Some wise words from the internet.
“ Live churches are constantly changing. Dead churches don’t have to.
Live churches have lots of noisy kids. Dead churches are quiet.
Live church’s expenses always exceed their income. Dead churches take in more than they ever dream of spending.
Live churches are constantly improving for the future. Dead churches worship their past.
Live churches move out in faith. Dead churches operate totally by human sight.
Live churches focus on people. Dead churches focus on programs.
Live churches are filled with tithers. Dead churches are filled with tippers.
Live churches dream great dreams of God. Dead churches relive nightmares.
Live churches don’t have “can’t” in their dictionary. Dead churches have nothing else.
Live churches evangelize. Dead churches fossilize.”
Revelation 3:1 ‘To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Preachers have described the church at Sardis as “the church on its deathbed.” On the surface everything looked OK. But underneath the church was dying. They were living on their past glory and past successes. They were living on their reputation and resting on their laurels. That has been a risk for churches in every age. But it is particularly a danger in today’s world of image-makers and hidden persuaders, where people are so easily fooled by outward appearances. This letter is a solemn warning to many churches – NOT, I am happy to say, for North Springfield Baptist Church, because I don’t see the message here as applying to our church or to any of our members in any way at this time. But there are many churches today who do need to hear this message and it is vital that we also remain on our guard so that we NEVER become complacent or end up resting on our laurels.
Perhaps one of the reasons the church in Sardis was quietly dying was that the city itself appeared to be impregnable. It sat on a hill surrounded by high cliffs which it appeared that no army could scale. History should have taught them some humility because one night in 549 BC the armies of Cyrus King of Persia climbed those cliffs and overran the city. And in 214 BC Antiochus the Great surprised Sardis in exactly the same way. But perhaps it is the way of things that people who feel they are safe and secure can become complacent and satisfied with the status quo. Somebody has described that problem like this.
“Complacency is a blight that saps energy, dulls attitudes, and causes a drain on the brain. The first symptom is satisfaction with things as they are. The second is rejection of things as they might be. “Good enough” becomes today’s watchword and tomorrow’s standard. Complacency makes people fear the unknown, mistrust the untried, and abhor the new.”
The church at Sardis had fallen into complacency and overconfidence. They were satisfied with outward appearances and trapped in the curse of superficiality.
SUPERFICIALITY in the church
1 … I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.
You may have noticed that unlike the letters to the four churches we have looked at so far, this letter has no praise at all. No words of commendation for the church as a whole, only for the few who stood out as different from everybody else. In the church at Sardis as a whole there was nothing that was pleasing to the Risen Christ who is speaking to them. The problem was that the church had an enviable reputation for being alive, vibrant, relevant, maybe even exciting. But reputation is not enough and the reputation was not a true reflection of the reality. The church in Sardis had been lulled into a false sense of security. They had become complacent. They were on the point of death and they didn’t even know it!
for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.
They had started so well, but they were failing to finish. Remember the saying from Mastermind – “I’ve started, so I’ll finish.” That church had been so pleased with how well things were going that they had given up half way through. They had just stopped trying.
Perhaps it was their courageous witness which was lacking. Other churches were standing firm for Christ, and some were even being martyred for their faith. Remember the good example of the church at Smyrna
Revelation 2 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Perhaps it was the witness of the Christians in Sardis which was incomplete and lacking. Perhaps in the face of persecution they had stopped proclaiming that Jesus is Lord.
Or perhaps it was a church full of activity but empty of spirituality. Perhaps they were so busy in all kinds of things that they had made themselves too busy to pray.
Or perhaps in some areas they had retained the outward form without the inward reality. Their forms of worship might have been outwardly beautiful but lacking any heartfelt devotion. They could have had a packed programme of fellowship events but no sincere underlying brotherly love for each other. They might even have been busy with all kinds of good works serving the community, but too busy to share the gospel of salvation with those they were serving. They could have had perfect organisation without spiritual vitality. The outward form without the inward reality. I am sure you have come across churches like that church at Sardis. Outwardly alive but tragically spiritually dead. The dangers of superficiality are always there for churches, but they are there for individuals as well
SUPERFICIALITY in Christians
Christians can also be drawn into the illusion that outward appearances are sufficient. That image is everything and a good reputation is all that matters. We have thought recently about the prophet Samuel anointing David the Shepherd Boy to become the next King of Israel.
