A Study in Revelation 3.14-22. (Part 2)*
K. W. H. Howard
The Counsel (Continued)
‘As many as I love.’ They are choice words. They are chosen words, and they are very powerful words. They are, as you will notice, limited words. ‘As many as I love.’ That controls what you find in verses 20 and 21. That therefore, determines the message of the remainder of the letter. The question that arises, that must arise in our minds about this church at Laodicea is this. Was there anybody in a church like that who Christ loved? Could He love anybody in a church so full of insipidity, lukewarmness, spiritual slumbering and somnolence? Could there be anybody that the Lord Jesus Christ loved in a church like that? Yet He says, ‘As many as I love,’ and these are the people to whom He is writing. So the answer to the question is, Yes; yes, in spite of what they were, there were those that He loved.
No doubt, like every church membership, there was a very mixed bag at Laodicea, but there were, and there are in the very worst of churches, those who are Christ’s in spite of their sapience, in spite of their tepidity, in spite of their indifference and their complacency. Their love may be neither cold nor hot, but Christ’s love is as a constant flame, and what Christ says in these verses 19-21, provides us with a remarkable spectacle of Christ seeking communion with His own people, with those whom He loves. ‘As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any many hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.’
Now, I am still dealing with what is part and parcel of the counsel that the Lord gives this church: and there are three things here directed to unworthy and lukewarm Christians and churches who are backslidden and indifferent, but thanks be to God, not God-forsaken.
1. The gesture of love
The first thing here is a gesture of love. ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.’ What door? The door of an indifferent
Christian’s heart. The door of a lukewarm church’s life. You might well think that with the greatest ease, the disgusted Saviour would knock down the door, and the tepid Christian, and the tepid church as well, but that is not His method. In tenderest affection. He stands. He knocks at the door of the heart, and at the door of the church. It is an indication of His graciousness that He does it. He does it earnestly, He does it affectionately. He does it urgently. He is not, you must remember, here dealing with unbelievers, with non-Christians. He is dealing with those He has described in verse 19 as, ‘As many as I love.’ If the Lord is knocking at your heart, my fellow-Christian, He will knock effectually, and He will gain admission, and that will be the end of your trial. This verse it is essential to remember, verse 20, is not an evangelistic appeal. There are plenty of evangelistic appeals in the New Testament and in the Gospel, but this is not one of them. This is addressed to believers, sleepy believers, to lukewarm believers, to half-dead believers, to believers who are complacent, indifferent and unworthy, to believers who literally make the Lord Jesus Christ sick of them. He says, ‘I would that thou wert cold or hot.’ This is I repeat, a gesture of love to such Christians. It is not a gospel appeal to non-Christians.
Let us look at the glorious person who knocks. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.’ Who is it? Well, it is the ‘Amen’ in verse 14 as He introduces Himself. This is the perfectly true One. It is the faithful and true Witness of verse 14, who has already uncovered and laid bare the spiritual disease that afflicts this church and people. Who is it? It is ‘the beginning of the creation of God’, as indicated in verse 14, and His knock is the measure of His condescension. Your first impression when He speaks of His readiness to spue them out of His mouth, is that He has finished with them, but you have to call back your words and your thoughts. That is how they make Him feel, but that is not what He does. His knock is a knock of condescension, it is a knock in which He resigns no sovereignty, it is a knock in which He ignores nothing in them, nothing that His eyes as a flame of fire have not seen, and seen absolutely, and perfectly. What He has seen has made Him sick and yet He has not written them off. Is there not mercy, a condescension of love there? He is plain and honest enough to say that what He sees is utterly nauseous to Him, and yet He has not cast off those who He once loved. This is Deity in condescension. This is sovereignty in sovereign action. This is omniscience advancing to correct the faults which it has seen and exposed. In other words, the true and faithful Witness is not only negative in exposing the faults of faulty Christians, He is positive in what He does in His kindness to them.
