Cold Water and Hot Water
May 22, 2022
A pretty well-known Japanese resident in Hong Kong has made a video in Cantonese introducing a few things about Hong Kong-style restaurants that surprise her. These include “the restaurants serve lukewarm water” and “extra cost is charged on cold drinks.” All these look so ordinary to us but where the lady came from, restaurants provide boiled water with ice. If lukewarm water is served, customers will think that it is not fresh.
In Revelation, the Lord Jesus says the church in Laodicea is neither hot nor cold – it is lukewarm, and so the Lord is about to spit them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). According to contemporary exegetists, the Lord is not reprimanding believers who have lost zeal in their pursuit of spiritual growth, nor does it mean that church life is too quiet or that ministries lack enthusiasm. It is not so.
Note what the Lord also says: “… neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” (3:15) In other words, “either cold or hot is good!” But this church is neither hot nor cold but lukewarm, which is difficult to swallow. It is like coke that is no longer sparkling and ice-cold, or lemon coke that is not boiling hot. You probably would not want to drink it, would you?
The Lord illustrates His teaching with everyday examples from the local area – cold water, warm water, hot water. The water supply at Laodicea was unstable and so two elevated Roman-style aqueducts were built to bring in water from two sources. The first was the hot spring district of Hierapolis in the northern mountains. The spring water there is said to be curative and anesthetic. The second water source is in the south-east snow mountain near Colossae. The water there is ice-cold and pure. When I was young, the advertisement of a certain brand of distilled water made me think that its taste was what pure water is supposed to be like. It was not until one day when I traveled to a glacier and took a sip of the water from the melted ice there that I truly tasted the sweetness and refreshing taste of “pure” water.
The town of Laodicea is unique in having these two water sources. Unfortunately, the water is faraway and so the good water lost the quality its name denotes. On one hand, the boiling hot spring water with curative function had a lot of its minerals precipitated in the first part of the conduit. What flowed into the town was lukewarm water without much use. Likewise, the pure water from the snow mountain flows through uncovered conduit where leaves and dust on the two sides were blown into the water. In addition to that, the sun warms up the water along the way and so the water was no longer cold. Thus, the hot spring water Laodicea got was not hot enough and its snow mountain water was not cold enough. This may not be evident on the surface. But once you drink it, you will know it cannot fulfil its function.
This is the Lord’s warning to the church at Laodicea: They should not be believers on the surface but hollow inside. They should not be Christians who copy something from here and there but who lack godly qualities within. Let us all reflect upon ourselves: What sort of person do I appear to be in church? And what am I like in relating to others in daily life and when I am alone?
The Lord goes on to say: “I know your deeds” (3:15, NIV). This is translated “I know you inside and out” in the Bible version called The Message. The Lord knows what you and I are truly like inside out. May we all be awaken and be either cold water or hot water. In any case, we should never be a cup of lukewarm water that has lost its spiritual qualities.