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Letter to the Church at Sardis

17 November 2019

Two weeks ago we conducted a brief study of the church at Philadelphia, bringing our total of churches examined to five out of eight. Let’s not forget the purpose of our study of all these churches is to aid us in our efforts to have congregations of the Lord’s people that that will shine forth in this world of sin and be pleasing to our Heavenly Father. That means, as we have seen, a local church must strive for purity in life. It must strive for strong convictions. It must be scriptural in worship, sound in doctrine and united. It must always remember its first Love, and never be lukewarm in its efforts. The Lord’s people who make up the church MUST distinguish doctrines taught by the devil from the doctrine of Christ, for the Lord insists upon obedience without alteration of His Will. We must also not forget that we must not run, but stay and fight, which means teaching the doctrine of Christ where we are. Which helps us to remember what we learned from the church at Philadelphia, even though they had little strength, they were able to teach greatly for God had given them an open door to spread the gospel.

This week our study focuses on the church at Sardis. If we were to take a tour of the seven cities found in the book of Revelation and begin with the church at Ephesus and going clockwise through Asia, we would leave Thyatira and travel southeast about thirty miles to Sardis. At that place five important roads join, making it among the world’s great trading centers. Ramsay remarked that, “Sardis was one of the great cities of primitive history: in the Greek view it was long the greatest of all the cities.” Now, Sardis is best remembered as the birthplace of modern money because here the first coins were minted. However, the city of Sardis was also notorious for its pleasures and luxury-loving spirit. The wealthier the city became, the more decadent its citizens grew.

Sardis was a city confident of its security. Located on a narrow ridge of rock jutting from Mount Tmolus, this city seemed to be an impregnable fortress. Except for one entrance form the south, the other three sides of this plateau were bounded by smooth, apparently unscalable mountain rock rising perpendicular 1500 feet above the plain. However, this location eventually led to overconfidence regarding its security.

Let’s read Revelation 3:1-6 and what Jesus says concerning the church at Sardis, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, 'These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. 3 "Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. 4 "You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 6 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

When we study the church at Sardis it is often called the “living-dead” church for it had a name that was alive, but in fact, it was dead. What Jesus tells us about the church at Sardis indicates that the church was at peace, completely untroubled by either heresy from within or persecution from without, but it was a church of living death. Their name, or reputation, disguised their true spiritual condition. If one becomes lethargic about teaching the gospel, his neighbors will not be offended. And if he blends with the secular world so that his life is not distinguished as different from others, he will not suffer the wrath of persecution. However, this kind of peace is not what the gospel brings. Listen to the words of Jesus found in Matthew 10:34-36, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 "For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; 36 "and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'”

Let’s note a few things at this point concerning “Reputation” and “Character.” “Reputation” is what others say about you, but “character” is what one really is. The church at Sardis possessed a good reputation, but the Lord knew its true character.

From verse two we read Jesus’ Warning to the church at Sardis. He tells them to be watchful. If we’ve noticed from the other churches, we’ve studied the Lord always knows what is going on in the mind and hearts of His followers. In the case of those in Sardis, the city’s historical background no doubt was in view as the Lord extended His counsel to them. Unlike some of the other cities the Lord addressed, history records nothing about the strong enforcement of Caesar worship at Sardis. In fact, no reference is made in this letter to any physical danger to Christians. The saints at Sardis not only enjoyed the absence of persecution, but also prosperity was probably theirs. In addition, the sense of security that permeated the city must have extended to the church itself. Therefore, the warning for the church at Sardis is “Be Watchful.” The church’s fate might well parallel the military history of this complacent city. What to the human eye seemed to be an advantage, for example, peace and prosperity, soon became their curse, for it fostered an attitude with which the Lord was displeased.

The world has superficial standards that may give a church a reputation of being alive: a large membership, an elaborate building, financial power, influential members, a dynamic preacher, an awe-inspiring worship, and perhaps even the correct “form” of doctrine. Though none of these is necessarily wrong, neither are they by themselves indicators of life.

Now, the Lord also gives His exhortation to the church at Sardis Revelation 3:2 as well, “and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.” We must always remember the Lord looks at the heart, not simply the outward appearance. From this, we need to understand that two kinds of peaceful churches can exist: (1) one in Repose after it has conquered many or trials, or (2) A peace born of lethargy and brought about by carelessness and overconfidence. Sardis was of the second. The Lord urged the church at Sardis to fortify the lingering bits of truth, faith, and love that might have survived neglect and inactivity.

Jesus goes on in the first half of Revelation 3:3 to say, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent….” Five admonitions are set forth in this short letter: be watchful; strengthen the things which remain; remember; hold fast; and repent. Each of these admonitions we find elsewhere in Scripture: “be watchful” as the apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” “Strengthen the things which remain” as Paul encouraged the Corinthians to do in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” “Remember” as the prodigal son remembered what his father had, in Luke 15:17-21, “But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 "and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."' 20 "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.'” “Hold Fast” as Paul instructed timothy to do in 2 Timothy 1:13, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” And “Repent” as Peter told Simon the Sorcerer to do in Acts 8:22, “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.”

