The Remnant

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Consumerism and apathy are endemic diseases in the church of our day but this is not new for the church of Sardis suffered from this same malady nearly 2,000 years ago.

There are some very cool facets to the letters to the seven churches. One of them is the way the names of the cities represent a key characteristic of the church there. Another is how the Lord Jesus uses the geographic, historical, religious, and commercial attributes of each city to help the church members understand what He is saying to them.

Today we look at the 5th city church addressed in Revelation Chapter Two and Three – Sardis. There is some debate about the ancient meaning of this name but the most plausible is that it means ‘precious remnant’. Jesus has nothing to commend this church for but He does say that they have ‘a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes’; in other words there is a faithful remnant within this church.

Sardis picSardis was a center for the wool trade in that part of the world so, unsurprisingly, Jesus weaves this into His letter by referring to the soiled clothes of the many and the white garments of the righteous few (Revelation 3:4). The Lord rebukes the church with the words, “Wake up!” and warns them that if they do not then He will come like a thief (Revelation 3:3); it is obvious from the context that this will not be a happy visitation. Now the city of Sardis was built around a steep plateau some 460 meters above the valley floor and only accessible by one narrow and very steep road. The original town was on top of this cliff but at the time of writing only the decaying remains of the citadel were at the top and the main city was at the foot of the cliff. The fortress city had been invaded only twice in ancient times. On both occasions a party of enemy soldiers had found their way up via the deep cracks in the cliff face. When they ascended to the top they found the citadel completely unguarded for the occupants had thought that they were unassailable.

The lesson to the church both then and now is obvious – Wake up! Like the complacent ancient inhabitants of the citadel city we too are to wake up, repent and obey. If we relate to the condition of Sardis then we need to wake up from the delusion that we are alive when we are in fact dead, despite an alive reputation. This applies particularly to churches that are surviving on the reputation of past vitality, but I think it also applies to churches that appear to be alive but are not. Programmes and social activities are easily mistaken for spiritual vitality but only the presence of the Lord in a church community gives it life.

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting to a friend who has been traveling to many parts of South Africa during the last couple of years. She and her husband stay at each location for a few months, freely serve the local church there with their gifting and talents, and then move on. They have interacted with about 15 churches so far. I asked her if there was any stand-out characteristics shared by these churches. Her answer was, “Yes, in every church the pastors are working frenetically and the church members are largely apathetic and uninvolved”. O dear! Perhaps we need to take Jesus very seriously when He says, “Wake up!”

The Lord’s prescription for this deathly disease is firstly to remember what we have received and heard. What all members of a once alive church have heard in the past undoubtedly concerned the centrality and lordship of Jesus Christ, the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and the need to be dependent upon the Holy Spirit. If only our reputation is alive then we have no doubt forgotten or no longer obediently live by these foundational truths. The medicine is a large dose of Repentance and the treatment regimen is daily Obedience.

Repentance + Regimen of obedience = Righteous Remnant.

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8 Responses

  1. I often hear that members of churches are lazy and apathetic. I believe a large portion of members are working long hours to put bread on the table, then making family a priority and then using some left over time to give to the church.

    Perhaps there needs to be some repentance done by church leaders who have similar views to those in this article and lift the burden placed on fellow Christians who don’t have the luxury of doing Christian work full time.

    • chrispeppler@telkomsa.net

      Hi ‘Fred’. I have held back on posting your comment because it comes across more as an expression of frustration than constructive engagement. Perhaps my response to ‘a reader’ will help you put the article in question into context. Be blessed 🙂

  2. a reader

    I believe this to be true of individuals as well as churches, complacency in any relationship is a killer. Thanks Chris for this great series, God bless you.

    • chrispeppler@telkomsa.net

      Thank you dear reader. My posts are of course an attempt to understand and apply what Jesus wrote to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Churches are organic and we cannot separate the people that constitute the church from the ‘church’ itself as an organism. I think that apathy and a spectator attitude constitute a huge problem in the church (generally speaking) but I know MANY Christians who, despite their other commitments, are passionately involved with the life of their local churches. In some of the other letters in Revelation Jesus commends such folk but in the letter to Sardis He refers to them only as ‘a few’ (remnant) and focuses instead on the ‘others’. Thank you for following the series – I hope you are blessed by it. I appreciate you commenting on the post.

  3. This is a great post Chris. Thank you

  4. As always, a great post Chris! Thank you for your ministry to the churches through these posts.

  5. Very insightful post Chris – and so much room for introspection. Looking forward to the rest of the posts in the series. 🙂

  6. Jenny Wilson

    Enjoyed this thanks Chris, when reading this article, I was very aware of how important it is for us to increase the/our awareness of how desperately we need to be led by the Holy Spirit, to really love Jesus and to want to be involved in our local church.

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