Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The need for revival

Revelation 3:1-2 “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. 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." 

The city church that looked alive, and yet was dead
The history of the city of Sardis provides the background and insight into what had developed in the church at Sardis.  Commentator Steve Gregg notes: The City of Sardis, the old capitol of Lydia, had become famous for its red dye and woolen goods. Twice in its history it had been conquered-by Cyrus, in 549 b.c., and by Antiochus the Great, in 218 b.c - because of failing to keep adequate watch. It may be with allusion to this historical fact that Jesus exhorted the church to be watchful."1  Able commentator Dr. John Walvoord gives the following insight: The spiritual history of the church was to correspond to the political history of the city. Their works are also declared to be not perfect, literally 'not fulfilled', that is, not achieving the full extend of the will of God."2
When you survey the seven letters of Revelation 2-3, you find that two of them received full commendation from Jesus (Smyrna and Philadelphia); three of them receive a mixture of commendation and censure (Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira) and two of them receive only rebuke and no commendation (Sardis, Laodicea). Of the seven, Sardis receives the specific rebuke of being dead and in need of revival.  Thus in today's post, we want to consider the need for revival, and how Jesus wants His church to be a revived church.

What causes Christians and a church to slip into a deadening spiritual slumber?
To begin, John MacArthur gives this insight into the corpse-like state of Sardis: "What are the danger signs that a church is dying? A church is in danger of dying when it is content to rest on its past laurels, when it is more concerned with liturgical forms than spiritual reality, when it focuses on curing social ills rather than changing people's hearts through the preaching of the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ, when it is more concerned with material than spiritual things, when it is more concerned with what men think than with what God said..."  After citing some further striking characteristics, MacArthur concludes with this observation: No matter what its attendance, no matter how impressive its buildings, no matter what its status in the community, such a church, having denied the only source of spiritual life, is dead."3  

Ouch! But true. Whenever you survey the prior churches written to by John in Revelation 2 (with the exception of Smyrna), you could observe them representing the following stages or steps that leads a Christian or church into a state of spiritual slumber:

1. Coldness in love Revelation 2:1-7
Just like the church at Ephesus, a church or a Christian can be practicing the truth, having the form or mold of Christian practice, and yet be devoid of Christ-filled passion. Love for God and other believers is the beach head that protects the Christian faith from the corrosive effects of the sea of the world. (please compare 1 John 2:15-17; 4:18) 

2. Compromise. Revelation 2:12-17
When love has grown cold, apathy fills in its place.  As we witness in the letter to Pergamum, compromise with the world is comprised of three elements: apathy, blindness and carelessness.  The coldness of love and compromising stages can be gradual and almost imperceptible to the individual Christian or non-vigilant church.

3. Conformity Revelation 2:18-29
By beginning with coldness of love, and slipping into the mode of compromise, the third stage that leads to spiritual slumber is that of conformity.  The first two stages are more passive in nature and gradual, whereas this stage seems more willful and swift.  By the time a church or Christian reaches this stage, allowance of error (like at Pergamum) quickly goes to approval (like Thyatira did with "Jezebel")

A church that is nearly dead is in need of revival
Jesus words in Revelation 3:2 gives us the central command to the church at Sardis as well as the call to all churches and Christians of every age: "Wake up". The issue over revival is never about the Lord's desire and ability to grant it as it is our lack of desire for it.  A Christian or a church that prefers to operate in ignorance will be a church that fails to experience the refreshing winds of the Spirit's reviving work.  One can note throughout the long history of the church and revivals the common trends that we noted above as signalling the need for revival: coldness of love, compromise and conformity. 

What is revival?
I fear that our generation of Christian people may not even know what revival is, and thus not see the need for it.  We will continue more tomorrow on this vital subject of revival.  I want to leave the reader with this excellent definition of revival from Elmer Towns: "An evangelical revival is an extraordinary work of God in which Christians repent of their sins as they become intensely aware of His presence in their midst, and they manifest a positive response to God, resulting in both a deepening of their individual and corporate experience with God, and an increased concern to win others to Christ."4   

1. Steve Gregg. Revelation - Four Views: A Parallel Commentary. Nelson. 1997. Page 73

2. John Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ - A Commentary. Moody. 1966. Page 81

3. John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary - Revelation 1-11. Moody. 1999. Page 112

4. Elmer Towns & Douglas Porter. The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever - From Pentecost to the Present. Vine Books. 2000. Page 16