Compare these two churches –
Revelation 3:14-17, “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. (15) “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! (16) So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (17) For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Revelation 2:8-10, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. (9) “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (10) Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Things are rarely as they seem to be. By all outward appearances, the Laodicean church had God’s blessing upon it. Just look at all of its finery. They probably were well thought of in their community. They didn’t upset anyone. They stuck to a definite middle-of-the-road Christianity. And Smyrna? Well, those people had a problem. They weren’t growing in size or finances. They were hated not only by their community, but especially by the other “faith communities” in their town. They were radical and stirred up trouble. They brought all of their troubles upon themselves. Outward appearances, you see.
Christ sees it differently. The prospering Laodiceans sickened Him. Their fence-sitting and lukewarmness was nauseating to Him. For all of their finery, He told them they were naked. He commanded them to repent or He would depart from them forever. The Smyrnans? Not one word of rebuke for them from their Lord. Their poverty and suffering for Jesus was a crown. It was about to get even worse for them. The devil hated them and he was going to launch another wave of persecution. The King’s call is to endure and persevere through it and don’t be afraid.
What does this say about how we should evaluate our own churches today? What does it say about prospering, wealthy, popular churches? And what does this tell us about what truly following Christ will look like in this world that hates Him? When people today look for a church to attend, what are typical criteria they use? Let’s be clear. Mere size of the congregation is not the fundamental issue. Laodicea and Smyrna are mindsets – they are theologies. One is conformed to the world. The other is transformed by the Spirit of Truth. Many churches are small, yet they still will not come to the aid of the oppressed. They still permit abusers and wolves to hide in their ranks.
If you have been or are a victim of abuse, think about these things carefully. Which of these two churches is most likely going to come to your aid and stand with you against the deceiving, abusive person hiding behind a facade of Christianity? Laodicea? Ha! Forget that! Things are going just great for them, and they sure aren’t going to take the risk of making someone with power and influence mad at them. No, you will receive a tepid, lukewarm, non-committal response with a small-letter footnote highly recommending that maybe you ought to just take your problem and be quiet about it, or leave. Laodicean churches don’t take stands for righteousness. They are lukewarm. If in fact the majority of evangelical Christianity today is Laodicean, then it is no surprise that victims are being dealt injustice.
An oppressed person has a much greater chance of being dealt justice in Smyrna.
Why? Because the Christians there are the real article. They have suffered and they are suffering for Christ. They know what evil is and how it operates. Suffering. Paying the price for confessing the name of Jesus. There is a sign of the real church.
It is ironic. The Laodicean style churches of our day talk all the time about things like mercy, grace, love, kindness and so on. This is their remedy for every situation. Just love folks right to Jesus. If you begin to ask them about telling people to repent, or talking about sin, or even hint at church discipline – they run right back over to their universal antidote – “Here at First Church, we like to think that a more positive approach to people is what Jesus wants.” Laodicea sees Smyrna-brand Christianity as waaaaay harsh and narrow and judgmental.
But here is the irony. Oppressed, wronged, abused victims will not receive love, mercy, kindness, nor grace at the hands of the Laodiceans. Lukewarm Christianity turns out to be cruel and harsh, and yes, abusive. It is among the Smyrnans – these unbending, uncompromising people when it comes to the truth of Christ -where the love of Christ is actually found. Laodicean Christianity is actually very abusive and power hungry. Just ask any abuse victim who has gone to Laodicea for help.