January 21, 2009
We have come to the fifth of the seven churches in the book of Revelation, and just as the previous four had a unique message, warning, admonition and teaching, the letter to the angel of the church of Sardis holds within its words a lesson for us as well.
Revelation 3:1, "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, 'these things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: 'I know your works that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead."
Depending on whether one can accept a loose translation, or insists upon a literal one, the name Sardis can mean prince of joy, song of joy, that which remains, those who flee, renewed, or something new.
Historically Sardis was the capital of Lydia, located somewhere in Asia Minor, just south of the river Hermus. It is widely believed that the people of Lydia, during the reign of King Croesus were the first in history to mint coins, and their treasuries were vast. In essence, they invented currency, as we would understand it today. Sardis was the ancient residence of the kings of Lydia, a symbol of wealth and opulence. Even after being captured by king Cyrus, it remained an important commercial hub.
The city of Sardis is mentioned nowhere in the New Testament, besides the book of Revelation. It is unknown how the gospel traveled there, and by whose ministry the people of Sardis were converted. Being located in the same general area in which the Apostle Paul preached the Word for two years however, and knowing that all who lived in Asia both Jew and Greek had heard the word of the Lord, it is likely that it was during this time that the church of Sardis was established.
Acts 19:10, "And this (the preaching of the word, and the reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God) continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia hear the word of the Lord Jesus both Jews and Greeks."
This of course is just a logical assumption on my part, but what we do know with certainty is the fact that the church of Sardis was dead. We know this, because the Word tells us it was so. If we were to read this passage simply as a historical record, it would have little impact on us personally, but the Word of God is actual, and presently relevant. If we open our hearts and look into the mirror of the Word, if we read it and perceive it not only as a stern warning for a long lost people and a generation that is but a flicker of a memory, but in the actuality of the present, relevant to us today, at this moment in time, the light of God will invade every corner of our beings toward the glory of God, and the truth will be revealed with clarity to those who have eyes to see.
Just as the previous four letters to the churches dealt more with the spiritual condition of a congregation rather than a geographical location, so it is with the Church of Sardis. The church of Sardis receives a letter, a personal message from none other than Christ, which begins by saying "These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars."
By the phrase the seven Spirits and the seven stars, Christ is establishing His power and authority over all the churches. He is the sole source of light and truth, He is the spring from which righteousness flows, and He is entitled to take any measure He deems necessary as pertains to the churches. It is His divine right to rebuke, to exhort, to chastise and to reproof, but it is His divine pleasure to encourage, to embolden, to strengthen and to comfort those who truly follow after Him. Everything within the house of God, within the church, within the fellowship of the brethren must be in total submission to Him, for it is to Him that we will have to answer for our conduct, our actions, our decisions, and the very lives we led. There is none other in heaven or on earth who has been given authority by the Father, but Jesus His Son, who paid the ultimate price with the expectation of presenting His bride, spotless and without wrinkle before the throne of God.
It is not the first time the seven Spirits are mentioned in the book of Revelation, we see them mentioned once before in the first chapter, and in the fourth chapter we see mention of seven lamps of fire burning before the throne of God, which are also the seven Spirits of God. The throne of God signifies His limitless power, whose glory and honor will be His, for by His will all things exist and were created.
As He informs almost all the churches, Jesus informs the church of Sardis of the crucial fact that He knows their works. Christ is not repetitive by nature. He is not like some of today's preachers who preach the same sermon, and tell the same story over and over again, because they lack the divine inspiration for a new and fresh message from God. If Jesus repeats a phrase, it is to show us its importance, to accentuate its relevance, to stir us into opening our hearts to that which He is attempting to impart. Other than continually repeating 'I know your works' in the letters to the seven churches, Jesus during his ministry here on earth repeated one more phrase often, 'repent for the Kingdom of God is nigh'. We ought to know by now the importance of repentance when it comes to the work of restoration, regeneration, transformation, and its necessity in being reconciled unto God. So why is it so important that Christ had seen the works of the church in Sardis? Because when He refers to works, it is not merely those things that other men see, it is not merely that which is visible to the naked eye, but the entirety of our lives, including our thoughts, our emotions and our desires. He sees those things, which we guard and keep hidden, those things buried deep in the recesses of our hearts. The Lord knows all. This is the indictment He brings against Sardis, that in name only they are alive, but in reality and actuality they are dead.
