Says What Now? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”

February 6th, 2010

Here we go with the first entry in the Says What Now? series!  I’m starting with a verse whose misuse is obvious, and whose real meaning is meaty–challenging, encouraging, and spurring us to live passionately.

The Verse

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

The Common Interpretation

People read this in the context of evangelism & the gospel.  Jesus is standing at the door with the gospel invitation–just open the door, and he’ll come into your heart.

The Context

14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 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. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

The Meaning

Jesus isn’t talking to people outside the church–this is one of the messages to seven churches in Asia!  (There’s a question about what exactly “the angel of the church” means in these seven messages, which I’m going to ignore.)  So looking at the context immediately tells you that verse 20 isn’t about general evangelism.  What does it mean?

The first thing that strikes me is this: Christ is inviting people inside the church to let him “come in and eat with” us.  Is this some kind of higher level of intimacy or blessing?  If so, that should thrill us, and make each of us consider carefully.  How is he inviting us? How do we partake?  What’s actually going on?  Are we already there?  If so, who isn’t? (And how do we help our brothers & sisters enter into it?)

Laodicea the Lukewarm Church

Specifically, Jesus is speaking to the lukewarm–churchgoers who do not pursue God with passion & zeal.  Perhaps it’s people who “prayed a prayer” or “joined the group”–but they’re personally apathetic.  Jesus calls them to repent–not from active rebellion & hostility to God, but from lives of comfortable presumption that it doesn’t matter how they live.

Ephesians 2:8-9 is a standard passage in evangelicalism; we love it for the simple statement that we do not earn salvation–we’re saved by God’s grace, through faith, not as a result of our works.  I imagine the Lukewarm are those who bank on those verses, but who want to ignore verse 10–that we are created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do.  We’re not saved by our works, but we’re saved for them.  The grace of God is not intended to give tickets to heaven to the lazy & comfortable–Christ “gave himself for us … to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)

Christ died to save us, and to change us, to live lives of reckless abandon for him.  This is what he is calling us toward–opening our eyes to see true riches.  (Not that we do this by our own strength–it’s part of God’s grace in our lives, Phil 2:12-18.)

The Carrot and the Stick

And this is not simply a pleading invitation–there is carrot and there is stick.  There’s reproof here–discipline coming from his love for us, but discipline nonetheless.  Namely: Because they are lukewarm, uncaring, Christ is ready to “spit you out of my mouth”.

It would be inconsistent with the Gospel to say that this means, “Meet a certain standard to earn your continued salvation, or you’ll be kicked out.”  But it is easy to see the connection with the common theme in Scripture of “fruit”.

  • That “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
  • That real faith shows itself in works. (James 2:14-26)
  • That who we are & our relationship to God is revealed by our fruit (Matt 12:33, Luke 6:43-44, 8:9-15, John 15:2, Gal. 5:21-24, 1 John 3:9-10), and every tree that bears no fruit is cut down, because it reveals they do not know Christ (Matt 7:15-23).

So, it is possible that the Lukewarm in Laodicea did not yet truly know Christ.  It’s possible that they know Christ, and this is what God used to transform them.  (Or, if those who think you can lose salvation are right, these could be true Christians in danger of falling from grace.  But I take Rom 8:26-30 to mean that God bends every event in the lives of his children to prevent that from happening.)  I assume that the church would include a mix.

In any case, we’re being called toward what we were created for–the life of joy & passion & love we’re meant to live.

P.S. “Crazy Love”

I haven’t read it myself, but my parents tell me their church is studying Crazy Love, by Francis Chan.  It discusses these issues from Revelation 3, describing both the Lukewarm Church, and a life of “crazy love”.

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37 Responses to “Says What Now? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock””

  1. Al Margheim says:

    In his book “Crazy Love,” Francis Chan takes the position that Christ is speaking to unbelievers (the lukewarm) in verse 16. Francis thinks it would be unlike Christ to spit believers out of his mouth.

    • Robert Butler says:

      Al Margheim, there are many believers who are lukewarm, and there are many non-believers who are NOT YET believers only because they have not yet been evangelized or because they have not yet been given the grace to see Him. Many of these souls are–in the future–going to be zealous Christians who will be heroes for Christ. In this case, the lukewarm believers are much more guilty, because they have been given more, but they have buried their talents. Therefore, I believe the truth is, yes, Jesus will vomit many believers out of His stomach, because they disgust Him more than those who either honestly hate Him or honestly don’t yet know Him. It is not enough to believe…for even the demons in hell believe in God.

  2. Tim says:

    I agree, to an extent. It would be unlike Christ, who said “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Matt 12:20).

    On the other hand, Rev 3:19 says “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent”, and that seems more particular than the general love of God for all–like Heb 12:7-11.

    I think you have to say Christ is speaking to both groups–those who Jesus “never knew” (Matt 7:21-23) (i.e. the truly lukewarm), along with the “smoldering wicks”. Jesus intends to revive faltering sheep, turn some of the goats into sheep, and actually “spit out” the other goats. The last are those in 1 John 2:19, who leave so “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

    I take that view of all the warning passages of the NT. The warnings are intended to kick weak Christians into gear, and bring non-Christians in the church to faith for the first time.

  3. Pastor Ellis says:

    Jesus could not have been speaking to the Unbelievers he was talking to the people who once up on A Time knew him and worshipped him and Loved his word. Genesis 4:5 But to Cain and to his offering God had no respect. and Cain was very wroth countenance fell. VERSE 6 Why……
    Verse 7. God said if thou doest well shalt thou not be acccepted and if thou does not well Sin Lieth at Thy Door? A chance to Repent was given to Cain but he choose to Slay his Brother. Just Thinking.

  4. Frank says:

    Verse 22 of Chapter three specifically says: “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” That’s the whole crux of the matter. “Anyone” means “Everyone” who will. Why would Jesus not want “Everyone” who would “listen” to the Spirit and “understand” what the Spirit is saying “to the churches.” Maybe you can prove that verse 20 is “directed” to the churches. Good for you! Does that mean that it is not intended to draw the lost to Him? I don’t really mean to be pushy or impolite here. I’m just thinking of what Jesus and let’s say the apostle Paul might say about this. I’m thinking: “You’re straining at a gnat.” and “I have become all things to all men that by all means I might win some.” Knock knockin’ on your heart’s door!

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