1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’
We know that God sees right deep down into our hearts. The church in Sardis was dying because it was full of people each trapped in arrogance or self-sufficiency or pleasure-loving. Their lives were a lie – full of pretence. In many ways they were following the ways of the Pharisees, who faced such strong condemnation from Jesus in His earthly ministry.
Matthew 23 25 ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. God demands integrity. Image and reputation don’t matter. Integrity does. Here is a lesson this generation of media Christian superstars need to learn, the popular preachers who sell lots of books because they tell people what they want to hear rather than the truth of God and the celebrated “worship leaders” who sell lots of songs because they have good tunes rather than contain good words. The members of the church at Sardis had the good reputation and the great image, but in reality it was all illusion and pretence. Inside they were all still on the point of death.
“What a man is on his knees before God is all that he is.” Image, reputation, fame, popularity, power in human terms, all count for nothing before Almighty God.
God demands WYSIWYG Christians. “What you see is what you get.” Integrity. Sincerity. Transparency. For lack of those qualities in its members, the church at Sardis was about to die.
There is some good news.
4 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.
Even in a dying church there can be great saints. Those who remain faithful and holy and set apart for God. Their presence should have served as a rebuke for others who were complacent. Sadly, the presence of such saints can actually reinforce the false sense of security which other people feel. But for the church as a whole, the challenge was clear.
2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. 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.
Wake up! Recognise there is a problem. Recognise the dangers of superficiality and complacency.
We might wonder why the Risen Ascended Glorified Christ would let a church get to the point of death before calling it to wake up. Perhaps for the same reason that lifesavers are advised to wait until the person in the water has stopped thrashing around trying to save themselves before attempting to pull them to shore. It is only when people realise that Christ is their only hope that they will throw themselves on the grace of God and allow Christ to save them.
Strengthen what remains and is about to die. Because this really is a matter of life and death. Spiritual mediocrity is not an option. Don’t live in the past. Don’t rest on your laurels.
Remember what you have received and heard. Hold it fast! The church has been entrusted with the gospel of salvation. Hold to the gospel. Live out the gospel.
Repent! Because if you don’t the Christ who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars and the destiny of every church and every individual in the palm of His hand will come like a thief in the night and bring judgment on you all.
The challenge is there. But so is the promise.
4 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. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. 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.
What wonderful promises! Those who are victorious because they are faithful will share in God’s blessings forever.
6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Response: Jesus take me as I am
Let us respond to this message by reflecting on some words I have quoted before from A.W.Tozer
“COMPLACENCY. The man who believes he has arrived will not go any farther. The snare is to believe we have arrived when we have not. … Truth that is not experienced is no better than error and may be fully as dangerous.
Religious complacency is encountered almost everywhere among Christians these days and its pres¬ence is a sign and a prophecy. For every Christian -will become at last what his desires have made him. We are all the sum total of our hungers. The great -saints have all had thirsting heart. Their cry has been, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” Their longing after God all but consumed them. It propelled them onward and upward to heights toward which less ardent Christians look with languid eye – and entertain no hope of reaching.
Orthodox Christianity has fallen to its present low estate from lack of spiritual desire. Among the many who profess the Christian faith, scarcely one in a thousand reveals any passionate thirst for God. We fear extremes and shy away from too much ardor in religion as if it were possible to have too much love or too much faith or too much holiness.
Occasionally one’s heart is cheered by the dis¬covery of some insatiable saint who is willing to sacri¬fice everything for the sheer joy of experiencing God in increasing intimacy’. To such we offer this word of exhortation: – Pray on, fight on, sing on. Do not underrate anything God may have done for you before. Thank God for everything up to this point but do not stop here. Press On into the deep things of God. Insist upon tasting the profounder mysteries of redemption. Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will. Refuse to be aver¬age or to surrender to the chill of your spiritual environment. Unless you do these things you will reach at last (and unknown to you) the graveyard of orthodoxy and be doomed to live out your days in spiritual mediocrity!” (A.W.Tozer The Root of the Righteous)