The seventh and final mark of the church, according to Revelation 2–3 is wholeheartedness.
It is a character quality that the church in Laodicea lacked (Rev. 3:14–22). Listen to what Jesus says to them: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Three times in two verses, Jesus drives home the point that the Laodicean Christians were neither extreme in their faith nor extreme in their disbelief. Theirs was a complacent, half-hearted Christianity at best.
And their complacency flowed from prosperity: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” In one of his Father Brown stories, G.K. Chesterton writes of an Eastern mystic who declared, “I need nothing.” This declaration frightened Father Brown because a person who needs nothing does not need God. Whatever their religious pretensions may have been, deep in their hearts, the Laodiceans felt themselves to be without need.
Commentators point out that Laodicea was a prosperous city known for its textiles and eye salves. Perhaps this is why Jesus frames the Laodicean Christians’ need in such materialistic terms: “you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” The Laodiceans had access to fine clothing and good medicine, but they lacked that necessary richness of spirit that God supplies us for the journey to heaven. “I counsel you,” Jesus entreats them, “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.”
In my opinion, Christ’s message to the first-century Laodicean church is a pertinent message for the twenty-first-century American church, perhaps the most pertinent of all the seven letters. We American Christians are healthy, wealthy, and free to worship God according to the dictates of our consciences, without fear of persecution. We are almost unique in church history for our prosperity and liberty. And yet, we too—like the Laodiceans—are complacent. Our wealth, which allows us to worry about our wants rather than our needs, blinds us spiritually, making us think we are better off than we really are. In the very state of needing nothing, we show how much we need God. We have full stomachs; we need whole hearts.
The letter to Laodicea ends with Christ standing at a door and knocking. When I grew up, preachers often used this image as an invitation for nonbelievers to accept Jesus Christ into their hearts. But, in context, the image is of Christ standing at the door of the church, asking those who already believe to let him in. It is a fitting conclusion to the seven letters. The church will be marked by love, suffering, truth, holiness, sincerity, mission, and wholeheartedness—but only if we invite Christ to be present among us.
He is knocking. Will we answer?