But how could they be alive in name only? The outward appearance of a thing isn't always the same as the inward reality. God sees the true inward condition of a people, He weighs the hearts of men, and is unconcerned with the image they project, or how righteous others perceive them to be. God knows the heart, nothing is hidden from before His eyes, and although Sardis was considered, by those who knew them as being alive, in reality they were dead. In essence, Sardis was a beautifully made up corpse.
The Sardis condition is one of the most dangerous conditions for the house of God, because on the outside all seems well. Their ceremonies are well planned and perfectly executed, their worship team strikes just the right balance of soulful, worshipful songs and songs that make you jump out of your seat, the preacher balances his sermon just so, a little humor, a little story, a little encouragement, and a little boost to the self esteem, their charitable giving and benevolence are up to date, but as far as life, the true life that originates in Christ, as far as the power of God, there is none to be found.
If the power of God is not present in a congregation, then all Jesus sees is death. We can project religiosity and piety, we can project an air of humility and even fake worship, closing our eyes, and raising our hands, but God knows the condition of the heart.
The service begins, the cameras start rolling, the man stands behind the pulpit, Bible in hand smiling at his congregation, and many would say 'now there's a godly man.' Why? Because he's wearing a suit, and his hair is nice, and he's holding a Bible, he closes his eyes when he prays, and his broad grin is ever present. But if one goes beyond what the physical eyes can see, the realization begins to sink in that the Bible is just a prop, never to be opened or referenced, the words that are spoken target the flesh and this present life not the spirit and eternity, harsh messages are never spoken although they are necessary, sin is never confronted, repentance is never concentrated upon, and the words of life are never mentioned. 'I know your works that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.'
This admonition was meant for this present generation, as much as it was meant for the church of Sardis. It was written for us, that we might search our hearts in the light of the gospel and repent of this condition if it were to be found within us. The day of the great reckoning is coming, the day when everything will be stripped from us, including the image we try to project, and we will be laid bare before the King of Kings, who will see beyond the manicured nails, and expensive shoes, whose heart will not be moved by our bright smiles or our charm. Yes, that day of reckoning, that great and terrible day of the Lord will soon be upon us, and nothing can be hid from His eyes, no secrets kept, no sin camouflaged. He sees all, and He knows all.
Revelation 3:2, "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God."
In His loving grace, Jesus gives a stern and serious warning to both the churches that find themselves in the condition of the church in Sardis, as well as the individuals who find themselves suffering from the selfsame fatal malady. 'Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die'. So there was still something alive in Sardis, as there is something alive in those that suffer from the Sardis condition, even if it be a gasping breath. If there is still life, then that life, which remains, those things, which remain, must at all costs be strengthened. How can a soul, or a church for that matter be strengthened? By being watchful, by returning to the Lord and His word, and nevermore straying from the light and the life.
There are people in the world who live irresponsible lives, who do what they please when they please until they are shocked back to the reality of their present circumstance. I've known people who simply didn't care until they started feeling ill and going to the doctor were informed that they were a breath away from death. If they did not change, if they were not watchful of their lifestyle, they would surely perish. For most this information was a wakeup call, they came face to face with their own mortality, and though it might have been uncomfortable for them at first, they changed their lives drastically, and instantly. There was no procrastination there was no putting off the change in diet, or the change in their daily lives. They realized that there was no time to waste if they hoped to have life, and if they hoped to live, they had to come to terms with the new paradigm of their existence. It is such with many believers today, who are a breath away from spiritual death, being kept alive only by the grace and mercy of God. The seriousness of the warning is self-evident. It does not require exhaustive elucidation, you are dying, in fact by all accounts other than grace, dead, and if you choose not to be watchful and strengthen the things that remain, you will have signed your own death certificate.
