The Most Important Relationship
It has been stated by those in the banking industry that detecting counterfeit bills is becoming more and more difficult. It has become easier to make the fake bills look genuine with the incredible technology that has developed in recent times.
In life, it is sometimes easier to try to fit in with everyone else, causing difficulty in recognizing a true Christian from somebody just living for themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s the school classroom or the workplace or the local marketplace. It is much more difficult to stand alone for Christ than it is to preserve our everyday relationships. If you were to try to discern who belongs to Jesus and who doesn’t, it would sometimes be a difficult challenge.
Today, we’re going to look at the church in Sardis. This church is sometimes referred to as the counterfeit church.
The city of Sardis was the capital of the Roman province of Lydia. It was quite wealthy and prosperous. Like most of the Roman cities of importance, this city also had a temple to the goddess, Artemis. Sardis also had a large Jewish synagogue. In addition, Sardis was known throughout the world as having a very strong wool industry. As we continue in this short letter, you will notice that there is a strong reminder to the people who lived in Sardis regarding wool.
This church, like so many, seemed to have a lot of outward ritualism. Yet, inwardly, they were a dead church. It has been referred to as the city of the living dead. Some scholars liken it to the period which caused the Reformation to begin in Europe. Others, believe that it is very closely connected to what is happening even now.
The Hebrew for Sardis literally means remnant. Interestingly, as we look at this passage, this is primarily the only good point which Christ makes about the church. The point being is that there were some who were spiritually alive.
What I consider to be of importance from this passage is quite simple:
Our relationship to Christ is the most important relationship.
Christ Cites Them for Inadequate Deeds.
Christ Cites Them for Inadequate Deeds.
Revelation 3:1–2 (NASB95)
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.
Christ again reaffirms his absolute, complete knowledge about the church at Sardis, as He has done with each of the churches. However, what He reveals is quite discouraging. This church consists of a lot of members who claim to be alive, but in reality, are spiritually dead. They are a bunch of pious corpses. They are walking, breathing, eating, teaching, preaching, performing works of service; but they are spiritually dead.
It seems like the church was mirroring the city in which they were located. This church was also living in the glory days of the past. The city used to be a royal city, Now it was of no major importance. The church, at one time, probably had a loyalty and strong commitment to service for Christ. Now there was nothing.
As several of you know, I’m a Boston Celtic fan, going all the way back to Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Jo Jo White; then Kevin Parish, Larry Bird, Danny Ainge. Those were the glory days of the 60s, then the 80s. There was then a lengthy dry spell, yet I was still a Celtics fan. I know that sounds strange for a prairie boy from Kansas. I still am a Celtics fan. During their dry spell, it was if I was cheering for a dead team. Yet, I could not convince myself that this was a fantastic team when they were losing. If I tried to lie to myself, I’d simply be living in the past. The past is just that; it’s in the past. Christ was and is looking at today and tomorrow in our lives. He doesn’t look at the church and suggest that everything is great because of the past. What is the church doing right now for the cause of Christ?
Sadly, because of the church situation in Sardis, it seemed that some members were ready to give up spiritually. At that particular point in time, their work was actually incomplete. Yet, from an outsiders perspective, they would see that there was a lot of activity and service that was happening. But since it was not caused by the Holy Spirit, nothing of value was being accomplished.
Why was that? Evidently, the church had reached a state of complacency and a lackadaisical attitude. They had given up living for Christ in their service and witness.
However, all was not lost. In order to preserve their usefulness to God, it would require a quick and decisive action to be taken. If they chose to ignore Christ and keep going with church as usual, death would be the result.
Christ Calls Them to Wake Up.
Christ Calls Them to Wake Up.
Revelation 3:3 (NASB95)
‘So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.
You might say that this was a spiritual reveille call. Christ has told them that if they don’t wake up and see what’s happening, they are going to die. So, how could they avoid this happening? Christ offers a three-fold solution.
First of all, Remember. Remember what? Remember what they had received and heard. Remember with the intent of letting it sink in and become a part of their way of thinking. Remember what God’s Word unequivocally states. Remember from what they had been saved. Remember the One Who saved them.
That is actually good for all of us to do, even today. If we find ourselves being tempted to become lazy and lethargic in our walk as Christians, we need to take some time to remember.
Secondly, we read that the church in Sardis was told to keep it or hold it fast or obey, depending on the translation. It is one thing to remember and say those were the good old days. However, we need to come the realization of why those were the good old days. If it was because of unswerving obedience to serving and loving God, then keep it. Hand on to it as if it were precious gold.
