What It Means to be Lukewarm χλιαρός
A radio sermon by Michael L. Ford, Th.D.
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day. People have so many choices these days about how they will spend their time. I admit a great many of those choices are poorly made, but they are the choices people make. I think taking time to hear the word of God preached is a good choice about how to spend some time. And, I say that, not because I am the preacher doing the preaching during this hour, but because there is a need for people to want to hear the Word of God in this Apostate hour. My sermon text is:
14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Over the course of my preaching ministry I have expounded on the letters to the Seven Churches many times and in the course of doing so I have often concentrated for a bit on the letter to the seventh church, the lukewarm church. But I think this is the first time I have ever dedicated a complete sermon to the subject of what it means to be a lukewarm Christian. I think that I have been remiss in not hammering down on this subject more, because there has been a need for warning believers all the days of my life. And, even though I have done so to the point it has made me unpopular in some circles, I do not for one minute consider that I have done so enough or preached this with the diligence that truly loving our Lord might demand. So it is that I come to you with heavy heart proclaiming my own failure even as I try to make others aware of theirs.
Some people will ask, why should such a topic about the failing of the church be preached over the airwaves? My reply to those who ask such questions is why not? The world is very much aware of the shortcomings of the church. Trying to pretend things are otherwise or such failure does not exist will not fool anyone. The world is more aware of hypocrite Christians than are the people in churches themselves. So many churches are so filled with people that are lukewarm concerning the things of God that when someone comes along with a little unction in their souls, they either have to discourage them and make them like themselves, or run them off. I think a lot of people got misguided and got into the so called charismatic churches because they were looking for some holy zeal somewhere and finally settled for the emotion when they could not get the substance.
To start out this sermon I want to make something perfectly clear. This is not a sermon based on a proof text that seems to fit the general condition of the day. This is a sermon based on what the Lord Jesus Christ presented as the overall condition of the church at the time of His return. The letters given to the seven churches were to literal churches existing at the time, but they were also an outline of the church ages. It is now possible for the Christian expositor with the most remedial knowledge of church history to come from the time of Christ to the present dividing the age of the church into seven consecutive categories that coincide both with the character of the seven churches and also with the sequence in which they are presented. And I have news for you, just in case you have a tendency to think of a church as an edifice that has a street address. It is not that at all. A church is the people who gather inside of such edifices with street addresses for the ostensible purpose of worshipping God. So when we say the Laodicean church is one that is lukewarm it is not the buildings of concrete and stone we are speaking of but the people inside. What I am preaching from is a message sent straight from God to His people in these Last Days.
I am sure that there are some within the sound of my voice who will declare that they are not one of those lukewarm Christians. But are you really sure of that? Or, do you protest o’er much? I am going to take a few minutes to explain to you what lukewarm means from a Biblical perspective, not by what you mean necessarily when you drink your coffee and then you must ask yourself first of all whether you are really a Christian and if you are a Christian are you a lukewarm believer, the kind of person who makes God sick?
For the sake of those who might be listening and for my Bible School students who might tune in let me tell you first of all the word lukewarm is a translation of the Greek word “khlē-ä-ro's.” Now it can mean what you might traditionally consider as lukewarm. That is like coffee that is neither cold enough for those who like ice or cold coffee, and not warm enough for those who like their coffee hot. We have a lot of people like that in churches, believe it or not. Have you ever considered that a person can be at the church every time the doors to the church are opened and still be a lukewarm believer? Well its true. People come to church:
1. Because they like their church
2. Because their friends and family are members there.
3. Because that is the church their family has always attended.
4. Because they like the preacher or like the singing.
5, Because they like the fellowship (especially the sociables.)
6. Because they are in a religious rut and this church does not demand anything of them.
Listen to me. None of those reasons are reasons for going to a particular church!
I gave you six reasons people go to a particular church and six is the number of a man. Going to church for these reasons are all about you and not about God.
Those reasons I gave you for going to a particular church are reasons a lukewarm Christian might have for attending and never missing a service.
The purpose of a church building is first of all to provide for believers a place to meet and worship God tigether. The work of the preacher is to make you a better believer for the Lord’s service. The work of the music ministry is not to entertain you but to move your mind and heart to think on holy things. That is why I like the old songs of Zion; there is never any question Who is being sung about!
The purpose of the church as an institution or organization is to provide you the believer a place to become more knowledgeable in the things of God and better equipped to share your faith. Believe it or not, the regular church meetings are not about saving souls, it is about prayer and worship and equipping the saints to be soul winners. It is not the pastor’s job to win all the people who are baptized in a church. If your church is not experiencing any conversions go and look in the mirror. How many people have you reached for Christ? And, how many people do you know who just might consider you a hypocrite, a lukewarm Christian who has no real zeal for Christ?
