“The lights are on, but the Spirit’s not home…”: The Church of Sardis

Ruins at  Sardis

Revelation 3 verses 1 to 6

There are plenty of reasons for us to worry about the state of the Churches in our country, most of the news looks bad, and the prospects might not seem much better. But in these verses we see a Church that Jesus himself called dead, but he did not leave them without hope. We can look at what it means to be a healthy Church, and look at the hope that Christ offered to the dead Church in this town of Sardis.

The city of Sardis was a very wealthy one, in its time it had been famous for making woollen fabrics, colourful dyes, jewellery and other various types of and for being city of military power. But it also was a centre of pagan worship, there were two big temples dedicated to the gods Artemis and Cybele. It was believed that Cybele had the power to bring people back to life. They believed her to be the God who formed the world, if she was still worshipped she would be a Mother Earth type figure.

Before we go on to look at the church we must address the phrase we have in verse 1, and look briefly at the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
In chapter one and verse 4 we have a similar phrase:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne “
So who or what are these seven Spirits of God?, very often when we see numbers used in Scripture it is not too beneficial for us to delve to deep into their meaning, but in this verse it is made plain to us that we need not delve into studying all the biblical numerology, the seven spirits refers to the Holy Spirit and his operations/ his moving in the seven churches we have in these chapters, it is talking about what the Holy Spirit has to say to each of the seven churches. This is shown to us by what we see at the end of all the letters to the churches :
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

And what about the seven stars ? Well they are of course the seven ministers/pastors that were over these seven churches, elsewhere in these letters we see them called the seven candle stands, they were set over the churches to give light and guidance to the congregation. This follows directly on from the phrase about the Spirit’s involvement in the churches. Showing us that the lights of thee stars or these candles only exist because of the Holy Spirit and his guidance and leading.
So this phrase talks about the Holy Spirit’s individual involvement in the seven Churches and the seven stars refer to the pastors/ministers that were over these Churches As we can see from verse one this Church is accused by Christ, accused of being dead, what a horrifying condemnation to hear from the one who truly sees our heats and our intentions !

This Church which was known for its vitality and for its works. They might have had a large congregation, much money and we can see they were well known, we don’t read of any unhappiness or divisions amongst them, so why then were they called dead ?

Well much like the city they were living in, the Church was living on it’s past glories, they were relying on their great history to take them through each day. As G. Campbell Morgan put it:
They had reputation but no reality”
As well as a message for the Church, this applies to individual Christians also, we cannot live each day relying on how strong our faith was – or by looking back all the time. If we base our life on the past then how can we expect to move forward and grow in our faith ? Yes, look back and marvel at how God carried us through. But we can’t linger on the past and not want to grow in our faith.
The Church is Sardis had become stagnant, and slowly entered into state of temporal spiritual death. This of course did not mean that they had all lost their salvation, as we will see later.
But it did mean that they ,as a Church, were no longer performing the real functions that the church was established to do.
So then what are the marks of a living church ?

A living church seeks God’s glory above all other things:
“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your loving kindness, because of Your truth.” – Psalm 115 verse 1
They seek God’s glory because they recognise that they were created for that very reason, as we have it in our first catechism:
“What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”
If a church begins to glorify In it own reputation, or in numbers or in the money it brings in, as soon as it starts to move it’s eyes away from praising Christ then it instantly starts to fall away and to slip into a deep sleep. This is something which we very sadly do see happening in the Church around us, emphasis is put on everything else apart from the very God who formed the Church in the first place. Much like Peter when he was on the water with Christ and he began to sink the moment he moved his eyes away from Jesus.

Secondly a living Church is a loving church, a congregation that treats one another like brother and sister, that treats each individual as an essential part of the body of Christ. Ephesians 4 verse 16 (talking about Christ):
“From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
A dying church shows partiality, it does not care for each and every one of its members. Valuing some of the congregation above others.
But we are strictly commanded in the word of God not to be partial in the love of our brethren:
“But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
-James 2 verse 9

We must care for one an other, build each other up, offer guidance and give discipline so that we may all grow together. Doing this results in a Church that knows and loves its members and accordingly minister to them as personally needed.

Thirdly a living Church Teaches the true and un-altered word of God, it does not change it’s teachings or its messge depending on the situation or on what the common thought of the day is. Again this is something we see happening very often, the message is watered down and in the worst cases its utterly altered.
But we know that God’s revealed word is never to be changed:
-Deuteronomy 4 verse 2:
“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you ”
Proverbs 30 and verse 6:
Do not add to his words,lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar
-Revelation 22 verses 18-19:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. ”
In any way to purposefully alter the revealed Word of God is severely condemned.
But a living Church preaches and teaches the word as it is, with no alteration. Because a living Church recognises that only God’s unchanged word and law can reach the very heart of its listeners, not just tickle their ears and make them feel warm and fuzzy for a while:
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; ” -Psalm 19 verse 7
A watered down message will impress for a while but it will not settle in the heats of its listeners, only the true Words of God, taught faithfully can impact on the heart.

A living Church cares for the community around itself. It is not a closed community that only caters for the saved, no it is to seeks to reach out to the lost, to point a hurting and sinful world to Christ. None of us have any excuse not to be witnesses, we all know plenty of people who do not know Christ, they are our mission field.
We all know the Words of Christ in Matthew 28 verses 18-20:
“And Jesus came and said to them,“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,baptising them in he name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In the words of the Theologian, John Murray:
“Preach abroad. It is the cooping yourselves up in rooms that has dampened the work of God, which never was and never will be carried out to any purpose without going into the highways and hedges and compelling men and women to come in.”

These are just few of the marks of a living Church.
But we can see from verses two and three, that even though Christ gave a warning to this Church, he did not fully condemn them.
Although they had stopped acting like a living Church, they had not fully abandoned faith, we can see that from the verse , Christ tells them to strengthen what remains. Some faith still remained in this Church.
They were not beyond the summons of Christ, if only the would listen to his instructions to remember, obey and repent.
Christ tells them to wake up. Twice in it’s history Sardis was over-run by its enemies, both of these time was due to the watchmen not staying at their posts and placing their confidence in the cities defences, rather than doing their jobs and watching out for the enemies.
It is Christ that keeps the Church, even though they may wander far from what they were called to be, only with his words he can restore them back to life.
This is why we should not totally despair for the Church when we see things the way they are today, we are Christ’s bride, it is him alone that takes care of the Church even through the toughest times:
“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.”
-Jeremiah 2 verse 2

Even though the Church may be going through a difficult time, through ground that does indeed seem dry and into are as not yet sown with the Gospel seed, we must still keep our trust in Christ. Trust in him because it is Christ that is the same yesterday, today and forever, He was with the Church through its toughest times in the past and he will be same with the Church in our day, and will continue with the Church until he comes again.

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