Revelation 3:1-6 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
This is the letter to the 5th of the 7 churches of Asia. The great congregation at Ephesus greatly opposed false teachers and false doctrine, but they left their first love. The church in Smyrna was going to face persecution and the Lord admonished them to remain faithful. The church in Pergamos had weakness because some among them were embracing false doctrine. The Lord told them to purge out this false doctrine from among them and to hold onto the Truth. The congregation in Thyatira was commended for a number of things. Twice they were commended for their works. It would appear they were a growing congregation, but one was identified as Jezebel and needed to be dealt with so her false doctrine would be removed from their midst. They were admonished to overcome.
That brings us to the congregation in Sardis. Sardis was a city about 100 miles away from the Mediterranean Sea and about 35 miles away from Thyatira. Historians tell us the city had sheer walls on 3 sides making it virtually impregnable. It was a wealthy city and the ancient capital of Lydia. Gold was mined here and money was minted here. The kings of the city were known for their wealth. In fact, Croesus’ house would be worth about half a billion dollars in today’s currency according to the historians.
The city fell to the Persians about 550 years before Christ. Enemies found a crevice in the rock and came up the walls in a surprise attack on the city. About 330 years later the city was taken in the same way…that’s twice that the city was taken by surprise because they felt nobody could touch them.
The city had faced other disasters, too. It was one of seven cities destroyed by an earthquake about 20 years after the death of Christ.
The city was an old pagan city. No doubt there were many immoral traditions borne from the paganism practiced there for so long. For 8 centuries the city had lived in paganism so the church here had challenges that were unfavorable to spiritual life.
One writer has noted that the church in Sardis seemed to mirror the city itself. Each had a name that lived, but was dead. Each fulfilled none of its works because both would promise but fail to execute. Each needed to watch or it would be surprised as by a thief. Sardis was caught napping every time they were overtaken. It’s implied that the garments of the church had been defiled with immorality and we know the city was known for its immorality.
This comes from one who identifies Himself as He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. Seven was the number of fullness or completeness.
Rev. 1:4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;
It’s a reference to the Holy Spirit. Christ had the Spirit of God without measure.
John 3:34, 35 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.
The letter also comes from the one who has the 7 stars.
Revelation 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
The church of Sardis was a nominal church. They had a name that lived. It would appear they had a good reputation among the people who knew them, but they didn’t have the character that God was looking for. There is no mention of opposition from the pagan community. Nobody opposed them. They didn’t shake anybody up with the doctrine of Jesus Christ. As a result, they were well liked and ineffective. They were inoffensive because they stood for nothing.
Not all the members were dead, but the majority had compromised the Truth so much that the Lord considered them dead. The pagan environment around them impacted their lives. They conformed to their surroundings.
How awful for the Lord to pronounce, Thou art dead. The Lord had no approving words of this church. The inference in Rev. 3:5 is that he had already blotted the names of some of them out of the book of life.
This sobers us to consider the state of Fossil Creek when we stand before the Lord. It encourages us to hold fast the doctrine of the Savior so we can be found pleasing to God, no matter what men may think of us. How sad a fate for this church to be well-thought of by the people of the community, but God had blotted some names from His book of life.
Revelation 3:2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
It’s ironic that the city had fallen twice because they failed to watch. The Savior admonished his disciples to be watchful. It’s a basic tenet of following Christ to be in a state of constant preparedness and to be watching.
Matthew 24:42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
The congregation is told to strengthen the things that remain. Literally, they’re told to establish the things that remain. This church proves that even in wicked, evil and wayward congregations people can exist who are trying to do what’s right and attempting to be righteous.
Good does win ultimately, but it’s possible for good people to be so suppressed by those who desire to compromise that they are overshadowed or placed among a small minority (or a remnant as the scripture calls them). Good can be defeated in this life, but not in eternity.
And so the things that remained were to be strengthened before they completely died. Revival is what this church needed to overcome their nominal service to God.
It’s been said that the steps to revival are found in this letter and I suppose that’s true. The steps are (1) Be watchful; (2) Strengthen the things which remain; (3) Remember; (4) Hold fast; and (5) Repent.
Revelation 3:3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
Memory plays an important role in repentance. These brethren probably needed to remember the things from which they were saved. We all need to be reminded of the sin that was forgiven when we first obeyed the gospel. We all need to remember the reasons we first obeyed the gospel. Our lives don’t always conform to the standard of the scripture and from time to time we need to correct our course. This church was in desperate need to correct course.
When the Lord talks of coming on them as a thief, He’s not referring to the second coming and judgment. He can’t be, because that event isn’t going to be based on repentance.
When we study what the Savior said in Matthew 24 we know He mingled references of the second coming with the impending destruction of Jerusalem. There is a similar mingling going on here between a providential visitation and the second coming. He is commanding this church to watch and repent or He will come upon them as a thief in the night. In judgment, He’s coming back as a thief in the night regardless of what men do. The coming in judgment is a warning to always be prepared. This warning is for them to get their act together and live right.
Revelation 3:4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
Whenever evil takes over, innocent souls are at risk and liable to fall away. There were in Sardis some members who had not gone along with the majority. It’s possible for a church to die, but to have some members who are faithful. What a sad fate for a congregation though to go astray and have some members still striving to live right in spite of their brothers and sisters.
As a congregation we hope to encourage each other to live for God. The last thing we should want is to be an influence to draw each other away from God.
Defiling garments is synonymous with partaking of the sin that surrounded them. The pagan world had so influenced the majority of the members that they engaged in immorality. Their worldliness had defiled their spiritual garments making them no longer appearing as God’s people. It’s also why they were seen favorably among the people of the city.
