Sardis: The same message for a different time

Unpacking the Message

Sardis: an ancient church that we remember as “dead.” Rare is the occasion today where a church planter names his church Sardis Baptist Church. This church has lived in infamy as the church that was dead, but didn’t realize it. I’m confident that Sardis-type churches still exist today.

It appears that part of the problem at Sardis was “the relationship between reputation and reality. The reputation of the church at Sardis was life, but the reality was that they were dead.” When one’s reputation and reality seem to be different, we have another biblical word that describes this state of affairs: hypocrisy.

As Christ begins His message to this church, He urges them to be alert, to be watchful, and to be ready. The task at hand was simple: the things that were still remaining, that which had not died yet, needed to be strengthened. They needed propped up, supported, and established.

That the command to “be alert” was given to Sardis is not insignificant. In its past, twice in its history the acropolis had fallen to the enemy due to a lack of vigilance on the part of the defenders. The armies had considered their city impenetrable, and on both occasions – with both Cyrus and also Antiochus the Great – their overconfidence brought a lack of diligence that led to disaster. The lesson learned in warfare applies to life as well.

The church had started out well, but their spiritual progress had been hindered. Christ told them that their works were not “perfect before God.” In other words, their deeds were incomplete.

The believers at Sardis needed to repent from its spiritual slumber, to recall what they had received and heard, and hold to them tightly. If this state continued, the appearance of the Head of the Church would be like a thief coming in the night.

Coming to Revelation 3.4, Jesus reminded this church that He knows them thoroughly. Though there is a spirit of slumber, and though their witness has been compromised – there are still a few that had not dirtied, defiled, and soiled their garments. With this clear rebuke and command to repent, Christ is now prepared to discuss a promise to those who are overcomers.

In the next section, we’ll study out the promise made to this church. But for now, here’s the take-aways that we should consider:

  1. We should ask God to point out if we have lost our grounding in reality. Reputation isn’t enough.
  2. The Christian life requires vigilance, diligence – alertness. Just as physical slumber is dangerous in warfare, so is spiritual slumber.
  3. While our works are not yet complete, we should strengthen and support what is remaining.
  4. One day we will meet Jesus – may we live in a state of readiness to meet Him.

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