Reputation: Does it matter? pt. 6

Revelation 3:1-6
In the sixth century Sardis had a legendary reputation for being a prominent city. Sardis was a city of power as it was situated on Mt. Tmolus with three sides of the mount having a 1500 foot steep slope, nearly impenetrable. Sardis was also a city of wealth as it was the first city to mint gold and silver coins. However, its esteemed reputation became cause for its downfall. The city became careless and inattentive to the details for how it became known for its power and wealth, leaving the city vulnerable towards its enemies. Sardis was conquered twice in the same way of its enemies scaling the steep slopes where they failed to post guards. During the time of this letter Sardis was a desolated town of insignificance. Overconfidence led to negligence and then defeat.
Likewise, many churches and Christians live off past success. The growth and achievement of the past allows them to do just enough in the present to get by. Excellence is abandoned for the sake of ease and effortlessness. Its not that spiritual activity is lacking, it’s simply that all activity is incomplete lacking the quality depth to have any effectiveness. For these, death is subtle but sure without immediate and drastic transformation.

One side question from this study is, does your reputation really matter? People fight to establish and maintain just the right reputation; and especially with just the right people. Behaviors are monitored not according to natural instinct but by carefully guarded actions in effort to please others. So, to answer the question, our reputations do not matter if our aim is securing acceptance from others. If our reputations do not truly match reality in our character and heart then it is all a façade. Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation is like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”[1] Be known for what matters most, integrity of character; all else is a hot air balloon filled with empty pride.

Reputation only matters if you are awakened to authenticity.
Jesus reminds Sardis of his knowledge regarding their deeds; Jesus’ knowledge is complete while their deeds are incomplete and insufficient before God. Their reputation was built on the glory of the past and Jesus was calling them to wake up to the present reality – they’re dead! If life was to return to the church in Sardis the following actions must take place:

1) Strengthen what remains. Jesus commanded Sardis to give its ministry an evaluation. Some of its deeds were lacking, while some are surviving, the latter were to be strengthened. Evaluation does not have to be negative criticism but is a healthy result of being fruitful for God. Identifying strengths is helpful in order to better understand what should be repeated and what should not.[2]

2) Remember and obey. Jesus commanded Sardis to keep the teachings they had previously heard from Jesus and the apostolic teachers. [Note: This is also a subtle affirmation of the accuracy of God’s Word in that the teachings were transferred to each generation. Cross reference 1 Corinthians 15:3] Remembering goes further than simply bringing it to mind; it is a call to put what you know into practice. They were to pursue obedience to God with great passion and in entirety, rather than incompleteness.

3) Repent from sin. Jesus commanded Sardis to repent of sin. Repentance is not just for unbelievers, it is for Christians too. Sardis was suffocating the life of the Church under its sin of complacency. It needed to repent and be refilled with the Spirit of God. If it failed to repent it would receive harsh judgment from Jesus when he came.

Those in Sardis who were not soiled by the sin of spiritual apathy were recognized as walking worthy of the purposes of which Jesus designed for them. They had confidence they were in the book of life.

·Why is a person’s reputation important? How is reputation like money in the bank?
·How long does it take to gain a good reputation? How difficult do you think it is to maintain a good reputation? How easy is it to ruin a good reputation?
·If you had to evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses, what would they be? What about for our church?
·Why does Jesus tell the Sardis church to “wake up”?
·What areas of your life need waking up? What about for our church?
·What commands do you think Jesus wanted the Sardis church to remember?
·What does it mean that Jesus will come like a thief?
·What would you like Jesus to find you doing when he returns?

[1] Quote found at
[2] For a helpful article on evaluating your ministry see “Evaluation Part 1: Giving the Gift of Evaluation to Your Ministry” by Mark Maines, found at

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jason Fallin says:

    You have some cool stuff here Dave. It’s cool you’re going through the letters in Revelation, they are tough.

    What’s interesting about this text, and I admit I’m reading backwards starting here, beginning with part 6, is that there’s no object mentioned for repentance. I think repent of sin may be two broad, and to abstract to be helpful. Perhaps it is repenting of incomplete deeds, but what do complete deeds look like? It would be helpful to know what they had received (experienced?) and heard (learned?) so as to know what they’re being called specifically to obey, which might shed light on John’s understanding of complete and incomplete deeds.

    Also for what purpose is Jesus coming like a thief? He doesn’t say. Is it to judgeor to help? Is this a threat or a promise?

    Another interesting question is raised here. Do those who were presumably not walking worthily in danger of having their names erased from the book of life? Is our ultimate accepance before God dependent upon our performance? I don’t believe that’s the case. Does Jesus not allow those who are deemed unworthy to walk with him? In the light of the rest of scripture, especially John’s writings this has to mean something different. I know it’s an apocalyptic book and meant to encourage those Christians living in the shadow of the Roman empire to stand fast in their faith, and should be read in that light of what is in essence cheerleading, but the strong duality at least in this passage between worthy and unworthy, if not put somehow within the greater context of scripture, undermines the concept of the free grace of God given through the incarnation and humiliation of Christ. At least it can… That’s enough from me.

    Great study though.

  2. dave_dwb says:

    Great questions!

    As for object of repentance see parts 1b, 2, and 4 and 6. In this case, their deeds which could be seen as their strength is also their weakness. It’s hard to know the specifics but disobedience to God in any area of life certainly qualifies for being incomplete.

    Jesus’ coming like a thief is both a threat and promise. He’s calling the church to be alert, wake up, repent and obey. If they heed the advice then they will be as those who overcome and acknowledge to the Father by Jesus. If they fail to heed, then it certainly is to be condemned.

    There is no mention of erasure from the book of life, I think you’re imposing that in the text. Jesus (and all Scripture) consistently praise those who walk worthy for they will be accepted based on grace through faith. God accepts us on the basis of his work not our own; as you commented. I love what Tim Keller (presbyterian pastor in NY) says that religion says “I obey therefore I’m accepted” whereas the gospel says “I’m accepted therefore I obey”. This changes our motivation for works and discovering our acceptance in Christ.

    Again, great interaction!

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