Lessons From the Churches in Revelation: Sardis

What am I giving to God? The better question is how much of myself am I giving to God? Life is all about balance, and with matters of contentment, it’s the same principle. We read passages like Philippians 4:11 that talk about learning to be content in all things, but then we read other passages such as 1 Corinthians 3:2 or Hebrews 5:12 about how we should not be content. So what’s the difference? The difference is in the matter of spiritual things versus physical and material things. Consider the church in Sardis, for example. Sardis was a city of great wealth and power, and was considered an important metropolis during the Persian empire, and its prominence continued into the Greek empire. However, during the Roman empire, and moving into the Byzantine empire, the city greatly declined and faded in history. But much is said about the church, and when we read Revelation 3:1-6, we get a good idea why.

Sardis is the first of the seven congregations that Jesus does not first address the good within the church. However, He goes straight to the heart of the issue: “… I know your works, that you have a name that you are live, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” (vv. 1-2). Jesus, through the inspired writing of John, is directing their focus to their service to God. Commentator G.B. Caird sums their service up well by saying they were “… content with mediocrity, lacking both the enthusiasm to entertain a heresy and the depth of conviction which provokes intolerance, it was too innocuous to be worth persecuting” and even calls Sardis, “the perfect model of inoffensive Christianity.” By the context, they were offering service to God in some manner, but it was nowhere near their best, nor was it heartfelt. They were content with their spiritual life, instead of pushing forward and growing like they could have. Because of this, they received the warning to “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (v. 3). Jesus is beseeching them to revive the heart and fire they once had and not let it die out. If they will not adhere to the warning, then when Christ comes again, they will not be ready and can only expect condemnation.

On the contrary, Jesus does give them some glimmer of hope. After rebuking the church, He reminds them that they do “have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white garments, for they are worthy” (v. 4). This church was not completely dead; there were some who were still giving their best to God and not defiling themselves with the things of this world, but they were in the minority. The point is that they are dying; their future is bleak, but there is a small beacon of life that they still have, and if they will hold on and not settle for mediocrity, they can be revived.

So again the question is, what are you giving to God? How much of yourself are you giving to God? Are you settling for mediocrity, and giving God half-hearted devotion? If so, then that will not make the cut, and you are spiritually dying, just like the church in Sardis. God asks, and demands the utmost service and respect, and rightly so. There is hope for all of us though. There are people who will not settle for mediocrity, and if we will follow their example, then we too can be considered worthy to walk with Jesus. Jesus finishes His address to the church in Sardis in v. 5, and can also be a final reminder for us: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

Oren Caskey