The Stuck Church
If you are a fan of the movie, Napoleon Dynamite, you most definitely will remember Uncle Rico. What did Uncle Rico was always do? He would always talk about the good old days. It’s okay to reminisce about the past but it’s not okay to live in it. You may know people like this. They always tell the same stories about memories and momentous occasions. It sounds something like this, “Back when I was in high school; back when I was in college . . .” Sound familiar?
Being stuck in the past is not just a problem with people; it can be a problem with churches, too. A healthy church isn’t stuck on past fame but lives passionately for Jesus’ name. In Revelation, the Church of Sardis had become like the city. Sardis was a city which had known fame in the past but whose glory had faded. It once had spiritual vibrancy, but look what Jesus has to say about them now: Rev. 3:1b says “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Now they were near spiritual death. I say near because verse 2 clarifies verse 1. Rev. 3:2 reads, “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die”. They are about to die. Like the old man in Monty Python, they can say, “I’m not dead yet.” But - they are very close!
Not a very good diagnosis, is it? Did you also notice, there is no commendation, only correction?Granted there are some who are faithful, but they are the minority.
Rev. 3:4 says, “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.”
The Church of Sardis is a sad story but not an uncommon one. It’s a story of drifting into spiritual apathy. It’s subtle and gradual and then over a period of time we’re wondering how in the world did we end up here? What happened?
Here’s what happens? We take our eyes off the prize! Sardis was once faithful but took their eyes off the prize. That prize is the upward call of Jesus. Phil. 3:14 says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Like a focused and discipline athlete, we must keep our eye on the prize, the prize of honoring Christ.
Here’s the thing, we may take our eyes off of Christ, but his eyes are still on us. Jesus searches the mind and heart (Rev. 2:23). Jesus sees us as we really are. Man looks on the outward appearance, but Jesus looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). Jesus is not concerned about style but substance. Never once is Jesus’ evaluation of the health of churches based upon the metrics we often use for church shopping.
•Is the pastor dynamic?
•Is the worship band rocking?
•Is the kids program fun and exciting?
•Is Starbucks coffee served on fellowship Sunday?
Instead, Jesus evaluates health on the basis of faithfulness—faithfulness to His teaching, faithfulness to His mission, faithful to His command to love one another as I have loved you.
Does Jesus see such faithfulness in you and in me? The faithful don’t get stuck on past fame but live passionately for Jesus’ name. Until Jesus returns, we’re always in mission mode. We don’t get stuck on past fame. Instead, we live passionately for Jesus name. That’s essentially Jesus’ prescription to this stuck church. Get back to what you were. Look closely at the calls to action.
Rev. 3:2-3 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
There are five calls to action: Wake up, strengthen, remember, keep it, repent.
These are words of vigilance and intentionality. This world is not neutral. It will lull us into spiritual slumber so we must be vigilant. That task is always more difficult when life is good. That’s what makes living a life of Christian vitality in suburbia difficult. External prosperity often masks spiritual poverty. Sardis was weak because they became aloof. They didn’t stick to what they were taught about Christ. Rev. 3:3 reads, “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”
The issue wasn’t illiteracy but apathy. They weren’t flexing their faith. When we’re not working our spiritual muscles of trusting in and acting on biblical teaching, we become weak and anemic. We need to flex those muscles daily through biblical reflection, prayer, and loving obedience and service. We need to flex those muscles weekly through worshipping together on Sundays. Daily and weekly exercise of focused biblical reflection, prayer, corporate worship, and engagement with the body of Christ helps us thrive by the Spirit’s power.
That’s a vital lesson.
Even though Sardis was weak and about to die, the Holy Spirit’s power is available to empower them. Jesus began his address to Sardis by reminding them of the resources available to them: Rev. 3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” The Holy Spirit=seven spirits of God and Angelic support=seven stars (Rev. 1:20)
Friends, if you are stuck today because of apathy, don’t look within. Look up to the power available to you. This power is all you need, according to 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
Press on in the power the Spirit provides. For those who do, Jesus has a wonderful prognosis. Jesus promises three rewards:
- The reward of purity – clothed in white robes of Christ’s righteousness. Rev. 3: 5a The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments.
- The reward of Perpetuity (pərpəˈt(y)o͞oədē ) the state or quality of lasting forever. The reward is not having one’s name erased from the book of life. Rev. 3: 5b . . . and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.
- The reward of Jesus’ Profession- Jesus will profess our name before the Father. Rev. 3:5c says, “I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” In essence, Jesus will say, “You belong here. You’re home.”
We might retire from employment, but we never retire from living for the fame of Jesus’ name. The Church of Sardis forgot that. They got stuck on past fame.
What about you?