A little background concerning the church at Sardis:
- About 30 miles SE of Thyatira, a city located in a fertile area (thus commercially important), but was really known for their dedication to the arts, especially music. One might think of Sardis as an ancient New Orleans. Much of the “entertainment” found on Bourbon St. could be found in Sardis as well.
3 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
- “who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars” – from 1.4 and 1.16 and explained in 1.20. The seven stars are identified as the “angels of the seven churches”. The “seven spirits” is most likely a reference to the Holy Spirit.
- “I know your works” – In contrast to the church of Ephesus where their works are praised for their endurance and doctrinal faithfulness (2.2) and the church of Thyatira where their works are praised for their endurance and growth (2.19), the church at Sardis really is offered no compliment. Instead, they are noted as being a facade.
- “you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” – “…reputation is what everybody thinks you are, character is what God knows you are.” – Hunter. God’s words to Samuel are fitting, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Sam. 16.7. Jesus didn’t accomplish our salvation at the expense of himself just so we might ‘go through the motions’ of Christianity. What he desires is for us to have true spiritual life… “…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” – John 4.23. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.- John 7.37-39. If we consider Jesus’ self-designation in the first part of this verse, we could say that Jesus is securely holding the church leaders (and thus the churches) in one hand and the Spirit in the other. What he desires is to bring his hands together so that the churches could be filled with and led by the Spirit. Consider Paul’s admonition to, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” – Gal. 5.16. Jesus encountered this problem repeatedly with the religious leaders of his day, likening them to white-washed tombs (Matt. 23.27-28).
- APP: There is a difference between an active church and a living church.
- Our lesson from Sardis: Integrity matters.
2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.
- Christ gives a 5-part solution to the church’s spiritual deadness – wake up, strengthen, remember, keep, and repent.
- “wake up” – In the cities history, there were apparently two separate occasions where the it was captured, because of it’s failure to implement watchmen over the city. Christ may very well be warning them that a similar spiritual fate awaits them if they do not change their current course of action. Peter encourages us to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” – 1 Peter 5.8. The problem becomes, How does a dead church wake themselves, they are not accused of being asleep, but dead. We could probably better understand this as “become alive again” or “begin living as Christians again.” Literally the word means to be ready and alert.
- “I have not found your works complete” – Any spiritual endeavor attempted or accomplished without true spiritual vitality is lacking. “And without faith it is impossible to please him…” – Heb. 11.6.
- QUES: How does one strengthen their relationship with God?
- “strengthen” – to make more firm, especially regarding attitude or belief. Build your resolve.
- In short, we don’t strengthen our relationship with Christ by doing more, but by being more – committed, trusting, faithful, etc.
3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
- “remember” – There is great benefit in reflecting upon what the past grace God has poured our upon our lives. It motivates us to remain faithful and challenges us not to repeat the same spiritual pitfalls of history.
- “keep” – the word means more than to preserve, but carries the idea of putting into practice, to follow, to obey.
- “repent” – “Like the father of the prodigal son, God can see repentance coming a long way off and is there to met it. The repentance is reconciliation” – D. Sayers. Each of the remedies which follow the correction within the letters to the 7 churches always involves the action of repentance.
- APP: Repentance and obedience go hand in hand.
- “I will come like a thief” – meaning suddenly and without warning. Judgment is implied.
4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.
- “soiled their garments” – apparently, sin is the ultimate cause for their spiritual deadness.
- “walk with me in white” – in contrast to the soiled garments of sin, those who conquer will “walk with (Jesus) in white.
- “they are worthy” – Eph. 4.1; Col. 1.10; 2 Thess. 2.12. Paul used this phrase frequently as well, encouraging believer to walk worthy of their calling by bearing spiritual fruit and growing in their relationship with Christ because he himself has called us into his kingdom, thus we belong to Him.
5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
- “clothed thus in white garments” – Highlighting holiness and purity as a result of the spiritual cleansing of God through the faith. – Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. – Is. 1:18
- “I will never blot his name out of the book of life” -The first record of God’s book keeping is mentioned in Exodus 32:33. In ancient times all citizens of a city would be registered in the “citizenship registry”, being erased from such a registry would mean that the individual was no longer a citizen. All listen in the registry had the right to be acknowledged before the king and his court. This illustration reminds us that our citizenship in heaven is permanent.
- “I will confess his name” – APP: As believers we should seek to represent and speak of the grace of God found in Jesus. –I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God – Luke 12:8. Never blotting out their names and confessing his name are both synonymous with eternal life. One is stated negatively, the other more positive.
- APP: As true believers, we do not have to worry about an eternal security. It is absolutely secure in Christ.
6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
- A final plea to heed Jesus’ words.