Philadelphia – Persevering Church

Rev. 3:7-13

Was clear from letter to church in Sardis: Lord of the Church has loving concern for local assemblies with only a few faithful, a minority who have stayed the course. Sardis church likely good sized with substantial resources, reputation for strength and accomplishment. Philadelphia another story, in fact many similarities to churches across State of Maine, and communities where are located.

Place after place, had some reason for attracting people – ready source of power for manufacturing; ideal place for particular crops; access to transportation. Factories near waterfalls; lumber and paper mills near navigable rivers; potato fields and dairy farms with one or two-room schools / church / grange hall that were center of life for generations.

With passage of time, either reinvented themselves or dwindled or both. Buildings created to meet one need now re-purposed, others no longer in existence. Mom and pop stores now closed, everyone goes to box stores in the city. Many communities have only fraction of population several generations ago, countless community-based organizations struggling for survival. And so are local churches. Points in our past 75+ years, searching for pastor – “we’re a small church, we can only afford to pay our minister (a few dollars) per week; would you be interested in candidating?”

Welcome to Philadelphia! Church that had managed to hang on, but only by a slender thread – small, with few resources, little courage.

A. context

area of great seismic activity, many large and destructive earthquakes as well as volcanic eruptions in past; aftershocks following AD 17 quake persisted long enough for many citizens to relocate

“The intention of its founder (2nd cent. BC) was to make it a centre of the Graeco-Asiatic civilisation and a means of spreading the Greek language and manners in the eastern parts of Lydia and in Phrygia. It was a missionary city from the beginning, founded to promote a certain unity of spirit, customs, and loyalty within the realm, the apostle of Hellenism in an Oriental land. It was a successful teacher.” Ramsay

unlike other cities (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Laodicea) had little to make it significant once had served its founding purpose

“…Philadelphia was distinguished from the other cities by several characteristics: first, it was the missionary city: secondly, its people lived always in dread of a disaster, “the day of trial”: thirdly, many of its people went out of the city to dwell: fourthly, it took a new name from the Imperial god (called Neokaisarea for a time).” Ramsay

city with apparently powerful and active Jewish segment on good terms with government, causing trouble for Christian church

B. character of Christ v.7

Christ as: Rightful Sovereign – the true Messiah who presently governs his Kingdom

“He who is holy” = “the Holy One of Israel” – almost 30x in Isaiah, often coupled with other descriptive names

LORD; LORD of hosts; Light of Israel; LORD, your Redeemer; your Maker – get the idea this is God we’re talking about?

here in Jesus’ self-introduction: clear claim to deity, followed by “He who is true” – one who is genuine, especially important when many pretenders

Jesus’ warning, Mark 13:21-22“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it. “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”

gives further “proof” of claim to genuine deity: “He who has the key of David…” – is the King who has key to palace

he is one who decides when door is open or closed, who is allowed in, who is forbidden entrance to his Kingdom

this one speaking to church in Philadelphia – absolute King ruling his kingdom, who has final authority shared with no other

strong rebuke to pretend messiahs and all who followed them; rebuke those who claimed exclusive oversight of access to God

first and most vigorous persecutors of Christians – Jews, and they began with Jesus himself; claimed to be only true children of God because were descended from Abraham

used that as basis to assert own authority as bouncers at Kingdom gates – since they were true citizens, only they could recognize other true citizens

Jesus makes plain – he has given up nothing; in fact, has been given even greater authority: “all authority in heaven and earth”, and he is exercising it

C. commendation v.8, 10a

I know your works

Jesus has first-hand knowledge, does not rely on other sources – knows all there is to know about circumstances… including motivation: knows heart as well as hand

you have a little strength

is serious limit to their “apparent” ability – small numbers, few resources, perhaps not as young or vigorous as previously – have not used as reason to give up but continued to do Christ’s work even on small scale

have kept my word

have remained faithful in obedience to commands of Christ to extent of ability – size and strength not necessary to faithfulness

have not denied my name

successfully resisted any temptation to hide Christian identity/loyalty… even when might have appeared to great advantage

have persevered

God did not call them / does not call us to reach particular performance goal; expects us to persevere, to endure steadfastly – if we lack strength to move forward, at least stand firm… don’t give ground to enemy

