A Church With a Chance

John LathropBlog

The challenges of planting a church are real: the sinful nature of the people who are reached with the gospel, persecution from the larger culture, the attacks of the powers of darkness, internal strife, poor leadership, and a host of other things. Yet in spite of these challenges churches have been planted. In the New Testament we find mention of two churches that were planted in the midst of great darkness. The church in Ephesus was planted in a city where many were involved in the occult (see Acts 19:18-20), and the church in Pergamum was planted “where Satan has his throne” (Rev. 2:13 NIV). The truth is that every church, once planted, has the potential to endure long-term and be fruitful. Every congregation could be a haven of rest for the saint and a lighthouse for the sinner. This is possible because God’s love, grace, and power, is available to every church. God is for the church!

In this article I would like to direct your attention to a New Testament church that had a chance to be a flourishing congregation. I am referring to the church in Laodicea. What? Most Christians know the Laodicean church as the lukewarm church. The church did not get this label from the larger culture, or by vote of the rest of the churches of the time. This was what Jesus, the head of the church, said about them (Rev. 3:16). He who knows all things said that they were lukewarm. So we know that His statement about this church was correct. The church in Laodicea is the church that most modern-day churches do not want to be like. This is perhaps especially true of Pentecostal churches who usually want to be known as being on fire for the Lord!

As we begin I would like to point something out. The letter to the church in Laodicea that we find in Revelation 3 is not the only time that this church is mentioned in Scripture. It is mentioned in Revelation 1:11. In addition to these Scriptures in Revelation, the apostle Paul made reference to Laodicea a number of times in his letter to the Colossians (Col. 2:1, 4:13, 4:15, 4:16). As we take a brief look at this church I would like to draw in some of what Paul wrote in Colossians before we consider the passage in Revelation. By doing this we will have a little clearer understanding of some of the history of the church. In view of its mention in both Colossians and Revelation it seems that the Laodicean church existed for a number of decades, probably somewhere around 30 years, by the time Revelation was written.

Some of Paul’s references to the Laodicean believers do not supply us with any specific information about the church. But there are a couple of references that do give us with some useful information. In Colossians 2:1 Paul tells the church in Colossae that he is struggling for them and for the believers in Laodicea. He does not go into detail about how he did this. One thing that is clear is that his ministry to the Laodicean believers was not through personal visits. We know this because in the later part of Colossians 2:1 Paul indicates that he had not visited them; they had not met him personally. However, in some way he invested in the church in Laodicea. They had received apostolic ministry (and we know that Paul was a very spiritual man). He gave them his time, attention, and energy. It may have been in prayer (there is no distance in prayer) or in some other way. In any event, we know that Paul wanted the Laodicean church to read the letter he wrote to the Colossians, so they were receiving some instruction from him. The apostle Paul was supporting this church spiritually. He applied himself to helping them grow in Christ, he tried to nurture this congregation. We do not know what the results of his efforts were because the New Testament does not tell us.

In Colossians 4:13 we learn about another person who ministered to the Laodicean believers, his name was Epaphras. We don’t know a lot about this man but what we do know indicates that he was a quality individual. In Colossians 1:7 we learn that Paul valued this man, he referred to him as “our dear fellow servant” (NIV). Also in this verse Paul mentions that Epaphras was the one who taught the gospel to the Colossians. In addition, from Colossians 4:12 we learn that he was a man of prayer. Here too we are not given the specifics of how this man ministered to the Laodiceans. At the time when Paul wrote Epaphras was with him. In view of this Epaphras too seems to have labored for the Laodiceans from a distance. Perhaps his ministry to them was in prayer, but we have no way of knowing for sure.

In mentioning the ministries of Paul and Epaphras to the church in Laodicea it should be clear that the church received some quality ministry in its earlier days. However, years later when the church is again mentioned in the Book of Revelation all is not well. In fact, Jesus does not say anything positive about them! His assessment of them is very different than their own view of themselves. He sees them as in great need (Rev. 3:17b), yet they see themselves as doing very well (Rev.3:17a). They were self-deceived. How the church arrived at this low state spiritually we cannot say for sure. Times change and people change. Their spiritual decline likely took place over a period of time. They were in spiritual trouble. But even at this point Jesus holds out hope to them. In Revelation 3:18-20 Jesus tells them what to do in order to turn their situation around and thus improve His assessment of them. The purposes of Jesus are always redemptive. As I said earlier, Jesus is for the church.

Every church has a history. This was true of the churches in the New Testament and it is true of every church since that time. What can we learn from the history of the church in Laodicea? One thing we can learn is that if a church (perhaps the church you have recently become the pastor of) is currently not doing well it does not mean that the church did not receive good ministry in the past. Current conditions are not always a reflection of the past. As we saw above the Laodiceans received ministry from a couple of quality Christian workers (and these are just the ones we know about). Sound ministry in the past does not guarantee that a church will flourish throughout its history Another lesson we can learn from the history of the Laodicean church is that even when a church has problems and significant changes need to be made Jesus wants the church to become healthy and flourish. With Jesus every church has a chance. For every church there is hope. If believers, and perhaps especially leaders, will hear and heed Jesus, the Head of the church, He will lead us to victory, to be the people He wants us to be, and do the works that He wants us to do.

John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.