It comes without a shock to any thoughtful person that our place of residence can influence our thinking. If we live in a socially liberal environment, and because of this look at social issues differently than if we lived in a socially conservative environment, would there be a large surprise in this? Sardis was not socially conservative, but it did have a social perspective of looking at life. They were a wealthy commercial city with a glorious past, and that historical environment played a role in the current thinking.
It is said of Sardis that its location was an area where confidence came easily because of their “impregnable” location. Unfortunately for them they lived with a perceived idea about themselves and, consequently, their overconfidence had them twice fall to invaders. They also experienced in A.D. 17 a significant set-back when a natural calamity (earthquake) destroyed the city. Though rebuilt, the status it once had was never regained, but their perception with regard to themselves did not seem to wane – they still desired to live on their previous reputations.
So often it is that some feel like they are in good standing with the Lord as they think about the way they live (or have lived) their lives. Thinking this way of oneself does not allow a proper evaluation to take place (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5). There are many who genuinely try to do what is right (cf. Judges 17:6) and there is a desire to think: “Surely the Lord won’t find fault with me because I am trying to do the right thing, will He?” Some of these people who feel good about themselves think the Lord’s way is right, but they are not quite willing to submit to his righteousness because, to them, it’s a bit too cramping. Unfortunately, the church in Sardis felt good about itself, when in truth their perceived good reputation was but a reputation that was lacking substance. People feel good about themselves many times because they evaluate their good intentions and not necessarily their actions. Good intentions are, of course, good, but without good actions following there is little to be said for those good intentions (cf. James 2:26).
Fortunately for the church in Sardis, and for all who live today, the Lord gave (and gives) warning of this evil approach to life before his judgment day comes.
The Lord was able to offer the proper evaluation because of who he was (is). He is identified with similar language as that of the Holy Spirit (Revelation 1:5) and the Father (Revelation 4:5). When he looked at his church he looked upon his church and saw some things that were not complete, and a church that was one the verge of dying spiritually. Dead works adversely affects the Lord’s church (cf. James 2:14-26)! The Lord said these needed to be tended to rather quickly. Perhaps some looked upon their past as a glorious past and felt this was an adequate approach to a glorious future without having to put in the necessary work (cf. Titus 3:8). “It’s desirable to learn from the past, but it is disastrous to live in the past.” Whatever reputation they might have had, whatever reputation a person today might have, the reputation may not be the substance of reality. The old saying that “reputation is what people think you are, but character is what you really are” is surely true. The reputation they had of themselves was but “dead substance!”
This is one of two churches where nothing good was said about the congregation as a whole. Their problem was not with regard to understanding the Lord’s demand, and neither was it with regard to their memory; their problem was with regard to their observation and evaluations. The failure to observe things as they actually are resulted in a failing to tend to matters as they needed to be addressed. They were not watching as they should have; not paying attention to those things to which they ought to have been paying attention. This failure brings about a lack of preparedness. The Lord will come as a thief and when he comes they will not be prepared for his arrival. Those who have to get additional oil for their lamps are surprised when the Lord denies them entry (cf. Matthew 25:1-13). The Lord calls upon each of us to watch.
Christians Not Soiled
Many Christians in Sardis felt better of themselves than was warranted. They walked in garments that were soiled and they didn’t even know it. How could such a white garment become stained and one not have known it? It is the result of becoming accustomed to living in an environment that accepts a standard of evaluation that is not the Lord’s (John 14:6). Eye-sight is cloudy and discernment more difficult.
In our day, a Christian can fight the influences of a negative environment when he refuses to allow the white garments worn to be tainted with the things of this world (1 John 2:15-17). Why would a Christian watch a television program that uses language that is unbecoming of righteousness? Why would a Christian listen to the music that is unbecoming of righteousness? Why would a Christian parent allow his or her child to be taught that it is okay to be like their friends, wear similar things they do, go to places they go, talk like they talk – when that which is done is contrary to the righteous standard of the Lord? These “little things,” as they are sometimes called, have a big impact on a person’s life.
Christians who walk in white garments, unstained by sin, are worthy of the Lord’s invitation because they have refused to allow their garment to be soiled. These are men and women who daily walk with the Lord, addressing him as they would one to whom they are close, and hearing what he has to say about this life and the one to come. These are Christians who struggle, but in their struggle they look to him who has overcome (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2).
Just how long does one stay in an environment that fails to observe and evaluate by the proper standard of the Lord? When the garment worn is no longer white, but “off-white,” discernment and clear thinking become all the more difficult.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”