Thanks to The Particular Baptist team who reviewed and edited this article.
The discipline of the Lord can come in different methods. I think in two different ways, at least primarily: through suffering and through His Word. We must not think that the Christian life will be one only of ease and that we will simply walk with a skip in our step to the heavenly kingdom without any difficulty. The Lord has decreed that there be secondary causes to mold His people to be more like Himself. Let us look at Revelation and other various passages to see the Lord’s discipline upon His people. I want to focus on the element of suffering in discipline.
““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. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’ ””Revelation 3:14-22 NKJV
The church at Laodicea had similar issues to the church at Corinth where sin was apparently allowed to take root. Toleration of sin led to many problems and will have an impact on any church. If sin is not properly dealt with, the leaven must be removed or the whole body will become corrupt and could lead other Christians to fall into the same sin. We have to guard ourselves against the onslaught of the evil one. He will not rest and will seek to take advantage of our weaknesses. Jesus is approaching this fallen church with love but also a tone of rebuke and we should take heed.
The city that this church is at is Laodicea ad Lycum. Epapharus, who is mentioned in Colossians chapter 1, may have founded the church here. It was a wealthy city with prominence and the church here may have been large based on archeological evidence.
Laodicea was a wealthy city during the Roman period. Not only was Laodicea located on major trade routes that connected it to important cities like Ephesus, Smyrna and Sardis, but also it was a center of textile production and bankingSauter, Megan. “The Church of Laodicea in the Bible and Archaeology.” Biblical Archaeology Society, 25 July 2022, https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-sites/church-of-laodicea-in-the-bible-and-archaeology/.
The concepts of wealth and worldly pleasures come into play in Jesus’ rebuke of the church here. Their specific culture had an influence on why they acted the way they did as we will see in relation to them being “lukewarm”.
The church was not being faithful to Christ but was compromising in some way. They had become so influenced by the culture around them that they had fallen into worldliness. Remember, Laodicea was a wealthy place with riches being of high importance in the culture of this city. Seems Christians here were so influenced by the materialism of their location that they started to blend in and in doing so were “lukewarm.”
Laodicea had two neighbors, Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis had hot waters which possessed medicinal effects, while Colossae had cold water, which was also thought to be healthy. Laodicea had no good water source, however, and had to pipe it in. By the time it arrived, it was lukewarm and dirty—fit only for spitting out.G. K. Beale and David H. Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 91.
Jesus used their cultural context to apply to their spiritual state: they had so forgotten what obedience to God meant that they were no longer authentic. They no longer possessed the pure hot and cold effects of the healthy waters of Hierapolis and Colossae, but had diluted themselves to be disgusting. Jesus even threatened to spit them out if they continued down this road and did not repent. This means that we as Christians can fall into serious sin. I think we tend to use David and his murderous and adulterous heart as exhibit A for what egregious sin looks like, but there are other examples. Look no further than Abraham and his fumbling with Abimelech.
So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid. And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.” Then Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?” And Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife. But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness that you should do for me: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, “He is my brother.” ’ ”Genesis 20:8-13 NKJV
Abraham and Sarah both lied by omitting key information (that they were married) even though it was technically true they were siblings. Sin can effect even great men such as Abraham who took their eyes off the prize and fell into unbelief. This is the same Abraham who is listed among the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11. The same Abraham that is Paul’s exhibit A in Romans 4 as the man of faith who was justified by it. But he was weak and frail as we all are. Mere man. It is easy for us to criticize them looking back, but what would we do in that situation? We shouldn’t think too highly of ourselves. We all have sinful tendencies that will lead us to fall under pressure if but for the grace of God. Christians are not immune to the pressures of the world around them. Even though they are saved and redeemed and have crucified the flesh, there is a constant battle. There is a battle for our very minds. What we believe determines how we will live. If I believe God knows us and that He really requires something of me and I embrace it, then I will live accordingly. If not, I will live according to the flesh.
