Sardis: Reputation vs. Reality, Revelation 3:1-6


Do you have Facebook Envy?  While Facebook has inaugurated a whole new way of life from staying up-to-date with friends and family, networking, spreading information and more, numerous studies and articles written are showing how  Facebook also facilitates the envious tendencies we humans have.  According to an article by Dave Ramsey:  Facebook envy happens when you see a “friend” post about a vacation, a restaurant or a new car—anything that you can’t have—and you immediately feel inadequate because you don’t have those things.


Now social comparison and envy are not a new phenomenon, however, FB adds a new dimension.  On FB, people tend to post only what makes them look good.  And the idea is that when the lows in your life are looking you right in the face and you look at the highs in other people’s lives as they post them on FB, the difference has a .  The result is not only envy, but, the envy leads to depression – FB depression.  


But another problem grows out of Facebook profiles:  since people tend to post what makes them look good studies are finding that many people are depressed not only because of they compare themselves to others, but, they get depressed because they compare their real life to their own Facebook profile!  It’s the idea that online you want to project an image that paints you in the best light, but, always in reality you – like everyone – have problems and issues.  But you begin to think that only you have issues and your impression of everyone else is what the Huffington Post calls the “everyone is at the summer-cottage-but-me blues”.  


In a word:  everyone’s Facebook Reputation is not always their Reality.  A FB profile may not be the whole picture.  For someone else’s life, or, yours.  If Facebook was around in the early Church years then this is exactly the problem our next church would have had:  the church of the city of Sardis.  


In Sardis, like for many on FB, Reputations are not always reality. Read 3:1-6


Notice verse 1, “I know your deeds, you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” All is not as it seems at the Church in Sardis. What you see is not what you get.  Sardis was a Mannequin church, it looked like it was real, was dressed like it was real, but, it wasn’t real. On Facebook it looked like the perfect church, but, in reality it didn’t live up to its profile.  


The Lord does not like fake religion.  Turn with me and follow along as I read Isaiah 10:23.  Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for being “white-washed tombs”, meaning they looked good on the outside but they were dead on the inside. He called them hypocrites, play acting with God.  He warned about the tares among the wheat.  


How could a church have a good reputation but be spiritually dead? Well notice 2 things. First, their great reputation was with men. The good name and the good opinions were those of the community. People may have said things about Sardis we might hear today: “God is at work in that Church” or “God is really blessing that Church”. “They have great programs”, “Their Youth Group is really big and cool”, or, “They have awesome music”, or, “They are so busy in the community and do so many good things to help people”. Everyone spoke well of the church and nobody had anything bad to say. That is not necessarily a bad thing. But, do the high opinions of men matter when Jesus has a low opinion of you?  That brings us to point number 2.


Notice that it is possible to have a great reputation with men while having a bad reputation with God. Notice the authority of the assessment Jesus makes, “I know your deeds, you have a reputation of being alive but you are dead.” In other words, God’s opinion of us is not always the same as man’s opinion of us.  God told the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not look at the same things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” He looks at the heart of a man, and He looks at the heart of a church. Man looked at Sardis and said, “Here is a poster-church!” But God looked at Sardis and said, “Here is a pretending church.”


What can we learn from this? First, live for the praise of God and not for the praise of man. Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  What drives you?  Man’s opinion or God’s?    


Secondly, care more about who you actually are than you do about what you appear to be.  We want to project an image of ourselves to the world that makes us look good and the problem comes when we care more about our image than we do about our reality.  We buy into the old 7up slogan:  “Image is Everything”.  We want people to admire and respect and like us so we try to keep up the image we think will do that.  And it is at that point, in our hearts, where what matters most is what others think about us.  Do we focus on our appearance as Christians or are we authentic?  Jesus said in Matthew 6:1, “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them.” Sometimes we want so badly for others to think highly of us that we make sure they see or hear about all the good things we do. We must remember that God sees every good thing we do, and if we know that, then we don’t need others to know it.


