When Jesus says, “Because you say, ‘I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing’” (Revelation 3:17a), He lets the church at Laodicea know that the grand claim and accompanying attitude of the city of Laodicea following the earthquake that leveled their city, that they needed no help or funds from Rome to rebuild, had infiltrated their church. This is what reveals that there were very likely some wealthy individuals to be found in the church (and perhaps they were preaching a very early version of the “prosperity gospel”?). Again, this is not a problem unless the presence of the wealth leads to ungainly results, in which the wealthy are simply treated better within the church and afforded greater honor (in the honor and shame culture) simply because of the fact of their wealth.
Lest they become too puffed up with their wealth, which would have been gained through their business of money exchange for the region (3:18a), their sale of high-end clothing made from the black wool for which Laodicea was famous (3:18b), or the sale of their eye salve (3:18c), Jesus lets them know that they are actually “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” (3:17b), and encourages them to “take My advice and buy gold from Me refined by fire so you can become rich! Buy from Me white clothing so you can be clothes and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed, and buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see!” (3:18) One must notice the use of “shameful.” Such language, given the cultural context, is quite specific and should not escape attention.
This is a bit of a double entendre, as it serves as both a rebuke against unwarranted puffery as it relates to what is of true value in the kingdom of the Creator God and amongst the people that represent that kingdom, while also reminding them that this is the attitude that those that have acquired wealth (regardless of the means by which it was acquired, whether that be skill, diligence, luck, inheritance, oppression, or fraud) should take when it comes to their position inside the church. The wealthy, who are seated at the places of honor at the world’s banqueting tables, should be even more fervent in their efforts to take the lowest place when it comes to the gathering together of the church. Yes, even making a strenuous and concerted effort to do so, while not trumpeting the fact that it is occurring.
Ultimately, the practice of serving in the church will spill over into their participation in the wider community (as should be the case for all, whether rich or poor), thus the gathering together as a church and exemplifying the power of the Gospel to turn the world upside down (the accusation leveled against the church community in Acts 17), allows the people of the kingdom of the covenant God to learn the way that their God expects them to serve and prefer one another so that they may effectively represent His kingdom to a watching and waiting world, in an ongoing development of the virtue of serving and preferring, so that such things become a matter of habit.