#14 Philadelphia Part III: Faithful, In What?
We have come once again to the letter to the Church at Philadelphia. This church was, and still is a faithful church. In fact, there was still a Christian Church in Philadelphia up till 1392, despite all the persecutions that had raged over the centuries. What an amazing testimony to the power of God to protect and preserve His people. What an amazing testimony to their faithfulness. This is their testimony: they had a little power, they kept His word and did not deny His Name!
As we have seen in our two previous studies, Jesus Christ presents Himself to His Church as the Holy one: He is the pure spotless Lamb of God, perfect in all of His ways. He is the True one: He declares His word and it stands. Not one jot or tittle will fail to come to pass. He is the owner of the key of David. He has absolute authority over all of His creation and He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can hold Him back or say, “What have you done.”
Our text begins at verse 8 where we read (Rev 3:8-13) 8‘I know your deeds. He knew what they were about. He saw their faithful deeds which were done from faithful hearts, hearts that were devoted to Him. Unlike Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira and Sardis, this church was a church that loved Him. And God was pleased with this church. They had been faithful to live for His glory, to preach the word of God and live by that word.
Can this be said of us? Are we faithful to live for Him? Think back with me to that day on the beach when Jesus looked deep into Peter’s heart. It was a day of hard questions. As we look at them, look into your own soul and ask yourself these hard questions. Will you be found faithful?
Is your heart like the hearts of the members of the church of Philadelphia? What is the most important thing in your life? What captivates you the most? Remember that whatever it is, this is your god. Do you have an idol in your heart? Or do you love the Lord God with all of your heart, soul mind and strength? Remember that Jesus knows your deeds. He knows your heart. He sees right into the motivations and the plots, plans and schemes that keep you awake at night.
You can’t hide anything from God. There is no place you can go to get away from Him! And there is no secret place where you can go to practice your pet sin.
Jesus Christ sees everything. Even the darkness is light to Him. Peter had made great boasts of faithfulness. No one loved Jesus more than He did. And no one was ever more faithful than he was. Even if everyone else fell way from Jesus, Peter wouldn’t! How many times do we sin the sin of spiritual pride and boast of our faithfulness? You don’t have to do it openly, before men. You can be in your prayer closet. It’s only you and God there and you begin to boast of your devotion.
It is interesting to me that there are so many times when we seem to forget that in our flesh no good thing dwells. We forget that the author of our faith is Jesus Christ. The only reason we have any faith at all is because He bestowed that faith on us. There is no place for boasting in the Christian life, except in Jesus! He is worthy of our boasts. There is no one like Him. He is the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Creator of all things and the re-creator of our hearts. For a time Peter lost sight of this truth. He began to boast of his fidelity but he was about to be sifted as wheat. When it was over, when he heard the cock crow for the second time, all of his boasting came flooding in. His eyes were opened to see that for all of his boasting, he had denied the Lord before men. And he went out and wept bitterly over his sin.
After the resurrection Peter and some of the disciples decided to go fishing. Of course they caught nothing, nothing that is until Jesus appeared on the shore and caused all the fish in the sea to jump into their nets. John said, “IT IS THE LORD! Well Peter jumped into the water to get to Jesus while the rest of the crew brought the ship to shore. Then they all hauled the net in. Jesus already had breakfast on the fire and they all sat down to eat with Him.
We read in (John 21:15) “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” Remember that in this dialog between Jesus and Peter Jesus uses the term Agapeo. It means to have a deep and abiding devotion, an unselfish, self sacrificing love for someone. Jesus exemplified this love when He laid down His life for His sheep. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. This is the love that Jesus speaks of here.
Do you love me more than these men? Remember you claimed to have this over the top devotion for me so that even if everyone else turned away, you would remain steadfast. Do you still hold to this confession of faith? Listen to Peter’s answer. “He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Peter uses a lesser term, Phileo which means a friendship type of love. “Yes Lord, I am your friend.” He no longer claims that he is better than his fellow disciples. He does not respond to that part of Jesus’ question. He feels sure that at least he can call himself Jesus’ friend. And Jesus responds. He *said to him, “Tend My lambs.”
But our Lord is not finished yet. 16 He *said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” This time Jesus leaves the others out of the equation. But He still uses the term Agapeo. Peter are you devoted to Me with a deep and abiding love that will manifest itself in selfless fidelity to Me? Note Peter’s response. He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Again Peter uses Phileo, yes Jesus I am your friend. I care for you. He *said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”
Then in verse 17 Jesus uses the same word that Peter has been using. He *said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Are you My friend, do you care for Me? Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” It hurt him that Jesus used the same word because now even this lowly claim of friendship was being challenged. “Are you really My friend Peter?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” You know my heart Jesus. You can see that I at least have affection for you. Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.
Peter was cut to the heart by the words of Jesus but he was doing his best to be honest with himself and his Lord. You could see the love that Peter had for Jesus when John said, “It is the Lord!” That was all Peter needed to hear. He was out of the boat and headed for shore. All he wanted was to be with Jesus, to be near Him. We really must look deep into our hearts and ask ourselves what the truth is concerning Jesus. Do we love Him? Do we like Him? Is He our friend? Do we want to be near Him? Will we, like Peter, dive in head first to get close to Him? Or are we just busy with religious duties. Is our faith a mere formality? Are we claiming love for Him while at the same time compromising the truth of the gospel with our sinful lives? Do we have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof!
