The message to the church in Philadelphia is set in the context of a message from Christ to seven churches (Revelation 2-3). Yet it is only the church in Philadelphia for whom Christ is opening a door. I take it that this door is open so the Philadelphia church can be dynamically engaged in mission beyond the local congregation. What are the characteristics of this church that leads Christ to open a door for these believers to be involved in fruitful mission? And who is this One who claims authority to open and close doors?
The One who opens the door “holds the key of David!” Now David had served as Israel’s king over a thousand years before Revelation was written. However, God had promised through the Prophet Nathan that a son from David’s live will initiate a righteous kingdom that will never end. Jesus is the fulfillment of that prophecy, for Jesus is from David’s line. He is the “seed” of David. So it is Jesus who has the authority to open the door. I will highlight eight qualities that characterize the church in Philadelphia; these qualities have qualified that church to have open doors for fruitful mission.
First, the name of the church, Philadelphia, is significant. The named means brotherly love. Jesus opens doors for churches that love their fellow believers as well as love those among whom they serve. Several years ago I was invited by the Muslim Student Association in England to have six dialogues with Muslims in the United Kingdom. I asked them why they were inviting me.
They replied, “Because you love and respect us Muslims!” Truly brotherly love enables Jesus to open the door. When we do not have love the work of the Holy Spirit is restricted. Our ministry is without fruit when it is devoid of love.
Second, this church does good deeds. I often visit societies that are predominantly Muslim. I am always amazed at the wide variety of good deeds believers in Jesus are involved in such as literacy, orphan care, ministry to refugees, sports programs for youth, or peacemaking.
Third, this church has little strength. Islam is a strong religion. If we attack Muslims or their beliefs, we can expect acts of retribution. But a church of little strength has no power to attack in any way. Our relationship must depend only upon cultivating good will. The way of the cross is considered foolishness by the world, but the weakness of the cross is the power of God.
Fourth, the Philadelphia church keeps the word of God. To have faith that is centered in Biblical revelation opens doors among Muslims. This is because the Qur’an has such a high respect for the Bible. Christians are referred to with appreciation as “the People of the Book.” To be a person of the book quite frequently will open doors among Muslims, and others as well.
Fifth, the church of Philadelphia does not deny the name of Jesus. My Muslim hosts for the dialogues in the United Kingdom added a second reason for inviting me beyond stating that they appreciate that I respect them. They added, “You are committed to Jesus Christ and believe the Gospel!” Confessing faith in Jesus opens doors.
Sixth, this church keeps the command of Jesus. The passage specifically refers to the command of Jesus to endure. It also means a commitment to obeying all the commands of Jesus. Sermon on the Mount Christians are a “good news” surprise. Most religions do not find much surprising in the Ten Commandments. But the Sermon on the Mount! That opens doors.
Seventh, these Christians are quite ready to accept suffering for the sake of Jesus. Believers in settings where Christians are suffering and even being killed for their faith tell me, “When we stop being afraid of death, then we can boldly witness of Jesus Christ.” That kind of commitment to fearless witness opens doors.
Eighth, the Church in Philadelphia endures patiently. It never gives up. Although the commitment might go on for many years with little evidence of response, this church in Philadelphia persists patiently awaiting God’s time for the harvest to become ripe.
This church in its mission commitment is clear about its identity. In fact Jesus gives the church its identity. He places upon the church the name of the new Jerusalem that comes down from God. The new Jerusalem is another name for the church. Their identity as believers in Jesus Christ is evident to all. In fact, even Jesus puts his own name on the church. So the church is recognized by everyone as a fellowship of believers who have been redeemed by Jesus and who are servants of God. The believers in this church are firm in their commitment. They are pillars in the house of God.
Jesus makes an amazing promise. Those who oppose the church and the Gospel will have their eyes opened to see that God is truly at work in the church and that God loves the church. These opponents of the church are deceived. They think they are doing the will of God. Many who oppose the church sincerely think they are doing the will of God, but they have missed the way.
A teenage girl told me that when she became a believer in Jesus her father beat her and put her out of the home. Only a dad who sincerely believes that he must do such a thing would ever do something like that.
Yet this young woman told me that now her father is coming to her and saying, “My daughter, teach me the way of the Lord!”
This is happening all over the world. The eyes of those who have opposed the church are open to recognize that these believers are loved and blest of God. Therefore! Remember that Jesus is coming soon! Redeem the time. Enter the open doors that Jesus has placed before us!
Jesus commands, “Hold onto what you have!”
Furthermore, “Listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying!”
Adapted and abbreviated from an essay first published in The Messenger (EMC).