Will God Spew Out Lukewarm Christians?

LUKEWARM CHRISTIANS_bannerThe phrase, “spew you out” in the question at hand came from the Book of Revelation. This is the full text: “To the angel in the church in Laodicea write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God’s creation: I know your deeds, that you’re neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you’re lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth!” (Revelation 3:14-16 NET) The Amplified and King James translations render the phrase “vomit you out of my mouth” as “spew you out of My mouth,” and “speu thee out of my mouth” respectively. Same thing. The word “spew” means “to flow out in a fast and forceful way.” (Merriam-Webster) “Vomit” is the literal meaning. The Greek word is “emew.” Because of the grossness of the word some translations use the phrase, “spit out.” But “vomit” and “spew” are appropriate translations. Whatever our capacity to accommodate grossness is, the situation in Laodicea was obviously a grave one.

But just a note here that this article is only examining a contextual phrase used in a performance review of one of the “Seven Churches.” The seven churches are the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. These were not the totality of the churches in the first century. These are the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, not the entire continent of Asia. They are probably typifications because of the expression, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Each of the churches was a typology: Ephesus – the church that forsook its first love. (Revelation 2.4) Smyrna – the church that would suffer persecution. (Revelation 2:10) Pergamum – the church that needed to repent for allowing false teachers. (Revelation 2:16) Thyatira – the church that allowed a false prophetess (Jezebel). (Revelation 2:20) Sardis – the church suffering from somnambulism – the sleeping church. (Revelation 3:2) Philadelphia – the church with patient endurance. (Revelation 3:10) Laodicea – the lukewarm and insipid church. (Revelation 3:16)

Historicists like Scofield also posit that the seven churches represent seven different periods in the history of the Western Church from the time of Paul to the return of Jesus Christ. That the letters have a prophetic purpose on the spiritual history of the Church. This is a dispensational interpretation, Cyrus Scofield being a dispensationalist. Some like Clarence Larkin and Merril Unger say the seven churches preview the history of the global Church instead. All these might well be. The Book of Revelation is full of symbolisms, metaphors and allegories. It cannot accommodate a simplistic approach to its interpretation. Nonetheless the phrase “spew out” is often cited as evidence that one can lose one’s salvation since God can spew us out in rejection.

But the idea we can be rejected by God itself renders scriptures contradictory and makes God a double speaker. Jesus said, “All whom my Father gives to me will come to me; and the one who comes to me I will most certainly not cast out – I will never, no never reject one of them who comes to me.” (John 6:37) And in Hebrews 13:5 we find confirmation of the words of Jesus and so we have two witnesses that the word of God may be established: “I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down – relax my hold on you! Assuredly not!” (Hebrews 13:5 AMP). Scriptures cannot contradict scriptures. If God says, “I will not give you up…not relax my hold on you” then “spew out” in Revelation CANNOT refer to God giving us up or rejecting us. So what does the phrase mean? And why did God use the expression, “I wish you were either hot or cold”? To answer these questions we need to look at history. It’s these kinds of studies that make the Bible interesting.

Laodicea was an ancient city built on the river Lycus. The building of the city is ascribed to Antiochus II Theos, in 261-253 BC, in honour of his wife Laodice, hence Laodicea. It was approximately 17km west of Colossae and 10km south of Hierapolis. It was these cities Paul wrote about in the closing statements of his letter to the Colossians: “Epaphras, who is one of you and a slave of Christ, greets you…For I can testify that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and Hierapolis.” (Colossians 4:12-13). Paul asked the Christians in Colossae to send greetings to Laodicean Christians (Colossians 4:15); that his letter be read publicly at Laodicea and that his letter to the Laodiceans (not included in the Bible) be also read at the church in Colossae. (Colossians 4:16) And so we see the linkage of these three cities – Hierapolis, Colossae and Laodicea in the letter of Paul. We will soon see the symbolic linkage of the three in the Book of Revelation.

Laodicea would go on to become one of the most flourishing commercial cities of Asia Minor. So rich was the city that when it suffered from earthquake in 60AD and was completely destroyed, the inhabitants declined imperial assistance to rebuild the city. They restored it from their fortune. This was in contrast to Hierapolis which suffered the same fate but required imperial financial support. The city minted its own coins. It is this wealthiness and self-sufficiency of the city the Book of Revelation was referring to when it stated, “Because you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you’re wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked, take my advice and buy gold from me refined by fire so you can become rich!” (Revelation 3:17-18 NET) The city had a great and famous medical school, which exported a powder called “Phrygian powder.” It was widely used as eye salve. That is why the Book of Revelation admonishes the church to “buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see!” (Revelation 3:18)

Hierapolis, which literally means “Holy City,” was located on hot springs. It is today in modern Turkey. The hot springs have been used as a thermal spa since the 2nd century BC. It was a healing centre. Doctors used the thermal springs to treat their patients.

Colossae on the other hand had a cold but pure water supply. The city was known for its fusion of religious syncretism – the harmonisation of Jewish, Gnostic and pagan faiths. (The Da Vinci Code was based on the heresy of Gnostic teaching). In contrast to Hierapolis which had hot springs, and Colossae which had cold water, Laodicea had no permanent supply of good water. Efforts to pipe water to the city however proved successful, but it arrived lukewarm. And so the three cities – Hierapolis, Colossae and Laodicea are used metaphorically – “I know your deeds, that you’re neither cold (Colossae) nor hot (Hierapolis). I wish you were either Colossae (cold) or Hierapolis (hot!) So because you’re lukewarm (Laodicea)…I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16) Since God cannot be commending lack of spiritual fervency – being cold in the faith, this passage cannot be talking about fervency. Jesus rebuked the Laodicean church for not providing spiritual healing like the hot springs in Hierapolis, or spiritual refreshment like the pure cold water of Colossae. The church faired badly in Word and Spirit. This was a church so caught up in its prosperity it couldn’t see it was failing in essence. It’s a message for us all.

But what did God mean by “spew you out”? Scriptures must interpret scriptures and the answer is right there in Revelation 3. The reason we don’t see it is because we isolate verses of scripture, taking them out of context, sometimes to suit our preconceived notions and determinations. “All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent!” (Revelation 3:19) That verse is a direct continuation of the spewing out and eye salve admonitions. It’s part of it. To be “spewed out” in the context of the passage therefore means to be rebuked and to be disciplined, exposed. The Lord chastises those he loves: “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” (Hebrews 12:6) “For the father disciplines those he loves, just as a father disciplines the son he delights in.” (Pro. 3:12)

The threat to discipline the Laodicean church had nothing to do with sending the members of that church to hell fire. If at all the discipline is proof of God’s love and proof of their sonship in Christ. “Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7)

The Message translation of Revelation 3:15-17 is very interesting, and brings even a different perspective to the vomit issue: “I know you inside out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot – far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.” A stale and stagnant church is nauseating to God. And so is the church caught up in its prosperity. God’s idea of his church is spiritual dynamism.

Those who believe their moral striving will guarantee them salvation, or that their good works will ensure their salvation would do well to mind these words by Apostle Paul: “Let me put this question before you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it?” (Galatians 3:2-4 MSG)

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, AND ALL HIS WORK. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. IT’S GOD’S GIFT FROM START TO FINISH! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and the saving.” (Ephesians 2:7-9 MSG)


If you’ll like to give your life to Christ please pray this prayer: “Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus. I know that I am a sinner. I believe Jesus died for me and that you raised him from the dead. I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Christ is Lord and I receive him as my Lord and my Saviour. I am now born again. Amen.”

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