This week I came across a beautiful word – “passionaries”. It’s a made-up word combining the words “passion” and “missionary”. If you think that “passion” indicates a warmth of feeling and that it is the name for Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, then this is a great word to describe people who are devoted to Jesus, have spiritual fervour, are willing to die to self, and they give themselves to reach a hurting world.
The opposite of a passionary is someone who is, in Jesus’ words, “lukewarm”.
In the seven letters to the churches in the beginning of the book of Revelation, many believe we have God’s warnings to the church down through the ages:
1. To the church in Ephesus – the danger of losing our first love.
2. To the church in Smyrna – the danger of fear of suffering.
3. To the church in Pergamum – the constant danger of compromising what we believe.
4. To the church in Thyatira – the danger of moral compromise.
5. To the church in Sardis – the danger of spiritual deadness.
6. To the church in Philadelphia – the danger of wanting to give up.
7. To the church in Laodicea – the danger of lukewarmness.
Today I would like to focus on the letter to the church in Laodicea. Please read with me from
Laodicea was not that far from Colossae and there seems to have been quite a bit of contact between the churches.
See Col 2:1 and 4:15-17
SOME BACKGROUND ON LAODICEA:
Laodicea was a thriving medical and trade centre. It was famous for the salve that it produced for ears and for eyes. In the temple of Asklepios in Laodicea was a famous medical school. Barclay says that “the eye powder of Laodicea was world-famous. It was exported in tablet form; and the tablets were ground down and applied to the eye. This powder was held to be a sovereign remedy for weak and ailing eyes.”
Laodicea also had a busy trade in black woollen cloth.
Such was the financial self-sufficiency of Laodicea that when they suffered a severe earthquake in AD60 and the town declined aid from the Roman government.
The river Lycus that ran past the town was apparently dirty and undrinkable. They used an aqueduct to transport mineral rich water from hot springs 5 miles away for their drinking. After its 5 mile journey, the water arrived at the town lukewarm and not very pleasant to drink as is.
The town was also well known for the worship of the god Zeus, described as the "Father of Gods and men" (Πατὴρ Θεῶν τὲ καὶ Ἀνθρώπων)  who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He is the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. Perhaps this sense that their god was over all the other gods is in part what gave them this air of superiority and needing nothing.
REV 3:14 ff
“The Amen” = As a title of Christ it indicates His sovereignty and the certainty on the fulfilment of all His promises….When Christ speaks, it is the final word, and His will is always affected.” [Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ.]
“The faithful and true witness” – this was in contrast to the fact that the Laodiceans were not being a faithful and true witness to God and to Jesus Christ.
The Laodiceans would have had the letter to the Colossians for at least 30 years when they received this letter from John. They would have read many, many times:
Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
This is one of the three states that a person can be in towards God.
1. A person can be cold towards God. The gospel leaves them totally unmoved and arouses no interest or spiritual fervour.
2. A person can be hot towards God. We’ve all probably heard the expression, “They are really on fire for the Lord.” Paul describes it as, “11 Never lacking in zeal, but keeping your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.” [Romans 12:11 (NIV)]
3. A person can be lukewarm. “This state refers to those who have manifested some interest in the things of God. They may be professing Christians who attend church but have fallen far short of a true testimony for Christ and whose attitude and actions raise questions concerning the reality of their spiritual life. They have been touched by the gospel but it is not clear whether they really belong to Christ.” So says JOHN WALVOORD.
This 3rd state is utterly obnoxious to God. It’s offensive to Him.
WALVOORD again says, “In the history of the human race no one has been harder to reach for Christ than the religionist, the one who is quite satisfied with the measure of his devotion to God…”.
“I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing…”
“You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind (opaque/smoky), and naked.” This is the very opposite of what they thought they were.
“I counsel you to buy from me..” (18) All the money in the world would not buy us what Jesus is offering here. It comes by grace alone, to a humble and repentant heart.
“Gold refined by fire so that you may be rich,”(18)
Maybe this has to do with our faith standing the test of various trials.
