Allen Raynor Weblog: “Philadelphia: The Faithful Church” (Pt. 1)
(Aug. 21, 2019)
Believers are told many times and in many ways throughout Scripture the importance of perseverance. Perseverance is defined as “Steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.” (Dictionary.com) To persevere is the responsibility of both individual Christians and churches. If we simply work hard and give our best to do the things the Lord has asked us to do, He will take care of the rest, even if it takes much more time than we expected. There is often irony in the way the Lord works. C. S. Lewis, in his sixties, married a lady named Joy Greshem – an American divorcee with two sons. After she died of cancer, he committed to caring for the boys – but Lewis himself died two years later. The youngest son, Douglas, later married and moved to Tasmania. Neither he nor his wife had accepted Christ. One day, Wheaton College asked Douglas to participate in a tribute to Lewis – and as an honorarium, the college gave him a folio of Lewis’ books on audio tapes. Douglas’ wife, Mary, began listening to them, and finally, at the age of 40 received Christ into her heart. Seven years later, through her prayerful diligence, she led her husband to Jesus. A great example of perseverance! Too often we expect immediate results and instant gratification but God’s ways are much slower than ours but much more reliable.
We see the patient character of God revealed in Romans 12:12 where Christians are commended to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation continuing steadfastly in prayer.” Above all, God is simply calling on His people; His church to be faithful to His Word and persevere through all the trials/tests/tribulations that come their way. The church at Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13) was doing what the Lord expected of the church. They are lifted up as an example of faithfulness. The Lord had nothing negative to say to this church – only positive – unlike the other six churches.
The name “Philadelphia” means “brotherly love” in Greek. The city was small and was located about 40 miles southeast of Sardis. Its location, vineyards, and wine production made it wealthy and commercially significant. Christ is described as being “holy,” “true,” the one “Who has the key of David,” and the “One who opens and shuts doors.” His “holiness” means He is “set apart.” Being “true” speaks to His faithfulness and being one who keeps His word/promises. Instead of being “false,” He is “true.” A “key” in Scripture represents authority. Whoever has a key has control. As the holder of “the key of David,” Jesus alone has sovereign authority to determine who enters His Messianic kingdom. Revelation 1:18 reveals to us that Jesus has the keys to death and hell; here He is depicted as having the keys to salvation and all blessings. Finally, He is identified as He “Who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.” Here Christ’s omnipotence is emphasized. In other words, what Christ does cannot be overruled or overpowered by another or higher authority, because there is no one more powerful! Jesus Christ is the holy, true, sovereign, omnipotent Lord of the church.
The deed of the church at Philadelphia caused the Lord no concern, which seems amazing; almost too good to be true! Jesus’ care for them was solely concern for them personally and not concern because of them. The phrase “I have set before you an open door; and no one can shut it,” in this context, appears to refer to their entrance into Heaven and “The New Jerusalem.” It is certainly possible this open door also is referring to “service” and “witness.” In Colossians 4:3 Paul wrote “Meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word to speak the mystery of Christ.” He writes to the Corinthian church “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Cor. 16:9)
Despite the fact they had little strength/power they had made a positive impact on this city. How did they make this impact? It was by faithfully keeping God’s Word. Their love for Christ was genuine and it showed. Further, they had “not denied His name,” in an environment where it would have been quite easy to do so. Revelation 14:2 describes the tribulation saints who refused to take the mark of the beast saying “Here is the patience/perseverance of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and faith of Jesus.”
It is never easy to stand faithful to God in the face of persecution, but it is always the right thing to do. Former U. S. Attorney General John Ashcroft wrote in his autobiography “Sometimes when you are doing the right thing, you have to stay strong, steely, and silent, even though you are getting beaten up by others for doing what is right. Often it takes a long time for the truth to emerge.” (John Ashcroft; Never Again; 229-30) Perseverance is about being in it for the long haul! A good friend of mine, and fellow pastor, told me the first time I met him 15 years ago that the church he pastored had been going through what he called “a 5 year purging.” He was cautiously optimistic about the future but was also battle worn. His perseverance did pay off though as that church slowly developed, in the years that followed, as a strong and healthy church that looked much like the church at Philadelphia. It is always right to do the right things and it is always wrong to do the wrong things for reasons we know and for reasons we do not know.
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor