Read Revelation 3.
Years ago, when I was in seminary, I was in the driveway of my house, scraping the old grass off the bottom of my mower. A couple that lived a few doors down the street walked by on the sidewalk. They asked me if I was a minister; I said I was in seminary preparing to become a pastor. The wife said, “You need to come to our church and become our pastor!” I was startled by that and said, “What church do you go to?” “St. Matt’s” she said, referring to a church in our neighborhood, just around the corner from my house on the next block. They were walking home from a church members meeting at the time.
“Don’t you have a pastor?” I asked. “Yes, but all he does is tell stories about going to the grocery store and doing this and that. We need someone who will come and preach the gospel!” I was surprised by this conversation because the church she mentioned was part of a denomination that left orthodox Christianity a long time ago. I knew the church she was referring to had dwindled to only a few members and attenders, just like most of the churches in the denomination had. So, my surprise wasn’t that the preaching was unbiblical and weak; it was that there were members still there who knew the Lord!
That’s kind of what was going on at the church in Sardis that we read about in verses 1-6. The church was “dead” (v. 1b) and what little life remained was “about to die” (v. 2b). Yet verse 4 described a “few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.” Christ commanded the entire church to repent and hold fast to his doctrine (v. 3) but the promise in verses 4-6 was that those who truly did trust Christ would be saved, even if the church died around them. Verse 5 promises, “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.”
In New Testament times, there was one church at the most in every town. So, if your church was dying, you couldn’t leave it for a living, growing one. That’s what most Christians would do today but there is something to be said for those who don’t give up the faith or the fight for a faithful church.
This passage also underscores the importance of walking with God personally even if others around you are not. At the last judgment, you will stand alone before God and so will I. We will be accountable to him for what we believe and how we lived, regardless of whether anyone else led us properly or walked with us in a way that pleases God. It must be strange to be one of the few (or only) true believers in a church, but that is no excuse to stop seeking the Lord yourself. I hope none of us is ever in that position, but regardless this passage should encourage us and challenge us to be diligent about our discipleship. If there are people who keep seeking the Lord in a dead and dying church, how much more should we be faithful to walk with him when we have so many others to encourage us, lead us and teach us to follow God!