1 Peter 1:6-9 (ESV)
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,
7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Maybe it has to do with what Jesus considers to be true riches. He counsels us to not be controlled in this lifetime by Mammon, that spiritual power that material wealth and things have, to demand our allegiance to a consumer lifestyle, but rather to use our treasures on earth to store up treasures for ourselves in heaven. We cannot take anything with us when we die but we can send it ahead of us during this lifetime!
Matthew 6:19-24 (ESV)
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,
20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Perhaps it also has to do with what we do for the Lord in our lifetime.
1 Corinthians 3:11-13 (ESV)
11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—
13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
“White garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen..” (18) This represents us being clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. This righteousness is imparted to us but it also shapes us to conform with that righteousness.
“Salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” In this last week or so, four of us from Thameside Church, including me, have had to go to hospital for objects to be removed from our eyes - seems remarkable to me. Is God saying something to us about seeing clearly: seeing ourselves as He sees us, and about getting our vision clear?
“Those whom I love I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
“Reprove” can be translated, “expose, convict or punish.”
“Behold I stand at the door and knock.” – We can think that the picture here is of poor old Jesus wandering around out there, going door to door like a toilet brush salesman, knocking, hoping that we will have the graciousness to buy what He’s selling, and maybe even let Him into our house for a cup of tea!
No, this is the knocking of the master of the house on the door of his own house. It would be a good thing if the servants have the wisdom to open up sharpish, let Him in and be ready to serve Him. In Song of Songs there is a passage where the king knocks at the door and His perfume makes the latch fragrant but the peasant princess is already in bed and too lazy and comfortable to get up and let Him in. So He leaves, to her utter desolation when she does get up. She then goes wandering the streets to try and find Him again.
In Luke 12:35-37 (ESV), Jesus says to His disciples,
35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning,
36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.
37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.”
Someone called this “blessed condescension”, that the Lord of all creation and glory should knock at the door of His church and wait for us, His creatures, to open the door of His own house to Him.
G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “There is no other cure for the lukewarmness of the church than the re-admitted Christ.”
[Remember our quadrant – Relationship/Covenant is the vertical axis; Challenge/Kingdom is the horizontal axis. PASSIONARIES WOULD BE IN THE TOP RIGHT QUADRANT, LUKEWARM CHURCH GOERS WOULD BE IN THE TOP LEFT QUADRANT]
What does a church of passionaries look like compared to a lukewarm Laodicean type church?
In a passionary church, people are very intentional in their relationship with God. Like Jesus said, they are zealous and they repent. They also listen for His voice through the Scriptures and through prayer and throughout the day.
In a passionary church, people expect hardships and trials in their Christianity and simply endure through strong faith.
People use their worldy wealth to store up treasures in heaven rather than consume it on themselves. (I heard on the radio on Friday morning that senior executives in London companies were receiving 46% pay increases this year on already large salaries while their employees have 2-3% increases or none at all!)
A passionary does stuff that serves the Kingdom. They don’t just talk about it, they do it.
Passionaries “buy” white garments from Jesus. They are pure. They don’t give themselves to obey the passions of their flesh. They give themselves to God.
Passionaries go to Jesus to “buy” salve for their eyes so that they can see their own lives like He sees them, and so that they can have His vision for the world.
In a passionary church, Sundays are a gathering of friends on mission together. Not a small group of service-providers desperately trying to put on a good show and provide a good service in the hope that they will convince more lukewarm churchgoers to come and park their bums on the chairs and give their money to keep the show going.
Sundays should be passionate, visionary, and excellent. Not because we are trying to impress and keep people. Excellent, because we want to do all things well as Jesus did; passionate and visionary because we are on a mission together that is worth our all and demands our all.
We are a band of brothers and sisters, not individual customers of a canteen with no concern for each other and only intent on consuming a service.
In a passionary church, the church prayer meeting is not just another meeting that we kinda feel, “Oh, I should go I suppose”, but it’s a time when passionaries come together to serve others in love by interceding for them, where passionaries come together to birth things, passionaries come together to be in agreement in prayer in order to change the world.
I have a dream of a church passionate about communion with God, community with each other and mission in their everyday going into their world, that they turn the world of their communities and towns upside down.