Jesus’ warning to the Laodiceans

This passage in Revelation was raised during the sermon at Church tonight:

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:
“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! Rev 3:14-16 (NLT)

Or as the New King James Version more bluntly says:

“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,
‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Rev 3:14-16 (NKJV)

The Church I attend rarely discusses the consequences of sin; tonight that was talked about.

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Sometimes, I want to go back to Egypt

Moses at Sinai Mount
Moses at Mt. Sinai – Image via Wikipedia

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt.There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron. “If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” (Exo 16:1-3 NLT)

Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the LORD taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!” (Num 14:1-4 NLT)

I used to read this passage of Scripture and think about the loser Israelites – the weak-minded, no good, belly aching, people who simply wanted to turn around and go back for no good reason. Of course now, I have a different perspective. Now, I understand more of the story, I believe… in that while Egypt was bad, rough, rotten, filled with debauchery, beatings, and injustice, it was comfortable, because they knew what to expect. Sure, they ate…the food that they were used to. Most likely, it was less than nutritious, so the manna and other food from God took some time getting used to, digestion wise. And they were getting exercised a bit. This is a pain to anyone. Further, they didn’t know what tomorrow held. I’d imagine as well, that while they hated their overlords, they knew them and were in some ways, closer to them than they could have been to Moses. When they left, the connection to their history, their culture, their homes, the places where their fathers and mothers were buried – that was severed severally. No wonder they wanted to return. Sure, God wasn’t there, but their comfort level was, and besides, maybe they could bring God back with them. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to go back on God, but they wanted to be comfortable, doing what they had always done. It was easier that way.

I’d like to tell you that a transition from one religious culture to the next is easy, but frankly it is not. I have to be reminded sometimes that even the Apostles ran into personal roadblocks and obstacles along the way, of course, they didn’t want to turn back. They had something else, the presence of God, the spirit of God and Christ. It is this that people must hold to when transitions come, in that Egypt looks good only between the borders of the foreign country and the Promised Land, but in the wilderness the Spirit is still with us.

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Sirach 3.24-29 – The Heart

Continuing our commentary on Sirach,

(24)  A hard heart will be afflicted at the end, and whoever loves danger will perish by it.

The Hebrew adds to this verse,

But he that loves the good things shall walk in them

(25)  A hard heart will be weighed down by troubles, and the sinner will add sin to sins.

Paul can be found to echo this thought in his Roman letter,

But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. (Romams 2:5-6 NLT)

This passage in Sirach concerns the heart of the man, which may be humble and given to God, or arrogant and given in to sin. Like the previous section of contrast, Sirach brings to us the contrast of the heart and the end of each one. Like Paul several centuries later, Sirach knew that the end of the arrogant heart, the heart which stood before God instead of kneeling, would end with no remedy, but the heart that was humble, will have a good future.

(26)  The arrogant man is not healed by his punishment, for a plant of wickedness has taken root in him.

Contrast this with John’s statement in the Apocalypse that New Jerusalem would have ‘healing for the nations’ (Revelation 22.2). We may, however, go as far to point out that the ‘man’ in question is not he ignorant man – unlearned of God – but the man who knows of God and yet refuses to give heed unto Him. Here, Sirach tells us that a remedy for that man’s soul cannot be found.

(27)  The mind of the intelligent man will ponder a parable, and an attentive ear is the wise man’s desire.

This brings to mind the discourse of Christ with the Apostles using parables. Many times in the Gospels, we find recorded parables, but only for those with ears to hear, and we can somewhat easily connect the Wise Man with Christ who is the Wisdom of God (1st Corinthians 1.24).

(28)  Water extinguishes a blazing fire: and almsgiving atones for sin.

This verse inaugurates what many will assume to be the end of any talk of inspiration of Sirach; however, Jesus Himself considered almsgiving (charity) as method of righteousness (Luke 11.41). Briefly, we see Daniel counseling the King of Babylon (Dan. 4.27) to consider mercy to the poor as a means of cleansing iniquities.  The Psalmist (Psalms 41.1-2) tells us that those that consider the poor will be delivered by God in their time of troubles while our Lord in several places speaks of the evils of not being charitable. The most prominent example is that of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31) who if we will read we see not a condemnation based on religious reasons, or one of immorality, but one of passing the beggar by every day, giving the excess of the table to the dogs. The Rich Man was not sent to the grave in torments because of his wealth or his lack of religious righteousness, but because he failed to take care of the poor.

When Christ is speaking about the hypocrisies of the Pharisees, he says,

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.  (Luke 11:39-41 NKJV)

The French theologian Godet says,

Do you think it is enough to wash your hands before eating? There is a surer means. Let some poor man partake of your meats and wines.

And we hear from Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and disciple of the Apostle John:

From Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians, ch. 10,

Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood, and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth, exhibiting the meekness of the Lord in your intercourse with one another, and despising no one. When you can do good , defer it not, because “alms delivers from death.” [Tobit 4:10, 12:9] Be all of you subject one to another, having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles, that ye may both receive praise for your good works, and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But owe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed! Teach, therefore, sobriety to all, and manifest it also in your own conduct.

Polycarp quotes another often hidden book, Tobit, directly, but the idea is the same. Charity comes by and produces righteousness. By the waters of baptism is the fires of hell quenched, just as mercy to the poor will bring forgiveness for our trespasses.

(29)  Whoever repays favors gives thought to the future; at the moment of his falling he will find support.

Finally, words from John Chrysostom

Let us then travel along all these ways; for if we give ourselves wholly to these employments, if on them we spend our time, not only shall we wash off our bygone transgressions, but shall gain very great profit for the future. For we shall not allow the devil to assault us with leisure either for slothful living, or for pernicious curiosity, since by these among other means, and in consequence of these, he leads us to foolish questions and hurtful disputations, from seeing us at leisure, and idle, and taking no forethought for excellency of living. But let us block up this approach against him, let us watch, let us be sober, that having in this short time toiled a little, we may obtain eternal goods in endless ages, by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ;  (Chrysostom on John 7)

From Light to Darkness

Like a person who witnesses a crime and knows the right thing to do is report it but turns a blind eye, they have chosen darkness rather than light. (Ben Witherington III, The Indelible Image, pg 579)

Witherington is talking about those Pharisees who saw Christ, recognized Him as a miracle worker, but refused to do what was right:

Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment– to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.”

Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?”

“If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see. (John 9.39-41)

Can you imagine those who know to do good, but do not do it – what does that inaction, that passiveness become?

Is Restoration Limited?

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. (Gal 6:1-3 NLT)

This excludes apostasy. Why? Because apostasy is a knowledgeable turning and rejecting of God once you have met other qualifications. This is talking about being overcome by a sin. The person has grown weak, and somehow fell into sin.

While you are pondering if there is a sin that cannot be restored, ask yourself where you want these people who are in need of restoration. Do you want them excluded from the community? Ridiculed for their sins?

Paul says that he turned some away and out of the congregation not based on sin, but based on doctrinal errors which were disrupting the congregation. Here, he writes about someone needing to be restored.

For those of us who believe that lying is a sin, and we catch someone? Or for those of us who believe that cohabitation? Smoking? Drugs? Alcohol? Homosexuality? Arrogance?

Is restoration limited?