In Jesus’ letter to the Laodicean church, He told them, first, that the answer to their miserable spiritual condition was to buy of Him gold tried with fire. This wealthy church’s initial step was to move toward a life of sacrificial discipleship. This truth is not new in the teaching of Jesus. He told us in Luke 14 that we could not be His disciples unless we gave up everything, including our own lives. As these well-to-do Laodicean Christians moved in this direction, they would do so prayerfully, while obeying Jesus’s second command in this letter: buy of Him white garments. Understanding the true nature of their righteousness—that they had the righteousness of Jesus, through grace and faith, since they had none of our own—would keep them from becoming self-righteously legalistic in living lives of sacrifice and self-denial.

So, now we come to Jesus’s third command: The Laodiceans should buy eye salve from Jesus so that they could see.

Wasn’t embarking upon a life of sacrifice and understanding one’s need for the righteousness of Jesus seeing clearly enough?

Apparently not.

First of all, this statement to buy eye salve told the Laodiceans—again—that they were really quite blind even though they thought they saw. They were plugging along in their wealthy, loving-the-world way, quite self-satisfied, thank you very much. So it would be difficult to be told that you can’t even see when you think you see very clearly. After all, they were wealthy. Isn’t wealth an indication of God’s blessing? No, absolutely not. However, there’s more going on here than this humbling truth. Let’s look at this very interesting teaching from Jesus:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:19–25).

This passage is dynamically challenging because it is so counterintuitive. A book could be written about this, but let’s focus on the word “bad” in the context of this passage. Clearly, the point that Jesus is making here is that we cannot serve God and money and that it’s much wiser for us to store up treasure in heaven than here on earth. So, why would Jesus bring up this thing about healthy eyes and bad eyes? The word “bad” often means exactly that. It is often translated evil in the New Testament. However, it is also translated “envy” and “envious.”

“Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15 NASB).

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21–22).

It is my opinion that “bad” in the passage from Matthew 6 could be translated “envious,” but I’m no Greek scholar. Regardless of how this word is translated, I am taken aback by this teaching, because Jesus says that if our eye is “bad” or “envious” concerning money, our whole body will be full of darkness. Let’s think about this for a moment, again, in context. Jesus has told us here that we should not store up treasure on earth but in heaven. He immediately proceeds to teaching about good and bad eyes. Why? Could it really be true that if I think earthly wealth is more important than heavenly wealth that my eye is bad and that my whole body is full of darkness, that everything I look at, everything I think I understand or “see,” I don’t really understand at all? Help! Help, because this non-Greek scholar didn’t need to search very far to find that the word “darkness” is exactly what it means—an absence of light. And light is what we need in order to see clearly in a spiritual way. Jesus, after all, is the light of the world.

This should help us understand why Jesus told the Laodiceans to buy eye salve from Him so that they would be able to see. Their bodies were full of darkness because of their view of wealth. They had not taken an eternal perspective. They had been duped into thinking that riches here on the earth were more important than riches in heaven. Because their “eyes” were bad, it had darkened their entire understanding of the truth of God.

And this is true of me, as well. I am greatly influenced by the things of this world.

The answer? I must ask our gracious heavenly Father to cause me to see. I must ask Him how to do this very counterintuitive thing, in a practical sense. No one on earth can lay out that path for me. I must know Him, seek Him, and study His Word to discover how this will play out in my life. How do I know this? I know this because Jesus said that He was the life, the truth, and the way. He is the way. It’s not only that He will teach and show me the way—He is the way. Therefore, the only way for me to know that way is to know Him.2

1Except where noted, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2This is an edited version of a previous post, Jesus Speaks to the Church in Laodicea, Part Four