“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” (Rev. 3:1-6).
After writing to the angel of the Church in Thyatira, John is instructed to write to the Church in Sardis. For the first time there will be no word of praise. The condition of the Church was very serious. He that hath the seven Spirits of God wanted the people to know how desperate their condition was. The reference to the seven spirits of God represent the Holy Spirit in the fullness of His gifts (Isaiah 11:2) ministering to the seven churches, identified as the seven stars. The seven churches are under the sovereign control of the Lord Jesus Christ. To His Church at Sardis the Lord begins to speak, and says, “I know thy works”.
It is impossible for Christ not to know the works of His people, for He is very God. He is also extremely interested in the activities of each congregation. And as He observes, the Lord of glory evaluates what He observes. It was the considered opinion of Christ that the Church of Sardis was living a lie. They had a public reputation for being alive, and yet before God were dead. Here is a great paradox.
A Church can have many programs that help many people, and still be dead in the sight of God. The programs are not wrong, but neither do they guarantee life. The people of God must make sure that spiritual life is present by having no sins un-confessed, and no sins un-mortified. Sin brings spiritual death.
Sin is the death of the will. It is possible to listen to the voice of temptation so often that habits are developed which can no longer be broken. Sin is the death of feelings. The process of becoming enslaved to sin does not happen overnight. The conscience must be suppressed. Sin “petrifies the feelings.” Sin is the death of all that is lovely. Sin can take the most innocent and beautiful young girl, and turn her into a centerfold model. Sin can take the most promising young man, and turn him into a selfish, egotistical person, intoxicated with ambition. Sin can take the Church of Jesus Christ, and turn it into a sanctuary of Satan.
The Church must be careful to put away sin, and then, to guard its spiritual life. There are four ways this can be done.
First, the Church is to “watch.” Failure to watch can lead to spiritual harm, and it can lead to physical harm. The year was 546 BC, Sardis was a rich and powerful city, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. Because of its strategic location high upon a mountain, the people of Sardis thought they could not be harmed. The wealthy King Croesus foolishly embarked upon a war with Cyrus of Persia. Thinking he could defeat Cyrus, King Croesus consulted the oracle at Delphi and was told: “If you cross the river (Hayls) you will destroy a great empire.” Croesus crossed the river, and indeed destroyed a great empire. His own!
Still, the king was not worried. He could still find safety in his city. But again he was mistaken, for Cyrus had offered a special reward to anyone who could find an entrance into the city. As it happened, a certain Mardian soldier, called Hyeroeades had seen a Sardain soldier drop by accident his helmet over the battlements, and then watched as the soldier made his way down the precipice to retrieve it. It was obvious that if the Sardian soldier could retrieve his helmet, then there was a crack in the rock that an agile man could climb up to, and over the battlement. That night Hyeroeades led a small band of Persian troops up by the fault in the rock. The battlements were not being watched, and Sardis fell. In the year 214 BC history repeated itself. This time the invader was Antiochus III. But once again the people of Sardis had failed to watch properly for the attack of the enemy.
For the Christian community watchfulness is to be a constant attitude. “It is time,” wrote Paul, “to awake out of sleep” (Rom. 13:11). In particular the Christian is to watch.
Watch against the wiles of the devil. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Watch against temptation. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
Watch for the coming of the Lord. “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 43 But know this, that if the Goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up” (Matt. 24:42). “And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch” (Mark 13:37).
Watch against false teaching. “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. While the Church is watching, she should remember that Christ is watching her” (Acts 20:29).
The second command of Christ is to, “strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.” In any Church there are certain things which are ready to die because they are not supported, and strengthened by the presence, and energy, of the saints. It takes time, and energy, and resources for the Church of Christ to know life. There is work to do. We must strengthen the things that remain, and who knows, perhaps God will restore some of the former things.
The third command for the Church of Sardis, is to remember. The Church is to remember how it first heard the gospel, and how it first received the glorious gospel of truth.
Then fourth, the Church was called upon to repent, to feel sorry for sin, and to turn from sin. Repentance is the sovereign grace gift of God. If an individual finds himself, or herself, without this gift, they can seek God and ask for it. The alternative to non-repentance, to non-remembrance, to non-strengthening the work, to non-watching is certain judgment, in time, as well as in eternity (Rev. 3:3c).
Fortunately, there were a few in Sardis, which had not sinned before God in a grievous manner. They had not defiled their garments by acts of immorality. To them it was given to walk with Christ in white. To walk in white might refer to a time of festivity (Eccl. 9:8), a time of victory, or a period of purity (Matt. 5:8). It could refer to the resurrection, or even Christian baptism. Those who overcome were also promised not to be blotted out of the Book of Life. As a concept, the Book of Life is mentioned several times in Scripture.
Moses asked not to be allowed to stay in the Book of Life if his people could not be saved. Exodus 32:32 Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. 33 And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.
The Psalmist hoped that the wicked would be blotted out of the Book of the Living. Psalms 69:28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.
Daniel spoke of those who will be delivered in the Day of Judgment. “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book (Dan. 12:1).
Paul wrote that his fellow laborers are written in the Book of Life. “And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3).
People who are not written in the Book of Life are cast into the Lake of Fire. “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).
Only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life shall enter into blessedness.