The letter to the church in Philadelphia contrasts heavily with the previous letter to the church in Sardis. To the church in Sardis, God wrote a harsh letter filled with rebukes and very little compliments. However, in this letter today there are no rebukes but rather a lot of praise. The church in Philadelphia was a small church – they did not have great buildings, strong financials, or many attendants, but they were obedient to the Word of God. God protected them and God opened doors for them. On the outside, this church in Philadelphia may not seem to fit what we think a “successful church” looks like, but let us take some time to meditate on what kind of church they truly were. For in the eyes of God, they were a great church – accepted before Him and an example to others. So what is the key to the uniqueness and the beauty of this small church? Well it is in their obedience to the Word of God.
We can see it mentioned twice in this passage:
Verse 8b – “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
Verse 10 – “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”
God told the church in Philadelphia that He has opened a door for them that no one will be able to shut. It is a blessing and proof of God’s presence in this seemingly “weak church”. But what is the “open door”?
1. The open door is the door of salvation that Christ has opened and that no one can shut. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Though this gate is narrow, God has opened it. God has promised that through his church in Philadelphia, many would enter the narrow gate and be saved. They will experience the narrow reality of this door but through their obedience will bring many people across.
2. The second meaning of the ‘open door’ can be understood as being given the opportunity to preach the gospel. We can see from 1 Corinthians 16:9 that although Paul faced many difficulties, God was with him and blessed his work – “a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” This same door of opportunity was opened by God to the church in Philadelphia, and they used it faithfully to preach the gospel. Amidst difficulties and persecution, God continued to open the door, providing more and more opportunities for the church in Philadelphia to testify in the name of Jesus Christ. They were never defeated, but rather grew in faith and witness. Today when we look at history, we often see that the more the church is persecuted, the more it will grow. However, Jesus reminds us that this door of opportunity may not be open to us forever – take for example, the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. From there we see the authority and power of our God – that not only is He the only one who can open the doors, but Heis the one who holds the key to those doors. Verse 7 says that ‘the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens…” If that door symbolises the opportunity to preach the gospel, and the key symbolises authority to open and close the door, then the one who holds the key is none other than Christ Jesus.
Let us use this door that has been opened to us – not relying on our own strength but depending on the One who has the key to open and shut the door. Like the church in Philadelphia let us be faithful and obedient to God’s Word in everything we do in our lives. Let us hold fast to His Word – going beyond learning and studying, but rejoicing in His Word, meditating upon it day and night. As Psalm 1:2 says – “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”