7. The Church of Philadelphia

O’ how I wish things were different in these letters to the seven churches of Asia. Although there is some commendation for faithfulness, there is no indication of any of these churches being vibrant, healthy, strong, or full of life. Rather, in most cases, we see churches struggling for their very survival. Christ reports one has fallen away from its first love, while others have been deceived and have fallen into gross doctrine and are obeying false teachers. Most seem to be under severe persecution. The report of the church of Sardis is that it is spiritually dead (or extremely close to it). And now, similarly, the church of Philadelphia reportedly has but a little strength. The word “little” here is derived from the Greek word micron, which indicates a very tiny amount (technically today, one millionth of a meter).

Thankfully, the faithfulness and exhortation of the Lord remains consistent in all. He commends those who remain faithful in spite of persecution and false teachings.   He encourages the weak and fallen to wake up, repent, hold on to the good they do have, and to be faithful. He lets them know that in spite of falling short and failing very seriously, He truly loves them. And He never fails to make special promises of eternal rewards to those who do abide in His will and are overcomers.

The message that follows is not an analysis of this letter to the church of Philadelphia. Rather, it is an encouragement for the Church today, the Body of Christ, on a few major thoughts I wish to consider that have been derived from this letter. These thoughts relate to:

  • Jesus introducing Himself as “the One who is holy and true.” 3.7
  • They have “before them an open door, which no one can shut” and “they have only a little strength.” 3.8
  • They will be kept “from the hour of trial that is about to come upon the whole world.” 3.10
  • To the “one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will never again leave it.” 3.12

The One Who is Holy and True

“These are the words of the One who is holy and true.”Rev. 3.7

This self-proclaimed title is most significant. Jesus Christ is stating here that this letter to the church of Philadelphia is not written by a prophet, an apostle, an angel, or a spirit. It is being written by the One who is also holy and true.

The OneThe title One is not preceded by indefinite article ‘a’ or ‘an’ but by the definite article ‘the,’ thus indicating a specific One, one that is already known. The One, the one and only one. The apostle John knew Christ in His most intimate nature. Concerning The One, he wrote:

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jn. 1.14

“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.” Jn. 1.18

“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Jn. 3.18

There is no other born out of the heart of God. He is out from the bosom of the Father. Jesus Christ is one of a kind. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Col. 2.15 “In Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Col. 3.9 When He speaks, man must give full attention and pay heed to every word, for, “the words I say to you, I do not speak on My own. Instead, it is the Father dwelling in Me, performing His works.” Jn. 14.10 The One has spoken, and yet still speaks, to “he that has an ear to hear.”

Holy and True. Christ is holy in that He is “set apart” in His likeness to the nature of God. As an earthly temple is different from every other building, so is Christ different from all that is and of this world. He does not boast of Himself, for when He boasts He does so of the Father who is in Him. He is holy, set apart to the Father’s plans and purposes. Then said He, ‘Lo, I come to do Thy will.’” Heb. 10.9 This is summed up in Ephesians 3.11, “according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He alone is holy, set apart by God to be His holy tabernacle and fulfill His purposes.

To Think About. As with the early churches, we too are among “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” 1 Cor. 1.2 As Christ is holy in the Father, we who believe are holy in Christ.

When Jesus stood before Pilate, He said, “…that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone that is of the truth hears My voice.” Jn. 18.37 To which Pilate replied, “What is truth?” Jn. 18.38 Those of the world cannot perceive the truth, for that ability is not within them. They look into the natural and say this or that is true, or at best plausible. But Christ looks into the Father’s heart and proclaims genuine truth. Jesus told Nicodemus that unless he was born anew he could not see, or enter the Kingdom of God. (Jn. 3.3, 5) Spiritual regeneration is a fundamental requirement to really know truth.

Being of the truth, Jesus Christ is opposed to all that is fake and counterfeit, and is above all that is of “types” and “shadows,” i.e., natural figures of spiritual realities, much like religion is a type of Christianity, but not its reality. Misrepresenting the truth of the Gospel is misrepresenting the Father’s plan and purpose and is blasphemy and heresy, full of lies. As a lie discredits the reliability of an individual, a small error in spiritual truth discredits the whole of the doctrine. This, He says, will come under judgement both now and in the age to come. As tolerant and loving that He is toward precious believers, He is intolerant and short on patience of those who hold and practice doctrines like that of the Nicolaitans, Jezebels, Balaams, and all who misconstrue and malign the Father’s heart and eternal purpose which He proposed in Jesus Christ, His son.

