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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45am service, 2006-12-03

Text: Revelation 3:1-6

Of the seven churches that Christ wrote to, this church was the least attractive. For most of the other churches, He had words of commendation as well as words of condemnation. But when He wrote to the church of Sardis, the only words He had were words of condemnation. In order to help us understand what Jesus wrote here, let us first look at:

I. The Background of the Church

Sardis had a glorious past that had made it one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. Its location commanded the trade of the islands in the Aegean Sea and the military road that ran through an important river valley. In the 6th century BC it was the capital of the ancient Lydian Empire which occupied half the area of present day Turkey. From Sardis, the famous king Croesus once ruled this thriving empire for 14 years. People used to say 'as rich as Croesus' whenever they wanted to describe anyone who was fabulously rich. Gold from his mines and from the sands of the nearby River Pactolus filled his coffers to overflowing. The people of Sardis naturally enjoyed a life of opulent wealth and luxury. But all that affluence eventually led them into decadence, complacency, moral decay and great decline!

Besides wealth, the city of Sardis had also boasted of its security. It was built on a mountain spur about 480 metres above the valley floor and was regarded as being virtually impregnable to military assault. Several times armies had tried to overthrow the city without any success. There were two times in its history when it fell to foreign assault, once by the Persians, and once by the Greeks, and both victories were achieved by stealth. Sardis was so confident it could not be conquered that it failed to guard its walls adequately. In the dead of the night a band of brave soldiers climbed up the sides of the ravine. They entered an unguarded gate, overthrew the city and plundered away all its wealth. 

Thus, the city of Sardis was characterized by a complacent spirit. Today, all that is left of Sardis is a large archaeological site filled with the ruins of a glorious past. What lessons can we learn from this church of Sardis? I would like to suggest 3: 

I. Do Not Dwell On Your Past Achievements (v.1)

The first lesson is found at the end of v.1 which says, 'I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.' This tells us about the awful condition of the church in Sardis. It once had a name or reputation of being alive because of its past spiritual accomplishments by Spirit-filled Christians who really knew the Lord. But that name, that wonderful reputation they had, no longer applied to them because they were no longer alive, but dead. They still continued - but it was just a form. Its original vibrant character was gone.

It is a sad thing that when a church becomes like that, it tends to live in the past. Instead of doing something about its present state of decline, it keeps on looking back to the good old glorious days when it was strong, healthy and vibrant, and just sit back and bask in its glorious past. One writer said, 'A church is in danger of death when it begins to worship its own past; when it is more concerned with forms than with life; when it loves systems more than it loves Jesus; when it is more concerned with material than it is with spiritual things.'

Now, it is interesting to note that this pathetic state of the church in Sardis was actually a reflection of the city of Sardis itself at this time. By the time of Christ, when the Roman Empire took over control, other cities like Ephesus and Smyrna had already overtaken the city of Sardis and become more prosperous. But instead of trying to regain the city's high position, the citizens of Sardis were content just to live off a fame and glory that was past. Sir William Ramsay, who visited this city a few decades ago aptly remarked, 'No city of Asia at that time showed such a melancholy contrast between past splendour and present decay as the city of Sardis.' 

Apparently this same spirit had affected the Church of Sardis. Their loyalty and service to Christ were things of the past. Now they were nothing. And they were still dwelling in the past. The important lesson we must learn from this is that we must never keep dwelling in our past and just rest on what has been achieved and accomplished. And this may happen to us if we are not careful.

When God blesses a church so that it reaches a satisfactory measure of growth and success, there comes a time when the church stops growing but remains satisfied just to maintain its status quo and enjoy what it has attained. 

And the same thing can also happen to us as individual believers. I have known some who used to be actively serving in church when they were young Christians, but after some time, they stopped doing all of these things, feeling satisfied, and saying to themselves, Let others take over. I think I have already done more than enough.' And then they simply take a back seat and rest on what they have accomplished. Very often, this marks the beginning of a decline in their spiritual life. 

Dearly beloved, if you feel like leaving some area of service that you have been doing for the Lord because you want to give others the opportunity to serve, be sure that this will not be the end of all service for you. You need to move on then to other things. When something is done, there are yet more things to be done for the Lord. Never think that you have already arrived. You need to keep progressing. If you don't, you will only stagnate and perhaps you may even regress and lose what you have gained. Soon you may find yourself no longer alive to the things of God.

Returning to our text we notice that the church in Sardis was described in v.1 as being 'dead'. And in v.2 even the things that remained in the church are described as 'ready to die.' The foul stench of death was already shrouding this church. This is an awful picture of a church. Let us try to imagine what it might have been like: Here was a church whose members were no longer having any impact for Christ on their community. Their hearts had grown cold. They were much too busy with their own worldly pursuits and no longer took God's Word seriously. Most of them were not even believers. They were not spiritually alive but dead. They were what we would call 'nominal Christians.' Nominal comes from the word 'name' - someone who has a name for something.

