Friday, May 2, 2014

Philadelphia: The Enduring Church

In the second and third chapters of Revelation are letters from Jesus to seven of the first century churches in what is today Turkey. While I believe these letters were addressed to real churches of that day, I also believe they have great application to our churches today. The sixth of these was to the church of Philadelphia.
“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.  I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.  I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.  Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.  The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Revelation 3:7-13 NIV
Jesus seems not to be too impressed with many of the things we typically look for in a church.  I want to be a part of a church that provides a good worship experience, where the preaching is challenging, where the teaching is Biblically based and draws me to God.  A church whose facility is clean and in good repair; where the people give enough to comfortably meet the financial needs of the church; and the people themselves are actively involved in the life of the body.  A church where the people are excited about God and what he is doing through them.

Some of the churches Jesus addresses in these letters seem to come close to the above, and Jesus commends them for that.  But those 'comfortable' churches seem to have other problems that are a threat to them.  Instead it is the poor church of Smyrna and the weak church of Philadelphia that Jesus commends without finding fault.  Churches that humanly have little going for them, and yet they appear to be the models that we need to learn from.

Philadelphia was a church with little strength.  You might picture them as meeting in a run down facility, struggling to pay their bills, without trained workers; hard to see how they could make much of a difference in the world around them.  But they were faithful to Jesus, and in His eyes that is worth more than anything else.

Jesus knew their deeds.  They were likely not newsworthy or impressive.  But they were faithfully serving and what they did, they did for Christ.  And because of that, Jesus had opened a door of opportunity for them that they were walking through; a door that this world would be unable to shut.  What was that door; was it the same door as in 3:20, the door that brings us into Jesus presence and fellowship with him?

Philadelphia had little.  But they faithfully endured.  They kept at it with what little they had.  They were not judged by how great the things they had accomplished were, but rather by what they had done with what they had.  And Philadelphia passed the test, and were promised that would be protected from the time of trial that would come on the whole world.

Rather than look at why we can't accomplish something as a church, we would do better to follow the example of Philadelphia and just be faithful in serving Jesus.  Taking advantage of the open doors he provides and giving him our all, regardless of how much or little that might seem to be.


1 comment:

  1. The weakness of the church at Philadelphia is contrasted with a powerful "synagogue of Satan" which seems to threaten the church. Jesus promises them that if they remain faithful, the roles will be reversed in the end: the powerful will have to bow down before their feet (3:9). Because most of Jesus' message to this church is about their future reward in heaven, I think the open door is the door to heaven (like the open door of 4:1). As Jesus' keys of death and hades in Rev. 1:18 reveal his power to raise his faithful dead out of hades, so Jesus' key of David here reveals his royal power to raise them up to heaven's open door. So when he says he is coming soon (in 3:11), the context points to his coming to open the door to heaven (as soon as they die). His coming soon to welcome them into heaven is an encouragement to them to hold fast what they have (until his coming), so that no one will grab their crown (in heaven, where they will rule with Christ).

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