To Think About. One can aspire to be a teacher, a prophet, a shepherd, an evangelist, or be part of any ministry that makes spiritual impartations into the Church and into believers’ lives. One must think and pray earnestly whether it be His calling and anointing, or if it is a self-whim or personal aspiration. The latter can certainly mask for the true calling. The scripture, Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment, according to the measure of faith God has given you” (Rm. 12.3), may well be applicable here.

We are living in an age where truth is a rare commodity. It is an age when people lie and deceive with a “boldface.” This is now learned at a very young age, perfected into maturity, and practiced at all levels of society. By society, it is glossed over with little or no accountability. Some individuals, corporations, and even governments are convinced that lying is perfectly acceptable if it helps to achieve an ultimate goal. Deception has entered into every component of our lives to influence us to act or do things in a certain way or promote another’s cause. Everything heard must be taken with a “grain of salt.” However, absolute truth begins with Christ at the threshold of the Kingdom of God. It is the realm where absolute veracity reigns with Christ at the Head. Truth must be guarded at all cost. The Church, the Body of Christ, must be the bastion of this charge.

An Open Door

“See, I have placed before you an open door, which no one can shut. For you have only a little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My name.” Rev. 3.8

What is this open door placed before this church of Philadelphia? Some may view this open door as a way of escape from a bad situation, perhaps persecution and even death. There were times when the Scribes and Pharisees wanted to lay hands on Jesus, but it was not His time. And, of course, both Paul and Peter were delivered out of the hands of the persecutor, for their time of departure had not yet come. And the believer is promised a “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10.13), which applies to succumbing to temptations, but not to persecution or sickness, or other life calamities. Most scholars agree that the open door mentioned in this verse applies to spiritual opportunity. Quite simply, an individual and/or a church, is given an opportunity to serve the Lord in His Kingdom. This calling is not of one’s choosing, but the call itself, its anointing, the placement, and the timing is of the Spirit of Christ. Anything outside of that is the pursuit of religion and not of spiritual life.

Spiritual Opportunity. For the apostle Paul, a “door was opened”: (1) for Gentiles to receive this faith (Acts 14.27); (2) to preach the Gospel (2 Cor. 2.12-13); (3) to be able to bring forth utterance to speak of the mysteries of God (Col. 4.3); and (4) for effective service amid many adversaries (1 Cor. 16.9). This, he termed, were “doors of opportunity.” In like manner, some doors of opportunity were closed to Paul and his company: “After the Holy Spirit prevented them from speaking the word in the province of Asia, …and, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not permit them.” Acts 16.6-7 To be “lead of the Spirit” is paramount in ministry. Many are the plans and schemes of man, even those to “help God to build His Kingdom.” However, as it is written, Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Ps. 127.1

Man does not need the Lord to help execute his plans. He can use all the resources at his disposal: ingenuity, education, charisma, finances, marketing techniques, and so on. The Lord, however, needs the believer to accomplish His plans to build His Church in the earth. In regards to the Kingdom of God, man can do nothing without Christ. (Jn. 15.5) In regards to the building up of the Church in the earth, Christ does nothing except through His chosen vessels.

It is obvious that not every spiritual opportunity is of the magnitude of the apostles. It is, however, given to every man and woman, and even the young, in the Kingdom, a measure of spiritual opportunity, an open door, for personal spiritual growth, and for service in the Kingdom. To pass through the open door, one must first take soberly the fact that Christ is actually in him, and that he is a viable part of His many-membered Body, the Church. Every cell, ligament, muscle, limb, and organ of our own bodies is designed to function in harmony for life. Each part contributes according to its purpose. So it is also for His Body, From Him the whole body is fitted and held together by every supporting ligament. And as each individual part does its work, the body grows and builds itself up in love.” Eph. 4.16

To Think About. “Solitude” of “Christian life” is an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms. “Solidarity” of “Christian life” is a harmony of terms and the design of Christ for the Church.

A Little Strength. How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.” Mt. 12.29   The strongest man alive has little power to accomplish anything if bound by hand and foot. Potential is one thing, execution is yet another. Satan, the archenemy of Christ, knows fully well that the many-membered Church, functioning in unity as the Body of Christ, with Christ as its Head, has great potential for spiritual opportunity and the destruction of his dark kingdom. How may he set out to bind the Church and render it powerless, to deplete it of its strength?