Watchfulness is not easy. It might seem like an easy task at the beginning, but we are to be watchful throughout our lives, not merely for a season. None of the sentinels who are assigned to stand watch through the night grumble during the first few hours, but as the night wears on, and the dawn is nowhere in sight, some start to grow weary, their energies are spent, and staring out into the darkness searching for an enemy he hopes is not there, becomes tiresome and cumbersome. It matters not how weary we grow, we must at all cost be watchful. Watchfulness must become part of our daily journey toward our eternal home, it must become part of our existence, and we must associate watchfulness with a child of God, just as heat is associated with fire.
A true child of God realizes the importance of watchfulness early on in his or her walk, and places the requisite emphasis on it. They learn that watchfulness must be intertwined with our prayers and supplications as well as with the study and fulfillment of the Scriptures. Knowing that our enemy never sleeps, and that his one purpose is the derail our walk and shipwreck our faith should be all the impetus we need to be ever vigilant, and ever watchful.
The enemy is constantly testing our defenses, hoping to find a weak point, a crack in the shield, a breach in the armor that he can exploit toward his own ends. It is the enemy's pleasure to see us fail; it is his goal to see us separated from the love and grace of God. The devil's hatred for those who walk the narrow path of faith burns so bright, that he would readily commit both time and resources if he thought he had a chance at deceiving us, at causing us to stumble, at beguiling us to stain the white garment with which we have been clothed.
Why am I taking such a long time talking about the enemy? Because many Christians today have either forgotten or dismissed the reality that we war against the nemesis of the soul, that he walks about as a roaring lion, that he's focused and single minded and desires our utter destruction. A countless number of souls have relinquished their armor, they've laid down their sword and their shield, removed the helmet of salvation from atop their heads, and found the nearest tree, which offered them a little shade that they might slumber for awhile. Our lack of awareness concerning the enemy we face, has made us indifferent, complacent, and at ease, giving us a false sense of security, and causing us to let down our guard.
Christ Jesus, our Savior and our best Friend tells admonishes us however to be watchful. He admonishes all those who would follow Him to be watchful against the spirit of the world, the spirit of division, the spirit of denominationalism, against sin, against vices, against unseen temptations and against the devil himself, the sworn enemies of our souls. If we heed His warnings it will be well with our souls but if we neglect them, believing as some do that it is just an overreaction, that He made it sound much worse than it really is when it comes to the enemy's hate toward His beloved, we will fall into the snare of being at ease in Zion, not realizing that the enemy has breached our defenses.
A watchful soul is never ignorant of the enemy's schemes and plots, he or she spots the snares before he steps into them, they see the ruse before they become entangled in it. I believe it was Philpot who once wrote that Satan is so wily, his agents so surround us, their designs are so masked their language so plausible, their manners so insinuating, their arguments so subtle, their insight into our weakness so keen, their enmity against Christ and His gospel so implacable, their lack of all principle and honesty so thorough, that the net may be drawing around us, before we have the slightest suspicion of these infernal plots being directed against us.
When we are watchful, we also see, and more clearly so, the opportunities that God places before us to do good. When one is watchful, he or she also sees the much awaited for answers to their prayers, because only in the focus of watchfulness can we perceive an answered prayer, even though the answer did not come in the manner in which we expected it. Often we are so focused on God doing something the way we think He ought to do it, in answering a prayer in the manner we believe He ought to answer it, that even though the prayer has been answered, and the supplication has been met with a positive response, we miss it because it didn't happen the way we believed it would. When we are watchful, when we distance ourselves from preconceived notions of how we think God ought to work, and embrace His will, we see His mercy abound, and His grace cover us.
