The Church at Sardis
If you or I had been evaluating these seven Churches, Sardis would probably have been the one with which we were the most impressed. This is the Church we probably would have wanted to move our membership. Yet, when the Lord wrote the Church at Smyrna, He did not have one bad thing to say about them. Yet, when He wrote the Church at Sardis, He did not have one good thing to say about them. The Church at Sardis reminds us that the things that so often impress us about Churches are the things that least impress the Lord. We are often more captivated by externals when God is more concerned with internals. We would have said the Church at Sardis was alive, but God said it was dead.
First, as we look at the Church at Sardis we see:
1. THE REPUTATION THAT WAS DECEIVING
The Lord usually began His letters by commending the Churches for the positives. But in the case of Sardis, since there was nothing good the Lord could say about them, He started by condemning the negatives. There were no positives to commend.
Jesus described how:
A. In Its Appearance The Church Was Lively
Jesus said, “Thou hast a name that thou livest” (Vs.1). From a human perspective this was a most impressive Church. I am sure that it never had a shortage of preachers that wanted to be pastor when its pulpit was vacant. It was no doubt considered a model Church in its day.
I can imagine that in its popularity it was second to none. It had a “name.” The Church was well known. If you had visited Sardis and asked for directions to the Church, anyone could have directed you. It was the Church that preachers and people discussed. It was known through-out the land.
I can imagine that in its personality it was second to none. Every Church has its own personality. Some are cold and some are warm. Some are compassionate and some are complacent. Some are exciting and some are boring. This Church had a personality that was impressive. It was no doubt the envy of all the Churches. All the Churches wanted to be like Sardis.
I can imagine that in its programs it was second to none. This Church had it going. This Church had something for the whole family. It no doubt had programs for its children, youth, singles, young adults, parents, senior citizens and any other group or need. Its music was probably the best one could hear. If a pastor's school had been held in those days, here was the place to have it.
I can imagine that in its possessions it was second to none. While many Churches struggled to get by, this Church had more than it needed. Its offerings were staggering to the mind and its building appealing to the eye. This was the big Church. This was the Church that everyone was saying was alive. This was the Church that was getting it done.
Jesus also described how:
B. In Its Assessment The Church Was Lifeless
We would give it two thumbs up, but God gave it two thumbs down. I’m sure everyone would have thought that if any of the Churches would receive a ravening letter from Jesus, it would be Sardis. But Jesus said plainly and very abruptly, “Thou art dead.” They had a label but no life. They had a reputation but no reality. They had a form but no force. Instead of being the Temple of the Living God, they were the morgue of the lifeless group. Vance Havner said that ministries go through four stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and a monument. The Church at Sardis was in the monument stage.
They were more of an organization than an organism. They were more of skeleton than a sanctuary. They were more like bones than a body. Like Samson, they wist not the Lord had departed from them.A lady once walked up to Yogi Berra and said, “You look cool today.” He replied, “You don’t look too hot yourself.” Sardis looked good, but in reality was dead.
William James once said, “There were some people for whom religion was a dull habit, while to others, it was an acute fever.” By appearances this Church was an acute fever. But by assessment it was a dull habit. The Church was dead! John R. Stott said, “Its works were beautiful grave clothes which were but a thin disguise for this ecclesiastical corpse."1
Not all the members were in this pathetic and tragic condition. There were a few that we still breathing. Jesus said, “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments” (Vs.4). There was a magnificent minority among this mummified majority. As Alexander McClaren said, “These were salt else this Church would have been rotten as well as dead.”
Clovis Chappell tells the story of a preacher that was given to doing eccentric things. The preacher had become discouraged with his Church and finally told his congregation that the Church was dead. He announced that he was going to preach its funeral that night. He had a casket placed at the front. Standing beside it at the end of the service he said, “Now some of you may not agree with me that this Church is dead. In order to convince you I am going to ask you to view its remains.” He had placed a mirror in the bottom of the casket and when the people passed by they saw the dead.
One preacher wrote this bit of doggerel:
Tell my deacons when I am dead,
That they should shed no tears.
For I shall be no deader then,
They have been for years.
Jesus is not impressed with labels. He is interested in life. He is not impressed with reputations. He is interested in reality. God wants His Church to be a tree and not a telephone pole. Jesus said “for I have not found thy works perfect before Me” (Vs.2). The word “perfect” means “fulfilled.” The members of Sardis may have been fulfilled with they were doing, but not Christ.
Secondly, we see:
2. THE REVIVAL THAT WAS DEMANDED
The Lords instructions were simply a call for revival. He called for the reviving of the corpse. They were dead and needed to live again. First, the Lord called for:
A. A Prompt Response To Their Condition
Jesus said, “Be watchful” (Vs.2). The word comes from two Greek words that mean “to chase sleep.” It was a call for stirring out of their slumber. It was a command to wake up. They needed to open their eyes to the seriousness of their condition. They needed to realize how bad things were and “strengthen the things which remain” (Vs.2). The word speaks of “setting fast.” It literally means to turn resolutely in a certain direction.
They were dead and needed to wake up and live. They were going in one direction and needed to be going in the opposite direction. The words “ready to die,” describes the last spark of life. They were like coals that were about to go out and die. The fire had gone out and it was a matter of time when the last spark would die. They were in a desperate condition and desperately needed reviving.
What does a Church need to keep the fire from dying? How do you start a fire from coals? You blow upon it. They needed the wind of heaven to blow upon them and revive them before it was too late. The life of a Church is not in its popularity, personality, programs, and possessions. The life of the Church is in a person. That person is the blessed Lord Jesus working in Holy Ghost power. As Evan Robert’s taught the people of Wales to pray, “Come Holy Spirit, for Christ’s sake,” we need the Holy Spirit to blow upon the dying fires of our life.
Secondly, Jesus called for:
B. A Perpetual Review Of Their Condition
Jesus said “remember” (Vs.3). The word means to keep on remembering. It is a command to never allow yourselves to forget. They were to keep on recalling and reviewing their condition. They must “hold fast” (Vs.3), and see to it they remained alive. They must “repent” (Vs.3), and make things right with God, so the Church would be revived and not die.
If there is a Church that should speak to our hearts it is Sardis. If there is a message that should be heard and heeded in these days it is the message Jesus gave Sardis. As a pastor, as deacons, as leaders, and as members, our great concern and prayer should be for life!
1. “What Christ Thinks Of The Church” p.85