Often I think the best pastoral insights are the ones that bring something obvious into our immediate awareness. This happened to me a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been turning it over in my mind ever since. During a lecture, one of our professors said as an aside, “Lukewarmness comes from thinking that you are rich when you are in fact poor.”
This ought to be obvious, of course. In the famous lukewarmness passage in Revelation, the Spirit says to the church at Laodicea:
For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,’ not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.
I often regard lukewarmness as some distinct category of sin, a passivity into which we may lapse through lack of religious activity. Surely it isn’t possible to be lukewarm while maintaining a steady pace of church involvement, small groups, bible studies, theological reading, and service! Lukewarm people don’t have all these wonderfully engaging activities to point to; lukewarm people only come to church every few sundays and see religion as an appendage to the life they are living. True enough, for some kinds of lukewarmness. But for others, lukewarmness is grounded specifically on a personal flourishing in religious activities.
For many seminarians, this is the real danger of lukewarmness. There aren’t many of us who are only partially churched, nor are there many who sneak out of sunday services when our NFL team is playing the early game. But there are many of us who, like the Laodiceans, practically dislocate our shoulders with our back-patting for our deep involvement with the various ministries of the church. We say to ourselves (though not in so many words), “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,” because we fancy that, being students of divinity who can quote Augustine at the drop of a proverbial hat, we are on that account "mature and complete, lacking nothing."
But the path of Christian maturity is not one merely of more and more involvement and more and more biblical and theological knowledge, as though having come to new life in Christ by grace we should then bootstrap ourselves to maturity by being on a larger number of email prayer lists and church committees, and admiring our own busyness, involvement, and understanding. The path of Christian maturity, rather, is a path of increasing reliance on Christ as we come more accurately to know the depths of our own depravity and inadequacy.
We must come to know that apart from Christ we are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked,” lest we think that having come to him in poverty we now have some riches to offer him. For what do we have that we have not received? Note well what Jesus says to the Laodiceans, immediately after having told them their spiritual poverty: that they must buy from him gold, and white garments, and salve for their blind eyes. How do the poor purchase the riches offered by Christ? Precisely by coming to him with open, empty hands. We who are in danger of lukewarmness must come to the inexhaustible fountain of Christ to drink; must come to the table of Christ to feast “without money and without price.” Only when we come utterly destitute of ourselves do we receive the riches offered by Christ.