If we don’t pay attention to this, it can easily lead to putting all our focus on how we look in the eyes of others. Jesus said in Mark 7:6, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” Hypocrisy is one thing God is greatly displeased with. And it is not something only Pharisees are guilty of. We are all prone to it. We are not to let our outward life become a mask for our inner life, but, an expression of our inner life. Only through regularly renewing our minds and being renewed in our inner man and being strengthened in our spirit will this happen. Make sure that what is seen by others is the fruit of your true spiritual condition, not a facade covering up your true condition.


Third, assess a church the same way Jesus does. The people in Sardis were seriously in error in their judgment of the church there. They thought the church was all of God, when in fact it was none of God. Programs don’t prove life or give life to a church. Only the Holy Spirit gives life.


What are we saying here? We are saying that reputations are not always the reality. Make sure your reputation among men is also your reputation with the Lord.


TWO: Readiness to Repent.

The 2nd Point for us today is that as Christians we need to have a Readiness to Repent. Notice verses 2 and 3a, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember therefore what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.” This church was not beyond hope. They could be revived and return to being a truly strong, vibrant, Spirit-filled church. But, to do that we see that they had a response to make. We can see a 3-fold response was necessary.


First they were to rouse themselves. Jesus says to “Wake up!” Sardis was one of the greatest cities in ancient times. It was the capital of the extremely wealthy Lydian Kingdom. But what made Sardis special was its location. It was situated on a plateau which was practically impenetrable for invading armies. The city could never be overthrown because it’s fortress sat 1,500 feet up from the surrounding landscape. There was a saying in the days when the NT was written, “to capture the acropolis of Sardis”, which meant to do the impossible. But, twice in its history it was defeated. How? Because those who were on guard duty failed to do their jobs faithfully both times.


It’s an interesting parallel with the church in Sardis. The enemy of the Church was penetrating the church’s fortress. In their complacency they were not alert and posting watchmen. They were sleeping and desperately needed to wake up to the invasion going on. They were sleeping so soundly they were described by Jesus as “dead” – “dead to the world” we might say.


So He told them “Wake up!”  Today we might say something like, “Hey! You’re asleep at the wheel!” What Jesus was saying to them was that they were spiritually lazy and careless. They were drowsy and weren’t paying attention. The NT warns us against this. It says we are to be vigilant, be on your toes, and keep your eyes peeled. For instance, turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 with me. Being asleep means not being alert, not being self-controlled, not living by faith, not being loving, and not having an intentional hope. Sardis was sleepy – “Sleepy Sardis” – and it had moral ramifications. They weren’t living for holiness anymore, they weren’t alert for the enemy’s activity, they weren’t looking forward to the coming of Jesus Christ, faith was for the ignorant, not the intellectuals, and immoral living was permissible for those who profess to believe in God. They were asleep and Jesus said “Wake up!” They needed to rouse themselves, and whatever little still remained they needed to strengthen it.  


Otherwise He would come like a thief in the night. Everywhere in the NT where Jesus’ coming is spoken of like a thief in the night it is in the context of judgment. He will come upon the world like a thief in the night to judge the world is the motif. And when He surprises the church in Sardis it won’t be to reward them, but, most probably to remove their lampstand, and take them out of existence as a church. They needed to delay no longer. The time for sleeping was long past. As Romans 13:11-12 says, “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”


Secondly they were to remember. Jesus says, “Remember therefore what you have received and heard…” He is talking about the Gospel and all the sound doctrine that relates to the Gospel as it was delivered to them. They had gotten off course and were losing sight of the very teachings that made them Christians in the first place.


It is not uncommon for Christians and churches to get off track after starting out strong. Like the seed that fell on Rocky soil (Matthew 13:20-21), like Demas (2 Timothy 4:10), like the crowds following Jesus (John 6:14, 66), like the antichrists who went out from us (1 John 2:19) many have started out only to end up a dud.


