him now and then… when convenient.
• It is time to REPENT… open the door and let Him in… into the CENTER of your life as LORD.
• The picture described is one of the Lord’s patience… but His patience won’t go on forever.
• If we DON’T respond, we may find ourselves in a very undesirable position: vomited out… a castaway… chastened… even unto death.
• God means business with His children. Don’t trifle with Him…

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