Well, let us look at the way in which Christ knocks, the way in which He knocks lukewarm Christians and lukewarm Christian churches. How does He do it? Well, He knocks by way of rebuke. He says quite clearly, in verse 19, ‘As many as I love, I rebuke.’ I rebuke. Take comfort from your rebukes. If you are rebuked, if you are convicted, if you are reproved by Christ, take comfort from it. Think what might be if you were not, if He did not bother with you. ‘As many as I love.’ He is not speaking to them about His first love to them. He is not speaking about first conversion; He is speaking to people who are already members of a church. Some of them may have been members of that church for as much as thirty years, but He knocks, not only at first conversion, but again and again. Do not lukewarm Christians deserve such knocking? Do they not deserve such rebuking? He knocks in rebuke when He sees our love grow cold. He knocks in rebuke when He sees our persistent disobedience towards Himself. He knocks in rebuke when He sees our unloving actions toward our brethren. He rebukes our foolish satisfaction with worldly things. When we point the finger at others, sometimes there is a hard knock of heart and conscience from Christ. What that hard knock says, is, ‘Thou art the man.’ ‘As many as I love, I rebuke.’ It is My way of dealing with them. It is My way of clearing the path before I can come in, before I will come in and sup with them.
How does Christ knock? He knocks by way of rebuke or conviction. He stirs, He awakens this insipid, tepid Christian, and rebukes him, casts him down, and tells him the truth. Not only that;
Christ also rebukes such Christians and such Christian churches by way of chastisement. ‘As many as I love, I chasten.’ I chasten. In their natural state, they would not have welcomed chastening at Laodicea. They were used to their comforts, but they had to learn that ‘whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth’, and it was upon that principle that He had not cast them off, and that He scourged them for their own good. Chastisements come with different faces and different names, and in different sets of clothing; they come as sickness, they come as disappointment, they come as frustration, they come as bereavement, they come as cross providences, and so on. They all knock and knock hard on an indifferent Christian’s heart. They all say something. There is a voice in every providence, and when you get an afflictive, a chastising providence, the first thing for you to do is to say. What is it doing? What is He saying? Generally speaking, in one way or another, the voice is saying in an afflictive providence, ‘Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.’ When chastisement is added to rebuke, the voice of the faithful Witness says, ‘Be zealous therefore, and repent.’ The one thing about the Laodicean
Christian is that he is not zealous, he is neither hot nor cold, he is in the middle; he is uncommitted, he is sitting on the fence. He is neither on fire, nor yet is the ember totally extinguished. ‘Be zealous therefore, and repent. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.’ This rebuking and this chastening is the way in which the Lord knocks, and I call it a gesture of love. It does not appear so at first. We do not welcome the knocks. We do not welcome being disturbed. Sometimes a Christian’s or a church’s heart is sleeping in its indifference, and its lukewarmness in such a way, and in such a state that it would almost bid this blessedly importunate Knocker to go away, but that is something He will not do, because the initiative is in His acts. That is something that you cannot make Him do, and if you will not listen to one kind of knocking, then He will give you another kind of knocking. If you will not listen to one kind of chastising. He will give you another kind of chastising. You see, it is because He is the faithful and true Witness, if He does not rouse sleepy Christians and churches from their sins and their follies, who will? Who will? His character demands that He both rebuke and chastise us for our tepidity, and our coolness, and our indifference, and our complacency. So I say this gesture of the Lord to sleepy Christians’ hearts is a gesture of love, because it is needful for their well being, for the good of the church, and for the name of the Gospel in their hands, in their community. At first, we are inclined to resent it; the natural man in us rises up, we throw a tantrum at being so rudely exposed, and so criticised and so corrected. We who, like the Laodiceans, think we are all such good people, such wonderful people, simply because we belong to where we belong, we do not see that we are dead in a spiritual sense, in the sense that we are poor and wretched, and miserable and blind. We resent it. Ah, but when He knocks and knocks and knocks, and we come to ourselves, and we see the situation, the eyesalve is applied, then we bless the hand that smites us, and in our grief confess that all His ways are wisdom, and truth, and righteousness. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.
Let me put it like this. What if Christ were never to knock? What if He were never to awaken a lukewarm, tepid, insipid Christian or Christian church, never to disturb our backsliding? Oh, I say, the fact that Christ knocks at our hearts disturbingly and arousingly, and effectually when they need exactly that, that is a gesture of infinite love. His knocks are often wounds, but He wounds that He may heal, and His healing is far more effective, in fact, it is the only thing that is effective. It is something that He does not ordinarily do to the ungodly; they are left to sleep in their sin, unless or until the hour rolls on apace, not to propose but call by grace. ‘Behold, I stand at
the door and knock,’ the door of the lukewarm Church, the door of he lukewarm Christian. This is a gesture of love towards such tepid, somnolent Christians, a gesture which, though it may hurt to begin with, is something for which they will, in the long run, be very thankful.
