Revelation 3:1-2 ESV
1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.
Years ago I had a dreadful statistics professor who was to be avoided if at all possible. The first day during introductions she was quick to tell me that my course load along with my work schedule was not suited for her class. After annoyingly asking if she planned on floating my car payment for a few months, she smugly replied, “what do you think?” In that moment, we began to forge a special bond.
A couple of weeks later we received our first exams back with the grade nicely written across the top. A bright red “F” was followed by, “INCOMPLETE, stats is not magic!” She did not like the steps I skipped in coming to the answer. Regardless of how many times she stressed showing all work, I failed to comply. Who was she, anyhow? The boss.
My work was incomplete.
Enter Sardis. Here is a church that stood arrogant and wealthy- full of deeds and a great reputation. Whatever you actually want is everything they had. Except for God’s approval.
Here is the conflict.
For years, I drove a battered Toyota pickup. My wife and I were getting married so it seemed reasonable to give her the nicer car and me get a cheap truck. I remember the first day driving that truck- the swag was gone. When I would get out of the truck, I didn’t feel like a winner. I had driven a nice car since my first at 16. Now, six years later I was driving a pig. It just didn’t feel the same. Why? Because there is a certain reputation that comes with a nice car. Onlookers have no idea who paid for it, or how much is owed. They just see a person in a nice car and assume they are a winner. That was no longer the perceived reputation when getting out of my truck. If winners drove that car- who drove this truck? So much of our reputation is a façade. Fast forward 10 years and the truck became a statement. We built a nice home, we had a savings account and we had the most beautiful kids ever. Because of these things, I was no longer embarrassed by the superficial reputation my truck projected (I drove the truck for 13 years). Actually, I thought my truck mocked the need to be justified by things. I thought. However, I had deceived even myself.
Being deceived is the worst. It’s so much easier to change the things you know are hurting your future- it’s impossibly difficult to fix what you don’t think is broken.
My glory was still based on stuff- wife, house, kids, family. I had grown beyond the embarrassment of the cracking paint on my truck but only because of the other stuff. My glory was still not found in Him.
I thought I was alive- but was I?
It is apparently very possible to feel full and be empty.
The other day I was musing to myself about this Sardis church and God’s glory and our own glory. In the tragic events of failure or embarrassment, we absolutely know what it means to have no glory. It’s awful. We also know what it is like to enjoy winning or, at least, some margin of success. In those instances, we feel great. Why? If all the glory is His anyhow, how can we take any of the glory for ourselves? If we give Him all the glory, shouldn’t we be left with nothing but the emptiness of losing? Hopefully not, though I suppose the question can illuminate how much of His glory we are actually claiming in our own psychology.
Sardis had not considered any such question. They were comfortable in their glory- in their reputation.
If the strength of youth isn’t replaced with the security of wealth- the aging man is ashamed. If her beauty isn’t lifted or tucked (or sucked in)- the aging woman begins to loathe her own reflection. But if all we have is a reputation based on the fleeting- who are we to stand before God? We can bring neither our money nor our complexion. All we have is what we have done for Him.
Is today’s reputation moving as we seek to finish our works or has it been fossilized by the rewards of our past?
Sardis had a reputation of being alive except they were dead. Their works were incomplete.
MY SOUL DOTH SING
The good news is found in the possibility of unfinished works. Jesus didn’t immediately lift the checkered flag. He gives us another lap- another opportunity.
He has called us to bring His Kingdom to the earth (Mt 6:10). He has called us to turn our communities upside down (Acts 17:6). He has called us to walk worthy- demonstrating love and humility and patience and unity (Eph 4:1-3). Maybe these things are barely hanging on? Maybe they are asleep?
Wake up and strengthen what remains.
It’s not too late.
Now is the time to complete our deeds in the sight of our God.