Sardis – Church on Life Support

Revelation 3:1-6

Medical technology has made some pretty remarkable advances in last few decades. Much of it for good, some not so much. Have become increasingly adept at prolonging life by all sorts of means – both medicinal and mechanical. When time does come that death is inevitable and imminent, family and friends and individual are insulated from much of its reality. Once death has come, those who are skilled at masking death begin their labors, doing their best to give the appearance of life to a body whose soul has departed. How many times, at calling hours or funeral, have you heard / thought: “wow, they look better now than they have for years!” Often the comfort comes from appearance with little consideration for true state of the person.

Same principles often apply to organizations – have outward appearance of prosperity while hemorrhaging resources unseen from the public. Without a massive infusion of capital or other significant changes, organization is destined for collapse. Sadly, according to the Lord Jesus, local churches not immune – can have all the appearances of health and God’s blessing, yet are dead. There may be activity, movement, light and sound, but no genuine life.

“The lesson is devastatingly relevant for us. Churches can bear the name of church, and have a certain external reputation, when it is doubtful whether they are truly churches at all. The essence of a church does not consist in programs or buildings or past achievements or reputation or institutional greatness or in formal doctrinal correctness, but in life. This spiritual life comes only through fellowship with the living Christ, and is demonstrated through the seriousness of repentance and obedience.” Poythress

What we can learn from Sardis church is important on number of levels: first and most obvious, how must we live so Lord Jesus has no reason to say to us what he said to Sardis; next, what should we consider for ourselves/others when seeking a church; then, how should we relate to and pray for other church families.

A. context

largest known ancient synagogue, main hall capacity ~1000; indicates large and powerful Jewish segment of population

important military fortress, royal city, home to Croesus – city of great wealth, significance in ancient kingdom of Lydia

sat on top of rock with steep sides on all but one; single approach to city easily defended – twice in its history, city lost to invaders

over-confident, only watched easy approach; overcome by brave soldiers who climbed up the back way, surprised defenders

rock on which city was built crumbled easily, lost large portion in earthquake A.D. 17; city slowly dying, replaced by new city on plain nearer roads and river

B. character of Christ v.1a

Christ as: Giver of Life – the one who gives new life through proclamation of the Gospel

true spiritual life of any kind entirely a work of Holy Spirit – he only works in company with Lord Jesus, no life apart from Christ

all the how-to’s in the world give at best appearance of spiritual life – only proclamation of word of God accompanied and applied by Spirit of God changes people

must also be whole word of God proclaimed – not NT at expense of OT, God’s love and mercy at expense of justice and righteousness, application at expense of principle

C. commendation v.4

none specific, yet “a few names…” – majority of church showing no signs of life, just a few with enough apparent life that church could be revived

even those who show some signs of life pretty lethargic – “I have not found your works complete” – more they could have done

as nearly hopeless as it appeared to those w/true sight, a few smoldering wicks that could be gently fanned back into flame

even they needed to be roused from sleep, the rest shaken out of complacency – instead of asking “are you a Christian”, perhaps we should ask “have you repented of your sin”

important to note: as awful as situation in Sardis was, Lord of the church still called them a church… even with just few faithful

we often look at numbers, do the math, reach conclusion: ok this is working, no way can that ever come out

what is more important: is Christ present? Jesus had not given up on Sardis, was still present there… with power to change

D. criticism v.1b, 2b

Danger: lost sight of what it means to be the church; neither head (Ephesus) nor heart (Thyatira)

had only outward appearance of what passed for religion but… inward reality of “Christ alive in them” missing from all but few

at this point in time, only God knows if they were ever truly born again – had clean clothes at one time, now not so much

2014: “In addition to the nature of Scripture and justification by faith, what do you think is the top theological issue facing churches?”

