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Letter to Sardis 1

Revelation 3:1
"To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead." (NIVUK)

Sardis had been the third biggest city in the region after Ephesus and Smyrna; its citadel was on a steep spur at the foot of Mount Tmolus in the middle of the Hermus river valley. It had been an important trading crossroads but some 70 years earlier it was devastated by an earthquake. Despite the Emperor pouring in money for rebuilding and the citizens being exempted paying taxes for five years in an effort to restart the economy, trading patterns changed, and the city was in decline - although still boasting of its former glory.

Jesus Christ describes Himself as holding the seven spirits of God mentioned four times in Revelation (Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). There are three possible meanings: firstly, that it represents the fullness of the Holy Spirit (seven being the number of completeness in Revelation); secondly, they might represent a full cohort, or just seven, of seraphim or cherubim – described as 'ministering spirits' (Hebrews 1:14); or thirdly, it might come from the description of the Spirit of God upon the Messiah (Isaiah 11:2) - the Spirit of ... 'the Lord', 'wisdom', 'understanding', 'counsel', 'power', 'knowledge', and 'the fear of the Lord'.

Jesus spoke to the church leadership (angel=messenger) to wake them out of their lethargy. Like the city itself, the church had once been spiritually profitable and full of new life in Christ. But times had changed. Probably, the church leaders had become worn down by low level persecution, the usual pastoral struggles to teach the truth and refute error, and the challenge of paganism and hedonism from false prophets (Galatians 1:6-9). We assume the church had settled into a religious routine but had given up on intentional evangelism. Leaders and congregation alike, they had become impotent and unfruitful, tired of the challenges and settling for an easy life. Their gospel flame was virtually extinguished, their passion for Jesus was exhausted: the once-living church was effectively dead.

'That could never happen in our church', a 21stC believer might say. But it could. The local church is always only a generation away from extinction, and only half a generation away from being the living dead, processing the mechanics of religious ritual. Community engagement will not bring a church to life if the believers are frightened of gospel engagement. The church may be most acceptable to the world when it is spiritually innocuous, adapting to the world's agenda, unwilling and unable to present the gospel as the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). But such a church is no advertisement for the transforming power of God through the gospel. It mocks Christ's atoning sacrifice and fully deserves His stern rebuke: which is just what happened in Sardis (Revelation 3:2-3). No wonder Paul wrote to Timothy, who was serving at nearby Ephesus, to embolden him to teach the truth and refute error through proclaiming Christ as the fulfilment of all the Scriptures (1 Timothy 4:1-16; 2 Timothy 4:1-5).

All-seeing God. Thank You for knowing the truth of my relationship with You. I repent of sometimes settling for a quiet religious life, when Jesus has called me to take up my cross and follow Him. Please help me to see myself and the church where I worship through Your eyes, so that I will have the courage to live a distinctively transformed life and explain what You have done in me as I trust in Jesus. In His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams