Modern church life is quite different from life in the early Church, but today’s believers have much to learn from the faithfulness of the church in Philadelphia. Christ praised the believers for four principles that we often lose sight of among the practices and programs of modern church culture.
Although Christ addressed Revelation 3:7-13 to the church in Philadelphia as a body, His encouragement applies to every believer, then and now. The faith of individual believers determines the strength of their churches.
Let’s consider four ways the Philadelphian believers demonstrated faithfulness and how we can learn from their example.
Lesson 1: They had an open door
Christ opened His letter to Philadelphia by revealing His sovereignty. He is the One who “has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens” (Revelation 3:7). This alludes to Eliakim, a king in the line of David who held the key to all the king’s treasures (Isaiah 22:22). When Eliakim opened the door, it stood open. When he closed the door, it stood closed. In the same way, Jesus possesses the key to the kingdom of God and entrance into eternal life. With that in mind, He told the church in Philadelphia, “I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it.” When the Lord opens a door for someone to hear His Word, nothing can prevail against it.
This notion of an open door appears several times in the New Testament. In each case, the “open door” represents an opportunity for ministry. Paul talked about doors for ministry that opened in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8-9) and Troas (2 Corinthians 2:12). In each of these passages, the door opened apart from Paul’s plans. When the door opened in Ephesus, it caused him to change his plans. When the door opened in Troas, it conflicted with Paul’s desire to find Titus. It’s noteworthy that Paul did not force the doors open. Instead, the Lord opened these doors.
The late John Stott of England encourages great discernment when seeking open doors for ministry:
Christ has the keys and He opens the doors. Then let us not barge our way unceremoniously through doors which are still closed. We must wait for Him to make openings for us. Damage is continually being done to the cause of Christ by rude or blatant testimony. It is indeed right to seek to win for Christ our friends and relatives at home and at work, but we are sometimes in a greater hurry than God is. Be patient, pray hard, love much, and wait expectantly for the opportunity of witness. The same applies to our future. More mistakes are probably made by speed than by sloth, by impatience than by deleteriousness. God’s purposes often ripen slowly and if the door is shut, don’t put your shoulder to it. Wait till Christ takes out the key and opens it up.1
In Colossians 4:3, Paul encouraged praying “that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.” While believers cannot force doors open, we can certainly pray for God to open them. Such a door blesses those who share the Gospel and those outside the Church who need to hear the message.
Philadelphia was a gateway city to a large region that included other metropolises. This location created a strategic opportunity for their ministry. How has God placed you in a strategic place? Where is He opening doors for you to share the Gospel? Which doors are you trying to force open? How will you commit to praying for God to open them?
Lesson 2: They had a little strength
After assuring the Philadelphia church that their door would remain open, Christ said He would hold it open, “for you have a little strength.” What did He mean?
The Greek text conveys this idea: You have “but little strength.” Christ presents their situation as almost problematic: You have ample opportunity but only a little strength. The implication is that their power is not what matters—Christ’s power is. This lesson echoes Christ’s words to Paul: “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul understood his weakness was not an obstacle in light of Christ’s strength, which was more than sufficient. Likewise, Philadelphia’s weakness was no barrier to Christ’s plans.
This message rings true for Christ’s Church in all places and ages. Our strength is insufficient today, but Christ’s strength is sufficient for eternity. How have you been relying on your own strength? What will you entrust to the Lord’s power today?
Lesson 3: They had kept the Word of God
Next, Christ commended the church in Philadelphia for their fidelity to the Word of God: “[You] have kept My Word.”
After I released my book, I Never Thought I’d See the Day! several radio show hosts interviewed me. The most frequently asked question was: “What is the one thing most responsible for the erosion of biblical standards in the Church?” I didn’t need to think about that for long. The greatest threat to biblical soundness in the Church today is the removal of God’s Word from the pulpits. When Christians don’t know God’s desires and standards, how can they obey Him?
Second Kings 22 recounts the story of Judah’s King Josiah. The record indicates Josiah was a godly king who sought to follow God. However, when Josiah assumed the throne, the Book of the Law was missing, so he did not know all it contained. As soon as Josiah heard the Law, he tore his clothes because he knew his people were in trouble. He instructed Hilkiah, the priest:
Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us (2 Kings 22:13).
Josiah was right to be concerned. The Lord was furious with Judah, and His holy anger demanded a wrathful response. Recognizing Josiah’s humility and repentance, the Lord promised him personal peace, but Josiah’s reforms were too late to rescue his nation.
Friend, we have no such excuse. The Bible is readily available in many translations and formats with scads of study tools. How are you leveraging the opportunity to study the Bible? What commitment will you make to keeping His commands?
One of the reasons God blessed the church in Philadelphia was because of their faithfulness to His Word. Will you commit right now to remain faithful to the Word of God? Hide it in your heart so you might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).
You Might Also Enjoy:
• 4 Steps to Spiritual Awakening From Revelation
• Christ’s Message for the Seven Churches of Revelation and Today
• Seven Churches of Revelation Bible Study
• Revelation’s 7 Promises to Every Believer
Lesson 4: They had not denied the Lord
Finally, Christ commended the church in Philadelphia because they had not denied His name. They were faithful not only to the Word of the Lord but to the Lord Himself. Persecution was rampant in Rome. Of Jesus’s apostles, John was the only one who did not die a violent death but died imprisoned on Patmos. Like the apostles, the believers at Philadelphia would not worship Caesar or participate in other forms of idolatry. Even in the face of persecution, they did not deny the name of Christ.
God has blessed America with a high degree of religious freedom. For us, persecution is subtle. It is more likely to involve delayed promotions at work or exclusion from social gatherings than physical harm. Yet, these circumstances often deter God’s people from proclaiming His name in the public arena. Let us resolve to worship the Lord no matter the cost. Resolve to serve Christ with your whole heart. Sharing God’s grace and mercy with a lost and dying world is far more critical than personal pride or promotional opportunities.
Knowing persecution would come, the Lord warned us to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Relationships require discernment. But when we endure hardships for the cause of Christ, we can confidently anticipate the Holy Spirit’s guidance (Matthew 10:16-25). He loves and protects us (Matthew 10:26-33).
How have you experienced persecution? What was your response? Are there unwise relationships you need to reconsider? How are you living in humility, gentleness, and integrity?
If we want to impact this world for the kingdom of God, we need to walk through open doors of ministry, depending on Christ’s strength and remaining faithful to Him and His Word.
1John Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 111.