By remembering the great sacrifice God made in giving His Son, the proper motivation to fulfill all these admonitions will develop. But when hearts become satisfied and prideful, prompting them to admit their sins and repent becomes nearly impossible to accomplish.

The second half of Revelation 3:3 Jesus says, “Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” Just as the city of Sardis was caught off guard and conquered by its false sense of security, the Lord warns that he will come at a time the saints are not expecting and judge them. Just as we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3, “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.” A church is in danger of death: (1) when it begins to worship its own past, living on its memories rather than accepting the challenge of ascending new plateaus as Paul does when he says in Philippians 3:14-15, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.”; a church is in danger of death (2) when it shows more concern with the correct form then with spiritual life as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”; and a church is in danger of death (3) when emphasis is placed upon the material rather than the spiritual, as we read from Paul in Colossians 3:1-4, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Brethren should heed these inspired warnings and remain ever vigilant or watchful.

Another very important aspect of the letter to Sardis we MUST take note of is found in the first part of Revelation 3:4 where Jesus says, “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments…” Judgment will be upon individuals, not congregations. Though these letters are written to churches, notice that the Lord observes us one by one. In some strong churches there may be a few members who are unfaithful. However, in churches that are “dead,” the Lord knows whether or not there are a “few names…which have not defiled their garments.” At Sardis there were some who had not soiled their garments by compromising with evil. These individuals were standing for righteousness even though the Lord describes the church as a unit being dead spiritually. Saints work together in local congregations, but in the final Day of Judgment the Lord will reward everyone individually. Just as the second half of Revelation 3:4 where Jesus says, “and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” They were worthy because of their steadfast refusal to compromise the faith. What a great honor it will be to march in the final grand victory parade with the Lord!

There is still another aspect of this letter to Sardis we MSUT recognize. And this helps us see the answer to the false doctrine of “Once saved always saved” for in Revelation 3:5-6 Jesus says, “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 6 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."' Those who continue faithful will have their names found in the Lamb’s book of life. The idea of a divine register is found as far back as Moses’ encounter with God on Mt. Sinai. A “book” containing the names of all those who belong to God is referred to in both Old and New Testaments. The name of one who overcomes will be confessed before the Father, and he will be clothed in pure robes of eternal life. But let’s be sure to note the phrase, “I will not blot out his name from the book of life.” For that is the indicator that helps us understand the importance of what we learn from the church at Sardis, we must always Be Watchful to remain faithful, for our names can be “blotted out” by the Lord Himself.

Every congregation of the Lord’s people must always remember that without Christ and His word, we can do nothing. With Christ and his Word, we frame our own destiny. Recognizing both the admonishment and praises to the various churches in the Bible aid us in our endeavor to serve our various communities as the pillar and ground of the truth, as the Lord’s church is to be. And as we learned from the church at Corinth the local church must strive for purity in life. It must strive for strong convictions. It must be scriptural in worship sound in doctrine and united. It must always “remember” it’s first Love and it must not be lukewarm in its efforts but be zealous for good works. The local congregation must always distinguish doctrines taught by the devil from the doctrine of Christ. Let’s not forget the Lord insists upon obedience without alteration of his will. As well, the Lord’s people MUST take advantage of every opportunity afforded them to spread the Gospel of Christ no matter what “little strength” we have been given. The Lord “opens the door” for us to take advantage of, especially in this country. Let’s now add to our list of requirements for the Lord’s people in local congregations that they are always to “Be Watchful.”

For congregations of the Lord’s people to make up sound congregations it must start with every individual striving to imitate Christ in their walk in this life.

Each one of us needs to take the Word of God seriously and allow it to permeate our hearts in a way that we will make His Will our very own. Let us do as the apostle Paul explains in Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;”

All MUST believe Jesus Christ as the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Let everyone hear the Word of God and have the faith described by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 11:1- 6 which helps us see those who were given various levels of strength or talents and they chose to live and obey as God instructed them, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

We all need to do as Peter told those to do on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

We MUST all confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God as Jesus explains in Matthew 10:32, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” The apostle Paul says in Romans 10:9-10, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Ask yourself if your conversion or obedience to Christ is or was like that of the wonderful example of obedience found in Acts 8:36-39 where Philip has been teaching the Ethiopian eunuch, “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.” The apostle Paul helps us see the importance of baptism in Romans 6:4, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” When one has been baptized, their sins are washed away and they rise a new child of God, a Christian. This is where the “walk in newness of life” begins. This new beginning requires a lifetime of service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus says in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you a crown of life.”       

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