WISDOM FOR MARRIAGE FROM THE BOOK OF REVELATION – Part 6: Lessons from the Letter to the Sardis Church

What does your marriage look like to others? Is it a true picture of what is really going on at home? How can we make sure our marriage relationship is strong, healthy and growing?

Wisdom for marriage is found throughout the Bible–from the first book to the last. This Couple’s Bible Study series looks at the last book–Revelation–and gathers wisdom from the letters to the seven churches in Asia. Each letter is full of truths that will help us strengthen our marriage as we grow closer to each other and to the Lord.

So far in this series, we have seen what God teaches us from His message to the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira. This week we will look at what God has to teach us from His message to the church at Sardis.

We read Jesus’ message to the church at Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6:

Revelation 3:1-6 - Sardis

A Little Background

The city of Sardis was in a valley surrounded by hills. They built a citadel on top of one of the hills where the people could flee and protect themselves when an enemy attacked. Because of its size and where it was located, it was considered impregnable.

They needed this fortress because of two things the city was known for. One was its wealth. Large amounts of gold were mined from the hills around the city and from the river that ran through the valley where the city was located. This gold was stored in the city.

Another thing Sardis was known for was prostitution. The city was so identified with this that the Greek historian, Strabo, wrote that most of the work on the Sardis citadel was done by prostitutes. He also wrote that “all women of that country prostituted themselves” (Strabo, Geography, 6:178-9). While this was obviously an exaggeration, it does show how prevalent prostitution was in Sardis.

There was a large Jewish community in Sardis, as well as a Christian church. Nevertheless, it is easy to understand why many evil people were attracted there. It is also simple to comprehend why so many surrounding cities’ and countries’ leaders wanted to take control of it. Thus the need for the fortified hilltop citadel to protect the gold and the citizens of the city.

The Messenger

This message begins with a description of the Messenger–Jesus. He is at first described as holding “the seven spirits of God and the seven stars” (Revelation 3:1). The word “holds” in verse 1 is a translation of the Greek word “echo.” It means “hold” in the sense of “has,” and is translated that way in some Bible versions.

The “seven spirits” is found in Revelation 1:4, where it is used to name one member of the threefold Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit introducing the letter. The “seven spirits” is a name for the Holy Spirit. Thus Jesus is said in Revelation 3:1 to have (or be unified with) the Holy Spirit. This is another affirmation of Jesus being one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is also described as holding or being unified with the seven stars. We have discussed previously that the seven stars represent the leaders of the seven churches in Asia. Jesus tells us that through the Holy Spirit living in every believer (see John 14:15-16, 26; John 16:12-15; Acts 1:8), He resides with the churches’ leaders. He will thus speak His message to them and then, through them, to the churches.

This is all very important because it assures the churches then and us today that this is God’s Word to us. It is God the Father’s Word spoken through Jesus the Son. Jesus is one with the Spirit Who lives in us as believers. The Spirit helps us understand this Word and empowers us to put it into practice.

Once again, we are told that Jesus knows all about the Sardis Christians–and therefore about our situation. So He is well qualified to speak to them and to us about it.

What does He have to say?

Be Open and Honest

The first thing Jesus says is that “you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1).

It is an admirable thing to have a good reputation, but only if that reputation is backed up by fact. Does our walk with God look good at church and when we’re out in public, but behind the closed doors of our homes, there is trouble and sin?

Too often in my pastoral and counseling ministry I have had couples come to me who seemed to have the most godly marriages in the church. Yet as we talked, I discovered that their relationships were stricken with anger, adultery, pornography, abuse, and other devastating issues. These well hidden sins had put them at the point of hopelessness and on the brink of divorce.

Jesus speaks to this in Matthew 23:27-28: “‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’”

We may hide our sins from others, but we cannot hide them from God. We are told in Hebrews 4:13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

We must be open and honest with ourselves, with each other, and most of all with God.

Hebrews 4:13

Be Watchful

Jesus gives the solution to this problem among the Christians in Sardis and also to us in our marriages.

He says first in Revelation 3:2: “‘Wake up!’” This is one word in the original Greek: “gregoreuo.” It means to not fall asleep or to arise and be watchful.

It is the word Jesus used in the Garden of Gethsemane when He found His disciples sleeping. We read in Matthew 26:40: “Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter” (bold mine).

This was an especially appropriate command for the Christians at Sardis. We discussed earlier how impenetrable the people of Sardis thought their hilltop fortress was. Yet at least two times the fortress was penetrated by their enemies.

They were so confident of their citadel that they did not place a guard to protect it. The first time they were overcome was when an enemy soldier followed a resident of Sardis to the unguarded path to the citadel that they believed to be securely hidden. The enemy soldier led his companions to the secret path and Sardis’ fortress was breached and defeated.

Three hundred years later, the residents of Sardis had forgotten the earlier breach of their citadel and had gone back to being overconfident and feeling secure. A similar thing happened to them again. Jesus warns us here not to be complacent and fall asleep in our lives and marriages.