The few Sardisian Christians who still attended worship services on the Lord's Day did pray and sing hymns but it was all rather mechanical and lifeless - their hearts were not in it. When the sermon was preached, they wondered when the preaching would end, so that they could go off to do their own things. They excused themselves whenever they could, from any service they were called upon to do, and gave their offerings grudgingly to the Lord.

When you see things like these happening in a church, you are actually watching the process of decay. The unhealthy symptoms of death are beginning to set in. And if this goes on for long the church will die and becomes just an empty shell. Such was the awful state of the Church in Sardis. Unfortunately there are thousands of churches like that around the world today. This is the reason why many non-Christians today have a negative impression of the Christian faith. They see their profession of faith, they hear their wonderful words, but sadly they see no life in them. 

Now interestingly enough, one of the things that the city of Sardis boasted about in ancient times was that it had the most impressive cemetery that covered a thousand hills. They even boasted about it and called it their necropolis, or 'Dead City.' What a horrible thing to be famous for. But would it not be even more dreadful, if in the eyes of Christ we too one day became a necropolis, a dead church with no life in our midst? God forbid! May it never be! But what must we do then, in order to keep this from happening? How do we prevent Life Church from becoming 'Dead Church'? Let us look at v.2: 'Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die:' This brings us to the second lesson we can learn from what Christ wrote to the church in Sardis:

II. Be Revived to Fulfill Your Present Task (vv.2-3)

The first need of any dying or dead church is to wake up to its pathetic condition. Wake up and arouse yourself to work and faithful service! This is the call that Christ gave to the Christians at Sardis. And this is perhaps the urgent call that many of us here need to hear as well. 

In a book entitled 'Man: The Dwelling Place of God' A.W. Tozer wrote the following words: 'The complacency of Christians is the scandal of Christianity...They declare that Jesus Christ is very God of very God, made flesh to dwell among us. They insist that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. They testify that He is to them Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification and Redemption, and they steadfastly assert that He will be to them the Resurrection and the Life for eternity to come. These Christians know, and when pressed will admit, that their finite hearts have explored but a pitifully small part of the infinite riches that are theirs in Christ Jesus.

They read the lives of the great saints whose fervent desire after God carried them far up the mountain toward spiritual perfection; and for a brief moment they may yearn to be like these fiery souls whose light and fragrance still linger in the world where they once lived and labored. But the longing soon passes. The world is too much with them and the claims of their earthly lives are too insistent; so they settle back to live their ordinary lives, and accept the customary as normal. After a while they manage to achieve some kind of inner content and that is the last we hear of them. This contentment with inadequate and imperfect progress in the life of holiness is, I repeat, a scandal in the Church of the Firstborn. The whole weight of Scripture is against such a thing.' Dearly beloved, have you become a complacent Christian? Perhaps you need to heed the Lord's wake-up call.

Now, according to v.2 the church of Sardis was dying. However, there was still some hope left of salvaging the little life that was left in it. But in order to do this decisive emergency measures must be taken before it is too late. The Christians at Sardis needed to act quickly. First, as the end of v.2 says, they needed to realise that all their works which they were so proud of, were not perfect before God. They needed to acknowledge that something is really wrong with them, and that God is not pleased with them. They had been weighed in the balances and been found wanting. Many of them would probably have been shocked to learn the real value of all their works in God's sight. As the refining fire of God revealed that what they thought were gold, silver and precious stones, turned out to be wood, hay and stubble, we can just imagine the forlorn cries of shock and dismay that would come from them.

And it may also perhaps be worthwhile for us to think about what the real worth of our own works would be when it is revealed by God. Let us remember that God does not assess our work for Him in the same way that people assess them. People may praise you when they see your piety, and outward devotion. But God may not praise you at all, as He beholds your inward motives for them. 

Let us fear therefore, and examine our motives, lest th Lord should say to us, 'I have not found thy works perfect before God.' But if we come to realise now that our works have fallen short of God's approval, there is no need for us to lose all hope. Just as the Christians at Sardis still had the opportunity to do something about their predicament, so have we. 

Let us look now at v.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.' According to this the action we must take is to return to the Word of God which we have received and heard. God's Word must be restored to its rightful place in our lives. 

There is a worrying trend in the world today � The trend that Christians are spending less and less time to read, study and memorise God's Word than before. Why? Because other pursuits of life are taking up more and more of our time. Many have become much too busy with other things to spend any meaningful time in the Word of God. There are so many things that demand our time, and if we are not careful, our lives will become so jammed-packed with them that Bible reading and Bible study will be crowded out by them. How sad it would be, if we became so engrossed with other things that we stopped having any time for Bible reading each day, stopped attending Bible study sessions, stopped having any family worship at home, and eventually even stopped coming to church to hear God's Word preached and taught - and, worse still to do all that without feeling that anything at all is missing from our lives! 

And how terrible it would be if the Lord Jesus Christ should return when we least expect Him to return, just like a thief in the night, and find our souls in a spiritually impoverished and dead condition! And the question that you must consider this morning is: Will this be true of you? What if Christ were to return right now? Will He find you in your best state, spiritually healthy and strong, or will He be grieved to find you very weak spiritually, due to your prolonged neglect of His Word?

