Here we have another church that requires repentance, but, this time, for different reasons.
Do you remember the show-off at school? To whom somebody would say, you’re not as good as you think you are! Or, you think you’re smart but you’re really dumb?
Well, Sardis was similar but magnified.
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
The church had developed a name for being lively; alive with the spirit. However, from God’s perspective, it was quite dead or that close to death there wasn’t much remaining.
The Lord uses some interesting phraseology in this discourse. He suggests they are dead, but also to strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die. These two statements seem at odds with each other until we look at a human body which is in a coma, or brain dead, and yet possesses a heart that beats for apparently no reason.
Comatose is a state of unconsciousness; and when unconscious, one is simply useless for the living world. We solely abide at the mercy of the living, and of God. Having a heart that beats without the rest of the body operating is pointless; except for the fact that it provides hope for the living about the re-consciousness of the unconscious.
God sent Sardis a message, to regain consciousness or die…notwithstanding the living members of that church. He is also telling us readers, who might be in the same or a similar situation, that we also are on notice.
He reminds them, in Verse 3, that once upon a time they received the word and heard it. This comment in itself is what the Lord asks of us daily; to listen to what he is saying in our hearts and scripture, and understand more than the words, but the meaning! He is saying, “understand what I am saying to you in this passage”.
In fact, in Matthew 17:5, God tells us all, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”
Here is not asking us to check our ears, but our hearts and minds.
When our lives are in conflict with God, such as the Sardis church at this time, we still read the Word, but do not follow; we still listen to the preacher but don’t hear.
When we hear, we follow!
The intro is interesting when we look at the subject of judgement, as that is the reason for the letters in the first place; to evaluate and highlight to them the way God Almighty, and not human beings, sees their operation.
Although it may appear embarrassing to some, it is also merciful to hear from the Living God of your good points and faults. There is not a human alive that wouldn’t like an accurate assessment of his or her life from a good critic. We shouldn’t forget that these letters were private…at the time of writing to the churches themselves.
When Jesus Christ introduces himself in this letter, he uses the title, “he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars;
Two other scriptures give us a little understanding to what this might allude.
Rev 4.5 And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
Rev 1:20 “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: ...”
So, it says, that there are seven Angels of these churches and seven fires burnings. One would think there would be one fire per Angel. However, of what the correlation is we are not directly informed. We know in the Bible that the uses for fire are warmth, purification, cooking, purging, and judgment of many forms.
In the book of Revelation, we can assume it takes on the form of judgment.
In Rev 5:1, we see additional information on the seven spirits of God.
It states, “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.”
Presumably, these seven spirits of God are sent forth to observe and report back. This illustration may mean that those seven spirits have also been sent forth to look at your church and mine, and your life and mine.
When we look closely at the letter, we find that God did not have anything good at all to say about this church.
For instance, he states, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. ”
Were you aware that our works get judged as being perfect or not? At this juncture you might release a sigh, saying under your breath, “Oh no, not another thing we will be judged on?”
However, we simply need to look at the reason behind the good works — why we are doing them — to find the manner in which the Lord views them.
As has been mentioned previously, guile is one of the most unpalatable characteristics one can possess. That is, doing something while having a negative motive other that the one that is clear. It is deception.
Sardis, like many religions, may have been undertaking the good works primarily to increase the size of the congregation or the bank account or for some other reason. The Bible tells us not to have any other motive for good works than this, to give without so much as a thought of return..a THOUGHT of return.
We look at the classic case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and see those thoughts. Despite their very generous donation (good works), their attempt to deceive their spiritual family by not disclosing the truth was regarded by God as betraying the Holy Spirit who dwelt within those family members; such is the closeness of the Spirit. That is something to watch.
Exodus 12:5 states, “Your lamb shall be without blemish…”
In our case, the blemish would be identical to a spot on our spiritual garments, which, God has said all need to be clean. The church at Sardis, like any other, was meant to have pure motives for its works.
The bonnet worn by the Old Testament priests was of fine white linen and typifies a righteous clothing of the mind.
How God would see our pattern of thought is similar to this; if you can imagine an evil thought that we have not dealt with oozing out through the linen, making it no longer invisible. As God is the only one who can see it, we don’t think it matters, since we believe he will forgive us. He’s a loving God, right?
However, in 2 Cor 10:5, we are firmly directed to use our mind in this manner; “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;”
This definitive directive matches the Exodus comments about the unblemished lamb. Our minds are to be unblemished and unblemishable (my word), as we maintain vigilant oversight like a warrior.
Another particular scripture is Prov 4:23, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
There is no mistaking what we must do and how persistent we are to be in overseeing and protecting our two most vital spiritual organs, the mind and heart.
