Now let’s look at the fifth church Christ examined, the city church at Sardis.
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.2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Revelation 3:1-2 (NKJV)
“The inhabitants of Sardis bore an ill repute among the ancients for their voluptuous modes of life.” [ Notes on the New Testament Explanatory and Practical.] In other words, this rich, sin city of ancient times offered everyone a life “given to or spent in enjoyment of luxury, pleasure, or sensual gratifications” [Merriam-Webster] With this atmosphere around the Christians, it is not hard to understand why Jesus made it clear the church’s reputation of being a great church was false, because they were actually spiritually dead!
And looking at Paul’s writings makes it clear why they were spiritually dead. “But the widow who lives only for pleasure is spiritually dead even while she lives.” [1 Timothy 5:6 (NLT)] Instead of working for Christ, they spent their time and money on pleasure, and even, spiritual pleasure. They probably had the best church parties in the region! Their annual religious celebrations and festivals were extravagant and intended to glorify the Lord with all the trappings available. They were probably a very popular church and the community accepted and loved them. But like Korah, they created their own spiritual worship and were only spiritual zombies.
Sadly our Lord faced the same situation in Jerusalem while He walked the earth. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside, you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” [Matthew 23:27-28 (HCSB)] True grace and repentance were missing from their souls and the deep love of God was absent from their hearts. They were blinded by their culture and sold out to it.
God’s Word explains His spiritual worship and culture. “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.” [Romans 12:1 (HCSB]) The Lord has not changed his will, He looks at His churches and wants living disciples sacrificing their time, energy and money working for His namesake. What a contrast! Live in pleasure and you are really dead to Christ, even when you can’t be judged as a liar, thief, or cheat. But dying to yourself for him in sacrificial service means you are ALIVE! They had good intentions, but they never completed [the meaning of perfect] any of Christ’s commands or mission. Their default was another great Christian fellowship party, great worship gatherings, and banquets in honor of Jesus, but they could not see the great danger of eternal judgment that they and their city were really in.
“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you.” [Revelation 3:3 (HCSB)] They knew about the messy gospel and how Jesus led his disciples into the lives of tax collectors, prostitutes, widows, the poor and sick. They knew his story of healing, forgiving, feeding, restoring, and preaching repentance to a hard hearted world of rebels. But that is a lot of hard work and sacrifice. And as far as we know, only a handful actually followed Christ, while the rest I fear ignored the Lord’s call to repent. This church failed the Lord miserably.
Next, Jesus examined the sixth Church which was in Philadelphia.
Revelation 3:8 (HCSB) “I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.”
Wow what an exciting word from the Lord. The scorecard explodes with high approval ratings causing rejoicing all the way in heaven! Even though they had a small amount of strength, meaning they were still humbly receiving His grace, they still kept working at reaching their community for Christ. Yes, they were of humble surroundings because they were farm folk in a small city that never really recovered from an earthquake in 37 AD. No wealthy contributors, just hard working people. And praise God, they did not cave into the temptations of their culture. Also, they did not give up when it seemed no one would hear the Good News of Jesus in their city.
But Jesus would use them for a huge spiritual blessing in their area. He promised, “…look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.” Revelation 3:8 (HCSB) Yes they were a very poor church with very little natural talent, no apostle Paul type preachers, and they definitely were not the church others would think God would use in a powerful way. Sure they were of little significance, considered a failure by the big city churches and probably small in numbers, but it did not matter, they stood their ground for Jesus and now they were His instruments for a major victory for His Kingdom.
Revelation 3:9 (HCSB) 9 Take note! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying—note this—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and they will know that I have loved you.
In spite of severe persecution by the local Jews in political power, they would not deny the Lord. “When Christians were brought before heathen magistrates in times of persecution, they were required to renounce the name of Christ and to disown him in a public manner. It is possible that, amidst the persecutions that raged in the early times, the members of the church at Philadelphia had been summoned to such a trial, and they had stood the trial firmly.
It would seem from the following verse, that the efforts which had been made to induce them to renounce the name of Christ had been made by those who professed to be Jews, though they evinced the spirit of Satan. If so, then the attempt was probably to convince them that Jesus was not the Christ. This attempt would be made in all places where there were Jews.” – Notes on the New Testament Explanatory and Practical.
As the Lord protected and released convicting power in Jerusalem at the beginning of the church, Christ promised the same mighty blessings for this little church. While the Jews persecuted the first Christians, God’s Holy Spirit was poured out and thousands were converted, even the priests. And their promise was not just victory in their present need but also continued supernatural protection in the future. This little church was valuable to God and so can any church today with enduring obedience and faith in His Word.