Hot Christian, Cold Christian, or Not a Christian

 

This post is by Jason Yoder, an Online Student.

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:15-16 NASB

What are your thoughts when you read these verses?  Your first thought might be that hot and cold are opposites.  Most people quickly come to the conclusion that hot in this passage is telling us that we need to be on fire for God.  If we claim to be a Christ follower, but we are apathetic (lukewarm) in our faith, God hates that and will spit you out.  In fact, it would be better for you to be cold, or not know Christ,  or a least not claim to know Christ.  Barnes, in his Notes on the Bible, defines cold as having a cold or icy heart.

The word “cold” here would seem to denote the state where there was no pretension to religion; where everything was utterly lifeless and dead. The language is obviously figurative, but it is such as is often employed, when we speak of one as being cold toward another, as having a cold or icy heart, etc. The word “hot” would denote, of course, the opposite – warm and zealous in their love and service. (Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].Transition)  

And in Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible, the author defines cold as against God

“If religion is worth any thing, it is worth every thing; an indifference here is inexcusable: Why halt you between two opinions? If God be God, follow him; if Baal (be God), follow him. Here is no room for neutrality. An open enemy shall have a fairer quarter than a perfidious neuter; and there is more hope of a heathen than of such. Christ expects that men should declare themselves in earnest either for him or against him.”

Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2469). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Poole’s Annotations upon the Holy Bible defines cold as the condition of a downright atheist.

“I would thou wert cold or hot: we must not think Christ wisheth any persons cold absolutely, but comparatively, intimating to us, that the condition of a downright atheist, or profane person, is more hopeful than that of a close, formal hypocrite: the latter is in the road to hell as well as the other, and no more pleaseth God than the other. It is better not to have known the truth, than knowing it, to live contrary to it,”

Poole, M. (1853). Annotations upon the Holy Bible (Vol. 3, p. 959). New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.

As you can see in these three references all of them define the cold in Revelation 3 as being against God.  Are they right?  It seems like the logical assumption one would come to.  In order for us to properly interpret this passage, we must put it through the interpretive journey.  What did the original audience understand this passage to mean?  What are the differences between the original audience and for us today?  What theological principles can we use to tie the two audiences together? Does it fit with the rest of the Bible?  How should we apply it today?

Laodicea     

 picture1 Laodicea was located in the Lycus valley of the province of Phrygia, and it was one of the seven churches of Asia Minor.  Laodicea was along a major east-to-west trade route, allowing it to became a major center for banking.

Surrounded by fertile farm fields, Laodicea raised special black sheep that were known worldwide,  The wool from these sheep was used to make an outer garment.

Laodicea was also known for their medical school in which they developed an ear and eye salve.  

Laodicea was located between the towns of Colossae and Hierapolis. The town of Colossae was located 10 miles west of Laodicea and was known for their Cold refreshing mountain streams.  6 miles to the south of Laodicea was the town of Hierapolis.  Due the seismic activity in the area Hierapolis was known for their healing Hot springs.  

Laodicea was a very wealthy region during the Roman period.  The entire region was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60.  They refused aid from Rome to rebuild and used their own finances to rebuild.

picture2What would the church of Laodicea think of when they heard the words of Jesus?  I think they would have immediately understood he was referring to the hot waters of the town of Hierapolis and the cold water of Colossae. What came to mind to them when they heard that they were lukewarm and He was about to spit them out?  Laodicea did not have a good source of drinking water, so they built an aqueduct to bring water from Hierapolis. (photo credit holylandphotos.wordpress.com)  The only problem is by the time it arrived in Laodicea the water was lukewarm and tepid, unsuitable for drinking. The Church of Laodicea would have instantly understood the image Jesus was trying to convey to them.

Let’s also take a quick look at the Greek words used here to see if they support the idea that the church of Laodicea understood hot and cold were referring to water and not the state of their heart.

Hot-ζεστός (zestos) boiling hot; met: fervent.( strong’s Concordance) only used in Revelation 3: 15-16.  Since this word is not used anywhere else in the New Testament let’s look at the word cold – ψυχρός (psuchros) cool, Cold Fig. Cold hearted (strong’s Concordance)  used also in  Matthew 10:42 …gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink.  The same Greek word psuchros is used here in Matthew.  Using the example of Matthew 10, one could come to the conclusion that the same word for cold used in Revelation would also be referring to cold water and it would also make sense that hot would mean hot water. These definitions also fit well with the word lukewarm, clearly, Jesus was speaking of the temperature of water.

How wide is the gap between the original audience and the audience today?

It is not a very wide gap for us to cross here.  There are only a few minor differences between the two audiences.  We, of course, are not one of the seven churches of Asia Minor.  Most of us have immediate access to good clean water right in our homes.

