Revelation 3:1-3 states,
“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 deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you’.”
As depressing as it might be, the opening passage of this letter sounds more like an obituary. The body of believers in Sardis is dead… well, almost. Only faint life signs of a faithful remnant remain. For the majority, it was too late, their faith had already flat lined. What begins as a deathbed scene takes a sudden turn to become an emergency room drama. Rather than officiating over the funeral, Christ makes a last-ditch effort to revive the hearts of those in Sardis.
Many congregations today fall into the same trappings as the church in Sardis: ‘clinging to a form of religion but denying the power thereof’. There are small congregations preaching the gospel as instructed, but the numbers in attendance are low; while larger churches who seem to bypass calling out sin, or the consequences for those sins, are more concerned with the attendance being high, and the coffers being full, than winning souls and leading them to Christ.
According to the words of Christ, found in Matthew 23:27, the aforementioned churches appear to be houses of the holy while they are actually filled with spiritually dead patrons.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”
This is why I always say that your local church should not be seen as a museum to people who are perfect, but instead as a hospital to heal the sick-sick soul. Jesus issues some commands that lead to correction.
First, he orders them to “wake up!” Revelation 3:2 gives a present tense command, and could better be translated, “Be constantly alert.” This is a call to radically reverse their attitudes. A congregation must be alerted to the seriousness of her situation. Of course, complacency will always lead to giving up your identification with Christ and your mission for him.
Jesus wanted them to stop living on past experiences and begin, once again, nurturing a fruitful relationship with their Savior. A growing partnership with him would help them guard against false teaching and compromise. 1st Corinthians 16:13-14 states it this way,
“Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.”
Second, they are to strengthen the remnant that still remains. Jesus immediately turns His attention to that small flicker of life that still remains. They must keep what little they have left alive. Nourish and imitate that faithful few so the church can grow up and become a healthy body once again.
Next, the church needs to remember their purpose. Like those in Ephesus, Sardis was told to remember what they “have received and heard.” What they “received” was the apostolic tradition of the gospel; what they “heard” were the teachings of the apostles and prophets who brought the gospel to them. They were not holding to the word of Christ. For them, repentance was the only way out of certain and final death.
Finally, Christ orders a life-saving application of practical faith. They needed to keep on applying the truth that they heard to their daily lives. By constantly storing up knowledge without using it, faith weakens, and resistance is lowered to the point of compromise.
The final command is to repent (change direction). In other words, quit flirting with commitment; repent, and switch directions. Do it now! They were to repent by restoring the gospel and the apostolic doctrine to its place of full authority over their lives. This would mean they need to restart their work of obeying the truth of Christ. Today’s church needs to hear this challenge and take the word of Christ seriously.
Consider these signs of a dying church:
- Worship of the past: The focus is on what God has done rather than what He is doing today.
- More love for tradition than love for Christ: More concern for keeping man-made rules and traditions than having a heart for Christ.
- Greater concern with form than with life: Unwillingness to adapt, to find new ways to express Biblical truth.
- Inflexibility and resistance to change: Things being a certain way, time, or place rather than letting the Spirit lead.
- Loss of evangelistic and missionary outlook: Concerned with maintaining what we have rather than a concern for the lost and unconcerned.
We need to learn from the mistakes of Sardis and keep Christ as our focus. If not, we are in danger of losing a great reward in heaven. There is nothing in this life that would be worth missing out on in the next. – Weldon Blaine Hebert