answer: what is the church? start with Eph 4, esp. v11-16; “what does it mean to be the church” matter of great confusion

imagine asking selection of friends who attend different churches: what is supposed to happen when you go to church Sunday AM; then ask how does that relate to the rest of the week

apparently in Sardis people across the board, including leadership, had wandered far off course – mostly content to do Sunday thing

apparently whatever happened in First Church of Sardis on Sunday did not translate into righteous living Monday thru Saturday

how do we know that? v.4 – “you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their clothes” HCSB – a few haven’t, what about the rest… they have defiled their clothes

take a look at group photo – everyone at First Church went out front, took places, smiled for camera; photo enlarged / printed out

examine photo, something peculiar gets your attention – most of people there wearing grubby clothes, only a few in clean ones

where did all the stains come from? are stains of worldliness, come from not simply being in the world but from rubbing up against it – close, intimate contact that results in transfer from one to another

some of those with dirty clothes started out with clean ones – converted from life of sin, given clean robe of Christ’s righteousness; initial change of behavior, all evidence showing they were born again

then… didn’t grow in knowledge of God and his ways, initial enthusiasm wore off, kept up with church thing… and relaxed outside church family

now reached point where is difficult to tell difference between them and those of the world – outside church they look and act and sound just like the world

and… what applies to individuals in group portrait applies to church as a whole – church’s reputation not matched in reality

E. challenge v.1b-2

Satan – deceiving individuals about their true spiritual condition: believed the reputation, didn’t see self from Jesus’ perspective

countless people each of us could name fit this description: lulled to sleep by Satan, convinced they have nothing to fear

have reputation as nice people, maybe even Christians, could tell you the time of their conversion, don’t see need for more

believers and unbelievers alike at risk: Satan wins either way when believers stagnate, unbelievers stay comfortable in their sin

believers in Sardis had responsibility – make sure were being taught truth leading to spiritual growth; leaders responsible, too

most godly pastor/teacher won’t see results when preaching to corpses… until “He who has the seven Spirits of God” gives life

most devoted believer will be stunted in growth when they sit under empty preaching and lack godly example to follow

F. call v.2a, 3 – Lord of Church speaks with loud voice of authority

wake up

get out of complacency/indifference, look at road signs, see how far off track you are and how great your danger; more important… see how much of the world has come into the church


through neglect, spiritual strength almost gone; get back to workout routine: good nutrition, regular exercise, focus on goals


what you received/heard/learned of sound teaching at the beginning… and how you responded to God’s truth

not talking about reminiscing on good old days; this is recalling to mind with intention of doing something with truth

obey (hold fast, keep)

recover the truth, embrace it so as not to let it get away, follow God’s truth wherever it leads – scary stuff, but remember who is just in front of you: deny self, take up cross, follow ME


turn back to him “who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars”, iow, the only source of true life for his church

notice: Jesus has no intention of leaving his people in their sins, he’s not PC, is committed to doing all necessary to achieve his will and purpose in us

if this church does not respond appropriately – Christ himself will come, deal with problem in most appropriate way, perhaps to close the doors

G. conquerors’ reward v.4b-5

dressed in white

one who remains faithful will be recognized as worthy… in Jesus’ estimation; their less than perfect garments replaced by garment of his perfect righteousness

name in the Book of Life (contra. the church, v.1)

even though part of a church that only had reputation for life, name in Book of Life in Jesus’ handwriting guarantees life

Jesus doesn’t use disappearing ink or white-out – once he declares you one of his, nothing will ever change that; Rom 8:35ff

acknowledged before God and angels

Jesus promised followers: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” – repeats that promise here to one who overcomes

Remember those questions at the beginning?

what should we consider for ourselves/others when seeking a church – not budget or programs or size or reputation but genuine spiritual life shown by fruit that members are producing

then, how should we relate to and pray for other church families – that they not become like Sardis, infiltrated by world’s principles and priorities, if they are that those with remaining life would wake up

most important, how must we live so Lord Jesus has no reason to say to us what he said to Sardis – start with self, do all in your power in dependence on Christ to follow Christ; then, do all in your power in dependence on Christ to encourage growth in godliness of brothers and sisters


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