The appearance of righteous living isn’t enough to please God. God cares about our character. He calls the righteous worthy. They walk in white and are found acceptable to the Lord.
Revelation 3:5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
This verse rings a familiar tone in light of Luke 12:8 Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God:
The goal we all should have is to be confessed, or recognized, by God. We want God to claim us as belonging to Him. According to the letter to Sardis, this will happen for those who overcome.
The effort required to overcome cannot be underestimated. For us to go through life influenced by the world is easy. To walk counter to the world is very hard…and even more so when it’s your own brethren!
What lessons can Fossil Creek learn from Sardis?
First, we have to remain unspotted from the world.
James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
To be unspotted from the world is to be free from the vices of the world. Sardis had done just the opposite. They were participating in the vices of their community. They were no different than the other citizens of Sardis.
The uniqueness of Christians is who we follow. Our standard of behavior is based on the gospel of Jesus Christ. The saints in Sardis lost sight of that standard. They compromised with their environment.
James 4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
Anytime a congregation makes friends with the world they put themselves at risk with God. Sardis was guilty and God condemned them for it.
The garments that we wear as God’s people are the behaviors we exhibit. Anybody who claims there are no performance standards for God’s people are ignorant of His Word.
2 Peter 1:5-8 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our conduct and behavior must be different. The fact that Christians are set apart or sanctified by God makes us unique, but it can’t stop there. Our behaviors must be different. Unfortunately for some, conduct remains unchanged. Or, they go back to the world.
2 Peter 2:20-22 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
Next, outward appearances of fidelity to God don’t matter if our true character isn’t fervent in living righteously.
Reputations are important. Names are important. Even so, Sardis is living proof that congregations can become like a spiritual wasteland while appearing to be just fine.
A reputation of soundness and activity are wonderful things – if they’re true. But if a congregation is inwardly decaying that reputation is empty and a lie. Complying with God’s Will determines our character – not what others may say about us.
Every congregation has to work very hard to comply with the doctrine of the New Testament. Sardis didn’t do that. It was evident that unless they took action to correct their lives and repented, they would be a dead church.
There was no time to procrastinate. The things they had neglected needed to be addressed and now!
The Lord looked at Sardis and failed to find them perfect before God. Perfect suggests completeness, but it also indicates worthiness. In the sight of God we can be viewed perfect, acceptable or worthy because of the blood of Christ. We obey the gospel and the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin.
1 Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Sardis may have started out strong, but somewhere along the way they got lost. We have to finish the work we began. Jesus did. He’s our example.
John 17:4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
The apostle Paul finished his fight, too. 2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Sardis had failed to keep the faith. Paul had certainly maintained his personal trust in the Lord, but that’s not the faith he speaks of. What Paul had kept were the commands of our Savior. He had maintained fidelity to the gospel. This didn’t mean the great apostle was perfect, but it did mean that he was worthy in the scriptural sense. He was justified by heaven because he had complied with the commandments of the Lord.
1 John 2:3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
Fossil Creek must be growing in our devotion to the gospel. We don’t want to lose zeal or courage. We don’t want to be seen as one thing by men and something different by God. First and foremost, we must be concerned with how God views us – not how men may view us.
Sardis was apparently trying to ride on the wave of the past. Over time they fell subject to neglect and indifference. Many of them were no longer justified and a mere remnant of them remained faithful. We can only speculate as to how many may have been lost because of this slide. How many young people did they lose? How many older saints lost faith? What a great toll it must have been in the congregation as the Lord looked down on their condition.
Third, we learn to be watchful and always working. Heaven really indicates only 2 options for us. One is to be watchful or the other is to grow complacent and careless. Repeatedly the scriptures show us to be diligent and vigilant in our watching.
1 Corinthians 16:13 Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
1 Peter 5:8, 9 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
Watching isn’t some passive action. Be vigilant means we must give every effort to working against the forces of Satan. It means we don’t just go through life hopeful, but we take matters into our own hands, with the help of God, to do everything possible to fight for what’s right and watch for our souls.
Part of what Sardis was commanded to do was to hold fast and repent. Their need for a positive change was commanded by God. Repent means to turn at once. Sardis needed to return to and hold onto the Truth that they once embraced.
Every congregation needs to hold fast to the Truth and not negotiate it or neglect it.
Four, deadness begins with all of us as individuals.
2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
If you recognize that you haven’t been living as you should, then it may be time for a revival in your personal life. Maybe you’ve neglected your worship habits. Maybe you’ve neglected praying as you know you should. Perhaps you’ve neglected Bible study. Maybe you’ve been focused on your own life and you’ve neglected helping others. It’s time for revival before the Lord returns as a thief in the night.
Our salvation is both individual and collective. Individually we have responsibilities, but these can only be fulfilled within the context of the local congregation. Even those whose garments were not defiled were part of the church at Sardis. Yet, not every member of the church was justified. Not every member had their name recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
There is no greater goal than to have our name recorded in that book. We owe it to God and to ourselves to be everything that we can be for the congregation. Work and labor are common traits of the righteous.
The congregation of Sardis is a haunting reminder of what can happen to a church that loses its way. While we’re proud of the heritage of our congregation – we don’t want to rest because our work here is unfinished. We have good that we must accomplish…evil that we must combat…truth to uphold and souls to help save.
Our work is focused on making sure God finds us faithful.
Our work is focused on making sure every soul of the congregation has their name recorded in the Book of Life.
Delivered by Randy Cantrell at Fossil Creek on Sunday morning, November 17, 2002