The winning word in this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee was “laodicean,” defined as “lukewarm or indifferent, particularly in matters of politics or religion.” Congratulations to eighth-grader Kavya Shivashankar for spelling it correctly. The word comes from a passage in the book of revelation describing the church in the ancient city of Laodicea:
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:
“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth….” (Rev 3:14-16)
One might assume that being “hot” is a positive and being “cold” is a negative, but the imagery need not refer in simplistic terms to the degree of one’s spiritual zeal. In fact, both “hot” and “cold” can be understood as commendable characteristics. As Mitchell Reddish explains,
The reference to cold, hot, and warm water would have had special significance for the people of Laodicea. Six miles away in Hierapolis, hot water springs bubbled up and cascaded over the cliffs, leaving behind snowy white deposits of calcium carbonate. These white cliffs were easily visible from Laodicea. The hot springs in Hierapolis (and elsewhere in the Lycus Valley) were valued for their medicinal benefits. At Colossae, on the other hand, was a stream that perennial funished clear, cold water that was excellent for human consumption. At Laodicea, however, the water supply was not good. The water that was available was barely drinkable, lukewarm, and apparently had an emetic quality. Like the water at Laodicea, the church is useless. (Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary [Smyth & Helwys, 2001] 81-82).
It seems God can and does use people and churches with different passions, different callings, and different gifts. But God has no use for passionless, spiritually indifferent or smugly self-sufficient Christians.