Summary: Congregational leaders need to keep themselves and their members alive and zealously active by invoking and cooperating with the life-reviving Holy Spirit.
Verse 1 - In each of the seven letters, Jesus introduces Himself differently to each church congregation. He does this because, in each case, the way He introduces Himself is relevant to the situations of each church congregation and the message they need to heed.
Jesus introduces Himself to the church at Sardis as “He Who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” Here we understand that the seven Spirits of God symbolically represents the Holy Spirit in His completeness or perfection. The seven stars, which we noted earlier in the letter to Ephesus, represents the leadership of each of the seven congregations.
The Holy Spirit and the leadership are the most powerful influences in the local congregation. As they are joined together, here, it is implied they are to work cooperatively to not only guide the congregation but instill the congregation with true spiritual life and vitality. The point that Jesus is trying to convey, at the very beginning of this letter, is that He gives the Holy Spirit to give life to a congregation..but the Holy Spirit can only give spiritual life and vitality to a congregation if the leadership asks for and welcomes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in their own lives and in the life of the congregation. The Spirit cannot bring life and vitality to the congregation, as a whole, if the leadership suppresses or quenches the powerful impulses of the Spirit within the congregation. Understanding and acting upon this truth was desperately needed in Sardis.
Jesus says to the leadership at Sardis that the congregation has “a name”. They may have been listed in the 'Church Directory', they may have a sign or shingle outside their place of meeting naming themselves the 'Sardis Church of Christ'... as if to indicate that they were truly the living, breathing Body of Christ in that city. However, in reality (that is, in the eyes of Jesus), the congregation was “dead”. The congregation was a cemetery. It was not the vibrant, Spirit-infused organization that was impacting their community as Jesus intended and expected it to be.
The sad fact is that the leaders and membership in general didn't even know they were dead. Through carelessness, through complacency, they allowed themselves to die and now spiritual rigor mortis had set in. In their stagnation, they were simply in the rut of playing church. They had lost vision and, thereby, lost any impetus and passion for growth and development and forward progress. Proverb 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Spirit-filled leadership provides the congregation with a vision of what they can and should be. Spirit-filled leadership establishes goals to reach for, relying upon the power that only the Spirit gives. Not only does spirit-filled leadership give a vision of the future for the congregation, a vision based upon what Jesus wants the Church to be, but they also inspire and motivate the congregation to reach for the lofty goals and to make the vision a reality.
Verse 2 - Jesus says, “I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.” By saying that the Sardis congregation had not “completed” their deeds or ministries, it is implied that it had at one time started a work or ministry. In other words, they had had a good beginning but they just stopped.
This brings to my mind an analogy of a sports team. The team makes a good showing in the opening quarters or periods or innings of the game. Then, inexplicably, they roll-over and seem to forget that they have to be aggressive throughout the remainder of the game to ensure victory...or, if not victory, at least to ensure that they will not be completely humiliated.
And, that is what has occurred here with the Sardis congregation. They started well but, by rolling-over or stagnating, they have humiliated themselves before Jesus, the Head of the Church. In its condition, Jesus doesn't have anything positive to say about this church congregation. Nothing!
Before going on, there is an important observation that I want to bring to your attention. Satan is not attacking this congregation in any fashion. Satan isn't sending to this congregation any false apostles or prophets or teachers. Satan isn't trying to derail them with false doctrines or heresies. Satan isn't using the evil Jews nor the officials of the Roman government to persecute them. There isn't anyone being put into prison or being put to death for serving Jesus. Why is this? It is because this congregation was so spiritually powerless and ineffective that Satan didn't have to waste any of his time and energy with it. All Satan has to do is sit back and allow the congregation to keep thinking that they are alive and well. As long as the congregation remains in that pitiful mind-set and condition, they are no threat to Satan's purposes and goals in the world.