This letter I found to be one of the most frustrating to understand as we are left unsure as to the real situation that Jesus was speaking into. Like a good biblical scholar I consulted a number of learned commentaries, but they were of no help. Hence after much anxious times and waiting on the Holy Spirit I am about to blog the following as the Lords message to us today.
The city of Sardis was built around B.C. 500 and was located on a narrow plateau fifteen hundred feet above sea level, in a mountainous region it was a natural citadel. Sardis had become famous for their abilities in arts and crafts. They made lavish use of the local brightly coloured and semi-precious stones such as fire opal and banded agate that they mined nearby. Their jewellery was known throughout the empire. Some historians claim that Sardis was the first city to mint coinage using the precious metals; gold and silver mined nearby.
Because of the brightly coloured and semi-precious stones the city had a 'high opinion' of itself and this was carried in the way they spoke and thought of themselves.
Whether this attitude has seeped into the church we do not now but we do know that they were proud of their deeds for they had this reputation that they were walking in righteousness. They appeared to be an active alive church with much happening. Perhaps it was a church that one needed to belong, for it was considered an 'up and coming' fellowship. But whatever their deeds were, they are half finished.
But the Spirit of God burst their righteous bubble by bluntly telling them they were in fact dead. One can imagine the shock and disbelief when this letter was read out one Sunday morning.
What was happening? This is as I see it under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The church was strong on outreach and evangelism. This was a proud facet of the young church for they worked tirelessly in this area and in so doing they grew and flourished. Yet the Lord had this against them; even though they were considered by a wide reputation as being alive they were in fact dead.
As I believe they had not pressed on into discipleship. Yes they were bringing converts into the body but they were not being taught how to be weaned off the milk of righteousness onto the meat of sacrifice. They had tasted of the goodness of the Lords salvation but they were stagnating with stomach ache on conversion preaching. We are exhorted to grow into our most holy faith but many believers are dead believers walking as they do not know of the power of suffering, sacrifice and denial which results in resurrection power.
Jesus tells us that if we wish to be his disciples we need to take the next step in our growth, that of choosing to be his disciples by the denial of all self glory, self will and professions of 'self.'
When we take up the cross of sacrifice we enter into the heart of Christ's sufferings so that we may be resurrected into power. It is only when a fellowship walks in these areas and teaches such, that that the power of the Holy Spirit falls and fills the church as Shekinah glory. Then the kingdom of God is seen by all, believers and non-believers as being alive, for the spiritual gifts are being manifested.
Therefore the church at Sardis is to wake up and come to the realization that they are the walking dead for their deeds of winning souls is not complete, but must be strengthen with the next step of discipleship. Their enthusiasm for witnessing which they have received and heard must be held fast, but at the same time they must repent for not listening to the spirit and hanging onto their traditional beliefs. Wake up church, for the command that Jesus left us, what we call the Great commission, is to make disciples not converts.
O how the church down through the ages has failed in this area. The great missionary denominations over the centuries have sailed into foreign waters with the gospel mingled with their culture but discipleship has been left out of their gospel bag.
But the Lord continues in his letter that they have a few, the elect who have grown into glory through sacrifice, laying all on the alter of fire as their garments are pure white. They have come to hear the spirits voice that once putting their hand to plow there is no looking back for the believer needs to keep walking as a living sacrifice.
As disciples of Jesus we who have tasted of his suffering are now being acknowledged before the Father and his angels.
New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
This is a problem faced by what is often called "mega-churches" today. You have large numbers of people coming to visit or who are new Christians who need "milk" yet you must not neglect introducing them to and giving them "solid food" so that they might grow and become strong. It is critical for these churches to form small groups, provide discipleship training and so forth. Indeed, this is necessary for any church regardless of the size. Hearing the Word of God preached on a Sunday morning is important but it is not enough. People have to be provided with the opportunity to not only receive more in-depth instruction but the opportunity to ask questions and so forth and that is best done through teaching rather than preaching.
Excellent blog and point of guidance by the Holy Spirit. how often seeing churches and ministries focused on outreach/evangelism ... then leaving new converts to fend for their own.
Thank you for all the hard work.
You point out several areas of great trouble within Church today, showing it has been that way for some time.
Your blog and this letter to Sardis is a tough one for an old Christian to read who, when young in faith, grew in faith and his walk in the Spirit from a variety of learned, battle experienced Believers.
I once was offered the chance to attend the courses for learning to (evangelize for numbers) ie: Church growth - I didn't. But we know it works, we see it all over, several in the City I live.
Retention of the numbers wasn't based on Discipleship teaching and growth. But on developing and beginning small groups of interest keeping people busy and feeling involved by being a part of the popular community of believers.
Sardis was rich a very rich and popular place a happening place. Nothing of this is mentioned in the text only to (as you quote) wake up, and strengthen that which remains - so, there was enough of some and something right for an admonishment of hope to - remember, keep it and repent.
Excuse me, I enjoyed the blog and got me thinking.