Sometimes we forget!
Most Christians, and I believe those of Sardis, know the principals of right and wrong. They have read sufficient scripture to acknowledge the difference; that is, knowing what is right and rejecting that which is wrong.
Isaiah 7:15, when talking about Jesus, states, Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
This combination of knowledge and subsequent decision making is called Golden Judgement; one of the pinnacles to which Christ is leading us, and far beyond our human judgment.
Christ did this very thing, exonerating what is right only, to lead us on a path of right- eousness for his name sake. The trouble for followers lies when they know what is right but have trouble rejecting the wrong. We follow part A — the knowledge, but struggle with Part B — the decision making to reject the wrong.
This unwillingness to follow through the second step naturally separates us from Christ; as he has now gone on and left us at the signpost where we remain in fear of making that decision. Thus we end up like Sardis, having a name for being alive, but we’re comatose.
When the Lord calls us to be Born Again, in John 3.3 & 3.5, he also calls us to comprehend what it means; which is found in 1 John 5:18, “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”
What does this mean, keepeth himself?
Keepeth himself fit? Keepeth himself healthy? Keepeth himself busy? Keepeth himself employed? What is it?
Those who are appropriately born of God keepeth themselves clean, untainted and unspotted. It means they do not share themselves with evil or that which is wrong. They ‘keep’ themselves from sinning.
When a shepherd keeps sheep vigilantly, it means there is no opportunity for straying. The fences are never in disrepair and the sheep are diligently overseen. This vigilance (the diligent and repetitious nature of keeping oneself) combined with the faith that we have now authorised to grow (by standing on the promises), becomes the protectant from evil we so earnestly desire. It becomes our fire by night and cloud by day, because we are not straying from under its protective covering.
So, like sheep, if we find ourselves straying we need to look at the Born Again scriptures in 1 John, repent, and get back into the fold, and put the vigilance in place, in fear! Genesis 4:7, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”
Every time we step out from under the covering, we immediately step out into sin. It is there ever-present, waiting. Stepping out begins with small disobedience, then grows if we keep walking outward. Then we progressively become the scripturally disobedient, where we actually cease reading scripture as it challenges us and we despise it for that. Yes, we despise the Word of God; a sort of love-hate relationship.
Reading John 3:3 (to see the kingdom) and 3:5 (to enter) is simply insufficient to comprehend the rules and expectations of a genuinely spiritual life that will progress into Heaven.
In 1 Pet 2:7-10, it states, “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,
8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.
9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;
10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
The royal priesthood, holy nation and peculiar people received the mercy. Christ was a stumbling block for the disobedient, as they continually baulked at sections of scripture which they did not have enough desire to follow.
But, we can’t forget the hopeful few words given by our Lord in what initially appears to be a condemnation. The Church was told in verse 2 to, “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die:”
And so it is with Sardis. A backslidden, disobedient church, and yet, like many backsliders, there are some things still alive within that yearn after God, given the right time, place and circumstance.
In Sardis, whatever was still alive was sufficient to be brought back to life.
This important part of scripture brings hope to all backsliders, some who might be hanging by a single thread to the thought that they are not entirely hopeless nor their lives completely useless. It is important for them to know they are not dead, yet! That, with the Lord’s help, they can rebuild their spiritual lives and get their whole body moving again, raised up from those few things that are ‘ready to die”.
So how does a church rebuild itself from the motley remains of its once thriving congregation?
How does a person rebuild his or her spiritual life from the substance that remains but could die soon?
The answer to this is in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
Whether the ‘land’ is a nation, a church, or a person, this scripture applies and will be honoured by the living God. The tragedy is that so many who need to heal their land find it difficult to humble themselves early enough and sufficiently to accommodate this scripture. Walking away from God is bound up in pride and misunderstanding. Conversely, a humble heart stays close to God’s humble heart. These hearts are kin. They are in love. They are soulmates.
A proud heart distances itself from a humble one. No longer do they see eye to eye, and the distance gets greater as time goes on. Marriages often end like this.
So first we humble ourselves, which means we apologise, we repent. Not the type of repentance that means we will do wrong again tomorrow, like saying a few ‘Hail Mary’s’ to get us out of trouble for the time being or clear our conscience short term.
Secondly, we pray. This is obviously not a quick prayer in the car on the way to work; although that can achieve the goals in some cases. God wants to see us on our knees pouring out to him of all we have, pleading with him from a pure undeceptive heart. Do we want to be clean? Then pray with all the worth you have left.
Thirdly, we seek his face. Nobody has seen the face of God and lived, yet he is asking us to seek it. Imagine coming before God’s throne with your plea. This is also linked to the undeceptive heart. Will you go back to the sin again tomorrow? If you have that in your heart, God will see it.