2. The response of grace
The second thing that I see here is the response of grace. Again, in verse 20, ‘If any man hear my voice, and opens the door.’ Who is this Â•any man’? Now we must interpret Scripture by Scripture; we must interpret a statement in the light of its content, so we must interpret verse 20 in the light of verse 19. This ‘any man’ of verse 20 is a man who is among those of whom Christ has said in verse 19, ‘As many as I love.’ He is addressing the members of the church. He is addressing the members of the church at Laodicea, or any other church in the Laodicean condition. The entire letter is addressed to Christian churches and their members. There is no evangelism in this verse. There is no universalism in this verse. There is no Gospel invitation in this verse. The Scripture is full of evangelism, and contains many Gospel invitations, but this is not one of them. This is addressed to ‘as many as I love’, and if any man among those whom ‘I love’, in spite of their insipidity and tepidity, ‘hear my voice’, this is the message. If there is anything of grace in such a man’s heart, it will recognise the hand of Him who knocks, if not immediately, then eventually. This is the secret, the understanding of the verse. As a sheep knows the voice of his shepherd, as a child knows the voice of his father, so a Christian knows the voice of his Saviour, so a Christian church in its corporate consciousness knows the voice of its Saviour, and when the Saviour has knocked hard enough and long enough on such Christians and such churches, that they are awakened, they recognise who it is that knocks, the ‘any man’ of verse 20 is one of the ‘as many as I love’ of verse 19.
Not only so but, by grace, this man and this church that is enabled to open the door is a case where there is grace on the inside of the door as well as on the outside. This is what is normally overlooked in this passage. There is grace on the inside of the door in the begun work of salvation. He is addressing churches; He is addressing Christians. He is not addressing here those that have no grace in them. He is addressing those who have grace in them in a begun work of salvation, but who have backslidden, who have grown cold, who have grown indifferent. There is grace on the inside of the door in the begun work of salvation, and there is grace on the outside of the door in the knocking of the gracious Saviour. Grace answers to grace. In other words, Holman Hunt’s famous painting, supposedly depicting the content of verse 20 has missed the point completely.
Not surprisingly, because only the Spirit of God could reveal this. There are handles of grace on both the outside and the inside of this door. You cannot say that of an unbeliever, and that is why Christ does not give this invitation in that sense to an unbeliever. In this case, Christ is addressing believers who, for all their saved condition, are in this dreadful state of lukewarmness. He feels like spewing them out of His mouth, but the Father gave them to Him in eternal covenant, and He died for them upon the Cross, and He rose for them from the tomb. He justified them, He sanctified them, and one day He will glorify them. In spite of all that they are in this wretched state but, that has not altered His love for His own; that has not changed His love toward them. However this tepid Laodicean Christian has sinned, one thing that cannot be said of Him, is that he is dead in trespasses and sins. There is life in him. I am not talking about his natural life, I am talking about the life that ever made him a member of Christ’s church in the first place. However he has played the fool, however he has wandered from God, he is a child of God to whom enabling grace may be given, and to whom in this case enabling grace is given. ‘As many as I love. … if any man among them hear my voice and open the door, I will come in.’
‘Behold I stand at the door and knock,’ says Christ to this wayward, indifferent Christian. The wayward Christian hearing it, when he is awakened, not before, but when he is awakened, by the hard knocking, is able to say in the language of the Song of Solomon, ‘My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, (He did not open the door, He just put His hand in by the latchet) and my heart was moved for him.’ Why? Because there was recognition. Because there was grace on the inside as well as grace on the outside. The work of grace, once done in a Christian, is done for ever. It can be smothered by tepidity and lukewarmness till it becomes totally unrecognisable to man, and you and I are prepared to write people and churches off as not being Christian at all. The work of grace done in a man is still there whatever happens, and it recognises the knock, and it recognises the voice, and it recognises the pierced hand of its blessed Lord, and it responds to Him. The grace is enabling grace.