It is evident that first and foremost Satan incites the local secular government and religious groups against the Church. In spite of the love, gentleness, and peacefulness shown by the Church, he convinces them that those of the Church are evil and must be quieted and stopped…by any means to their disposal. This includes maligning, ridicule, removal of basic rights, and by imposing fear, persecution, even death. Isolation is the next great ploy for the Christian believer and the local church. Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheatBut I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail.” Lk. 22.31-32  To be isolated, separated from the Body, is an immediate loss of strength. Strength comes out of unity—solidarity. A single log in the fireplace struggles to burn, but add two, three, or more and the fire burns fervently and brightly.

Satan’s focus may then turn to the individual vessels or parts of the Body. Satan may not be the immediate cause of personal crises, temptations, obstacles, and enticements. The fallen world about us is sufficient for these. He will, however, utilize these situations to further bind believers in the local churches. His mental game begins with fear, doubt, and sense of abandonment. These weigh in heavily upon the emotions leading to stress, anxiety, even panic. The stronger the emotional flare, the weaker the spiritual strength. Spiritual strength comes from outside the emotions and requires both faith in His promises and the assurance that He will never leave us or forsake us, and patience.

Mixture in the Church is another means of sapping its spiritual strength. Oftentimes culture or traditions are mixed into beliefs and practices. Because we have inherited certain traditions held by our fathers, and father’s fathers, it is not a legitimate reason for their practice in the Church. What is most compelling and difficult to keep out of the Church is mixture from the secular world about us. Things and activity that seem successful in the natural to build businesses, attract people, govern the masses, entertain, and manage resources are seductively employed by the Church. Mixture leads to draining spiritual strength.

If that is not enough, Satan will attempt to convince the believer and the local church that they have little strength because of their few in number and limited resources. (O’ how precious are the “little flocks” in the eyes of the Lord.) All of the above are fetters, chains, and ropes intended to bind the Church and render it powerless to walk though that open door, that door of opportunity to serve Christ in His kingdom and the building up of His Church. Christ however did commend this church that even in their little strength they have kept His word and have endured patiently. He follows this with promises.

I Will Keep 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.” Rev. 3.10

“The one who keeps on keeping God’s word is kept by God.” So, do you see that this little word “keep” is important to understand? It does not mean that the church of Philadelphia should be exempt from persecutions which should come on all other portions of the Church or throughout the world. The intent is not that they will receive special privilege to be excused from fiery trials through which others should have to pass. The promise is to be kept while “in temptations,” not to be exempt “from temptations.” But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” 1 Thes. 3.3 God’s grace is seen to be poured out proportionally to bear another trial.

Specifically mentioned here is a trial upon the whole of the world—all its inhabitants. And they cried out in a loud voice, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?’” Rev. 5.10 It is my conviction that the saints will not be bodily “raptured” out from this hour of temptation on the whole of the earth as with the myth surrounding some “pre-tribulation rapture.” Scriptural evidence just does not support this old hypothesis made popular by John Nelson Darby around 1830. In 1909, the first study Bible—The Scofield Study Bible—developed scriptural elements for this viewpoint influencing many believers. Though it is popularized today in books and movies, and by some misunderstanding preachers, there is just no evidence in support of this doctrine in scripture or in Church history. The fuel for the trial and temptations will come out of the unbelief, heresies, hardness of hearts, and blasphemies against our God witnessed across this earth. The believer, who is spiritually “seated with Christ in heavenly places” (Eph. 2.6) will be kept by the Lord.

A Pillar in the Temple

To the “one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will never again leave it.” Rev 3.12

Among the promises for overcomers made to the church of Philadelphia is this promise of becoming a pillar in the temple of God. It is a dear and precious promise that I personally find very meaningful. I would like to consider this subject of a pillar beginning with today’s church first, and then consider it in the context of the promised eternal temple.

Pillars in the Church. The apostle Paul traveled to Jerusalem to meet with, among others, James, Peter (Cephas), and John, “those reputed to be pillars” (Gal. 2.9) in the Church. One can easily understand how these three apostles were purportedly pillars—they were stable, strong in the Lord, and central to the support of the Church. The Church may have even threatened collapse in their absence. So there is understandably a continuing need over the years for church pillars, maybe not of the magnitude of these three, but nevertheless substantial pillars of support in the Church.