Fourthly, we turn from our wicked ways. God is forever informing us that wickedness is not for his children. Therefore, if we are, or claim to be, his children, it stands to reason that we reject and repel wickedness, not embrace it. We can only be his children or Satan’s. We cannot be, as some expect, children of another parent; someone in between both God and Satan…someone lovely but not as good as God or evil as Satan. This position is where much of the ‘world’ thinks it sits.
Wickedness comes in different forms, starts off in our mind, and is either formed or escalated by unseen evil spirits. Wickedness is the opposite of Godliness, so turning from it is something we should love to do.
However, sometimes the difference between wickedness and godliness is the same as walking downhill or uphill; downhill being wickedness. It seems easier to do! Sometimes we think things that we should not think, and it seems so natural.
The trouble comes when, instead of rejecting that thought and repelling it from our mind, we turn that thought into an action; and then we have a guilty mind and a guilty body. In legal terms, Mens Rea. Jesus said if we have thought it we have done it.
This saying does not mean when a wrong thought enters our mind we are immediately guilty of sin. We have a time limit to reject it. This is something we deal with all of our lives; Satan trying to get into our minds. Experts say we have twenty seconds to dismiss an idea before it lays its egg in our mind and we incubate it, hatching the guilt or turning it into an action.
Yes, turning from our wicked ways pleases God, as did Israel many times, and as would Sardis had they repented, and we will never know if they did or did not. We are better off saying ‘No’ to wrong, than trying to get away with another ‘yes’.
Yes, is so easy to say, but we all know that we live under our own condemnation from the time the fun is over and the cold reality of our decision emerges.
Do we have the strength to say no to sin? We would if we didn’t like it so much. This manner of life was part of the problem at Sardis.
But if we soldier on and turn from our wicked ways, what awaits us?
God said, “then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
This commitment from God means a new beginning for us as if the old corrupted life had never existed. Hearing, forgiving, and healing occurs if the plea is from a sincere heart.
This principle is identical to the one used by his son, Jesus Christ, in Mark 2:1-11 when believers lowered the paralysed man into the room, and this is the principle we all must seek.
How important is the forgiveness of sins in one’s life? Is it more important than healing?
Forgiveness of sins is THE most important requirement on this earth.
Without the forgiveness of sins, we cannot live this life to the fullest, or find the key to heaven. It is of primary importance.
So God is prepared to do both: forgive and heal. But what does he heal? Our land, which is our spiritual landscape, of all the things that prevent a loving relationship with him. In some circumstances, like that of the paralysed man, he may also heal our bodies.
If we could understand the full implications of forgiveness, we would seek it desperately with all our hearts: and if we could clearly see what holds us back from our relationship with God and appreciate the full expanse of the healing, we would never cease to thank him.
It is clear that some in Sardis remained faithful unto the Lord, i.e.”Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
When we look back at the Aaronic priesthood, we see the high priest in coloured external regalia, beneath which was a set of white garments.
The white uniform is identical to the one the Lord is mentioning in this scripture.
This ‘righteous’ white colour was worn close to the body to indicate a personal righteousness — a close keeping of the principles and laws of God. They consisted of white breeches, a coat and a bonnet (The coat was held tight with a multi-coloured girdle binding the righteousness to us tightly).
These three essential garments covered the Head, where we do our thinking; our Heart, where we do our feeling; our kidneys (life’s Reins keeping us on the path); our Loins, covering sexual issues; and the arms, which do our work.
We see that our predominant components are all involved in a personal righteousness. This personal righteousness covers our thinking, emotions, and activities. We then see how far into our life our righteousness extends.
Here we are not talking about the righteousness of Christ, through which all believers are saved upon acceptance of his death, the shedding of his precious blood and subsequent resurrection. This personal righteousness is about growing under Christ’s righteousness to personal maturity within the Kingdom. It is standing with Christ in our growth into the stature of the fullness of God in Christ Jesus.
God held the Aaronic priesthood to the highest of behaviours, so it would not be unusual for us also to be held to a high standard.
The righteous in Sardis understood, prepared and followed, keeping close watch over their beliefs and behaviours, while the rest thought it unnecessary. In the end, we see what was necessary.
The righteous understood they had to overcome the daily impulses which arise that take us off the pathway. We are all the same when it comes to these impulses.
To sober us, we read here it is only overcomers who wear white, and that garment is part of the recognition process whereby God will identify his children and let them in, while disregarding those who are not in white.
That white clothing helps get our names recorded in the book of life, as those wearing it have remained under the covering and in the company of the living Christ.
Think of it as an invitation list, and get moving.