Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20
Prefer listening to this message? Click here for the audio version
Those serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq will tell you that “complacency kills.” In fact, it is the GI mantra that’s posted in every office, mess hall, and briefing room in U.S. military buildings in Iraq. There’s no escaping the message.
We can easily become comfortable once we’ve settled into our surroundings, and that’s exactly what military commanders do not want to happen with their soldiers. As anyone who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan or another combat zone will tell you, when you get complacent in a hostile environment, you let your guard down. When you let your guard down, you become an easy target.
It’s interesting to read the letter to Sardis in light of the city’s history. Above lower Sardis (the main part of the city), towers Mount Tmolus, which provided a well naturally fortified refuge for the people of Sardis. This elevated part of the city is known as the acropolis. In 547 BC, Croesus – the King of the region of Lydia (where Sardis is located) retreated to the acropolis to avoid an onslaught by Cyrus and the Persians. Tradition has it that because the mountain face leading to the acropolis was so steep and difficult to climb, the citizens didn’t have much military personnel or additional fortification. They relied mainly on the natural fortification to protect them from an invasion.
When Cyrus reached the base of Mount Tmolus, he wasn’t sure how to attack the acropolis. He told his soldiers that he would provide a handsome reward to anyone who figured out how to climb the mountain and attack the city.
One day, one of Cyrus’ soldiers watched as a helmet fell from the acropolis down the mountain. He then watched a Sardisian soldier climb down the mountain and then scale back up. The naive soldier had let his guard down and given Cyrus’ army the secret to attacking the city. Within a short time, Cyrus had led his army on a siege and easily captured Sardis.
The state of the Church at Sardis was one of complacency. In the first four letters, we’re told of churches who fought against false doctrine, stood firm against immorality, or faced intense persecution. But in Sardis, there’s no mention of any of that. In a very wealthy city, the Christians may have preferred the luxuries of life rather than risk their possessions and standards of living in order to be counter-cultural.
Complacency is such a temptation for Believers and churches. It’s so easy to be blinded by the normal every day routine of our culture, that we become naive and spiritual complacent. For example, many people take jobs where the company expects them to act immorally, unethically, or unhealthily. It’s so difficult for those individuals to say “no” to that job because of the money they need to provide for themselves and their families. It’s easy to justify it by saying, “It’s just a job.”
Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6, that when we sign up to follow Jesus, we sign up for battle. Make no mistake; there is always spiritual warfare, whether we choose to see it or choose to take sides. But when we follow Jesus, we can ensure that Satan is going to do whatever it takes to defeat us. Sometimes the way Satan defeats us is by getting us to forget that there’s even a spiritual war to begin with.
Some people are very much frightened by talks of the demonic world. The Gospel examples where Jesus casts out demons can seem downright haunting. But here’s the best way that we can fight Satan: cling to Jesus. Wake up every morning relishing the knowledge of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and power within you. Bathe in the lavishing love of God. Clothe yourself in Christ. When you do those things, you may not realize it, but you are arming yourself for the spiritual battles that will come your way.