I know that I come off a little hard on the New Testament sometimes, so let’s take a break and try to consider a valuable teaching from it. Let’s take a trip into the book of Revelation, and swing by the church of Laodicea. The book of Revelation neatly divides into two parts. It’s more known for the second, apocalyptic part. However, this passage comes from the early part. The church letters. Here, John lectures the church of Laodicea about their status of being “lukewarm” Christians. He says that Jesus would rather they were hot or cold. But does that really mean what people think it means?
“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”Revelation 3:15-16
I try to be open to multiple views on a topic, but the conclusion typically drawn on this one is frankly counterintuitive. If you’re not on fire for God, you should just turn it all off and go ice cold? Maybe, but probably not. To understand this passage, we need to look at the local topography. Laodicea was located in a tri-city area. It’s neighbors, Hieropolis and Colossae both had springs as a source of water. Laodicea did not, and thus they had to import their water via aqueducts.
Hieropolis was an ancient resort town. This was due to the hot springs located there, where one could bathe and relax. Colossae, on the other hand, had cold springs that were great for drinking water. Laodicea could theoretically pipe in their water from either location. However, when it arrived it would no longer be nice and hot for bathing, nor ice cold for drinking. It would indeed be lukewarm. This gives us a better idea as to what the meaning would have been to the church who received the letter.
The author isn’t saying that God would rather they were cold to him. Instead, he is saying that the cold water was useful to God for a purpose. Moreover, he wasn’t saying that they had to be on fire for God either, although I’m sure he would prefer that. Rather, he was saying that the hot water served a valuable purpose. The lukewarm water also serves a purpose, but it’s not as refreshing or valuable as the hot or cold water.
This is likely the intended meaning. A person going through the motions is simply performing a task. However, Hashem has given us unique gifts and talents. If we are using those for him, we will be a blessing to others. We might be hot, a cleansing and refreshing experience for those around us. Alternatively, we could be cold and quench the thirst for knowledge of God for those around us. However, if we are simply going through the motions, we are lukewarm. People can still get something from us, but will they enjoy the experience and come back for more? Probably not.
Are you hot, cold, or lukewarm?
Often this verse is taught to mean that if you’re not on fire for God, you might as well just check out and lose your religion. I don’t believe this is the intended meaning. Rather we should try to find our gift, whatever it may be, and try to use it for Hashem to the best of our ability whenever we can. It is a false dichotomy to think you have to spend every waking hour studying or working in the things of God or check out and follow a worldly path. Just be open to God where you find him, and ready to be of service to others when the opportunity presents itself. Then you will be practicing what I believe is the true meaning of this passage.