Emperor’s Clothes

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realise that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”
Revelation‬ ‭3:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Jesus continues with His observations about what was going on at Laodicea. He has already exposed their apostasy, their spiritual lukewarmness, and how much He hates it. And He now points out that the Laodiceans were guilty of being complacent. The people in that church were comfortably off, it seems, and their wealth seems to have corrupted their spiritual life to the extent that they felt they had no need for God. 

There is obviously a difference between our earthly and spiritual lives. On earth, the natural man and woman work so that, in return, they can receive or purchase the supplies, food, clothing etc., they need for life. A fundamental reality that started when Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden. But in the spiritual, there is a different economy at work. All that is needed for spiritual life is supplied through a relationship with God. And it looks as though the Laodiceans were unaware of their spiritual needs and instead were perhaps rationalising that their wealthy state was God’s blessing. And by so doing they were totally missing what being a Christian was all about.

Jesus goes on to point out that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked”. Jesus was of course referring to their spiritual state as history hasn’t recorded stories of blind and naked people at that time forming a church. You would think that anyone told this would be aware of it, but it seems the Laodiceans were so spiritually dead, that they were walking around in blissful ignorance, anaesthetised by their comfortable life and wealth. Jesus pointed out five attributes that marked out their relationship with God. They were “wretched and miserable”, a reference to an unhappy life. Isn’t it strange how people can apparently have everything but still feel within themselves a desperate unhappiness? They were “poor”, meaning they were spiritually bankrupt. Incidentally, how many rich people reach the news, wealthy beyond what most of us can ever dream of, but are still desperately needy? Rich in possessions and money, but spiritually poor. In his first letter to Timothy, his son in the faith, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). The reference to being “blind” perhaps related to their lack of a vision. Proverbs 29:18 (NASB) reads, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law“. Finally, Jesus said they were “naked”, exposed for what they had become. Without the spiritual covering of a relationship with God. I’m reminded of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the emperor who was deceived into thinking he was wearing a marvellous suit of clothes but in fact was naked before his people, deceived and vain.

Today’s pilgrims, in our comfortable Western societies, need to take note of today’s verse. We must frequently ask ourselves relevant questions about our spiritual status because it is so easy to fall into complacency. We must always be aware that we are at our most vulnerable when we don’t think we need anything. I can remember two specific periods in my life when I was in a desperate situation, so desperate that only God had the remedy. And that was when I was closest to God. My spiritual vision was sharp and focused. Prayers were answered. My pain was replaced by an assurance that God was in control. And He was.

Pilgrims also need to have a vision. A church or fellowship of believers need a clear vision of where they are going and how they are growing, as a group of Christ’s followers. We cannot go through life without one, because otherwise we will just spiritually drift. If we’re unsure we ask God. That is a prayer He will always answer. 

Dear Lord God. Thank You for reminding us that without You we quickly find ourselves in dangerous territory. Not for us are emperor’s clothes. We want to be clothed in Your love and grace, close to our Source. Please help us on our journey. Amen.