Dearly beloved, there can really be no revival of spiritual life in your heart, until the Word of God is restored to its rightful place in your life. This is what you need in your life more than anything else. You need to hold fast to the Word. You need to live by it, for God Himself has decreed that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. And as you do that your soul will be revived as God breathes new life into you through His powerful Word.

Now these were the things that the church at Sardis needed to do in order to emerge out of its miserable condition. We have seen that first of all, it needed to stop dwelling on its past achievements. 

We have also seen that it needed to be revived for its present task. Now as we go on to vv. 4 and 5 we see one more thing that the Church of Sardis needed to do. It needed to strive to receive future rewards. 

III. Strive to Receive Your Future Rewards (vv.4-5)

In these two verses our Lord now motivates the believers of Sardis to heed all His instructions to them well. And He does this by giving them the wonderful prospect of obtaining at least 3 great rewards. The first is the prospect of being clothed in white raiment. This would be of great interest to believers at Sardis because the city of Sardis was well known for its wool textile industry. Many of them probably earned their living from the manufacture and export of woolen textiles and garments.

Now, one important spiritual problem of many believers at Sardis seems to have been the problem of compromised standards of conduct. In order to avoid offending their unbelieving friends and neighbours, the Christians of Sardis had followed them, adopted their sinful ways of doing things, their ungodly manner of speech and their worldly attitudes and values. The Lord wanted them to realise this, and He used their own interest in textiles and garments to illustrate this. And so He said in v.4 'Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments.' Only a few members of the church still had clean, undefiled garments. This clearly implies that the rest of them, who were the great majority in the church, had garments that were defiled. Their lives had become soiled and stained with sin, bringing shame and embarrassment to them. As such they had made themselves unworthy to stand before the Lord and walk with Him. 

But the Lord now makes a promise to all these believers who had soiled their garments through compromised conduct. He promised that if they were to put in every effort to change their ways, by returning to a life that is based on the purity that is taught in the Word of God, He will clothe them with clean, white garments and they would then be able to walk with Him and enjoy blessed fellowship with Him. Now this is also a reminder to us to maintain the purity of our own life, by keeping ourselves from being defiled by the sinful and ungodly ways of the world we live in. Let us learn to maintain the biblical standards of conduct that God expects from us in all areas on life. If we are faithful to keep these standards we too can look forward to the reward that Jesus promised to those at Sardis: We will be clothed in white raiment and be able to share sweet fellowship with Him.

Now this was not the only reward promised to those who overcome. Look in v.5 and you will find that Jesus also promised not to blot out their names out of the book of life. In ancient cities like Sardis, the names of all the citizens who lived in the city were recorded in a book. Their names remained there until death and then they would be blotted or erased out of the book. But ancient records tell us that a person's name could also be blotted out of the book before he died, if he was branded as a social outcast or a criminal. And this means that he was stripped of his citizenship and could no longer enjoy the rights and privileges of being a citizen there.

Now there were perhaps some Christians at Sardis who were afraid of persecution and losing their citizenship if their faith in Christ were to cause people to be offended against them. So they compromised for the sake of keeping their names from being blotted out of the city's book. It was perhaps specially for those who had this fear, that Christ now gives the wonderful assurance that: If, by being faithful in following Him, they suffered the removal of their names from the book of citizenship in Sardis, then they can be comforted by knowing that there is a Book of Life in which their names are permanently written, and from which they will never be blotted out. And it is a far greater privilege to have one's name written in this book than in any other book or register of citizenship in the world! 

Dear friends, is your name written in this Book? Please make sure it is. You can do this by repenting of your sins and turning by faith to Christ alone to save you from sin and eternal death. If you have not been saved yet - please delay no more. Receive Christ into your life now as your personal Saviour and Lord. Seek Him in prayer and He will answer you. He will come into your heart and assure you that your citizenship in heaven is absolutely secure. Your name will never be blotted out of the book of life. And that assurance will motivate you to be faithful to Him.

But the real reward for our faithfulness will not just be this assurance of security, but rather the next thing that is mentioned in v.5. Those who overcome will have the privilege of having their names confessed by Jesus Himself before the Father and before all His angels. What a blessed privilege it is to have your name acknowledged with approval by Christ before God the Father and before all the angelic hosts of heaven! This is a greater honour than any earthly citation that men can give to you. Some people would do anything to get their name listed in some roll of honour (e.g. the Guiness Book of Records, or the 'Who's Who'). But all the prestigious listings and citations of this world are nothing compared to the heavenly citation that believers can have.

Dearly beloved, let us endeavour to be worthy of being honoured in heaven. Run the race of life set before you with all diligence. And if you faithfully keep learning the Word of God, and apply it well to every area of your life, obeying and following your Lord rather than the world, you will most certainly be rewarded. It is worth doing all these things, for the prize of earning God's undeserved commendation. Think of how delightful it will be in heaven to hear the words, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.' Make this your life-long quest, your one aspiration in life, to press toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11