But is this even possible when a person has gone so far downhill. Thirdly, we see there is a word that keeps popping its head up repeatedly—repent. When a person finds themselves not caring anymore about that close relationship with Jesus Christ, there is a need to repent. There is a need to allow the gospel and solid doctrinal teaching to have full authority over our lives once again. Just like the church at Sardis, there is a need to once again obey or keep God’s Word.
Church, we must take Christ’s Word seriously. If not, we will also come under Christ’s attack, not knowing when that will be. I’m not referring to when Christ comes to set up His rule. Here is a direct reference to the church at Sardis and all who read this letter that Christ Himself will come against a local church. Most of us think of attacks against the church as being done by Satan. But here, we have an indication that if a local church is rebellious and disobedient to God, Christ Himself will come against it. That is quite a scary thought.
Some might think that Christ could not come against His own bride. That’s true. Remember that those who were and are playing church were not part, nor are they part, of Christ’s bride. And if they are, we remember that Christ will use divine discipline to get His children to get back to where they should be. We even see this in Hosea, as he had to basically imprison his wife to cause her to commit herself to him completely.
As we read this, we might wonder if it was all bad for the church at Sardis? Actually, we’ll see in the next few verses that there was a remnant.
Christ Commends Those Who Are Unsoiled.
Christ Commends Those Who Are Unsoiled.
Revelation 3:4–6 (NASB95)
‘But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. ‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
According to these verses, there were some members who were soiled or defiled. However, there were also some members who were not. For those not soiled or defiled, they would walk with Christ in white.
Now the pagan culture of Sardis, combined with the wool industry, should have made this illustration very clear. You see, citizens of Sardis who had soiled garments were removed from the public lists of citizens. There was apparently a great deal of concern with outward appearance.
Within the church, there also seemed to be a great deal of concern with outward appearance, but not a lot of thought given toward inner purity toward Christ.
Yet, there were those who were more concerned about their relationship with Christ than how they might appear to the world or other church members. They were the overcomers. They would not have their names blotted from the book of life. This is not the Lamb’s Book of Life, but a reference to being on a registry of the living. In other words, this is physical death that will not happen prematurely to the overcomers, but will happen to the walking dead. In the original language, a double negative was used to show the absolute certainty of this being the way it was going to be.
In addition, they would be confessed before the Father and His angels. The word for confess is a strong word which is used when referring to confession before the courts. Christ would, as it were, testify before the Father in Heaven, that those who had valued their relationship with Christ as the highest of all relationships and who remained pure, belonged to Him and should enter into heaven. I love the words to a 70s Jesus Movement song—Jesus is my lawyer in heaven.
Sometimes, being soiled is hard to detect outwardly. With the right outfits and the right activities, a person can look pretty good on the outside. Becoming soiled often creeps in without being noticed. It doesn’t always involve flagrant sin which is obvious to everyone.
I recall a situation with a dear friend of mine from South Dakota, Paul Hetle. Early one winter, Paul sported a beard that gave him the likable appearance of another Paul you’ve heard about; Paul Bunyan. A little later that winter, Paul shaved off his beard. I was quite surprised as I actually thought he’d leave it on through the winter to protect his face from the cold.
When asked about this, he shared his reasoning for his now smooth face. It seems that during lambing time, being in a closed environment, the smell becomes quite pungent. That smell penetrates into the clothing, even seemingly able to find its way up into our heads. Well, changing clothes was easy enough. But the smell permeates the beard and ends up taking residence there.
Now, if you’re following this story, you’ll notice that he didn’t have to stick his face and body in the straw and the wool of the sheep to absorb that smell. In fact, you can’t see the smell, though it’s quite potent. Yet, somehow, it stays within the hair. The solution—especially if you value your earthly relationships with family and friends and co-workers—you shave your beard.
Church, sometimes we need to wake up to the reality that we don’t have to wallow in obvious sin, to become complacent and sinful in our relationship with Christ. We can become content with those with whom we are familiar. We can bask in the yesteryear of past church glories and successes. We can even look fondly back at the times when we were busy serving the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. This can become a dangerous sin. For it can take us away from the present moment of keeping our eyes and focus upon Jesus, living for and serving Him.
Remember the church at Sardis.
Remember that Our relationship to Christ is the most important relationship.