“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. 8 “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie- behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) The city of Sardis considered itself an indestructible city. It was built on top of a steep hill and accessible only by a narrow strip of land making it highly defensible against military attack. Sardis had a reputation for arrogance because of this and were not always vigilant. Several times Sardis was conquered either by secret military attack or an earthquake. Further, the city had no room to grow atop that hill, and so by this point, the city had been dwindling for years. Their reputation for strength was not truly deserved. Apparently, the church had taken on similar characteristics in their spiritual condition. They had a reputation for “being alive” but in fact were spiritually dead. Their works were not “complete”, meaning insufficient or inadequate. They did not take Jesus seriously. Perhaps they had merely become a social club with no spiritual vitality. Even more, they became soiled by the sinful patterns of the culture they lived in. Outwardly, their lives were no different than the unbelieving world around them. Their church might be large and full, but full of what? They were in for a rude awakening when Jesus came in judgment “like a thief”. Their confidence in their spiritual life was a delusion and Jesus was about to shatter that delusion. So, he called them to remember the gospel they heard, to keep it, and repent. They must shake off the spiritual slumber and wake up to the impending spiritual danger. They must become faithful and watchful again. A lively church community is of no spiritual value if they are not committed to Christ and his Word. But Jesus encouraged the few faithful there. They endured despite the compromise of the rest. They strived to remain clean and faithful, unstained from the sinful practices and attitudes in the culture around them. And they were probably ridiculed by the others with derisive names like “Puritans” or “Fundamentalists”. But Jesus promised them “white garments” and a place in the “book of life”. He promised to confess their name before the Father, a promise made earlier to his disciples (Mt 10:32) as a reward for faithfully confessing Christ before men. In this case, they needed to confess Christ before a dead church as well. But one day, they would live in a zealous clean church forever with Jesus.
2) The church in Philadelphia was in the opposite spiritual condition; fully alive, alert, and zealous for the Lord. It is the only church among the seven Jesus does not rebuke. Outwardly, they appeared very weak and small. They had “little power”. But they kept Christ’s word and did not deny his name. Apparently, they also faced persecution from the local synagogue (a common problem noted in Acts as well). Perhaps they were even ridiculed on account of their smallness? How could God love them and favor them if they were such a small church? Surely, if God were with them they would be bigger and more “successful”? The assurance Jesus gave seems aimed at that kind of criticism. These bigger opponents would eventually bow before them and acknowledge that Jesus “loved” them. This church had what Jesus valued most, not size but faithfulness. They trusted Christ’s word and patiently endured trials and because of that, they would be spared in the final day of judgment. Jesus encouraged them to “hold fast” and they would receive the crown along with many other great honors; becoming a “pillar” in the temple, and having God’s name, the name of His city, and the name of Christ written on them. They seemed small and rejected now, but their names would be great and honored in God’s kingdom. Like Christ himself, if they bore their cross faithfully now, they would receive glory in the end. Given this contrast between Sardis and Philadelphia, what should you really be looking for in a church? How should you be living in that church? What should you be praying for in that church? What is it that Jesus looks for most in his Church?