For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Revelation 3:17
I love basketball. I played all the time growing up with my brother. We would play in our driveway, at youth group, or down at the park. When I read this verse I think of that kid on the team who thought he was a superstar, but was really a bench warmer. There was always one. He thought he was Seth Curry (or Reggie Miller for you old schoolers) so he would shoot three pointer after three pointer and miss most of them. Or he thought he could dribble, but couldn’t and turned the ball over. Or the one who thought he was Jordan and would drive in for some crazy lay-up, look stupid while doing so, and of course, miss the shot. It is easy to see this on the court. But churches can become like this as well with an inflated opinion of their own worth in the Kingdom.
The church at Laodicea thought they were the top of the class when they were sitting on the stool at the back of the room with the dunce cap on. They believe they are holy when Jesus wants to spit them out. All churches have sins. All congregations have blind spots, weak points, and areas of teaching that do not line up Scripture. A congregation following Christ is not a perfect one, but one that recognizes they are weak, works to shore up those weaknesses, and repents when they fail, which will be often. This is normal Christian living. But a church or a person can become so proud over time they forget this. They believe they are without weaknesses and blind spots. They start reading their own press clippings about how great they are.
How does a church reach a place where they believe they are wealthy and have need of nothing, yet they are wretched, poor, blind, and naked? How does a person reach a place where they see themselves as spiritually mature and important and yet they are useless in the kingdom? Here are three ways we develop spiritual blindness like the church at Laodicea.
- We rely on outward appearances. The desire to look holy trumps actual holiness. For a church this can be numbers, programs, rules, liturgy, etc. For a person it can be having a lot of money, well-behaved children, going to church, modesty, witnessing, knowing a lot theology, etc. But in each case outward appearances deflect any discussion of what is the inward reality is. Their life is one of photo shopped holiness.
- We stop fighting sin. We become complacent. We compare ourselves to other Christians or non-Christians and say, “I am not that bad.” We focus on the sins of others and spend little time examining our own. We make excuses for our sins when they do show their ugly head. This is a natural extension of number 1.
- We begin to trust in ourselves. It might be our theology or our modesty or our liturgy or Bible reading or fill in the blank. But we develop an unhealthy self-reliance. Our works start becoming our source of strength and hope. Our need for Jesus goes down.
What are some ways to prevent this spiritual blindness?
- The Word read, but especially the Word preached. James 1:23 says the Bible is like a mirror. It is the God-ordained tool to show us what we really look like. In the Scriptures, the preached Word reigns supreme. We should read our Bible every day. But that is not a substitute for preaching by a lawfully ordained minister of the gospel. When we read on our own we can glide over convicting passages, we can be blind to the meaning of passage, or we can fail to see how a passage applies to our lives. The Spirit uses the preaching of the Word to open our blind eyes.
- Friends who will tell you what you don’t want to hear. Friends who love you, but are honest with you about your sins. Faithful are the wounds of friends (Proverbs 27:6). We all like that verse when we are wounding others. But what about when we are on the receiving end? You don’t need friends who flatter you. You need friends who wound you. If you don’t have a couple of friends who do this then your chance of being spiritually blind goes up.
- Honest prayer that says, “Lord I want to know where I am sinning. Expose my nakedness.” That is a dangerous prayer, but a good one. Do you want to know if you are blind? This is often the biggest reason we go blind. We don’t want to know, do we? We don’t want to look into our lives to see where we are out of step with Christ. We want to live in ignorant bliss. One of the first steps to repentance and holiness is a desire for God to expose our sin. Without this blindness is a guarantee.
The greatest obstacle to building the church is not sexual immorality, false doctrine, lack of resources, bad preaching, or bad evangelism. It is pride. A pride that says, not in word, but in deed, we don’t need Jesus. A church that believes she has it all together and does not need Christ is a church that is useless in kingdom work and will be spit out by Christ.
The good news is that Jesus has gold, garments, and eye salve to provide for us, cloth us, and help us see (Revelation 3:18). But before we come to Him we have to know we are poor, naked, and blind. Do you believe you need nothing? Do you act as if you are self-sufficient? Then repent. Admit you are blind. And come to Jesus.