Watch and pray, trusting in the providence of the Almighty Father, surrendering and submitting all to Him. This is the secret to a victorious life in Christ, the live of one who overcomes rather than one who is overcome. The more we watch and pray, the more we grow aware of our own frailty, of our own impotence, and learn to lean on God, acknowledging that only His grace carries us, and only His love keeps us. When we commit our ways unto the Lord, we come under His covering, under His protection and authority. There is no safer place to be, since He is ever watchful of His flock protecting them from the enemy and from the wolves. He is with us in the hour of our trial; He stands with us in battle, just as readily as He is there in our times of joy and spiritual victories. His eye is never far from us.
1 Peter 3:12, "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
We must understand that there is a purpose in being watchful, one that we must never lose sight of. We must know that which we are watching against, and that which we are guarding. We are duty bound to be watchful, to pray without ceasing, that we might know what enters the doorway of our hearts, and if it be something questionable, or against the will of God, take quick and decisive action to crush the head of the serpent before it has a chance to strike.
True wisdom always prioritizes wisely. It does not go seeking after new things first, it does not desire more gifts or more responsibilities first, but rather it strengthens the things that remain which are ready to die. Once those things that remain are strengthened, once they have been established, only then does wisdom dictate that we pursue more. The danger in wanting to run before we can crawl, is that even if we succeed, it will only be for a season, because there was no foundation, there was no base from which to build upward. There are many within the house of God that desire to be spiritual juggernauts, endowed with gifts, exuding power and performing miracles, before they've established a relationship and an intimacy with God. There is no faster way to disappointment and ruination than not taking the time to grow in God, and stepping out on your own attempting to do in your own time, what God had ordained in His time. There is a divine wisdom in Christ's admonition to the church of Sardis, wherein they are to strengthen those things which remain, those things which are ready to die, before it is too late, rather than neglect them and seek out something new. It is far easier to keep from stumbling, than once having stumbled to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start walking again. It is far easier to bring a soul which resided in the darkness to the light, than to rehabilitate a soul that once having been in the light allowed the darkness to overtake them once more due to sin.
There is another rebuke that Christ speaks to the church of Sardis that we must delve into, for it is relevant and important: I have not found your works perfect before God."
"But isn't it all relative? Isn't it all subjective? Isn't my walk, my walk, and nobody else's business including God's?" Apparently not! I realize the United States does not use the metric system, but everyone in the world does, and using the foot as an example might get confusing. So for the sake of this example we will use the metric system. The meter is an internationally recognized means by which one measures length. No one is able to either lengthen it or shorten it depending on his or her particular whim at the time, no matter how much they might want to. It has been established as such, and we must accept it as such. What would happen if everyone suddenly decided that a meter's length was whatever he or she wanted it to be? The answer is simple; utter chaos.
The same principle can be applied spiritually as well. It is not man that holds the measuring stick, it is not man that holds the scales by which we are weighed, it is God and God alone. Righteousness is not subjective, holiness is not relative; God established what they are and what they require in His word. I cannot suddenly decide how long a meter should be, just as I cannot decide what righteousness or holiness should be because it has already been established, and there is no shadow of turning.
Man cannot just make up the rules as he goes along. We cannot arbitrarily dismiss the Word of God because we deem it too difficult, or not progressive enough, we cannot take entire chunks out of Scripture and cast them aside and still hope to maintain the integrity of the whole. The reason so few are seeing the true power of God in the churches today, is because a large majority have so utterly butchered the word, they have removed so much of it from the Christian consciousness that they have altogether nullified it. Only One has been given the authority to judge, and rightly so, only One has been granted the power to weigh and measure men, that is Christ Jesus our Lord.
John 5:22-23, "For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him."