D. challenge v.9

Satan – deceiving individuals about their abilities and usefulness as a church

given enough time / pressure / opposition, simply hanging on can become the goal – if I can just hang on till Jesus comes…

easily fall into way of thinking based on numbers – need this much space, this many programs, that many people, at least this regular income, that many baptisms / new members

until we have… that kind of people won’t come, those people will go down the street, we won’t be able to accomplish much

regardless of source – competing denomination, oppressive government, disgruntled neighbors – is still Satan pulling the strings

to extent world’s way of thinking, organizing, evaluating influences and permates the church, Satan gains ground

E. criticism v.11b,c

no criticism, but still at risk – Danger: losing heart; discouragement and defeat

Lord of church commends and encourages – you have persevered, keep persevering; don’t give up now, don’t let Satan defeat

not at risk of losing their eternal inheritance, were at risk of losing additional blessing… of what Christ intended to accomplish through them, his faithful ones

reminder: standard is faithfulness to Christ, not comparison to church down the street; wise stewardship, using what God has given to limit of our ability in dependence on Christ

F. call v.8b

“I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.” – the King thinks his faithful subjects have potential so gives them work to do… He hasn’t written them off

open door means church ought to go through it

remember Philadelphia’s history – a missionary city, Greek culture to rest of Asia Minor; now Gospel truth to surrounding area

if Christ has opened door of opportunity, his people must go through it and spread Gospel truth however God enables

majority of people who need to hear God’s truth will never enter a church to hear it; God’s people must take it to them first

If Christ opens the door and we walk through it in faithful dependence, Christ will ensure that our efforts bear fruit – it is God who not only opens doors of opportunity, he opens door of hearts and minds

open door also means church should minister to those who come through it

open door works both ways – for church to go out, those outside to come in as God sovereignly orders their steps

mission agencies spend $50K+ each year to train and send missionary to unreached people group of a few hundred – what about the unreached people who come through door into the city?

Size of foreign-born population of Maine (2013) – 45,285; increasing ave. 5/day — no language to learn, they want ours; no foreign culture to master, they’ve come here

absolute poorest of us has greatest treasure known, the answer to greatest need of every lost person, immigrant or not

regardless of your position on immigration, Christ has set before his church in America an open door through which what we think of as the mission field are coming to us every day

shame on Christ’s church if we squander this unprecedented opportunity for spread of Gospel truth

G. conquerors’ reward v.9c-10,12

he will validate – Christ has loved, Christ has made effective in ministry in spite of opposition

he will keep… from spiritual harm – not necessarily from hardship, but is only temporary: he is coming quickly!

he will make him a pillar v. 12a, a permanent fixture v. 12b

a pillar erected in honor of God’s grace; Christ promises persevering grace to the saints, equipping them for the coming trials and enabling them to remain faithful to their King.

he will write on him v. 12c

the name of my God – ownership – God takes care of what he owns, protects and preserves and provides for all needs

the name of the city of my God – membership – in the Kingdom, citizens of eternal home in presence of God and angels

my own name – guardianship – not just citizens, but ones with privileges… access to inheritance we share with King of kings

Opportunities for ministry are not the results of strategic planning; they are the reward for faithful obedience. That’s not to say we shouldn’t plan; but we must keep the main thing the main thing. Faithful proclamation of the Gospel by word and life will be given opportunities for further expression by Christ, the one whom we are proclaiming and modeling.

Stability in the church depends on Christ, not circumstances. Christ encourages us to look beyond and above our circumstances to the treasure and security we have in him. If God owns our hearts and affections, if we are loyal members of Christ’s kingdom, we can count on his unfailing guardianship to bring us safely home to glory.

To faithfully persevere, must depend on God daily for all things, relying on his strength and guidance, following his leading day by day.



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