Summary: How can you be a faithful church like Philadelphia was?
Turn with me to Revelation 3
Out of all seven of these churches we’ve been looking at in Revelation 1-3, there were only two that were getting it right. There were only two that faithfully looked to Jesus as their Head in all things. They were the persecuted church of Smyrna and the church of Philadelphia that we’re looking at this morning. As Jesus walks in our midst this morning, how does He find us? Do we give Him preeminence in all we do here at Brushfork? Do you give Jesus preeminence in all you do as an individual? Are we part of the majority of churches that don’t? Or will we be part of the minority? It’s tough being in the minority. It was certainly tough on Smyrna and Philadelphia.
The city of Philadelphia was the newest city of these seven cities in Asia Minor. It’s interesting how the city got its name. The name Philadelphia literally means “brother love”. It got that name because the king who founded the city had an unusually close relationship with his brother. Philadelphia was almost a missionary outpost for the Greek language and way of life. And it had been very successful in accomplishing its mission. During the time of this letter, Greek was almost a universal language throughout the western world. Another interesting thing about Philadelphia is that it was located right next to a volcanic region. That meant they were very susceptible to earthquakes. About 70 years before the time of this letter, there was a tremendously destructive earthquake that hit the area. The physical destruction was bad enough. But even worse was having to deal with the psychological devastation. You see, for decades after the great earthquake, Philadelphia would experience aftershocks. And every aftershock would send the people into an emotional tizzy. Up until the time of this letter, the people lived in almost constant fear of cataclysmic destruction of their beloved city. It was in this environment that the Lord placed the church at Philadelphia.
When people ask you about your church, how do you describe it? Do you tell them about the people or the programs or the preacher? Well, listen to how Jesus described the church at Philadelphia in verse 8. He said, “You have a little strength. You have kept my Word. And you have not denied My name.” What a beautiful picture Jesus painted. What a wonderful description. When Jesus said that the church at Philadelphia had a little strength, it’s easy to misunderstand what He was saying. We tend to look at that and think Jesus was looking on them with pity. We think He was talking about how, in their feeble weakness, they were able to muster up a little bit of strength. Well, Jesus isn’t interested in the little bit of strength we can muster up. He’s interested in the strength He gives through us. He’s interested in the kind of strength He gave to Zerubbabel back in the days of the remnant when He told him in Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” Jesus isn’t looking for the strength we can gin up in ourselves. He’s looking for us to be conduits of His strength and His might and His power. And that’s exactly what the church at Philadelphia was doing. When verse 8 says that they have a little strength, the way the sentence is structured in the original places the emphasis on strength. What it’s saying is that Jesus is commending them for the way they have shown such strength from such a small package. They were like dynamite. They had a real big bang from such a little package. But Jesus also said that they had kept His Word. Like all of the other churches we’ve looked at, they knew the right things to do. They had God’s Word. Once this letter that we call the Book of Revelation arrived in their churches, they had access to the exact same Bible that we have access to. The Revelation was the last of the Biblical books written, so when they received it, their Bibles were complete. They had the gospels. They had Paul’s letters. On top of that they had heard eyewitness testimony and had directly received Paul’s teaching at one time in their past. There is no doubt that they knew the Word. The problem was that most of the churches didn’t do what they knew to do. But not Philadelphia. They heard the Word and they did the Word. They were living examples of all of Psalm 119. God’s Word was a lamp to their feet and a light to their path. They lived out the words of the Psalmist when he said, “I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.” And later on when he said, “Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore doth my soul keep them.” And again when he said, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them. LORD, I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments. My soul hath kept thy testimonies; and I love them exceedingly. I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.” They not only knew the Word, they loved the Word. And because they knew and loved the Word, they kept the Word. They were able to stand with the Psalmist and say, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Jesus commended the church at Philadelphia because even though they were small, they faithfully displayed His power. And He commended them because they knew His Word, they loved His Word and they did His Word. Verse 8 also tells us that He commended them because they were faithful to His name. Isn’t that redundant? Doesn’t that mean the same thing as keeping God’s Word? Well, it’s close. And if you’re faithful to keep God’s Word, that will automatically keep you from denying Jesus’ name. But Jesus separated it and singled this point out for recognition. He did, because the church at Philadelphia never did anything to bring a reproach on the name of Jesus. I want you to think about all the things that churches do to bring reproach on the name of Jesus. You can’t go very far in talking to people before you come across someone who will tell you that the reason they don’t go to church is because the church is full of hypocrites. You know what? They’re right. As Christians, we do more damage to the name of Jesus than atheists can ever do. When we wear Jesus clothes and carry Jesus bumper stickers on our cars and cut people off and are rude to people in the store, what kind of witness is that? Very few things annoy me more than to see people at a Christian event being rude and unfriendly to the people who are working there. How do you bring reproach on the name of Jesus? When your Monday through Saturday life doesn’t match your Sunday life. The church at Philadelphia walked what they talked. When Jesus told them to love their neighbor, they did. When Jesus told them to love their enemies, they did. When Jesus told them to preach the gospel with both their lives and their mouths, they did. And by doing so, they were faithful to the name that they carried. Since they carried the name of Christ as Christians, they lived like Christ. And Jesus commended them for that. They were a faithful church. They faithfully displayed the power of Christ. They faithfully devoured the Word of Christ. And they faithfully demonstrated the name of Christ. Do we do that as a church? Do you do that as an individual? Are we a Philadelphian church? Are you a Philadelphian believer? Do you faithfully display the power of Christ in your life? Do you live a “not my will but Thy will” lifestyle? Does you allow the power of God to show through in your weakness? Or are you constantly trying to do it on your own? Do you only seek the power of God when you’re at your wit’s end or in trouble or in need? Do you faithfully devour the Word of Christ in your life? Do you consistently read and meditate on the Bible in your personal and family devotions? Do you hunger and thirst for good Biblical exposition and teaching? Or do you only look for a devotional word to temporarily motivate or inspire you? Do you only look for teaching and preaching that will tickle your ears and make you feel good in your sin? Do you faithfully demonstrate the name of Christ in your life? Can you say with Paul in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” As Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15, are you, “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you”? Or are you happy to claim the name of Jesus as some sort of get out of Hell free card without claiming His name any other time? Jesus commended the Philadelphian church for their faithfulness. Is He commending us for our faithfulness as a church? Or is He condemning our unfaithfulness? If He’s commending us, then He has the same three promises for us that He did for the Philadelphian church. And the wonderful thing about those promises is that they are rooted in who He is. They’re not rooted in our ability. They are three promises that make a dynamite church. The first promise is that Jesus has set.