Death and Life in a Christian Congregation 

“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…You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.”’” 

Revelation 3:1-6

Our Savior Himself addressed this message to the church of God in Sardis. He also wants to show us how God deals with all churches that resemble the image of the church in Sardis. Unlike other churches, this one had lived for many years in complete peace and perfect tranquility, undisturbed by anything. It was not troubled by persecutions, sufferings, struggles, or tribulations. Its members lived as good citizens and were generally esteemed by their neighbors. They did not oppose the paganism that was all around them, and it seemed that they – but in a wrong way – “kept peace with everyone.” 

They only did good, were known as benefactors, and possessed other excellent qualities, all of which seemed to indicate a healthy, growing, and flourishing Christian life. But yet it was not so.

The many long years of undisturbed peace, comfortable tranquility, and outward prosperity which the church at Sardis demonstrated had not afforded it a single opportunity to prove its virtues and its spiritual gifts.

The greatest danger for a child of God is the long, undisturbed influence of the world. Churches that have never had to go through storms, struggles, or persecutions are in great danger of falling into sluggishness and secularization. The most valuable thing a person and a congregation can lose in long years of undisturbed rest is spiritual life. The soul grows best in times of challenge, of temptation, in times of struggle! Only in this manner is it able to grow and be strengthened. Therefore, if we want to have life, true spiritual life, we must reject all comfort and ease. God’s Word tells us, “We must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). 

In the church at Sardis, there were many things that could have been considered signs of true growth. The services were held regularly, and the church increased in numbers. By their exemplary life in the world, all had earned the honor and respect of their fellow men. The plight of the poor was managed in a charitable way. Much good was done. Signs of life! But Christ, who is not satisfied with an outward appearance, Christ, who can see into hearts, who also distinguishes the inner motives, pushes away all these outward signs of apparent life. He examines the spiritual life of the church and finally has to say, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead!”

There were no public grievances against the church in Sardis. The church was regarded by others as a living member of the great family of God. And yet, sure harbingers of the approaching end had crept in. Death, no longer life, reigned in the church. Death was the mark that the church as a whole, and perhaps the preacher in particular, bore on its forehead.

The remarkable thing about the church at Sardis was the heavy condemnation, although its members did no particular wrong. All seemed to be grounded in firm faith. Their conduct was not offensive, and yet the Lord said that they were dead. 

Christ seemed to take little notice of their good and commendable qualities. He searched them and looked behind their facade. He tore down the veil that made the church seem so flawless to the outside world. He sees the end of life and the beginning of death. Oh, may we always remember that Jesus Christ remains the same and that He knows the true condition of every church!

But to the glory of the church at Sardis, we may say that nevertheless in its midst there were some who still possessed true spiritual life. The eye of the Lord had still beheld a few who had not defiled their garments, whose resolution to serve God was still steadfast. They still stood in faithful love for their Lord, and to them He could send the comforting message: “They shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.”

Shouldn’t all this teach us a valuable lesson? We should not so easily forget this observation of the condition of the church at Sardis. It should serve to make all present-day churches realize that this message concerns them personally as well. I believe with the apostle Paul that it was “written for our admonition.” We are in no less danger today than the churches in Asia Minor were then. Jesus always cared deeply about the spiritual welfare of His people, and it is still the same today. He encourages the good, but He punishes the wrong and exposes it everywhere, even if He finds it hidden in a Christian congregation.

Dear brothers and sisters, the eye of the Almighty is always on us. Are we ready to let Him examine our work in every detail? May He uncover our motives and examine our conduct in every respect? What is the true state of our church? Let us be honest with God and with our own hearts.

Oh, may everyone who professes to be a Christian awaken and realize that what other people and good friends think of our spiritual condition is not as important and crucial as what God Himself says. What God thinks of us should be of utmost importance to us. Does the Spirit of God testify to our spirit that we are redeemed and may be called children of God? God wants to give us an awakening in our lives and in our congregations so that we can grow and prosper spiritually!

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