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Lesson Eight • The Church at Laodicea

Dr. Randy T. Johnson

Hierapolis, Colossae, and Laodicea were neighboring towns. It appears a disciple of Paul named Epaphras served there and might have even founded the church in Laodicea.

• “Just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf.” Colossians 1:7

• “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.” Colossians 4:12-13

1. What is told about Epaphras in these verses?

Laodicea was known as the “City of Compromise” (A.T. Robertson, “Word Pictures in the New Testament”).

2. How can a compromise be positive or negative?

Revelation 3:14 begins the section of the Lord addressing the church at Laodicea, “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.’”

3. How does the Lord describe Himself in this section?

4. What titles stand out to you? Why?

Normally, the Lord addresses each church with a compliment and then some criticism. Revelation 3:15-17 says, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

5. What compliment is given to the church at Laodicea?

6. What criticism is given of the church at Laodicea?

I appreciate cultural studies. It is fun to watch Scripture take greater focus when you learn something. There are two instances in this passage.

First, hot, cold, and lukewarm have a deeper meaning to the original audience. As was mentioned earlier, Hierapolis, Colossae, and Laodicea were neighboring towns. Hierapolis was famous for its hot springs (even 95 degrees) while Colossae had water that was cold and pure. James Hamilton goes even further in saying, “Archaeological evidence indicates that the waters around Laodicea were afflicted with a ‘calcium carbonate content’ that resulted in the waters being impure and emetic – that is, they caused vomiting.” It is not by accident that the Lord says He would “spit you out of my mouth.”

Paige Patterson confirms this observation, “The Lord of the lampstands says to the church at Laodicea that like your own water supply you are lukewarm and disgusting to my taste. I wish that you were either a fresh, life-giving drink of cold water or else a healing, hot mineral bath. But, because you are neither refreshing and life giving nor healing, you are simply disgusting; and I will spew you out of my mouth.”

The water was so bad, that they had to transport water. Alan Johnson writes, “A six-mile-long aqueduct brought Laodicea its supply of water from the south. The water came either from hot springs and was cooled to lukewarm or came from a cooler source and warmed up in the aqueduct on the way. For all its wealth, the city had poor water.” Even their good imported water was unacceptable.

Second, the word “blind” in this section and the phrase from the next section (verse 18) of “salve to anoint your eyes” would also be great object lessons for the church at Laodicea.

Commentator Alan Johnson adds, “Laodicea had a famous school of medicine; and a special ointment known as ‘Phrygian powder,’ famous for its cure of eye defects, was either manufactured or distributed there, as were ear ointments also.”

7. What thoughts come to mind when you think of “lukewarm”?

8. How can one have poor eyesight spiritually?

Revelation 3:18-19 gives the command from the Lord for the church at Laodicea, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”

9. What command is given in this passage and how does it relate to us?

As has been noted, Laodicea was a wealthy area. We all know those wealthy neighborhoods. James Hamilton gives an example of their wealth, “Laodicea was also a wealthy banking center. After a massive earthquake in A.D. 60, Laodicea needed no help from Rome in the rebuilding of the city. In this Laodicea seems to have demonstrated a certain proud self-sufficiency.” He goes on to say, “It seems that the affluence of Laodicea made the church there particularly vulnerable to self-reliance. Given the enormous affluence of our own culture, we need to hear what Jesus says to the church in Laodicea. We need to be shown that the wealth of our culture does not meet our deepest needs.”

10. How can self-reliance be good and bad?

Warren Wiersbe adds, “The Laodicean church was blind to its own needs and unwilling to face the truth. Yet honesty is the beginning of true blessing, as we admit what we are, confess our sins, and receive from God all that we need. If we want God’s best for our lives and churches, we must be honest with God and let God be honest with us.” Our greatest need can only be fulfilled by the Lord.

Revelation 3:20-22 gives a beautiful promise, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

11. How can this passage be applied to unbelievers?

12. How can this passage be applied to believers?

“I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’” Psalm 16:2