Letters to the Churches: Sardis
I mentioned a couple of days ago that one trick whereby Christians attempt to fool themselves (but never God) is rationalizing and justifying their sin. In other words, they develop reasons why they have an excuse for breaking the commandment that others do not have.
Well, there is another trick whereby Christians try to fool themselves into being in God’s good graces, and that is by means of reputation. If everyone says nice things about us, then we must be good people, and God must be pleased with us. Whether we admit it or not, we put great stock in what others think of us, be they Christian or pagan, and measure our worth accordingly. We are about to see that this is very dangerous.
To the church of Sardis, our Lord introduces himself as the one “who has the seven spirits of God” (i.e., the Holy Spirit) “and the seven stars,” who represent either divine or human messengers of the churches, whom he holds in his hand (1:4, 16, 20). The image is one of discernment and authority to execute judgment. Unlike the previous churches, our Lord’s letter to the church at Sardis is not as specific, except for two distinct problems: 1) They have a reputation for being alive; but, 2) are actually dead.
And this is the curse of reputation—it blinds us to the truth about ourselves. We listen to others flatter us, and we enjoy listening to that flattery. This does not mean that the people who say nice things to us are evil, but it does mean that we need faithful and loving brothers and sisters in Christ to tell us the truth about ourselves, and we need to be able to hear it with grace. And we must never take as our standard the words of unbelievers, which is not to say that all unbelievers are liars, but to say that we need to hear from regenerated hearts whose words are seasoned with the Scriptures.
The church in Sardis still had a few who cared not for idle words but were faithful to the Lord, mortifying sin and walking by the Spirit. They had not soiled their garments with worldly compromise so that those outside might say something good about them—how tolerant, inclusive, negotiable, conciliatory, cooperative, and agreeable they were. Not that Christians must be confrontational; we must use wisdom. But we must do so with fidelity to the Lord. These are the ones whose names are in the Book of Life who will walk with the Lord in heaven in white garments.