On July 8, 1731, twenty-seven-year-old Jonathan Edwards preached in Boston, Massachusetts, what would become the first of his sermons to be published. Entitled, God Glorified in Man’s Dependence, it was based on 1 Corinthians 1:29-31, a passage in which Paul was concerned that “no human being might boast in the presence of God. He,” wrote Paul, “is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
All the good that we have, said Edwards, is in and through Christ. It is through him alone that true wisdom is imparted to the mind. It is by being in him that we are justified, have our sins pardoned, and are received as righteous into God’s favor. Through utter dependence on Christ alone we have true excellency of heart and understanding and our actual deliverance or redemption from all misery, as well as the bestowal of all happiness and glory.
This text, he continued, reveals our “absolute and universal dependence” on God. In everything we are “directly, immediately, and entirely dependent on God.” We are “dependent on him for all, and are dependent on him [in] every way.” He is the ultimate cause for whatever good we have. He is the medium through which this good is imparted to us. And he is the good itself that is given and conveyed.
Evidently one of the primary problems in Laodicea is that they were largely oblivious to this truth. They had little sense of their utter dependence on God and proudly claimed to be spiritually rich, prosperous, and without need, all because of their own effort and self-sustaining achievement. They were living self-deluded lives, unaware of their true spiritual condition and out of touch with the source of all good.
Why was it so important for the Laodiceans to understand their spiritual plight? Why was Jesus so concerned that the blinders of self-deception and self-sufficiency be stripped away and they see and sense their utter and absolute dependence on him for all they are and have?
The answer is simply that God will not tolerate any attitude in us or activity by us that in any way detracts from his glory. There are countless passages that bear witness to this truth, but a few will suffice.
“I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other” (Isaiah 42:8).
“My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11b).
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace . . . in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11).
The self-sufficient, self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing, self-promoting pomp and pride of the Laodiceans was not something Jesus would long tolerate. No one, not the Laodiceans, not your or I or the most magnificent mega-church on the earth will be permitted to detract from God’s glory or take credit for what he has accomplished.
Tragically, the Laodiceans had grown plump and proud of themselves, blind to their desperate need for what only Christ can supply. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).
George Eldon Ladd puts his finger on the problem:
“The church boasted that it was healthy and prosperous. The Greek of this verse literally rendered is, ‘I am rich and I have gotten riches.’ Not only did the church boast in her supposed spiritual well-being; she boasted that she had acquired her wealth by her own efforts. Spiritual complacency was accompanied by spiritual pride. No doubt part of her problem was the inability to distinguish between material and spiritual prosperity. The church that is prosperous materially and outwardly can easily fall into the self-deception that her outward prosperity is the measure of her spiritual prosperity. . . . [The church] is in reality like a blind beggar, destitute, clad in rags” (66).
Our Lord’s use of terms in this passage points to a deliberate contrast on his part between the church at Smyrna and that of Laodicea. Smyrna suffered from material poverty (ptocheia) but was regarded by Jesus as spiritually wealthy (plousios). Laodicea, on the other hand, was materially wealthy (plousios) but spiritually poor (ptocheia). Thus, despite their banks, they were beggars! Despite their famous eye-salve, they were blind! Despite their prosperous clothing factories, they were naked!
Part of what it means to be spiritually lukewarm is to be smug, complacent, satisfied with the spiritual status quo, at rest with one’s progress in the Christian life, with little or no self-awareness, little or no recognition that all is of God and his Christ.
To be lukewarm is to live as if what you presently know and experience of Christ is enough. No need or desire to press in further. No need or desire to seek after God. Little or no longing to pray and fast. Little or no longing to break free of sin. Satisfied with the current depth of delight in the Spirit. Satisfied with the current extent of knowledge of the Father. The Laodiceans were content with life as it was and not in the least ashamed or hesitant to take full credit for what little they had achieved.
If I may again use Edwardsian language, the Laodiceans felt little sense of dependence on God and thus were poised to deprive him of the praise of which he is always and ever due. And Jesus simply won’t have it.
They took stock in their spiritual assets and evaluated their religious portfolio and felt rich and prosperous and in need of nothing, not even what God might give. Our Lord’s assessment was of another sort. “You’re spiritually bankrupt,” he said, “and morally wretched and visually impaired and shamefully exposed. You have no grasp of your utter dependence on me for life and forgiveness and hope and joy and understanding and righteousness.”
Edwards concluded his sermon with these words, and with them I close:
“Let us be exhorted to exalt God alone, and ascribe to him all the glory of redemption. Let us endeavor to obtain, and increase in, a sensibleness of our great dependence on God, to have our eye to him alone, to mortify a self-dependent and self-righteous disposition. Man is naturally exceedingly prone to exalt himself, and depend on his own power or goodness, as though from himself he must expect happiness. He is prone to have respect to enjoyments alien from God and his Spirit, as those in which happiness is to be found. . . . [Rather] let him give God all the glory, who alone makes him to differ from the worst of men in this world, or the most miserable of the damned in hell. Hath any man much comfort and strong hope of eternal life, let not his hope lift him up, but dispose him the more to abase himself, to reflect on his own exceeding unworthiness of such a favor and to exalt God alone.”