You know the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” What do your actions say of you? You are a living epistle that is read by men! What does your life declare? In what do you trust? Is it Jesus Christ? Or do you have other things or people more important to you? Most importantly, what does Jesus see when He looks at you? Does He see a friend, or Judas? Does He see a faithful, devoted, beloved disciple or does He see a hypocrite who is just around to watch the show? Many people followed Jesus during His earthly ministry! Many claim to be His disciples today. But just as not all Israel is Israel, in the same way, not all those who say, Lord, Lord are His disciples. Some are busy lifting up their heels against Him?
If you really belong to Him, your hearts desire will be to be close to Him, to serve Him, to worship Him. As Christians we are called to be faithful to Him. We are called to love Him with our whole being. This is what devotion means. Are you devoted to Jesus? If you’re not wild about Him now, then Houston, we’ve got a problem. If you are calling yourself a Christian and Jesus isn’t the greatest love of your life then you had better get alone with God and examine yourself in the light of His holy Word.
The words of the Psalmist are quite applicable here. (Ps 139:23-24) says (23) “Search me, O God (Turn on the searchlight that lights up the sky like you did when you knocked Paul to the ground), and know my heart; show me what’s going on in there. Show me whether or not I’m really yours or just pretending. Heat up the crucible and try me and know my anxious thoughts; (24) and see if there be any hurtful way in me, deliver me from self deception, from self delusion, from thinking I am something when I am not. Turn my eyes away from the grave of self and the world with all of its evils and lead me in the everlasting way.
Remember what the writer of the book of Hebrews said: “(Heb 12:1) Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, Part of this cloud of witnesses that we have before us is The Church at Philadelphia. They loved Jesus and weren’t afraid to show it! They were real Christians. These men and women proved their words by their deeds. They were faithful.
Listen to what Jesus says of His faithful ones. In (Joh 14:21) we read “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” My question is: what more could anyone ask for! If you have Jesus, you have life: you have everything! Remember George Beverly Shea’s Hymn. “I’d rather have Jesus than anything, this world affords today!” That is a description of a man with a new heart, new desires, and a burning devotion to The Lord Jesus Christ. The Philadelphians were like that. They kept His commandments, proving by their faithfulness that they loved Him and He revealed Himself to them in a wonderful way. And He poured out a wonderful blessing upon them. He says “Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, I have turned that key of David and opened a door for you.
What is this door? Matthew Henry says: “The same Lord Jesus has the key of government and authority in and over the church. He opens a door of opportunity to his churches; he opens a door of utterance to his ministers; he opens a door of entrance, opens the heart.” The scriptures tell us of the power of God over the soul of man. He hardened the hearts of the people of Lystra but opened the hearts of those in Berea. One group rose up and tried to kill Paul while the other group went to the Law and the Testimony to see if what Paul was saying was the truth. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart. He softened Nebuchadnezzar’s. He hardened Belshazzar’s heart and softened Cyrus’s. (Pr 21:1) “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. (Matt 24:40-41) “Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 “Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. And these are taken and left at the discretion of the Lord. He makes the choice.
With the turning of that Key He opens the ears and He stops them up. He opens the eyes and He smears over the eyes. He grants a willing spirit and He sends a deluding spirit. He grants that men will long for the truth and he hardens them so they “will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,” God had mercy on this Church and upon those who heard the truth from their mouths. He opened the door for the truth to be preached and for ears to hear and heart to receive. What a blessing this is. It is God who is the True Evangelist. He is the Architect of the Gospel and He alone can drive His truth into the heart of a dead sinner.
Many preachers go at it till they’re blue in the face. They use all the gimmicks and pop psychology available and yet they have no results. Oh they tug at heartstrings. They prick the emotions. They guilt people into “making decisions.” But the ‘fruit’ does not last. And the church becomes a revolving door of decisions, rededications, and all the fleshly trappings of the false “gospel.” It is only God and God alone who can raise the dead. He speaks to dead sinners and says “COME FORTH.” And they arise to new life in Jesus Christ. The faithful minister, the man who accurately handles the word of truth knows this and preaches the truth knowing that it is his responsibility to plant seeds and water them. And he rests upon God for the results knowing that it is God and God alone who brings the increase.
It is like comparing watering the lawn to a good rainstorm. You may get some growth by daily watering and fertilizing and such. But it is nothing like what happens when God opens the windows of heaven and pours out the blessing of rain. Suddenly sluggish plants spring to life, grass grows, flowers bloom. We cannot do what God does. He is the life giver. When He opens the door, men come to Jesus. When He closes the door, no one can open it. All the man-made evangelistic techniques avail nothing. Here is the sovereignty of God over His creation. (De 32:39) ‘See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.