So, I have told you the lukewarm Christian might be just what you thought they were all the time, neither hot or cold but always just tepid or lukewarm. But perhaps you never realized just exactly what that meant till right now. But now I am going to tell you it might also mean something else. It might refer to the hot and cold running Christian. You see the context of what the Lord Jesus Christ said allows for us to consider the possibility that our Lord intended the word lukewarm to be used as a metaphor.
I am going to explain to you what a metaphor is so in the context of the Letter to the Seven Churches and then you will understand why it is I think the term lukewarm should also be used as a metaphor when we are talking about lukewarm Christians. A metaphor comes from the Greek “metapherein.” It was borrowed from that language and also appears in the Latin as “metaphora.” It is figurative language in which a word or phrase is used in the place of another to make a point, like saying someone is “drowning in money.” We all know that it would be easier to smother or be crushed by money than to drown in it, but not too many people long speak English before they have heard the expression used of a person with more money than they can handle. Professional sports players have often been referred to as “drowning in money” for instance.
The Jewish people and the early church were quite aware of the use of metaphors in the language. So it is quite reasonable to understand that the expression lukewarm might be a metaphor. So let us understand what it means.
You notice our Lord said, “…thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot…” In figurative language this could well be a picture of the condition of the soul wretchedly fluctuating between a torpor of unconcern and a fervor of love. Don’t we have people just like that in the church today? Yes, we do! We actually have two very common kinds of church members like that I can think of right away.
The first is the person who gets on fire for the Lord and they might actually start preaching or teaching or doing something else public and visible and the next thing you see out of them is they are right back at their old worldly ways. This person is always convincing themselves that the sin that appeals to them is too big for them to handle, but what they are saying is they are hanging on to the sin because they either like it too much, or are not willing to trust the Lord with it, because He might do something about it. They are one kind of hot and cold running Christian. They are never consistent in their lives because they are caught up in their childish sin. Yes, I say childish because Scripture tells us that when we become mature we put away childish things. There are a lot of people like this but they are not the most common that the term “lukewarm” as a metaphor fits.
The second and more common type of lukewarm Christian is the kind who just sits there like a bump on a log till their favorite program comes along. Maybe it is a once a year thing like Vacation Bible School. Then they might get all excited for a couple of weeks or maybe nowadays just one week out of the year and actually do something. But where are they the rest of the year? What are they doing? Does anyone they work with even know they are a Christian? Perhaps they will go invite a neighbors child to Vacation Bible School at their church, they are so excited about the program. But maybe the parent will not let their child go. Why should they if it is the first time they have seen much of a Christian witness out of them? After all, these days you cannot be too careful. Fifty weeks out of the year they are cold as ice and maybe for about two weeks they are on fire. That is an unconvincing witness because it is a lukewarm witness.
I cannot say too much about many of the lukewarm’s faith in programs before I close. You see the original church that was lukewarm had just the same idea. They saw themselves as rich and in need of nothing. A lot of the lukewarm are just that way today. They depend on programs they give tithes for, or maybe a dollar or two to get the job of service to the Lord done, and to show they are on fire for God. But something is lacking. That is the commitment of themselves to the Lord. Some people are willing to give anything but that.
Now let me ask you a question in all seriousness. Did you find your church somewhere in the things I have said today? More importantly, did you find yourself? If you did you need to ask yourself another question, what are you going to do about it? Let me offer some suggestions:
The first thing you need to do is stop wherever you are right now and get on your knees in prayer. You can pull over on the side of the road if you are in your car. Pull over and get on the side away from traffic and have a time of repentance. It wont hurt you and I have never had a person stop to see what I was doing when I have stopped to pray. But that is the first thing you need to do. Confess your lukewarmness to the Lord and repent. Then you need to ask Him to help you and strengthen you so you will never lapse into that condition again.
The next thing you need to do is go to your church and confess your condition to them and explain just how you have been a lukewarm believer. If you have been playing with sin you do not have to go into all the gory details. But if you have been a lackadaisical pew sitter you need to say so. If you have been going hot and cold you need to tell others just how you were doing that. If you doubt your neighbors know you are a Christian you need to say so. Want to know why? Because there are people just like you who are doing the same thing. And when you tell the church they just might get convicted enough they will want to do something about their lives as well. One thing is sure, as a genuine practicing Christian you have a responsibility to warn your fellow believers. You see, when you know the truth and do not warn others God holds you responsible. And, you do not want to be guilty of knowing the truth and failing to tell others.
Now, I am done. You have the facts in front of you. What will you do with them?
I have discharged my responsibility to you. In the words once delivered to the prophet Ezekiel I have delivered my soul. Will you deliver yours by doing what is right and turning away from being a lukewarm believer? I am about to pray, and when I pray I will be praying for you, those who now know who and what you are. I might never know who you are this side of heaven, but I look forward to a wonderful time of rejoicing with you there because you turned away from being a lukewarm Christian.
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Buchanan, Georgia 30113