15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.
This month's subject is a summary of a chapter from my book "Your Church Won't Teach You This: Get the Inside Scoop on Interpreting the Bible."
Have you ever heard a preacher say that you need to be “red hot for Jesus”? Then he/she goes on to say that "if you are not on fire for Jesus, pursuing Him with vigor, then you are a lukewarm Christian and He will spew you out of His
mouth." Does this sound familiar?
Maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time but I've heard this said at least a few times in my walk with the Lord from a few overzealous preachers. I don't believe that it was said with intentional harm, but it did have a negative impact on my life. I wanted to be on fire for Jesus. I didn't want to be a lukewarm Christian that wasn't pleasing to God.
How sad it is when preachers ride the coattails of other preachers with this part of scriptures and tell their members that they need to stop being lukewarm Christians; that they need to be on fire for Jesus. If only they interpreted the passage in context then they would have found a more comforting and encouraging message.
When I speak of context I'm not referring simply to the topical context. Instead I'm referring to historical context, cultural context, as well as topical context. When you take all of these into consideration you will find that the text above has more meaning than what the average preacher gives it today.
Looking at that single verse alone doesn't really read the way some people preach it today. It says, “…that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.” It says cold or hot. Also, why would Jesus say that He wished they were cold or hot?
If a preacher is going to insist on preaching to be “red hot for Jesus,” then logic dictates that he should also be willing say that you should be “ice cold for Jesus” too. After all, Jesus wished they were one or the other.
Can you image being told that you should be “red hot or ice cold for Jesus”? This doesn't make sense to preach this, it doesn't sound right, so preachers leave out the cold part for the sake of preaching something that sounds right.
Friends, perhaps it's time to consider looking up scriptures those preachers are harping on in order to motivate you, encourage you, or push you into being a Christian who is on fire for Christ. I'm not fond of teachers and preacher who ride the coattails of other people whose sermons quote scriptures out of context. I'm fine with riding coattails if the message is relevant, true, and warrants repeating because of its power to change lives for the better. After all, we teachers take Paul's revelation and ride that coattail for all its worth.
So let's look at this part of scripture from a historical and cultural context. The passage comes from a word delivered to the church of Laodicea. Take just a moment to read that entire passage and you will find a lot of odd references in there; like hot and cold, vomit, rich and wealthy, white garments, and eye salve.
You've heard it said before that the book of Revelation is highly symbolic, so if that were true then doesn't it make sense to assume that hot and cold are symbolic along with these other things mentioned?
To understand the meaning behind the text one needs historical context. Colossae and Hierapolis were the cities that surrounded Laodicea. Hierapolis was to the north of Laodicea, while Colossae was to the south.
Hierapolis was known for its hot springs and it drew people from all over Asia Minor. These people believed that these hot springs had healing properties. People would bathe in it, expecting to soothe and heal the body.
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Revelation 3:15, NKJV
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For preachers today using this scripture out of context to tell us to be red hot for Jesus is simply missing the point.
Check out Joshua Ray’s book "Your Church Won't Teach You This: Get the Inside Scoop on Interpreting the Bible" on amazon.com. For further reading about renewing the mind Joshua Ray will be publishing a book series on amazon.com called “Renewing the mind.” Watch for his book release next month.
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Colossae was known for its cold refreshing water that came down from the mountains. It was delicious and it too offered people hope of healing when they drank it. The water was clean and it was refreshing and it too drew the attention of people from that area.
Laodicea tapped into these two water supplies via aqueducts and they would converge and create lukewarm water. After time these ducts would become lined with bacteria in the warm water. People who drank this water would become sick and vomit.
When Jesus refers to being hot or cold He is alluding to the fact that there is value in being either one. Hot because it has healing properties or cold because it was refreshing. The lukewarm water was dangerous to that area and it caused people to vomit.
Jesus spoke to this church using a language that is familar to them using symbolic references to hot and cold because He knew they would understand His inference. When Jesus refers to being lukewarm he knew they would understand cultural context. Refering to the church as lukewarm primarily tells them that they are offering little help for people, that they are neither cold and refreshing or hot and soothing to people. Instead they choose to be indifferent.
Laodicea was a city of retired wealthy people who lost interest in the rest of the world. The inhabitants all but lost interest in others as they settled in that city to enjoy the remainder of their retired lives, not having a care in the world. They have removed themselves from being of service to the Lord, thus they are neither hot nor cold; they are not in a position to offer healing hope to others or become a source of refreshing life.
If you look at all the other odd things that Jesus mentions in that part of scripture and you do a historical and cultural study on the city itself you will find a number of interesting facts that Jesus makes mention of. This city was known for making healing eye salve and white garments, it was known for the rich people, and it was known that when people drank the water there they got sick and vomited.
Getting back to the preacher of hot or cold you could clearly see that when given the proper context of that scripture it doesn't make sense to tell others that they need to be red hot for Jesus. The lukewarm part is close, but it doesn't necessary mean that if you are a lukewarm Christian that Jesus will vomit you out.
The proper interpretation for us today means to be in a position to offer others the healing words of Christ equal to the healing affects of the hot springs. At the other end of the spectrum it means that we need to be in a position to share His love while being a source of refreshment for others. As Christians we should be viewed as refreshing or soothing to others.
Ultimately it means to be available for Christ's purpose rather than to remove yourself from the world. To distance yourself from Christ in this way makes you like the lukewarm water of Laodicea; of no benefit to others.
This is why God wants you to be either hot or cold. At least if you were one or the other then you would be of service to Christ to make an impact on mankind.
This message was specific to that church in that region of the world. The citizens of that city have become of no service to the Lord since they have become rich or retired. The message that the Lord wanted to give them was a loving reminder of their value to the world as His children. It was a reminder to them that they have value and Christ wanted to remind them of this.
For preachers today using this scripture out of context to tell us to be red hot for Jesus is simply missing the point. Instead the message should be for us to put ourselved in the arms of Christ so that we can be of service to Him; to be hot or cold.