The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations: 5. The Sardis Experience: Come Alive!
Rev 3:1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write”
The Speaker: Jesus comes to this church as the one who, “holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” The holder of the seven spirits, or the Holy Spirit (seven being the perfect number indicating the one perfect Spirit), the administrator of the kingdom, is the one who holds life. He also holds the angels or leaders of the seven churches, they are in his hand and he can do what he wishes with them. He is indeed the Lord of the Church, the one who brings life to create and establish it, the one who holds its leadership in his hand, to protect it or even discipline it.
The Challenge: The one who sees and knows all things comes and brings a devastating assessment over this church: “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Oh my goodness! You look good, you are making the right noises but the reality is that this life that I hold in my hands, the life of my Spirit, is absent, you’re dead! There is some explanation that follows, but what does ‘dead’ mean? It means there is an absence of life, there is no movement, no change, no growth. A body that is ‘alive’ does all these things.
And Us? I normally leave this part to the end but the question needs asking here, because it is so easy to just read the words and pass over them with little thought. So let’s ask the question, does our church really flow with life? Life doesn’t just mean there are deeds because this church was doing some stuff, but was and is the life of God truly flowing in this church, my church? Is there ‘movement’ in this body, are things happening that reveal the presence and life of God here because He is the source of spiritual life? Are there changes constantly taking place in people, is there individual growth and numerical growth, is the Spirit flowing in such a way that the body of Christ is growing because when it does, “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph 4:15,16) Are we a ‘body’ that is conscious of its head, Christ, who is inspiring and directing it? Are we a united body where the life flows between us and we get life and strength and power and direction from one another? Are we conscious of being built up in love, a living, moving, serving, spiritually active body in which life flows and then is able to flow to the surrounding world? If not, do we fit the description of this church? Known for our deeds, our activities, our events, but in reality lacking this life we have been referring to?
And yet, hope: “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.” (v.2) All is not completely lost. There are just one or two glimmers of life, you have done stuff but not gone on and completed what God called you to do. In the presence of God, death can be considered sleep. You can yet wake up, come alive again, it is not too late. You may have become lethargic, weak and fit for little good, but it is not too late for that state to be changed. If you receive these words, they can act as the stimulant that the Sprit can use to re-energize you. So how do we go about this?
A new possibility: “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.” (v.3a) While you are still able, think back and remember what you have been, what God has said and done for you, who and what He has made you to be, realise afresh the possibilities of who you can be in His hands. It’s not too late, but you do need to act. Grab hold of what you knew, hold on to it, and repent of what you have become. This does require honesty to face what you are like now and compare it with what you were and it does require heart changes, but it is not too late.
The Warning: The warning is simply and open ended: “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (v.3b) If they don’t heed this word they will suddenly find Jesus turning up with the rod of correction. What that means is left hanging in the air, but the ominous warning is there.
And Yet: “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.“ (v.4) Our clothes? Robes of righteousness (Isa 61:10), “washed…and made … white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14) When these clothes are ‘soiled’ it means the wearers of the righteousness that Christ conveys to believers, have allowed unrighteous acts to mark and spoil them. But there are indeed some still in this church who have not allowed this to happen and so they will be part of the heavenly host seen in Revelation (e.g. Rev 7:9-17) for they have proved themselves worthy to be with him.
The Overcomer? The overcomer, the one who is victorious in each case, will be one who addresses and responds well to the complaint of the Lord of the Church. In this case, they will be the ones who heed the admonition to wake up, remember the past, strengthen what is there and let life flow again. They will rejoin those who have just been referred to who have not got blemished righteousness so they will be, “like them, be dressed in white.” (v.5a) There is hope that follows repentance so that, “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” They will still remain part of the great congregation that will stand before God in the great throne room (see Rev 4 & 5).
To Recap: The goal of the Lord of the Church, the one who holds the Spirit of life, the one who holds the leaders of the Church in his hand, is not to bring his Church to an end, but to restore it so when his words come, they address the things that are wrong so that we may put them right. The first step is always repentance, that awareness of having fallen short, that awareness of grief and contrition, and that pleading for forgiveness and help to enable us to put it right. Repentance always means heart anguish and then action to bring change. God’s desire is not to bring death but life, and that life comes from His Spirit and He is given when we are obedient (Acts 5:32) May we not be known for our activity and yet failure to allow the life of the Spirit to flow in and through us. May we heed his words and act accordingly.