I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold…” – Revelation 3:15-16a (NET)
The vast majority of us live in a world that bears very little resemblance to the first century world of the middle east and Asia Minor, and we simply must bear that in mind. No matter how educated we are in terms of being able to interact in the world on multiple levels and in and with a variety of disparate environments or group, or how Spirit-filled we may consider ourselves to be, and no matter how strongly we declare we reverence the Bible, serious presentations of the all-important message of the Gospel cannot take place without serious study. In that light, as we look at this sliver of the message to the church at Laodicea, it must be insisted upon that we cannot casually approach the Scriptural text as if the terms in use carry the precise meaning for us today that they did when first written. In addition, it would behoove us not to overly rely or place a possibly un-warranted confidence in our knowledge of either Greek or Hebrew. This knowledge often finds us translating the words from their original language and then interpreting the translation according to a modern understanding within our own subjective pre-determination that has been probably been determined by our un-critical (and even unacknowledged) acceptance of a prevalent theology, philosophy, soteriology, ecclesiology, or eschatology, while simply congratulating ourselves on the use of the ancient languages and acting as if we have grasped truth.
If and when we take it upon ourselves to translate from the original languages of Scripture, we must be all the more attentive to the historical, cultural, and social contexts into which the words were uttered, bearing in mind that the words may have carried a meaning in those days that has been lost to modern hearers or readers, but which can be re-discovered upon the application of adequate effort in such a pursuit. Words are regularly re-defined through usage, and often take upon themselves a variety of meanings and connotations that may very well be entirely foreign to original usage. To take a non-controversial Biblical example, let us consider the name “Nimrod.” We come upon this name in the tenth chapter of Genesis, where we read, “Cush was the father of Nimrod; he began to be a valiant warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. (That is why it is said, ‘Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.’)” (10:8-9) From there, we can go on to find out that he was a king, and the builder of great cities. Without going into further detail of the life of Nimrod, it is quite clear that he was a man that demanded great respect. He is called a valiant warrior and a mighty hunter. He was the builder of a kingdom, and men flocked to his leadership. His name, in his day and in the days that followed, was a great name. Now, however, the situation is dramatically different. In this day, if we refer to somebody as a “Nimrod,” we are offering the name as an insult. We are calling that person a fool, with the ensuing implications standing at a great distance from “valiant,” “warrior,”, “mighty,” and the like. In a bygone era, if somebody was referred to as being a Nimrod, it would have been considered an honor. Today, this is not the case. Words change.
Another example would be the word “gay.” In the past the word meant one thing, but today it signifies something different. In the future it may carry an entirely different set of meanings from that which surrounds the use of the word in our day. The same thing occurs in the use of slang, when pejorative terms are employed in a positive manner, and positive terms are often turned about to perform tasks of negation. The dynamics of language are such that later generations would be hard-pressed to understand common words that we put into use on a daily basis, knowing full well what they mean because we are ensconced within our own culture and language setting, without delving into our history and the events of our day in order to determine the context of those words. If later generations were to read the work of a social commentator in the early twenty-first century and find him referring to an individual as a “Nimrod,” it would be completely untrue to the author’s intention if they took it to mean that the author was lauding the individual in question as valiant and mighty. We understand this implicitly, yet when it comes to the Bible, and to attempts to understand the very Word of God, it seems that we, for the most part, have a blind spot in this area---so much so that we freely cast aside all gifts and skills of reason and critical thinking in the misguided attempts at interpretations and understanding according to a thoroughly anthropocentric spirituality. In this, it seems that we actually approach the Word of God in a far less serious manner than we offer to other written works, with an apparent unwillingness to give the sacred Scriptures the studied attention that they deserve and demand.
Which now brings us to the issue of “hot,” “cold,” and “lukewarm.” Though this will most likely come as a great shock, these terms are most assuredly not employed as references to spiritual condition or relative spiritual fervor and a related general manner of living. Rather, they are used as geographical indicators. Though they are not indicators of spiritual temperatures, it is quite likely that they are being employed as a means of approbation and correction, based on an awareness of certain activities.