This is one reason why “remembering” is so important in the Christian life. Hebrews 2:1 says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard so that we do not drift away.” Keep remembering; keep coming back to what you heard at first. Remembering what we’ve received means to refresh ourselves again in the teachings handed down to us (2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:2). Communion reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins (1 Cor. 11:24-25), the Apostle Peter reminded the believers again and again of things they knew (2 Peter 1:12-15; 3:1) as did Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:5).


What we have received we are to remain in and not depart from (John 15:4, 10). Many err because they are seduced into seeking “new” and trendy teachings that are contrary to what they have received (2 Peter 2:1). They forget what they received and let go of it for the errors of lawless men who have an unhealthy interest in controversies and seek financial gain by exploiting unstable Christians and drawing them away from sound doctrine. This would not happen if we keep remembering and holding fast to what we received at first.


Application:  What are you doing with what you know?  Do not be zealous to know the Bible without being zealous to apply it.  You must allow your heart to expand with your mind.  


Notice Jesus says their deeds are not complete in verse 2.  They started out well but weren’t finishing.  They were all commitment but no follow through.  Jesus spoke about finishing what you start in Luke 14:28-35.  Turn there with me.


Thirdly they were to repent. Jesus says “obey it and repent.” Obedience is what Jesus is getting at when He says “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Hearing doesn’t just mean your ears performed their physiological function of registering the sounds that came into them. Hearing in the Bible always means obeying what you are instructed to do. When a believer is not in obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ, meaning that either his doctrine or conduct is off, he is responsible to repent. Repentance means to stop the disobedience in your life and start obeying right away. Jesus commanded the believers in Sardis to obey and repent.


This 3-fold response was the prescription to a church that was described as asleep and dead. It was how they were to strengthen what little remained and revive themselves to a strong, authentic, and pleasing church before the Lord.


THREE: The Resilient Remnant.

Notice lastly the Resilient Remnant. God always has a remnant. Notice verse 4, “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.”


It is possible for a church to be filled with unsaved people, familiar with the outward forms of Christianity and its teachings. It is possible that there are Christians in there who are acting like the world and not like Christ.


But, there are always ones who remain anchored when the winds blow others away from the Lord. Even while the wide road is packed there will still be those willing to walk the narrow road (Matthew 7).  God will always have His 7,000 in Israel.  He will always have His man Lot standing alone in Sodom.


And in Sardis, where most of the church was dead, there were still a few who remained faithful to the Lord. Their spiritual life was real flesh and blood while the rest of the church was a mannequin. They kept their garments pure while many others were defiling their garments.  This doesn’t mean they were good at keeping up with the laundry.  Clothes, or, garments, refers to their conduct.  Revelation 19:8.  What clothes are to the body so behavior is to our reputation.  How do we dress?  We are to heed Romans 13:14, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”  


Jesus is saying about these faithful believes that their conduct was pure and holy while others were living for the world and their fleshly appetites.  Turn to Philippians 3:17-19 with me.  


Notice the reward for the faithful one (4-5)  

1) they will walk with Jesus.  This is the prize:  fellowship with Jesus

2) they will wear white.  This is the clothing testifying to their pure and blameless life

3) they will never have their name blotted out of the book of life.  They have the assurance of life everlasting.

4) they will be acknowledged before God the Father by Jesus Christ.  This is Jesus’ personal declaration in heaven of His friendship and fellowship with you.



Are we hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches? Jesus says that in every letter to these churches, and it causes us to realize the issues He was speaking to were both local and universal within the Church, immediate and spanning across all time for the Church. In other words, His words related to this church and to us today. Let each of us heed our Lord’s exhortations. Let our reputations be the reality of our spiritual lives, let us each be ready to repent when sinful doctrine or conduct enters our lives, and let us be faithful like the worthy remnant.

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