We do, however, see a lot of similarities between them and us.  We are a very rich nation.  When we have disasters here in America we do not rely on other countries to rebuild.  America is well known for its medical advancements. The American dollar and banking system is considered the world standard.  We have many fertile farm lands here in America.

 

What theological principles can we pull from this passage?

  • God demands that if we claim to be Christians we must give Him our complete life, not just the part that other people see.
  • We need to let God’s power be our source of wealth and not rely on our own power.

How does this fit with the rest of Scripture?

Now, let’s take a look at the New Testament to see if the principles we have pulled out are in line with the New Testament teaching.  

2 Timothy 3:1–5 (NASB95)

“Difficult Times Will Come”  1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.  

Look close at Verse 5 says “form of godliness.”  What does that mean?  Godliness is defined as “the devout practice and appropriate beliefs of God”;(Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.)   Here we see that Paul warned Timothy about fake Christians, the same thing of which Jesus is accusing the church of Laodicea.  They were going through all the motions of church/religion so that when others looked at them they would think, “Wow, what good Christians they are!”  In Matthew 15:8, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees and quoting a passage from Isaiah, “This people Honors Me with their lips. But their heart is far from me.”(NASB).  We see numerous examples in the New Testament of Jesus rebuking the Pharisees.  He called them hypocrites and Whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside but inside full of dead man’s bones. He accused them of cleaning the outside of the cup but the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence.      

How can we apply these principles today?

How should we apply this passage today?  When we see the words hot and cold we should not consider them to be opposites.  The church of Laodicea would have understood hot and cold being equal, both good things.  Let me put this in way that might help us understand the verse today:  

I know your deeds, that your are neither iced coffee or hot coffee; I would that you were iced coffee or hot coffee.  So because you are lukewarm coffee, and neither hot coffee nor iced coffee, I will spit you out of My mouth.

We recognize that either hot or cold coffee are pleasing to drink, if you like coffee.  Have you ever picked up your coffee cup that has been sitting at room temperature all day?  You take a big swig and instantly your face contorts and you quickly spit it back out.  That is what the church of Laodicea would have envisioned. They would have thought of those hot springs of Hierapolis that had an almost healing property or, they would have thought of the cold refreshing water of Colossae that would quench your thirst on a hot day.  Then, they would consider the water that arrived in Laodicea from Hierapolis.  It looked the same as it did in Hierapolis.  It was still the same water, yet when they took a drink it was lukewarm and revolting and they would spit it out.     

Jesus was looking at the church of Laodicea who claimed to love Him and they looked like Christians.  They talked like Christians.  They even claimed to be Christians.  Yet their heart was not there.  How do we know that this is true?  If we look at the very next verse we find the answer.   Verse 17 says Because you say, “I am rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. (NASB)  Their problem was that they were rich.  They did not need God to meet their needs because they could provide for themselves. In Matthew chapter 19, we see a rich man come to Jesus and ask him how he could inherit eternal life.  Jesus gives him a list of things he must do and the rich man said he has already done them.  Jesus then tells him there is one more thing.  Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.  The rich man went away sad because he had great wealth.  Jesus then told his disciples that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  

Why is it hard for rich people to go to heaven?   Because it is hard to depend on God when you have no need for him.  If you don’t have to depend on him for your day to day life it makes it hard to really trust Him.  Francis Chan in his sermon “Lukewarm and Loving it,” does a great job of making this case.  He starts off by throwing two dollars into the crowd and nobody tries to get it.  He said that that is crazy because half of the world lives on less than two dollars a day.  America is a lot like the church of Laodicea.  The average American makes 147 dollars a day.  Most of the world has no idea where their next meal is going to come from, yet our biggest struggle is trying to decide whether or not the leftovers in the refrigerator are still good to eat.   Our churches have adopted more of a country club mentality than that of a life saving church.

How do we become a church that depends on God for strength?  By selling all our possessions and giving the money to the poor?  If our worldly wealth stands between us and God, then yes.  Get rid of it.  If we claim to be follower of Christ, then our heart must be fully committed to God. I leave you with this proverb.  “As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person”. Proverbs 27:19 (NLT)

Bibliography and additional resources  

“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary,  ©1995

photo credit holylandphotos.wordpress.com

photo credit ©1985 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].Transition

Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2469). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Poole, M. (1853). Annotations upon the Holy Bible (Vol. 3, p. 959). New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.

Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Francis Chan sermon, Lukewarm and loving it. (Free resource)   https://youtu.be/pBhqrtMqrv8

Ray Vander Laan, That the World May Know, Hot and Cold (Paid resource unless you subscribe to Right now Media)   https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/hot-or-cold or https://www.rightnow.org/Content/Series/500#5