As of last week’s study of the church at Pergamos we reached the half-way point of our study of eight different churches found in the New Testament. We have examined the church at Corinth, the church at Ephesus, the church at Laodicea, and the church at Pergamos. The purpose of our study of these churches is to aid us in our efforts to have congregations of the Lord’s people that that will shine forth in this world of sin and be pleasing to our Heavenly Father. That means, as we have seen, a local church must strive for purity in life. It must strive for strong convictions. It must be scriptural in worship, sound in doctrine and united. It must always remember its first Love, and never be lukewarm in its efforts. And as we learned from the church at Pergamos, the Lord’s people who make up His church MUST distinguish doctrines taught by the devil from the doctrine of Christ, for the Lord insists upon obedience without alteration of His Will. Another point we want to make, is concerning where we are. For in the case of the church at Pergamos, being in the midst of so much idolatry and paganism they were not told to run but to stay, stand and fight and be a light in that lost and dying community.
This week our study focuses on the church at Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia was located twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis. Ramsay tells us that this was a “missionary city,” built with the deliberate intention of spreading the Greek language and promoting a certain unity of spirit, customs, and loyalty to the barbarian wilds of the east. It was strategically located, commanding one of the empire’s greatest highways leading from Europe to the east. However, it was situated in a region where earthquakes were common. An unusually severe earthquake destroyed Philadelphia in A.D. 17, along with Sardis and ten other Asian cities. The city was rebuilt with generous help from Tiberius. But for many years thereafter frequent shocks were experienced so that its inhabitants lived amid ever threatening danger.
Let’s read Revelation 3:7-13 and what Jesus says concerning the church at Philadelphia, “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": 8 "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 "Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie--indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 10 "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. 12 "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. 13 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
As you probably noticed or maybe already knew, the church at Philadelphia was not given a declaration of error by Christ, for there is nothing stated that it had done wrong or failed to do. The church at Philadelphia stands with Smyrna as having no condemnation charged against it. After the Lord identifies Himself to the church at Philadelphia, He declares to them, “I know your works…” The fact that the Lord does know their works, and He is well aware of ours, is quite sobering. Let’s understand it like this, our thoughts and deeds, whether good or evil, may be concealed from other men, they cannot be hidden from God as we read in Psalm 139:1-12, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off, you comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, and I cannot attain it. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven You are there; If I make my bed in Hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from you, But the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to you.”
In His letter to the church at Philadelphia the Lord not only knows their works He also expresses what He had done for them and that they utilized the opportunities set before them. When Jesus makes the statement, in Revelation 3:8, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door and no one can shut it;…” He tells them that He gave them great opportunity to evangelize. As the Lord creates opportunities for us today, Christians have the responsibility to use them to His glory as we read Jesus parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to the one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. ‘So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord you delivered me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed. So, you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore, take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he wil have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Keeping this parable in the forefront of our minds gives a tremendous concept of what God desires of His people. And no matter how many or few talents He gives us He expects us to utilize them so that He may gain that “interest” like the lord from the parable. Notice what Jesus goes on to say further concerning the church in Philadelphia as He continues to applaud their efforts in Revelation 3:8, “…for you have a little strength,…” This little strength reminds us that God can perform wonders with little things like when He reduced the size of Gideon’s army, or when He utilized Moses’ stick, or Shamgar’s ox goad or even David’s sling and stone. For us today, whether or not we consider ourselves as in possession of “little strength,” we all can do service for the Lord. Having only one talent does not give excuse to bury that talent as we read from Jesus parable. Our responsibility is to use all opportunities given us. Though individual abilities may vary, everyone can do something. All Christians need to do what we can in teaching the lost. Some can financially support others who preach, while others can extend hospitality, or minister to the needy. Let’s notice: Abilities used, increase; abilities unused, diminish.
The church at Philadelphia, as Jesus continues his thought from Revelation 3:8 says, “…have kept My word…” this means that they not only obeyed it, but they protected it and guarded it. If we think back for a moment we can recognize this “keeping of the Word of God” from what Jesus said would happen if “keeping His word” was done in John 14:23, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” It is quite clear the church at Philadelphia had obeyed Christ, for he concludes in Revelation 3:8, “…and have not denied My name.” There is no doubt the church at Philadelphia experienced times of ridicule and persecution, but they were faithful and trusted fully in the Lord.
In Revelation 3:10, Jesus says, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” In this verse we learn that the Lord safeguarding them from the hour of trial or temptation is not a promise to keep them from trials, but rather He would protect them and strengthen them so that they might overcome.
As the Lord applauded their efforts, he also provided encouragement through admonishment in Revelation 3:11, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” The crown here is the crown which the Lord promised to give in Revelation 2:10, “…Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” This is also the crown referred to by the apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” Just as Paul held fast to the faith, the church at Philadelphia was told to do the same. You and I are to take this admonishment to heart as well. This becomes even more important for us to understand and take to heart when we apply it to our role as part of a local congregation. For we are all “members one of another.”
Every congregation of the Lord’s people must always remember that without Christ and His word, we can do nothing. With Christ and his Word, we frame our own destiny. Recognizing both the admonishment and praises to the various churches in the Bible aid us in our endeavor to serve our various communities as the pillar and ground of the truth, as the Lord’s church is to be. And as we learned from the church at Corinth the local church must strive for purity in life. It must strive for strong convictions. It must be scriptural in worship sound in doctrine and united. It must always “remember” it’s first Love and it must not be lukewarm in its efforts but be zealous for good works. The local congregation must always distinguish doctrines taught by the devil from the doctrine of Christ. Let’s not forget the Lord insists upon obedience without alteration of his will. As well, the Lord’s people MUST take advantage of every opportunity afforded them to spread the Gospel of Christ no matter what “little strength” we have been given. The Lord “opens the door” for us to take advantage of, especially in this country.
In order for congregations of the Lord’s people to make up sound congregations it must start with every individual striving to imitate Christ in their walk in this life.
Each one of us needs to take the Word of God seriously and allow it to permeate our hearts in a way that we will make His Will our very own. Let us do as the apostle Paul explains in Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;”
All MUST believe Jesus Christ as the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Let everyone hear the Word of God and have the faith described by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 11:1- 6 which helps us see those who were given various levels of strength or talents and they chose to live and obey as God instructed them, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
We all need to do as Peter told those to do on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
We MUST all confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God as Jesus explains in Matthew 10:32, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” The apostle Paul says in Romans 10:9-10, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Ask yourself if your conversion or obedience to Christ is or was like that of the wonderful example of obedience found in Acts 8:36-39 where Philip has been teaching the Ethiopian eunuch, “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.” The apostle Paul helps us see the importance of baptism in Romans 6:4, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” When one has been baptized, their sins are washed away and they rise a new child of God, a Christian. This is where the “walk in newness of life” begins. This new beginning requires a lifetime of service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus says in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you a crown of life.”