Jesus had both the right and the authority to inform the church of Sardis that He had not found their works perfect before God, because all judgment has been committed to Him. The means by which He judges have been established, the guidelines defined in the Word, and no matter what loopholes or justifications men might think they've found to walk a wider path, it will not stand before a righteous God, and the Son to whim He has committed all judgment.
The eyes of man often perceive the opposite of what is really there. They behold only with the physical and readily interpret evil for good, and good for evil, because they cannot peer into the heart, they do not see beyond the outer shell of a man. Christ however, sees beyond the image we project, and the piousness of our devotion when we are amidst the congregation of believers, He sees and weighs the hearts of men, for nothing can be hid from before His face.
John 2:24-25, "But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man."
It is easy to seem righteous in the eyes of men, because men are easily deceived. The right look, the right pedigree, the right suit, the right smile, the right self-appointed title, and it is done. Those truly led of God however, those who possess the Holy Spirit, can perceive a true righteousness, from a false righteousness. They can tell the authentic from the counterfeit, the image from the substance. False righteousness is the devil's glory, and the number of those taken in by it is staggering indeed.
False righteousness is as dangerous as it is contagious for the human soul. It is one of the enemy's preferred weapons against the children of God, because false righteousness is so appealing. Why put in the time to get to know God, why have a prayer life, why read the Word, why deny yourself the worldly things when you can buy your sermons online, when countless smiling faces on television are offering to grow you into a spiritual giant for a nominal fee, and when so few notice the difference between the real and the counterfeit nowadays?
I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said 'you can fool some of the people some of the time', but the problem with false righteousness is that you can't fool God any of the time. God is not mocked, God is not deceived, and His righteous judgment stands. The task of every believer is to labor each day as though they were standing in the presence of God, as though He saw every action, heard every word, knew every hidden desire of the heart, because in reality He does. When we conduct ourselves as though God was perpetually there, then it will not concern us whether the world understands or accepts us, whether they think us fools or madmen, because doing the will of God and being pleasing in His sight takes preeminence over everything else.
How can we sanctify our works before God? Only through Christ! If I remain in Christ, I will bloom in Christ, and have the fruit of Christ. If I remain in Christ, then I will have His life, and adopt His nature. Man cannot be sanctified before God, except in Christ and through Christ.
Only in Christ can I labor on behalf of the Kingdom, absent of vested interest, or hidden agendas. Only in Christ can the work we do remain pure and undefiled by vainglory or self. Only in Christ can we be sanctified.
If we do not remain steadfast in our faithfulness, in our watchfulness, and our intimacy with God, our works will not be perfect in His sight. Many of us have made that first step, but we did not press on toward sanctification, or perfection. The hidden danger is that if we do not press ever onward toward perfection, if we are not constantly and consistently making progress toward sanctification, we begin to neglect it, allowing the cares of this world to choke out the desire for the things of God and the Kingdom of God.
Ever the faithful servants, as those who have been redeemed and make clean by the blood of the Lamb, may we strengthen that which remains. May we as wise builders build our spiritual homes upon the rock, making certain that our foundation is sure and true, that our faith is strong enough to withstand the howling winds and the storms of this life.
Especially in this present generation, it is easy to grow indifferent. It is easy to get distracted when we lose sight of all that we stand to lose, and the eternity we stand to gain if only we remain watchful, if we guard our hearts and our minds against the fiery arrows of the enemy.
When we learn to trust in God, and stand not on our own righteousness but in His righteousness, when we learn that He will receive unto Himself nothing less than our all, when we walk humbly with our Lord, and the cross is ever present before us, we will experience the nature of Christ, thereby beginning the process of sanctification which is an integral part of our growth and maturity.
We cannot be content with the progress we've made thus far, thinking to ourselves that we can rest awhile, or ease up on the pace of our walk, but strengthening that which we already possess in God, making certain that our relationship with Him is our driving force, we press onward to new heights, to new strengths, and to greater glory in Him.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.