Paul told the Philippian church: “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound” (Philippians 4:12). It might seem odd to hear Paul say that he had learned how to deal with plenty. We wouldn’t consider a place of blessing to be dangerous, and while no one wants to suffer need, being blessed with plenty is often the greatest danger of all.
That proved true for the church of Laodicea, because their blessings led to their downfall.
(17) Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
(18) I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
(19) As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
(20) Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
As mentioned before, the city of Laodicea was blessed with the wealth of three major industries: Banking, black wool for which they were well known, and a famous eye salve. The benefit of those riches spilled into the church at Laodicea. It probably had a number of wealthy congregants who were able to “bless” the church with all kinds of money. It probably wasn’t long before the church confused having everything it wanted with having everything it needed. Wealth, prestige and standing in the community were seen as right standing before God: “We must be OK. Look how God has blessed us!” Sadly, what they had kept them from seeing what they needed (v. 17) .
In verse 18 the Lord calls out the vanity of all three of Laodicea’s vaunted income streams. In the first phrase He tells them their gold is no good by counseling them to by His gold instead. The vanity of earthly gold in the face of coming judgement is a recurring theme in Scripture. James told his wealth-dependent readers: “Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you…” (James 5:3). Of course, James knew that gold could not rust, but he was not referring to the metal’s physical traits. He was referring to its temporal nature. All the gold in the world cannot buy the one thing everyone needs: redemption (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36). By telling the Laodiceans to buy “gold tried in the fire,” the Lord was advising them to invest in treasures able to withstand the fire of judgement (Matthew 6:19-20). With that kind of gold they could buy white raiment more precious than the finest black wool in all Laodicea. Compared to Jesus’ robes of righteousness, the wool the Laodiceans treasured so much was no more effective at covering their nakedness than the fig leaves used by Adam and Eve.
To cure their spiritual blindness, the Lord prescribes His own eye salve. What they had was good only for the physical body. It could do nothing for the soul and they were in desperate need of spiritual eyesight because their faith in riches was blinding them to their need of Christ.
As strong as His words were, Jesus reminds the Laodicean church of His love for them: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (v. 19). As far as we might stray, God’s love for us in inexhaustible. Even His harshest rebukes are meant to reconcile us to Himself. Still, despite His efforts to redeem the Laodicean church, the Lord finds Himself in a heartbreaking position:
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)
This verse is often used as an evangelistic appeal to win lost people to Christ and it is a good one to use because it portrays Christ’s strong desire to redeem us. He is the One taking the initiative, looking for a way in and at the same time He is not forcing His way in. He is standing at the door and knocking. He is not breaking in through a window. The person He is seeking to win must let Him in. The tragic part is that Jesus is saying these things to a church. In their search for worldly wealth and status, Jesus had been pushed to the outside. In His close to this church, Jesus reminds us of the wealth and position we shall have in heaven:
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. (Revelation 3:21)
The Laodiceans were looking for wealth and status in this world. What good did that bring them really? Christ offers us eternal wealth and a position forever settled with Him in glory!