When one thinks of a pillar he must consider both form and function. Many pillars are for show and their stately designs are impressive to behold. They stand out in prominence as one gazes on the church building. They contribute to the overall glory of the building. Then there are pillars erected primarily for function, to support the mass of the building. They may have no stately appearance. They may even be hidden within the walls of the church or in its basement. No glory surrounds them. They endure in silence, simply bearing the load placed upon them. Activity may abound all around, but they remain steadfast in position and purpose. Their importance in bearing up the church cannot be overstated.

There are many ministries in the Body of Christ, e.g., apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that may be considered central to the functioning of the Church. Some have been, or are presently, outstanding in their ministry. But none fulfills the role of a pillar as does that of a “spiritual father.” (See 1 Cor. 4.15) Simply stated, a spiritual father is one that has outgrown his present ministry such as pastor, teacher, etc. There is an enlargement of his position within the church, a greater realm of oversight and responsibility. The spiritual father’s vision and calling are enlarged and his insight is sharp and discerning. These have a sense for Church governance, an eye towards the utmost purposes of God in this age and in the age to come, and insight or discernment into spiritual matters. These are not offices with titles or any such thing. These are not to be held in veneration, but only respected for their calling and placement by the Lord into the Church. [Please, for the sake of spiritual life, a living ministry, let us avoid using titles like Bishop, Prophet, Father, and so on which are often ascribed to an office held by prominent individuals in the Church.]

A Pillar in the Temple. Can you understand now the importance of one designated as a pillar? And, that there will be a continuance of this role for pillars in the coming age? For those who can receive it, there will be no streets of gold, precious gems, walls or gates in the New Jerusalem. It will not be a physical city composed of material things, or of space and time. “Then I, John, saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband.” Rev. 21.1   The “city” is a redeemed people prepared as a bride to be joined to Christ in His Kingdom. (See also Rev. 21.9-10)

As the city is not an actual physical city as we would know it, the eternal temple is not a physical temple. “But I saw no temple in it (the New Jerusalem), for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” Rev. 21.22   So the eternal city, the New Jerusalem, is in reality a people prepared to be the Lamb’s bride, and the eternal temple is in reality God Himself as Father and Son dwelling in the midst of His people. What an anticipation of glory! What then is the need for pillars, but for particular function and responsibility in His presence? Even as the apostles in the earthly church at Jerusalem were reportedly pillars to the church (Gal. 42.9), having special function and oversight, so will the pillars in this eternal temple. One can imagine the activities of Peter, James, and John, who have been given oversight of the Church in the earth. But these activities and responsibilities are but a type or shadow of the form and function of said pillars in the eternal temple of God—involving not only the eternal city, but also the “nations” of the new earth. (See Rev. 21.24-26)

There is one final note regarding these pillars. They abide in the temple. They are permanent fixtures.   “I will make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will never again leave it.” There will be much activity surrounding the throne of God, many goings and comings, and doings and accomplishings of the will of God the Father and the Lamb. But, I do believe that a measure of reward for “overcomers” is proximity to the throne of God (actually the presence of God), and continuance in that presence.

Conclusion. “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your heart, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (Jam. 5.7-8)

The terms early rain and latter rain have been used to describe particular time periods coinciding with outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the earth, e.g., The Latter Rain Revival (1948–1952), The Latter Rain Movement (1952–1960s). This, of course, is a misnomer. These rains speak of the first coming (early rain) of Christ to the earth and the future coming (latter rain), or return, of Christ to the earth, in order to bring to completion the consummation of all things. The word patience is used three times in this short passage in order to highlight what should be the believer’s disposition during this time of waiting for His return. Jesus commended the church of Philadelphia, Since you have kept my command to endure patiently.”

Always having our eyes fixed upon the goal of our high calling in Christ, and never submitting to human emotions and reasonings, let us eagerly press on, in patience and perseverance. Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Heb. 10.25  May the Church, in this hour, respond to the call of Christ. May He have His supreme way in the Church and may His purposes be accomplished. Whether large in number or small, in peace or persecution, in abundance or in lack, in strength or weakness, may we pursue the door opened before us in all patience and perseverance.Share

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