Lessons from the Church in Sardis
In the latter years of his life, the apostle John was living in exile on the island called Patmos. While living on this island, John received instructions from the Lord to write seven letters, each to a specific church in Asia. Of the seven letters, only two letters, the letters to the congregations in Smyrna and Philadelphia, were without rebuke. The other five congregations, Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea, fell short of the Lord’s expectation. While many lessons could be gleaned from each of these letters, I would like to focus on three lessons learned from the Lord’s letter to the church in Sardis.
Here is Revelation 3:1-5 presented for your consideration:
“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. (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. (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. (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. (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.’” (Revelation 3:1-5, NKJV)
The first lesson is very simple: The Lord knows the works of every congregation. As with all the churches in Asia, the Lord knew the works of the congregation in Sardis. Regarding the works of the church in Sardis the Lord said, “(F)or I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” (vs 2) The Lord sees every work done by local churches. When we assemble for worship services, the Lord sees everything that each and every one of us does. Whether it is during the song service, during the sermon, during the Lord’s Supper, during prayers, etc., the Lord sees what you and I are doing. The Lord also looks within our hearts to see our very thoughts and desires. The Lord even witnesses how we, the local congregation, spend His money which is set aside for the work of His local church. Truly the Lord knows the work of every congregation. Let us pray that the Lord is not saying about our works, “I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.”
Lesson number two deals with a matter of personal deception: It is possible to think we are doing great when, in reality, we are failing. To the church in Sardis, the Lord said, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” We may deduce from this statement that either the members of the congregation thought highly of their local work or other churches looked upon the work in Sardis as being a living and thriving work. However, no amount of good reputation will alter the reality of a congregation being dead in the eyes of the Lord. While the Lord does not state the specific sins of the church in Sardis, He does give us a small hint as to their sins. In verse 4 we read, “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.” The reference to members who have not “soiled their garments” may indicate that the rest of the congregation was living sinfully within their lives. If we are allowing sin to dominate our lives, then we will steal away the life of this local congregation. No matter how great we think we are doing, if we are soiling our garments, then we are deceiving ourselves.
Lesson number three requires change: Wake Up! Remember! Repent! Take notice that Jesus said in verse 2, “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, . . .” The church in Sardis was in grave danger. There were members of the church who were spiritually weak and about to die. Jesus commanded the congregation, as a whole, to wake up and to take care of the weaker brethren. Sin had crept into the congregation. The devil, the adversary, was gaining victory over the church. The church was to wake up to the danger and remember that which they had received from the apostles. Jesus commanded the brethren saying, “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” (verse 3) In order to overcome the sin and immorality of the world, Christians must always remember the teachings of God’s word. God’s word, the Bible, is our compass to keep us on the path to heaven. If we stray from God’s word, thereby “soiling” our spiritual garments, then we must turn back and remember His words, and repent of our sinful ways.
I am fearful that many local congregations are failing to learn from the lessons seen within the disobedience of the church in Sardis. Let each and every one of us examine our lives and our work to make certain that we are not spiritually dead, separated from the fellowship of our Lord and Savior.