Sometimes churches appear to be very much alive, but in reality they are spiritually dead. This was the case in the church at Sardis, which was located about fifty miles east of Ephesus. Now, over 20 centuries later, the problem still exists. It's amazing how relevant the letters of John to the churches are today. Our text reveals how Christ dealt with the problem.
One, we may have a false reputation of spiritual vitality.
With regard to the church at Sardis, Jesus does not mention any heresy or outside opposition. The church was very active and appeared to be spiritually strong. However, Jesus saw beneath the exterior and pronounced them spiritually dead. There were a few who had not compromised, but Jesus has no commendation for the church as a whole.
Sometimes, spiritual death can creep up almost unnoticed in a church. The attendance may be strong, the activities may be many, and the people seem to be alive. With all of this going on, spiritual pride can enter in. Prayer life may be slipping away. Many may be compromising with the world and assimilating the world's values without even knowing it.
Keep in mind that a church can be very spiritually alive along with its activities and outstanding attendance. The issue is not what is going on externally, but rather what the heart conditions are. We must be centered on Christ and focused on His mission. Otherwise, we can have a false reputation.
Two, we must strengthen what remains.
Jesus had just pronounced the church at Sardis dead. Then, paradoxically, He tells them to wake up and strengthen what remains. Although they were in such bad condition that they could be called dead, some spiritual vitality remained. The vitality was slipping away and was about to die, but it was not too late to be restored. Because of their condition many of their deeds were incomplete.
Every church must be on guard. It is important to take a spiritual inventory and be open and honest about its spiritual condition. The Bible is the plumb line. All things must be measured by the Word. Otherwise, our spiritual eyes may be blinded to the real need.
Millions of Christians spend a lot of time with popular TV shows and listen to the views of the popular culture of our day. It is important to engage the world and the culture and to confront it with truth. But in the process, we must not absorb the philosophies that dilute our spiritual experience. Instead, we must constantly seek to strengthen our spiritual condition
Three, we must remember what we have received and repent.
Jesus does not leave the church without an opportunity to correct their condition. The solution to their spiritual death is to remember what they had received and to repent. Jesus commands the people to repent. Unless they repent, judgment will come unannounced like a thief. The judgment will be unexpected and sudden. When judgment comes, it will be too late for them. Now is both the hour of repentance and the hour of salvation.
All of us have much to remember. We can look back on what we have been taught and on our experience in Christ. We can remember all that He has done for us. We can remember how effective the Word has been in shaping our lives. We can remember the great teachers we have had.
And we can repent. We can change our course in life. We can prune the views and practices that sap our spiritual strength. We can restore our prayer life and our reading of the Word. Then, we will experience once again true spiritual life.
Four, when we retain our loyalty to Christ, we will be rewarded.
There were some in the church who had not soiled their garments. They had retained their loyalty to Christ. They did not adapt themselves to the luxury and pleasures of their pagan environment. They had not become secularized by the philosophies of the day.
To those who overcome, Christ makes a threefold promise; (1) they will walk with Him in white, (2) they will not be blotted out of the Book of Life, and (3) Christ will confess their names before the Father and the angels. What marvelous rewards await the faithful believers.
As we study this letter, let us think about our church. Do we have a reputation for spiritual strength? Can we detect any signs of spiritual vitality ebbing away? Are we measuring up to the Word? Are we being led of the Spirit in all things? Have we individually or collectively assimilated the thinking of the world? If we should discover the seeds of death in our behavior, let us repent and commit ourselves anew to Christ! He will reward us eternally!