Laodicea or Thyatira ? If the Letter Fits . . .

For current cultural issues within the Church, the letter in Revelation to Thyatira might be the most relevant.

Thyatira

The “Seven Letters to the Seven Churches” is one of the more well-known and frequently taught sections of the book of Revelation. In it, seven letters from Jesus were sent to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. While they may be seven letters, they aren’t seven distinct messages, or symbols of seven types of people, or reflective of seven eras. They contain one collective message for the church in all times and all places. In other words, any church might be like one of these seven churches, and within any church there can be people who are like the people in these churches.

Laodicea or Thyatira?

Most expositors like to focus on Laodicea, and it is fun to exegete. First, Laodicea was wealthy. So wealthy that when they were hit by an earthquake in A.D. 60, along with several other towns in the region, they refused all government aid from the Roman Empire – aid that was being offered and going out to other cities – because they had more than enough wealth to rebuild on their own. Second, it was known for producing the finest clothes in the world. That city was at the center of the fashion industry. Third, it was known for its medical school, and specifically the invention of an ointment that helped clear up vision issues. And finally, despite all that they did have, they were known for not having their own water supply.

It had to come to them through a series of viaducts and pipe ways over at least six miles, and then it came from a series of hot springs. By the time the water got to them, it was often still lukewarm, and unless it was treated it was disgusting to drink. It would make you retch to drink it. If the water had come hot, it could have been useful for bathing; if it had come cold, it could have been used for drinking. But lukewarm water was good for nothing.

It’s a powerful backdrop to what Jesus said to them:

“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! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me — gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” (Revelation 3:14-19, NLT)

But for current cultural issues within the Church (and these seven were meant for the Church, not for culture at large), Thyatira might be the most relevant. They were doing much in the name of social ministry but overlooking sexual ethics. Here was what Jesus had to say to them:

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service… But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman — that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet — to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols.” (Revelation 2:18, 20, NLT)

The church at Thyatira had love for others and serving others at their point of need down. Social ministry? Nailing it. Caring for the poor, the widow, the homeless, the hungry, the orphan? No one had a bigger heart for the physical, felt needs of people than they did.

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James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.