We too have a cunning enemy. Jesus warns us in John 10:10 that Satan is out “‘only to steal and kill and destroy.’” We are cautioned about this enemy in 1 Peter 5:8: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

We must not become complacent and self-confident like those in Sardis, but must heed God’s Word to us in Proverbs 16:17-18: The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who guard their ways preserve their lives. 18 Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

We avoid evil and guard our way by being watchful. Jesus told the Pharisees how to avoid a “haughty spirit” and hypocrisy in Matthew 23:26: “‘Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.’” 

We are watchful by being diligent to study and live out God’s Word individually and as a couple. We read in Hebrews 4:12 that the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

We must not rest on what we’ve done in the past. That will not protect us today. We must keep our marriages strong and growing, We must walk with Jesus and live for Him every day individually and together.

Be Watchful - Proverbs 16:17

Be Faithful

The Christians in Sardis are also called in Revelation 3:2 to “strengthen what remains” so it doesn’t die and their work be left unfinished. They are called to grow in their walk with the Lord that began when they received salvation after hearing the Gospel message. While their salvation cannot die or be taken from them, their effectiveness for Christ can be taken away. That can happen as suddenly and unexpectedly as a thief can break into our homes (Revelation 3:3).

The solution is to recall the truth of God’s Word, repent of not living by it, and start obeying it. We all must do as God says through Paul in Acts 26:20: “‘I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.’”

The reward of remaining faithful to God and His word is found in Revelation 3:4-5. In verse 4, Jesus commends those “who have not soiled their clothes.” “Soiled clothes” would refer to people who had succumbed to following the ways of the sinful culture around them.

As a couple, we must help each other not give in to the ways of our sinful society, but instead to remain faithful to God’s Word.

If we remain faithful, we will be considered “worthy” by Christ to walk with Him and wearing the white clothes He gives us.

White is a symbol that we have remained faithful to Him, and thus remained holy. This holiness comes from our relationship with Christ. We are made holy when we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. It is not of our doing.

We can say with Paul as he writes in Philippians 3:7-9:

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

Jesus promises in Revelation 3:5 that those who remain faithful to Him will not only be dressed in white, but their names would never be blotted out of the book of life. In fact, they will be acknowledged “before my Father and his angels.” Thus verses 4 and 5 are not a threat that if we do not remain faithful we will lose our salvation. It is a promise that if we do remain faithful there is great reward waiting for us in heaven.

It is true that not all who claim the name of Christ have truly given their lives to Christ as their Lord. Jesus warned in Matthew 7:21: “‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’” Jesus also tells us in John 14:15: “‘If you love me, keep my commands.’”    

Being faithful to Jesus and His teachings will help us be assured and show the world that we belong to Him. We cannot lose our salvation if we truly give our lives to Christ. (For more about how to do this, see Meet Jesus.)

He promised in John 10:28: “‘I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.’” Living faithfully by God’s Word in our lives and marriages allows us to enjoy this peaceful assurance.

Don’t we all want this kind of confidence and peace in our marriage? It can only be ours when we both give our lives to Jesus and help each other live faithfully by His Word.

Be open and honest. Be watchful. Be ever faithful. And watch your marriage grow stronger every day.

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♦   Read this week’s teaching together. What has God taught you through it?

♦   Do you have hidden sin in your life and/or marriage? Remember you cannot hide them from God. Hidden sin will harm your walk with God and each other. Confess them to Him and each other. Ask His help to overcome them. Commit to help each other with His help to have victory over them.

♦   Are you overconfident about the strength of your walk with God and of your marriage? If you are sincere, tell God that you understand that you need His guidance, strength, and protection. Ask for His help to overcome the attacks from Satan that will surely come.

♦   Commit to encourage and help each other to keep yourselves holy by studying and remaining faithful to God’s Word. Remember men, it is the task God has given us to lead our wives in doing this. God says to us in Ephesians 5:25-27: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

♦   Close your time together in prayer. Ask God to help you to remain faithful to Him and His Word no matter what is going on around you. Ask Him to use you and your marriage as a witness for Him to those around you. Wives, ask God to help your husbands lead you and your family as He calls them to do in His Word.

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Next week we will continue this study by looking at what Jesus has to teach us in our marriages through His message to the church at Philadelphia.

Until then, may God bless you and your marriage in all His wonderful ways,

Part 1: Can This Book Really Teach Us About Marriage?
Part 2: Lessons from the Letter to the Ephesus Church
Part 3: Lessons from the Letter to the Smyrna Church
Part 4: Lessons from the Letter to the Pergamum Church
Part 5: Lessons from the Letter to the Thyatira Church
Part 7: Lessons from the Letter to the Philadelphia Church
Part 8: Lessons from the Letter to the Laodicea Church
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Header photo by SW Austin Dixon via Snapwire (CC0 1.0), cropped/text added.
Lighthouse photo by r_jeff_m via pixabay (CC0), cropped/text added.

What does your marriage look like to others? Is it a true picture of what is really going on at home? How can we make sure our marriage relationship is strong, healthy and growing? This Couple's Bible Study will look at what Jesus told the church at Sardis and how His message can help us in our marriages today. | Simply One in Marriage.


About David Penley

A devoted husband and father, former pastor and seminary professor, who longs to grow closer to the likeness of Christ each day and share God's love and truth with everyone.