Quarter’s Theme: DIVINE DISPLAY OF THE WORD OF KNOWLEDGE
Unit 2 – I Know Thy Works-Time For Critical Self-Examination (Lessons 4-11)
LESSON 9 2/8/2015
SARDIS: THE DEAD CHURCH
Suggested Hymns: G.H.B. 56, 61
Devotional Reading: REV. 3:1-6
Topic For Adults
STATE OF EXIGENCY
Topic For Youths
THERE IS HOPE
Topic For Intermediates
Memory verse: “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore, if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (Rev 3:3) NKJV
DAILY DEVOTIONAL READING
Inheriting The Promise
Faith helps you to accept what seems too good to be true: that God’s love is powerful and that the home He promised you awaits you. It is faith that makes it certain that, even though you can’t see God with your eyes, you believe and you are confident that He is faithful to fulfil what He has promised. The Old Testament saints died with the faith that God loaded something better in store for them. In their life time, they did not see the final promised blessing of the redeemed. They finished well by inheriting the promise. We must persevere in faith. The faith that God approves is to surrender God’s promises back to Him for their fulfilment. Let’s continue with a fervent faith of inheriting the promise.
Point of Emphasis: God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
Prayer Point: Help me to run my Christian race with passion and purpose, so as to inherit the promise of eternal life O God.
Sardis was once the proud capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, later the western
capital of the Persian Empire. Archaeological remains included a temple to Artemis, a large gymnasium and the largest synagogue yet found in the ancient world. The message however is to the Christian congregation, not to the city of Sardis. The message is from the Lord Jesus Christ, He that has the seven spirits of God. That is, He who has all the fullness of the Spirit in diversity but in unison. Jesus established His authority in his introduction as the guardian of the seven stars, who are the angels of the churches.
The message is addressed to the angel of the church, which could be a supernatural angel or a human shepherd deeply involved in the life of the congregation, except that what is said to him is actually said to the congregation as a whole.
NOTES ON THE LESSON
(1) THE REBUKE (REV 3:1)
The problem of this congregation was not with external forces but with herself in the form of apathy, indifference and self satisfaction. They were believers who were carnal, working from the energy of their own resources rather than from the Word and the Holy Spirit. They had a reputation, they were known far and wide, they were active, full of actions and programs. By the world’s standard, they were successful, but our Lord said it was a dead church! So what does this mean? For the unbeliever, death is all about cessation of life or breath. But for the Christian, death is not only cessation of life but severance and loss of sensitivity particularly from God, the source of life. That the church was dead was a dramatic way of saying it was spiritually asleep (Eph 5:14).
A church is in the danger of death when:
- it begins to worship its past or history, its reputation or name.
- it is more concerned with forms than with functions and life.
- it is more concerned with numbers than with the spiritual quality of life it is producing in its members.
- it is more involved with management than with ministry or the physical over the spiritual. And such others that shift emphasis from God to projecting denominations and activities.
Unfortunately, this is typical of many of our contemporary mega churches. Many people who attend these liberal mainline churches are only doing so for cultural or social reasons. The lifestyles and humanistic beliefs of its members reflect indifference, compromise and even outright hostility to Biblical truths. Sardis was famed among the churches for having a name, that is, reputation for her spiritual activity. It was a perfect model of “inoffensive Christianity”, a picture of nominal Christianity, outwardly prosperous, busy with the externals of religious activity, but devoid of spiritual life and power. Not surprising then that the One who searches the heart pronounced her dead.
How easy is it to deceive ourselves about our true standing with God? The sign of a successful church or ministry, one that is truly in touch with God, is not in name, spread and population, but spirit-sensitiveness and Christ-likeness. Activities and reputation by themselves are never a proof of spirituality or divine approval.
(2) THE COUNSEL (REV 3: 2-3)
Though Jesus addressed the works of Sardis as the first problem, they were also in danger of losing what they had received and heard. They were to remember not how joyfully she had received the gospel message originally, but how the precious deposit was committed to them as a trust and the abiding responsibility incumbent upon them as receivers to be a lighthouse for God. When the word was received it was their source of strength and wisdom for all of their lives. Christ, therefore, gave her a jolting command.
