THE ROAD TO LUKEWARMNESS STARTS AT LOVELESSNESS
For the most part, all Christian ministries often start well. Unlike nowadays when Christian ministry has become a synonym for joblessness, it used to be rare to find a Christian minister who took on the mantle of the ministry in error or with an ulterior motive. Many Christian denominations that are known today for their bad reputation were actually founded by people who had genuine passion for lost souls, whose primary purpose was to serve the Master. And the Christian ministers who have gained notoriety for conducts unbecoming of a Christian were once pure-hearted lovers of God who wanted nothing other than to lead sinners to the saving knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the very beginning, when they were still wet behind the ears, their motives were pure and intentions genuine. All they were about was preaching the Gospel and raising hell for the kingdom of darkness. The pleasures of this world weren’t any of their concerns. The Word of God burned like fire in their hearts, it was like fire within their bones, and the zeal of the Lord consumed them.
Over time, however, as the ministry grows, and as he increasingly gathers large followings, and the fame, prestige, and wealth follow, the man of God gradually loses sight of what’s important and his focus shifts to fluffs with no eternal value. Surreptitiously, the Christian ministry takes a detour from the path of its true calling, half a degree turns at a time. Slowly, the warm devotion to the LORD freezes, and cold-hearted theology sets in. Sip by sip, the man of God gets drunk on his newfound power and influence; bit by bit, his soul turns callous, and he becomes deadened to the truth. Before you know it, the Christian ministry becomes a shell of its former self and the Christian minister a mere shadow of what he once was. And soon, the ministry is living on past glories and the minister is left to boast about the deeds of yesteryears.
It is a frightening thing for a ministry to live on past glories and it is a terrifying thing for a minister of the Gospel to thrive on former splendor. Yet too many denominations today, and a considerably large number of ministers of the Gospel, do just that. They draw from a reservoir of goodwill, and they cash in on banked capital of trust and respect. But it can be said of many of these ministers and their ministries, “Ichabod, for the glory has departed.” And like Moses in the wilderness, they cover their faces with veils so that their followers would not recognize that the glory has faded, and God’s presence has long departed.
So, how does a Christian ministry go from glory to gory? What road takes a Christian minister from hero to zero? Are there recurring patterns that are telltale signs of fading glory that we can look out for? What are some of the common clues that tell us that a ministry or minister is lifeless?
In His letters, written by Apostle John on the Island of Patmos, to the seven Churches of Asia Minor (namely, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea), the Lord Jesus gave us what can be described as the Christian roadmap for sustaining the fire of the faith and manual for living an enduring Christian life. In the letters to five of the seven Churches, the Lord provided us a codebook for discerning the fading glory from a Christian ministry and He showed us the path that leads to lukewarmness.
The Church at Ephesus (Revelations 2:1-7) – Loveless
A Church that reduces the believers walk in the faith to cold orthodoxy and where spiritual service of worship becomes dutiful drudgery devoid of deep-seated devotion and heart-felt love for the Lover of our soul will soon become a compromised Church that assimilates with the world and becomes indistinguishable from the outside world.
The Church at Pergamum (Revelations 2:12-17) – Liberal
A compromised Church that assimilates with the world and becomes indistinguishable from the outside world will soon fall into error and veer into heretical doctrine.
The Church at Thyatira (Revelations 2:18-29) – Licentious
When a Church falls into error and teaches heretical doctrine, it'll soon be given to immorality, idolatry, and all sorts of depravity.
The Church at Sardis (Revelations 3:1-6) – Lifeless
An erroneous, idolatrous, and depraved Church is a Church that soon becomes spiritually dead but retains an appearance of being alive.
The Church at Laodicea (Revelations 3:14-22) – Lukewarm
A lifeless Church is one that will soon become lukewarm and insipid. Such a church has a false sense of being rich, prosperous with no need for anything, without realizing it is wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
The Christians in the seven churches of Revelations 2 and 3 were redeemed people, many of whom had turned from idol worship and immoral living to embrace Christianity wholeheartedly. Many of these people paid a heavy price for serving the Lord in the midst of immoral and idolatrous societies. All the Churches were doctrinally sound, for they were taught by Apostle Paul, the most gifted Christian apologetic of all times.
Paul spent more than 3 years at Ephesus pouring himself into the congregation, teaching them the Word of God and sound doctrine. Right there, in the middle of a licentious pagan culture, Paul built one of the most Biblically literate Churches of any era.
In his valedictory message to the elders of the Church at Ephesus in Acts 20: 26-27, Paul told them, “Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all people. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.”
Paul gave them everything, he taught them everything and held nothing back. In fact, it was from the Church at Ephesus that the Churches at Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea became the center of Biblical knowledge and sound doctrine. We know this because the Church turned the city of Ephesus upside down. The Believers in Ephesus were so fervent and devoted, the silversmith traders who made their living around the worship of the goddess Artemis almost ran out of business because the people quit idol worship in droves. Business got so bad that the traders had to whip up a riot and rile up the city against Paul and the nascent Church.
Revelation 2:2 testified of the faith of the Church at Ephesus: “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.”
The Ephesians weren't some unserious Christians playing born again. They labored (i.e., worked until breaking point) for the Gospel, they were intolerant of evil, and their knowledge of Scriptures was vast and their perception so deep that they were able to quickly recognize false apostles.
Yet, none of the seven churches exists today. The problem with the Church at Ephesus was that they left their first love i.e., their passion for the faith soon turned into a cold orthodoxy and loveless religiosity. Their christianity turned into the service of performance and mere routine. The Ephesian Christians became cocooned within their theology, they walled off themselves from the sinners around them. They became more focused on defending their theology rather than loving people and they developed a disdain for their sinful neighbors and anyone they considered less spiritual than themselves.
You see, the road that leads to lukewarmness often starts with lovelessness. When a church stops loving it soon becomes a church that compromises with the world, it then becomes the church that tolerates sin, and then becomes a church content with form, and ritual, and organization, and eventually becomes insipid and lukewarm that is at risk of being spat out by the LORD.
Lovelessness becomes liberalism, liberalism turns to licentiousness, licentiousness results in lifelessness, and lifelessness ends in lukewarmness. This is the usual progression for the ruin of ministries, it is the path all fallen ministers take, and it is a road we must all avoid.