Some fears are common to humanity: rattlesnakes, heights, spiders, and such. As a committed Christ-follower, at the top of my list, I would add an unexpected word: mediocrity.
Lukewarm. The word shakes my soul. The fierce words of warning written to the Laodiceans give me great pause and cause a godly consternation at the concept of Christian mediocrity:
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15–16).
I am fairly certain that meh was not part of the lexicon in and around the early church; however, the concept clearly was. Three times the Lord uses the phrase “neither hot nor cold” to emphasize the danger of mediocrity. It seems the middle ground of meh and mediocrity is a dangerous zone in which to dwell.
As one who came to know Christ later in life, I experienced a miraculous, instantaneous move from ice-cold to fiery-hot. I remember distinctly praying that I would never become lukewarm. I wanted (and still want) my walk with Christ to be the matter of greatest importance and highest allegiance in my life. I vowed that Christ would never be able to say of me, as he did of the Ephesian church, “But this I have against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:4).
Twenty-something years later, my self-confidence has diminished, but my prayers and vows remain the same. The source of my strength has shifted from self-will to the sovereign grace of God. I see with sober eyes the meh-ness and tendency to settle in my heart. Thankfully, unlike the world, Christ does not leave well enough alone. He refuses to let his beloved children settle for anything less than likeness to and nearness of the Beloved One. It is his commitment to us, not ours to him, that will keep our love kindled.
In the midst of much meh-ness, I find myself greatly helped by A. W. Tozer, one who refused to let the temperature in his heart be shaped by anything but the red-hot love of Christ.
“The word mediocre comes from two Latin words and literally means ‘halfway to the peak.’ This makes it an apt description of the progress of many Christians. They are halfway up to the peak…They are morally above the hardened sinner but they are spiritually beneath the shining saint.”
Committed believers can be uniquely tempted to settle down and rest on past work well-done rather than pressing on in the upward call of Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14). It is all too easy to fall into the trap of complacency when we begin to look around rather than upward. After all, believers who take their walks with God seriously tend to be the most morally aware and biblically astute in their circles. When we slip into comparative righteousness, we lose the motivation of continually working out the righteousness which Christ has already wrought within us (Phil. 2:12–13). Being better than our neighbor or more godly than the one in the nearest pew becomes enough for us. In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul warns us that when we slip into such comparative righteousness, we are “without understanding (2 Cor. 10:12). When we become comfortable comparing ourselves against our past performance or our present company, we begin to build comfortable chalets halfway up the mountain rather than continuing to climb.
Continuing to Climb
If anyone had reason to rest from his straining and striving for the kingdom of God, it would have been Paul. I wonder if, after his first missionary journey, in a state of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion, he toyed with settling down and joining the speaking circuit to live out of his past experiences and present knowledge of God.
If he did, we are not privy to his processing; however, we know what kept him moving onward and upward toward more of Christ. As we listen in to his corporate letter to the Philippians, we get a glimpse into one who lived for an audience of One. The Philippians, more than most of the churches to whom Paul wrote, were spiritually succeeding. They were suffering well, making many rich out of their poverty, and considering Christ their great gain. Paul not only celebrates their success but also invites them to press forward: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:12).
The beginning of the letter to the church in Laodicea offers a similar hint at how to fight mediocrity: “The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation” (Rev. 3:14). Their mediocrity, their lukewarmness, their meh-ness was primarily a problem of audience.
Looking around themselves in comparative righteousness, it was easy to leave well enough alone. They had lost sight of the “faithful and true witness” who had perfect and complete sight of their hearts. He saw something very different than the human witnesses around them saw (Rev. 3:17). He pushed aside the worldly witnesses who would have said, “Well done, decent friends” and offered them the scathing warning of the true witness. He bid them remember the only audience that mattered: him.
The One Who Descended
We all begin the ascent of the Christian life with high hopes that we will remain fixed on Christ; however, we all begin to stumble and tire from the length and hardness of the way. In our fatigue and frailty, we begin to wonder if we have any hope of making it all the way home. Our only hope of ascending in the upward climb is to fix our eyes on the One who descended from glory that he might walk us back home. Paul’s upward call was only possible because of Christ’s downward motion toward us (Phil. 2:5–11). The one whose heart was always, only aflame for the Father lay cold in the tomb that we might find our righteousness in him. We need not white-knuckle our attempts at staying fiery-hot. We need only stay close to the One who sent the Holy Spirit to carry and comfort us as we continue to climb (John 14:15). When we begin to grow exhausted by the length of the way remaining, we do well to remember the glorious welcome that awaits us in the presence of God. And even then, we won’t stop exploring the heights of his love and the depths of his beauty.
Aimee Joseph has spent many years directing women’s discipleship and ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and in Campus Outreach San Diego. She is the wife to G’Joe who has recently planted Center City Church, and mother to three growing boys. Her first book, Demystifying Decision Making released with Crossway in January 2022. You can read more of her writing at aimeejoseph.blog.
 A.W. Tozer. I Talk Back to the Devil: Essays in Spiritual Perfection. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1990, 43–44.