I know thy works
that thou art neither cold nor hot
I would thou wert cold or hot
because thou art lukewarm
and neither cold nor hot
I will spew thee out of my mouth
Most expositions of this verse use the temperature as a metaphor for righteousness, wickedness, and the degrees in between. Meaning, [as the standard interpretation will go] God wants people who’ve made up their minds — either to be “hot” disciples “on fire” for Him and His good news, or He wants them to be “cold” and ambivalent towards His law and His word. And what He abhors and won’t tolerate is someone who is wishy-washy — trying to do a little of the “hot” church-related things, while still being “cold” in other aspects with the rest of the culture.
This common exposition is incorrect. Most obviously because it teaches that God is more pleased with a wicked person than He is with a person who may be trying to convert to the gospel, but isn’t quite all the way there [mentally-speaking] yet. But more importantly than that — it misses the nature of the hot, cold, and lukewarm water metaphor.
“Hot water” would have been the kind of underground spring waters heated by geothermal radiation, and were used for medicinal purposes. Because geothermal-heated water can hold more dissolved solids, “hot water” was prized for its high mineral content and the temperature was therapeutic for soaking aches and pains.
“Cold water” would have again been from underground springs, but remained cold. The time spent underground exposes cold waters to minerals as well, which give the water its unique flavor and CO2 bubbles — depending on the nature of the geology through which it passes. “Cold water” from such springs is usually very clear and has been naturally filtered — therefore, it was a very healthy and safe choice for drinking water. Also, it is often the case that such cold-water springs are labeled as “sacred wells” by local folklore.
Now — “Lukewarm” water is like the “salt that has lost its savor“, and the reason the Lord says that he will “spew it out of His mouth” is because it has lost the qualities that gave the hot or cold water their purpose/value [not because it can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be hot or cold].
The Lord finds value and use in both the hot water and the cold water. One is not “good”, while the other one is “bad”. The temperatures do not reflect degrees of devotion to the Lord. He would rather us be either cold or hot because both are identical in having a purpose, or a useful function. Being “lukewarm” is condemned — not because it means you can’t make up your mind which to be [hot or cold] — rather it’s because lukewarm water has lost either the hotness [medicinal] or the coldness [drinking] that makes the water useful.
He wants us to have use, value, and a purpose [whether it is as “hot water” or as “cold water”, either one] — and He condemns those who’ve lost their purpose and are thence “good for nothing”.
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