To return to the path of spiritual renewal and revival, they were to (i) wake up, (ii) remember, (iii) obey, (iv) repent and (v) strengthen the things that remain. This counsel assumes the real possibility of a turn around. It was a question of whether the counsel was accepted or rejected. The rapture is commonly described as the coming of a thief. But the warning concerning the coming of the Lord as a thief here does not seem to refer to the second advent of Jesus but to Christ sending sudden judgment upon Sardis, if the church would not repent. To avoid this, they were to confess and repent of their sins and start walking in the spirit and in the light of the Word.
It carried a note of urgency and seriousness as “the things left are about to die”.
(3) COMMENDATION AND PROMISE (REV. 3:5-6; PS. 69:28)
The gracious Lord does not overlook any exceptional cases of real saints in the midst of unreal professors. At Sardis, clearly there were a few who had not soiled their garments. Garments here refer to character. Clean white garment is a symbol of religious and moral purity. But what were these few doing in a spiritually dead church? May be they had a stronger character and more patience than many of us. They saw through all the hypocrisy and did not let it affect them. Rather they continued to be a “living” example among the “dead”. If only we can have such strength, who knows how many of the living dead God will bring back to life through you. Are you among these marginalized few?
The promise awaiting overcomers is made up in three parts.
- They will be arrayed in white garment.
In ancient world, white clothing stood for festivity. White garment described as white linen in Rev 19:8 is the “dress code” of those invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. What a day of celebration of victory. A grand reception is awaiting overcomers and they will walk with Christ as a mark of honour and reward.
- Their names will not be blotted out of the Book of Life.
Opinions differ as to what is meant by this. Could this suggest the possibility of loss of salvation, which is a gift from God? If names can be blotted out, could it mean that everybody is initially included in the Lamb’s Book of Life and could thereafter be expunged? This statement should be contextually interpreted biblically, historically and culturally. With due respect to whatever the opinion of anyone on the matter, the fact is, some names are in great danger of being erased. If God operates the theory of “once saved, forever saved”, He would not have tried so hard to warn the church in Sardis. In fact, He would not have warned them at all. Jude 1:5,6 says the Lord having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not and that even the angels which kept not their first estate are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness awaiting final judgement. Historically, practically every city in ancient times kept a register of its citizens. The names of the dead as well as criminals were removed from the civil register. Criminals thereby lost their citizenship forthwith. When this letter was written, Christians were under constant threat of being branded as social rebels. They were usually stripped of their citizenship if they refused to denounce their faith.
So as a source of motivation and encouragement to obedience and continuance, the Lord personally reminded the overcomers of the safety of their heavenly citizenship.
It was a promise of encouragement in view of the historical setting of John’s day.
- Name confessed before His father.
Though the Christian may experience shame and ridicule and loss of citizenship in the world for refusing to compromise with the world and bow to its threats, they will experience special acknowledgement and applause in the form of public recognition before His father and His angels for their faithfulness.
This was an actual church in an actual city, a historical place in Asia Minor. By this study, we are not only learning history but we are dealing with relevancy for the church today. Unfortunately, the tragedy of history is that men hardly learn from history. One Greek proverb says “the feet of the avenging deities are shod with wool”, expressing the noiseless approach of the divine judgments, and their possible nearness at the moment when we think they are farthest off. What became of the church in Sardis after all the warning?
“He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying unto the churches”.
(1) What was the danger facing the church in Sardis?
(2) What are the signs evident in a church facing the threat of death?
(3) Is it possible for a church to be dead and yet show signs of being alive? Explain.
(4) What encouragement can a true Christian find in continuing to fellowship in a dying church?
(5) To return to the path of revival, mention the steps the church was advised to take.
(6) Why do people hardly learn from history or errors of other people?