Revelation 3:8 ESV
“I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
Out of the seven great churches of the first generation- only two were perfect. One of those was poor and suffering and this one was small. Not exactly what we think of when we consider God doing great things. After all, Abraham was rich, David killed a giant, Solomon was the wealthiest/wisest ever, Elijah stopped the rain and Jesus… well, the story is too great to summarize. Yet, in the end of John’s life, the two best churches of the day were either poor and suffering or small.
I like winning. I like to succeed. When I ask a clerk if their store has something I want, I like the answer to be yes. Always. I don’t find the idea of little power commendable.
And this is where we can miss Jesus’ most important message. He didn’t say “you have kept my word and have not denied my name because you are small.” Did. Not. But… this is what we sometimes hear. While Jesus is emphasizing keeping the faith we focus on the scale of influence. None of this would matter except when we glorify living lives of small influence it seems we think we are doing God a favor.
Poor lives, suffering families and little churches are not better at keeping the word of God. There is nothing causal being mentioned here. They weren’t commended because they were small. They were commended because they maintained their faith- even though they were small. Think about it, Jesus was madly popular (Mk 2:4). Paul turned entire cities upside down (Acts 17:6). Would any of us suggest God’s Son didn’t keep the faith? This little church pleased God simply because they kept His word.
Whether in riches or poverty- our goal is always to please God (Ph 4:12-13).
If you can’t keep God’s word in abundance- opt for less. If you can’t keep God’s word among fame- withdraw from the pace of popularity. Faithfulness is the bigger point of our text.
And this is where the command becomes work.
If winning subverts the Gospel, we will many times choose winning (Mt 19:24, 1 Tim 6:9). If relationships force us to ignore the Gospel, we will many times choose our friends. Our spirit wants to serve Jesus but our flesh wants to win. Our flesh wants fame. Now, this isn’t always a conflict, but sometimes it is.
The other day, I’m avoiding the middle school car line by dropping my son off at a non-sanctioned crosswalk. Lazy indeed. However, as I’m getting ready to pull away a ridiculously long Lincoln pulls in front of me, scares a few pedestrians and reverses only inches away from my bumper. I don’t judge because my driving is less than average as well. I wait for a second, but the second becomes too long and I drive around her. I notice she is yelling at me so I give her… a big smile and keep driving. Moments later she comes flying up behind me and stays on my bumper until the stop sign where we find ourselves in that awkward space of being stuck together. No more yelling. Because my Jeep is a soft-top I can hear her radio and because I’m great at Name that Tune I realize she’s listening to Natalie Grant’s Your Great Name. This is her hype song? Totally. Sadly, I’ve behaved just as badly with Jesus music playing in the background.
We don’t always do so well under the observation of God. Our heart wants to do the right thing but sometimes our flesh just can’t stand. We don’t want money to drive how we manage our households but sometimes our flesh just can’t stand. We don’t want our emotions to influence our relationships but sometimes our flesh just can’t stand.
But we must learn to stand.
Though our modern Gospel exposition suggests serving Jesus is easy- the proverbial door promises otherwise (Lk 13:24). Jesus reminds the Philadelphian church about the door. God opens the door no one can shut but we muster the strength to walk through it.
The Apostle Paul spoke of two doors to the Corinthians. One he actually walked through (1 Cor 16:9) and the other he didn’t (2 Cor 2:12-13). Both doors were opened by Jesus. No one could shut either door so why didn’t Paul walk through the second door? Actually, for the same reasons many of us don’t. The second door was opened in the midst of personal conflict. Paul couldn’t satisfy his own concerns and walk through the second door. Anxiety won. Just because Jesus opens the door doesn’t mean we will walk through it. Sometimes the doorway isn’t wide enough to carry our junk through so we keep our stuff and avoid the door. The door isn’t the problem. God’s grace is always sufficient but sometimes our measure of faith is not.
Grace without faith illustrates the goodness of God among our unique stubbornness. Regardless of how good God is or how perfect His plan is for our lives, we still must choose to walk in his goodness (Eph 2:10).
The door is open if we can find it. The only message needed by this church was awareness of the door. It’s easy to get lost in the lack of scale and think there is also no opportunity. It’s easy to get lost in losing and lost in failing and lose hope. However, faith must remain no matter what. We must constantly be reminded that no spiritual labor is ever in vain (1Cor 15:58).
And that is the point.
We must look past failure- marriage, friends, family, whatever. We must look past losing- careers, teams, investments, whatever. We must look to Jesus (He 12:2). Are we keeping His word and His Name? This is how we win. Eventually. In the face of obstacles and scale- is your faith growing? Do you have more faith in Jesus than ever?
In the face of little power, the church at Philadelphia was strong.