The church of Philadelphia exists because of the grace of God. They knew this and rested upon Him for all that pertains to life and godliness. Jesus commended them, “because you have a little power,” This Church understood that it had “but little strength”: that is humanly speaking. And so it relied upon God to unbare His mighty arm and show forth His wonders. In this way the Lord Jesus Christ was glorified as the power of God was at work to will and to do of His good pleasure. In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul spoke of the thorn that had been placed in his flesh and he had been lamenting his lack of strength because of this “messenger of Satan.” But God told him to rest in His strength.
We read in (2Co 12:9) “And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. He declared, “When I am weak, I am strong” the idea being, when we are stripped of all of our self sufficiency, we rest upon God more fully, are more dependent upon Him. This church exemplified this understanding. Now again I ask you: whose strength are you resting in? Are you trusting in man, in human intelligence, in your own “wisdom”? Remember Nebuchadnezzar! One moment he was strutting around the roof of his palace talking about how wonderful he was. The next moment he was out in the field, eating grass and mooing with the oxen.
Human wisdom and strength only get you so far. And then you are headed for a fall. Beware of trusting in man, of making flesh your strength: for when you do so, your heart will turn away from God and you will fall under the curse of God. Apart from Him we can do nothing! Remember that as you walk through this world of sin. Remember that apart from Him you are lost, wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Be inspired by the church of Philadelphia to grow in holiness, in faithfulness and trust in Jesus! They rested in God and trusted in His strength. Remember the testimony of Christian as he passed through the valley of the shadow of death. The sights and sounds were awful. The demons were whispering in his ear and tormenting him greatly.
“About the midst of this valley I perceived the mouth of hell to be; and it stood also hard by the wayside. Now, thought CHRISTIAN, what shall I do? And ever and anon the flame and smoke would come out in such abundance, with sparks and hideous noises (things that cared not for CHRISTIAN’s sword, as did APOLLYON before), that he was forced to put up his sword, and betake himself to another weapon, called “All Prayer” (Eph 6:18). So he cried in my hearing, “O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul!” (Ps 116:4). Thus he went on a great while; yet still the flames would be reaching toward him. Also he heard doleful voices and rushings to and fro; so that sometimes he thought he should be torn in pieces, or trodden down like mire in the streets.
This frightful sight was seen, and these dreadful noises were heard, by him for several miles together; and coming to a place where he thought he heard a company of fiends coming forward to meet him, he stopped, and began to muse what he had best to do. Sometimes he had half a thought to go back; then again he thought he might be halfway through the valley. He remembered also how he had already vanquished many a danger, and that the danger of going back might be much more than for to go forward: so he resolved to go on. Yet the fiends seemed to come nearer and nearer. But when they were come even almost at him, he cried out with a most vehement voice, “I will walk in the strength of the Lord God”; so they gave back, and came no farther.” Remember this and do likewise.
Not only are these brethren resting in the strength of God but He says and (you) have kept My word, that means they held fast to it. They lived by the word of God, ordered their lives by it and relied upon it for strength and their daily bread. Some would say, “That’s just not practical in the 21st Century. Society is too sophisticated for such outdated stuff like that.” Ah but doesn’t the word say that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He has the wisdom of the ages. Remember that there is nothing new under the sun. Jesus has declared the end from the beginning and things that have not been done stating that His purposes will come to pass.
Everything that we see and know in our “modern world” was designed by God our Father. He planned the end from the beginning. (Ro 11:36) “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” If you are looking for truth, for hope, for direction there is only one place to turn, to the Law and to the Testimony: the Word of God. There in that holy treasure chest you will find such things that are infinitely more valuable than gold or silver or any of the things that man so highly praises. The treasures that are contained in His book will not rust, no moth can corrupt and no thief can break in and steal.
Here is a place to rest, a solid rock of truth on which to anchor your soul. Jesus Christ, the Word of God has spoken to us from the very throne of Heaven. He has declared mysteries and revealed truths that are hidden from the eyes of the natural man. Trust Him! Follow Him! Be faithful to Him. Remember the words of encouragement from Jesus to His faithful ones in Smyrna. He said (Re 2:10) ‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Remember that in this world you will have tribulation and that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Jesus says, “Behold, the devil the prowling lion who seeks to devour his adversaries, is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. It may seem as if a company of fiends are rushing upon you. You may think that APOLLYON is standing on top of you shouting, “Now I am sure of your!” But remember that you are on the Kings Highway and that He is with you always, even to the end of the age. And with this knowledge go in the strength of the Lord. Listen to what He says here: Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
From (Mt 10:22) we have these words of truth and encouragement. Jesus says “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end it is His faithful ones, who have a little strength, who have kept His word and who have not denied His name who will be saved. You have faith. Everyone does. Everyone trusts in something. What you need to ask yourselves is: what is my faith in? What am I trusting in? Your house is build either on The Solid Rock or it is built on sand. When Jesus returns will He find you faithful?
Will you rejoice at His return or will you be looking for a place to hide! Will you be like Peter who dove headfirst out of the boat just to be with Jesus? Or will you deny Him before men and try to run away. Will you sing praises to the God of your salvation or will you be wailing and crying out, “Woe is me for I am undone!” My prayer is that Christian’s confession will be yours, that you walk in the strength of the Lord God, that you have a little strength, have kept His word and not denied His name.