The Seven Churches of Asia - Sardis (Part 2)

Robert E. Surgenor

In sitting with the saints at Sardis, we wonder if the Lord’s letter will have any effect. As noticed last month He shocked them with His analysis of their condition - "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. " After appealing to them to wake up and take strong immediate measures to at least hold on to that which they had, He reminds them of their failure to accomplish anything that they had ever commenced. How could a corpse persevere?

Christ now appeals to their mind. "Keep on remembering how thou hast received." Immediately their minds go back to the time when they received the gospel message and were saved. Not only this, they remembered how upon believing they received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Just as Paul reminded the Ephesian Church concerning Christ, writing, "In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed (upon believing), ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13). He then exhorts them to remember how they had heard. That is, they had heard doctrines taught to them and He exhorts them to remember those doctrines. He then challenges them to "hold fast," to guard and to keep those teachings.

Stop for a moment. Are you tenaciously holding the truths that you were once taught? Do you keep before your soul the day in which you were delivered from the bondage of sin and rejoice in it? I have been in homes where Christians subscribe to a magazine called Reminisce. Under the title, this publication states, "The Magazine That Brings Back the Good Times." Inside its cover are numerous photos and testimonies of yesteryear. I believe we could use a bit of spiritual reminiscing - getting back to the cross and to that tremendous event when first we saw One shedding His blood for us on the cross. John Newton experienced this daily, for he wrote, "I saw One hanging on the tree, in agonies and blood. Who fixed His languid eyes on me, as near His cross I stood. Sure never till my latest breath can I forget that look. It seemed to charge me with His death, though not a word He spoke." The cross was ever before Newton and it affected his life on a daily basis. There are very few Egypt to Canaan charts that picture Israel in the wilderness, returning to the Red Sea, but they did! God directed them back to the sea to give them another look at what He had done for them (Num. 33:10). Remember!

Not only this, Christ exhorts them to remember how they had heard. Wasn’t the ministry great when you were first saved? Some of us remember the second generation of preachers in our land, how they thundered out divine truths. Sometimes we felt as if they were looking a hole right through us. The preaching was not "smooth" and there was no intellectualism and explanation of Greek words. It was practical, straight, corrective, inspiring, telling forth of the divine councils of God, to warm our heart and to regulate our life so that the Lord would get something profitable out of us instead of a wasted worldly life. Thank God for those old soldiers who were faithful to God, to His Word and to us! "Remember, how thou hast. ..heard"!

The Lord now exhorts them to "hold fast" the teachings they have heard. In other words, "attend to carefully, keep, guard." This statement being in the imperative mood indicates an absolute command requiring full obedience on the part of all hearers. One is reminded of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy. "Hold fast the form (pattern) of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 1:13). Paul delivered the divine pattern in faithfulness to God and in love to the saints. Moses was warned of God relative to the building of the Tabernacle. "Look (see, consider) that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount." There was to be no deviation in the pattern whatsoever. We are living in the day of "new carts" (2 Chr. 13:7), a day in which new innovations are being introduced, the plea being, they are more efficient and labor-saving than what was practised in N.T. times. Another plea is, other religious bodies use them and are quite successful. Brethren, let us beware of Philistine influences. The religious Babylon-world is not a pattern for the gathered out companies of God’s people. Our ONLY pattern is contained in the Holy Scripture! Let us be careful to maintain that divine pattern. The late William Warke once said, "I am a contentious man when it comes to one thing and that is, keeping the faith (the embodiment of truth)." Then he quoted Jude 1:3. "That ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." Let us be careful not to maintain a pattern simply on the grounds that this is the way it has always been done. What we need is scriptural backing for the pattern we are holding in the assembly. What saith the Lord? This is what matters and this is what is vital. Do you have a thus saith the Lord for the pattern you are seeking to maintain, or are you doing what you are doing simply because it has always been done that way? Let us examine ourselves. Are we measuring up to the divine pattern? Only an intelligent study of the Word of God will furnish me the answer.

Next comes the intensive command to repent. Immediate action is expected from this corpse-like assembly. They were to repent of the poor use of their blessings. Every scriptural assembly has gifts imparted to it by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12). Those of you who have been given the gift of teaching, have you developed that gift? Do you minister vital truths for the building up of your assembly? Or is your gift lying dormant, leaving the saints untaught in divine truths? Those who have been given the gift of an evangelist, are you developing that gift? Are you preaching in the open air? Is there a zeal for lost souls burning in your bosom? I am not speaking of men that God has called to full-time service, I am challenging men in our assemblies who have been given this precious gift for local work connected with the testimony. Paul exhorted Timothy to stir up the gift that was in him and on another occasion he warned him to not neglect his gift of preaching the gospel. I know of a man who, when on vacation pressed ten thousand tracts into the hands of sinners. Being a very determined man, he managed to meet Prince Charles and spoke to him while placing a tract titled "The Titanic" into the Prince’s hand, with his promise to read it. We have the strange concept today that an evangelist is a man with a big Bible bag, floating around the conferences. Let me say, an evangelist is a man with a gift of getting the gospel into the hearts of people, either by preaching or by giving tracts into their hands. How often do we hear of local brethren with this gift holding a series of gospel meetings with their home assembly? Can the command to Sardis not be applied to us? Brethren, let us repent of the poor use of our blessings and get busy for God, both in teaching and preaching the Word.

"If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee" (3:3).

The Lord now mentions His coming, an event that should thrill our souls. However, as another has said, "When faith is dead, hope becomes a dread." When the Lord says, "Yea I come quickly." Can we truthfully reply, "Amen: come, Lord Jesus?" (Rev. 22:20 R.V.)

The Commendation & Promise of Christ

"Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy" (3:4).

Thank God there were a few in this dead assembly with whom Christ had an intimate knowledge, thus the expression, "names" is used. As far as the City of Sardis was concerned, any person with soiled garments was removed from the city’s public list of citizens. Their pagan religion forbid approaching a temple of their gods in stained garments. Even after saints were baptized, it was common to cloth them in white clothes, symbolic of the cleansing of their life. James exhorts us. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). How refreshing to meet a few saints at Sardis "hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 1:23). The sports of the day held no attraction for them. The social parties and theaters of Sardis were not in their schedule. Others in the assembly were defiling their garments, but the godly remnant were maintaining a pure walk in spite of the deadness of the assembly. How refreshing to their Lord, thus His promise, "They shall walk with Me in white." All Roman citizens wore the pure white toga on holidays and religious ceremonies. The dark toga was worn by mourners and those accused of crimes. In a Persian Royal Garden those walking with the king in white were called, "Companions of the garden." Christ recognizes the godly saints walk here and promises that in the glory their walk on earth will be recognized by walking in white in heaven. Not only this, they would be walking with Him, thus being elevated to a position of prominence and recognized as trusted favorites of the King. Spiritually they could be termed, "Companions of the garden."

"He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels" (3:5). How grand to know that as far as the "book of life" (the register of the citizens of heaven) is concerned, our names will not be blotted out. Not only this, for those who have faithfully confessed His name here, in return, He will reward our confession by confessing us before His Father and His angels. What a tremendous place of elevation our blessed Lord will afford us in that day for our faithfulness to Him in this day. Brethren, let us go in for it - wholeheartedly! The final results are worth it!

We leave Sardis, rejoicing in knowledge of the fact that our names are written in heaven (Lk. 10) and yet with a certain amount of sadness as we think of an assembly that is only a corpse in the appraisal of its risen Lord. Not too many gather to bid us good-bye as we head for a pleasant time to be experienced in Philadelphia -for they are dead.