(twelfth article in our series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor)
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens: ‘I know your works….'” (Revelation 3:7ff)
When the Lord begins a conversation by telling you He is holy, He is true, and that He has the keys–always a symbol of authority!!–then, you and I had better listen up because He has something mighty important in mind.
What He had in mind was this church with great assets moving out and doing significant things in the Kingdom.
The Lord said to this church, “When I open a door, it stays open. And when I close one, no one can open it afterwards!” How wonderful–and how ominous–is that!
Called the missionary church. The excited church. The church of the open door. The faithful church. The church at Philadelphia goes by all kinds of names and titles. It and Smyrna are the only two of the seven churches without black marks by their names. Professor Ivan Parke (Mississippi College) says, “You would love to receive their mail!”
How about a church named “Brotherly Love.” Contrast this with the church at Ephesus that had left its first love. Evidently, Philadelphia believers are living up to their name since the Lord said nothing negative to them.
The city of Philadelphia–
Even a child knows the meaning of that name: “The city of brotherly love.” What might come as a surprise to some is that the city was founded by a brother in honor of his brother whom he did indeed love.
The city was founded in 140 B.C. by Attalus II in honor of his brother Eumenus II who was king of Pergamos. Attalus was actually called “the brother lover.” (I’ve also read it was the other way around, that Eumenus founded the city in honor of Attalus. So, one way or the other!)
Philadelphia was the gateway to the East. It was the center for spreading the Greek language and culture. Sometimes was called “Little Athens.” The people were very religious. We recall that the original Athens had a monument or altar for every god known to them, and eventually one to an unknown God (Acts 17).. When Paul preached to the citizens of Athens on Mars Hill, he said, “The One whom you worship in ignorance I now proclaim to you!”
The city was located on a geological fault. In fact, an earthquake severely damaged the city in AD 17, and was rebuilt.
“I have set before you an open door…”
How good is that? Imagine the Lord telling you (and your church), “Okay, the light is green and the field is clear. Do whatever is on your heart, no holds barred.”
I’ve known of congregations that named themselves “The Church of the Open Door.” Personally, I think a church that takes that title to itself is setting itself up for a huge challenge; they have a lot to live up to.
This reminds us of a question which consultants often put before congregations: “If you knew you could not fail, what would you attempt for the Lord” Or a different way of expressing it: “If money were no object, what big thing would you want your church to do?” That is, if victory were guaranteed. Wow. Think of that.
What an open door means…and what it does not mean…
When the Lord puts before His children an open door, this means…
–your opportunity has arrived. Your ship is in port.
–the time to act is now.
–the time for study, delay, and excuses has passed.
And what it does not mean….
–Even though the door is open, it does not mean there will be no difficulties and no obstacles. In I Corinthians 16:9 Paul says, ‘A wide and effectual door for ministry has been opened to us, and there are many obstacles.”
–It does not mean there will be immediate, visible, dramatic results. It may be years–if ever–before you know what God had in mind.
–It does not mean no faith is required to go through that door. “The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). “Without faith it is impossible to please God”” (Hebrews 11:6).
What a closed door means–and what it does not mean…
When the Lord shuts a door, it means…
–we should not pushing. This opportunity is closed.
–He has something else for us.
–We should move along and watch for the next open door.
And what a closed door does not mean…
–It does not mean everyone will agree. Some may still be insisting this is an opportunity.
–It does not mean that all you’ve done previously was wrong or sinful.
–It does not mean the same for everyone everywhere. Your church may decide God has closed this door for you while the church across town has a different perspective altogether.
The Lord has three compliments for this church….
–You have a little strength. It doesn’t take much. See Luke 17:6 for the power of small faith.
–You have kept My word. Obedience is the proof of one’s discipleship (see 2 Corinthians 2:9).
–You have not denied My name. As with the saints of the Old Testament, Hebrews 11 says, “Wherefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God.” That should be our goal, to make the Heavenly Father proud of us.
What God promises to do for the believers in Philadelphia–
–“I will make those of the synagogue of Satan come and worship at your feet.” They will suffer the ultimate humiliation. But it’s Jesus who will do it to them; not something you are personally to do.
–“I will make them know that I have loved you.” Evidently, they have criticized the believers saying they were not pleasing the Lord. But they’re going to find out otherwise. See 1:5 which says, “To Him who loved us…”
–“I will also keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world…” Some would ask why the Lord chooses to keep some from trials while allowing others to go through it (see Smyrna). The best answer I know is Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the Heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” He has His reasons, and they are not given to us. We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
“He who overcomes….”
–I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God… A pillar is a load-bearing column, the very definition of faithfulness. I’m remembering something Winston Churchill said. In the 1930s when he was out of government power and living at Chartwell, his country home, the local parish priest said, “We look forward to having you as a pillar in the church.” Churchill said, “I will not be a pillar but a buttress. I will support the church from the outside.” It was a cute play on words, but one could wish that the great political leader had shown a deeper appreciation for the things of Christ. (If you are unfamiliar with a buttress, it’s worth the trouble to look up. A pillar supports the church from the inside, a buttress from the outside. Some are called ‘flying buttresses.’)
–I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem. That name means ownership. I am His. His name is on me.
–I will write on him My new name. This calls to mind the way Mom will write the child’s name on his clothing and school bags. No mistaking them thereafter; the name identifies them.