“I will spit you out…”
Zephaniah 1:12, Revelation 3:14-18
Unlike most sermons, today’s scripture is not from the lectionary reading assigned for today. While I was struggling and praying for the message I need to preach for this Sunday throughout the week, God has led me to these texts: Zephaniah 1:12 and Revelation 3:14-18. Today’s main message is about a warning against spiritual complacency. Zephaniah 1:12 says “It will come about at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And I will punish the men Who are stagnant in spirit, who say in their hearts, The Lord will not do good or evil!” (NASB). “Who are stagnant in spirit” is translated in NIV as “spiritually complacent”, and God says I will punish those who are “spiritually complacent. Again, in our New Testament lesson, Revelation 3:16 says to those who are spiritually stagnant and complacent, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth”.
Warnings against spiritually getting comfortable or lazy can be also found in Buddhist teaching. As you all know, Buddhism teaches reincarnation, rebirth according to the karma (cause and effect, what you sow what you get) they sow (how they lived) in their previous life. As long as one is in the life cycle, one goes through one life after another endlessly, until one escapes from the reincarnation cycle, –“becoming enlightened” or reached the state of Nirvana, which is in Christian language “salvation”. Those people who have not escaped the reincarnation life cycle, will reborn into six realms from the highest to the lowest, according to how they lived in their previous lives. If they sow good karma, some people will reborn as gods in the heavenly realm, the highest level, demigods in the paradise realm, the next level. The third is the human realm, the fourth is the animal realm, fifth, the ghost, and the lowest is hell. So, in the Buddhist world view, even gods who are living in the heavenly realm, the highest level, they still need to break that reincarnation cycle and escape from it to realize their salvation, entering into Nirvana. They become gods because they were super good and perfect in their previous lives, but since they have not yet become “enlightened”, escaping the reincarnation cycle, they are still in the life cycle being in danger of reincarnating in the lesser realm in the next life cycle. Some people reborn as a human again, and some as an animal. Out of all these six realms, gods, demigods, humans, animals, ghosts and hellish figures living in hell, who would have the best chance to break the reincarnation cycle and become “enlightened”, do you think? Well, I tell you it is not gods or demigods who are super good and perfect, living in heaven. Do you know why? Because they live in heaven and paradise, they enjoy everything heaven can afford. Diamond and ruby and sapphires and all sorts of treasures are like pebbles on the earth. They eat and drink heavenly food and enjoying all the luxuries heaven provides. They do not lack anything, so they become complacent. They are so comfortable where they are enjoying heavenly things, they forget the reality that they need to break the life cycle in order for them to enter into Nirvana state being saved.
To the seven churches that are mentioned in Revelation chapter 1-3, Christ sent letters through Apostle John to encourage, to correct and to warn them to present themselves as worthwhile Christians before God. The last church listed among them was the church in Laodicea and it was the church most severely warned against not having the “refined” faith in the “fire” of the Holy Spirit. Christ rebuked them against their spiritual complacency, being neither cold nor hot. He said, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth”. Christ was saying to them, ‘You are no good for anything’, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Let us look at from the text the problems Laodicea church had. We can see from vs.17 that Laodicean Christians were wealthy people. ‘You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ Laodicea was a wealthy city during the Roman period. Not only was Laodicea located on major trade routes that connected it to important cities like Ephesus, Smyrna, and Sardis, but also it was a center of textile production and banking. They were very wealthy people. Laodicean Christians did not need a thing materialistically. They did not lack anything. I have to mention that wealth itself is not a problem. We know from the Bible, God had blessed his faithful with wealth. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, Solomon, and others were extremely wealthy. But wealth becomes problematic if it makes us self-reliant because we are used to having everything we need. It becomes problematic when and if our wealth makes us comfortable and lazy spiritually.
I heard a testimony from an Iranian ex-Muslim Christian who came to know Christ via TV evangelism. From the moment of his conversion to Christianity, he faced hardships and trials moving place to place avoiding persecution. He had to move to Turkey and in there he worshipped with the other ex-Muslim Christians in a small gathering. Like him, everyone else in that small gathering was struggling for their faith. He did not have the Bible in its entirety, only the New Testament. One woman in that gathering was coming to worship with her little girl on her back walking four hours to worship with them since there was no place or any Christians to worship together nearby where she lived. She was living in a life-threatening condition because of her faith, yet she determined to keep her faith in Christ even if it costs her life. Her face, returning home after worship, shone from the joy of worshipping the Christ King with the other brothers and sisters in Christ. Later, this Iranian ex-Muslim Christian found a way to come to the States as a refuge. On his way to the States in the plane, God warned him to keep his faith strong. Nowhere in the Arabic countries, he was on the run from country to country for his faith, he got the warning from God to keep his faith, but on his way to the State, he was warned to keep his faith unchanged. He did not know what that meant until he settled down in the State. He found the Bible everywhere in the State, he found churches everywhere he goes, he found Christians everywhere around him. He was so surprised, however, to see American Christians do not come to church when it snows, rains or too cold or too hot. He thought every Christian on earth they prioritize Christ as the first in their life, but in the States, he does not see many Christians who prioritize God in their life. What was worse, he realized that he himself becomes comfortable and lazy regarding worship, spiritual disciplines, and evangelism. When he was in Turkey, hours before the worship starts, he would be there early on Sunday, but nowadays, he sometimes comes to church late. When he was in Turkey, he prayed hours and hours and every moment he got he prayed, but now, he prays customarily, forcing himself to pray. As a result, he no longer feels God’s presence intensely as before. His spiritual antenna became so dull, he feels at times that he has come afar from God.
Christ speaks to the church in Laodicea, ‘You think you are wealthy not needing a thing, but in reality, you are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”’. Christ says to them that they do not have 1) “gold refined in the fire”, and “white clothes” to cover their nakedness, and the “salve” to put on their eyes to see. Gold here stands for “faith”. They did not have true faith in Christ. They did not know that without Christ they were nothing. They were to die without Christ’s blood covering for them, they did not know it. They were reliant on their wealth, thinking that they don’t need a thing. 2)They did not have “white clothes”, which is the righteous deeds of the saints (Revelation 19:8). Righteous deeds, –loving their neighbors as themselves, –the actions out of love, including reaching out the unsaved. Without white clothes, we are naked. this nakedness cannot be covered with Armani suits or Channel clothes. The clothes that should cover our nakedness with is the clothes of Christ, serving others. 3)They did not have salve. Salve is a healing balm to our blindness. Our spiritual blindness cannot be cured without the Holy Spirit’s anointing. In other words, they did not have Holy Spirit who can help them, seeing their pitiful state, –poor, naked and blind. Holy Spirit heals our sin-sick soul, body, and mind. Holy Spirit helps us to do righteous deeds and be loving. Without receiving the Holy Spirit, we cannot help, but being lukewarm, neither cold nor hot Christians whom Christ will spit out from his mouth. Let us hear what Christ is saying to us!