So then, here we have in the first place, the gesture of love which knocks, disturbs, troubles, awakens wayward, supine, tepid, lukewarm Christians and churches. We have in the second place, the response of grace moving within those Christians, and within those churches. The knocks on the outside are not the whole of the story; there is something going on on the inside too. There is an enabling which enables such a man, so approached and so awakened, to open the door. ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and
knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’
3. Communion restored
So then, in the third place, to the gesture of love, to the response of grace, there is to be added the element of choice communion. ‘I will come in to him, and I will sup with him, and he with Me.’ When Christ comes into the heart of a restored believer or a church restored from this lukewarmness, He brings the feast with Him. He has to, and that is the beauty of it, because Laodicean riches are not rich enough to entertain the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing that we have is good enough to offer Him, or to entertain Him with. If there is to be a time of restoration, if there is to be a time of communion, if there is to be a communion meal, and a feast of love, then He must spread the table, because we cannot. We are wretched and miserable, poor, blind and naked, and He must bring all, and He does. His takes the initiative. He says, ‘I will sup with him.’ With whom? I will sup with this tepid travesty of a Christian, who has at last come to himself. I will come in, and I will sup with him, this tepid travesty of a Christian who has at last been awakened, and as I sup with him on what I provide, and by My invitation, and with My enabling, he will sup with Me. That is when such a believer, aroused from that wretched state has to say, ‘the time of love has come’. Among the ancients of course, supper was the most social meal of the day when work was done. To be there at all was the sign of friendship, the sign of trust, the sign of intimacy, the sign of love. Think of it. A meal with Christ, on Christ’s initiative and with Christ’s provision following the end of a weary time of wandering and straying and lukewannness, and tepidity. A meal with Christ, whom we once nauseated, but now He is ready to sit down and eat, and He is ready to sit down and eat with us. Why? Because He has knocked, and because His knock has been effectual, because His grace has been enabling, because we have opened the door with the strength He has given, because He has made His entrance to sup, and to commune, and to rejoice. True communion is never to be had alone. ‘I will sup with him, and he with me.’
This man, this believer, whom you see is now defined in verse 21 as an overcomer, this overcomer who has been awakened, who has supped with Christ, who has communed with Christ, who has been restored and brought back; this overcomer who now knows the difference between cold and hot, this overcomer who is now aflame with love for Christ, and in gratitude to Christ, this overcoming Christian is given a promise. The promise is that this feast of reunion is simply a foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb. To him that overcometh’; to him that hears My knock, opens the door,
answers; to him with whom I come in and sup, in renewed communion and fellowship; to him I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne. Christ who writes this letter, who speaks these words, has already overcome, has already passed through the heavens, is already set down with His Father on His throne, and that is the vantage point from which He knows what goes on in Laodicea and in Laodicean Christians, both ancient and modern.
So you see, this letter, which begins on such a sad, depressing level, in the nature of its complaint, ends at the throne of God in the heavens. There was nothing to commend this church of Laodicea as she was; there was everything for Christ to complain of in this church of Laodicea as she was. When He was ready to spew her out of His mouth, He said. Wait, I counsel thee, I warn thee, I advise thee, buy of Me. There was counsel provided, and there was counsel received. Counsel operated upon by enabling grace, and communion restored, so that of those very souls of whom Christ at one point said, ‘I am ready to spew you out of My mouth,’ He later says, ‘I will sup with him, and I will grant him to sit with Me in my throne.’
Well, what are the lessons? Surely, let us examine ourselves as a church. Is our real name Laodicea? Is that the reason why we are in the state we are in? Let us be honest as the faithful and true Witness was honest with the church that He addressed, because He has nothing to say to us that is less than this honest, truthful, faithful assessment. Let us examine ourselves as a church, let us examine ourselves one by one as to the poverty of our supposed wealth, as to the poverty of our supposed grounds of being satisfied, and about our blindness to the difference between spiritual riches, and spiritual poverty. Let us admit that if Christ were to spew us out of His mouth at this very moment that would be what we richly deserve. Let there be no mistake about it. At the same time, as in humility before Him, we acknowledge that, let us also admit and listen to His counsel, ‘Buy of Me.’ Let us hear His knocks, let us recognise the hardness of them, let us bow beneath them. Let us submit ourselves to Him, hard and hurtful though these knocks may be, and to His gracious and condescending call. He says, If any man, any man in this condition, this condition, hear My voice, I will open, I will come, I will enable him to open. It will be mutual, and we will sup together and a time of blessing will return, and a time of fruitfulness will return. There is only one question to ask. Do we see ourselves in this, either corporately, or personally and individually? If we see ourselves in that condition, are we sleepily content to be in that condition, or are we among those whom He enables to hear His voice, and open the door; and am I among the overcomers? ‘He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.’
*Part 1 is to be found on page 215.