My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,Proverbs 2:1-5 NKJV
As we gain biblical wisdom and truly apply it, we will stay farther and farther away from sin and be more inclined to obedience than to sinful actions. We do have a tendency to forget this, though, as we live by sight and not faith, neglecting the means that we have been given to learn what God wants from us. And when we forget, God will discipline us. We clearly see an element of discipline being laid out here for the Laodicean church in Revelation 3 through His Word. But our focus today is suffering and discipline ergo let us explore this further.
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.Hebrews 12:3-8 NKJV
The writer of Hebrews has laid out the great hall of fame of faith (chapter 11) and then told the people of God that we are to be those that leave behind sin and weights. We are to look to Jesus turning away from anything that hinders. We are to push forward not being distracted. And the encouragement that he provides these Christians who were under suffering was by reminding them of Christ Himself. Christ endured suffering, Christ was persecuted by sinners around them and can therefore relate to us. This should be a comfort to the people of God in that He knows what we have been through. Even in this, they are told that their suffering isn’t by accident. It has a purpose. It is to chasten them, discipline them. They are to endure under this suffering and see it as God’s loving hand upon them, not as mere accident or “bad luck.” God cares for His people, and since we are His creation God can do what He wills. He doesn’t leave them unto themselves giving them over to their sins. Christians do not worship a deist God that created the world and left it to run on its own without any interaction with it. No, He is intimately involved in all things and no less for His own people’s welfare. He won’t let us wander too long, but seeks our own good by discipline and pointing us back to Himself. I’d say there is a parallel here in God’s discipline to earthly parental responsibility as found in Proverbs:
He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.Proverbs 13:24 NKJV
If we as parents fail to discipline our children, we are hating our children, not just disliking them, not just indifference, but we HATE them. The same can be said as it relates to God disciplining His people. If God didn’t discipline us, it would mean that God hates us. We wouldn’t be His children in this case and would be children of wrath since God doesn’t love the wicked. He doesn’t care for their growth in grace when they aren’t His. This should be great encouragement to us! When we suffer, we are in fact being chastened by our Lord. He is molding us, shaping us, making us more and more like Himself. That is a great comfort. We can see the positive effects of suffering in other places of Scripture.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.James 1:2-4 NKJV
Notice here what effect is produced by trials: patience. We are taught to endure, seeing the work of God in bringing out our good. Christians don’t have to like a trial in and of itself, but we should see them as an opportunity for growth that our Lord is growing us and producing in us qualities that please Him. The Christian life is one that will have suffering in some what shape or form and we shouldn’t be surprised when it comes. If we identify with the Suffering Servant we will indeed suffer with Him. Let us endure suffering as Christ did. Let us take joy in that we are loved by the king that He would grow us. If there is no discipline, there is no salvation present in that person. ONLY sons are disciplined. Only sons are refined. This is a great evidence of salvation.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.Romans 5:1-5 NKJV
Paul uses the same reasoning here as found in James in relation to suffering. We are justified by faith in the Son of God and have peace with Him by virtue of being justified. God’s wrath is satisfied. Our sins atoned. His law fulfilled and we have PEACE. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes onto say what the Christian life looks like. He doesn’t say that we MIGHT have tribulations. No, he says that this is what we do! We suffer, and we rejoice in suffering. This should be convicting to all of us because I think our first reaction to suffering is not to rejoice. Now I don’t think this means we have to love suffering in itself as if we are gluttons for punishment, but I think it should help us to modify our reactions to it so that we see it as God refining our characters and assisting in our sanctification. Our minds should be shifted heavenward for this to happen. If we are too concerned with this present world, we will not take suffering well. Let us all pray for better endurance, reactions, and joy in our suffering that our Lord may be glorified.
Discipline is not a pleasant experience, yet it is blessed because it shows the Lord’s love toward us. What an amazing God we serve that does not leave His people to own devices but condescends to us, molding us like Himself. This should motivate us to holiness and to refine our attitudes toward suffering and rebuke from our God. This is a lifelong endeavor: to love our Lord perfectly. We will need to grow in our reactions and attitudes toward suffering and in other areas of holiness, but let us continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling resting on the Lord who works in us to do His will.