Insight #12 March 19, 2016
First Quarter 2016 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"The Church Militant"
March 19, 2016
(Church of Philadelphia)
The following is an adaptation of an article on the church of Philadelphia from the Berean Biblegroup. We begin by reading the verse in the NKJV of Revelation 3:7-8.
"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens: I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name."
Adventists believe that there are two applications and, or audiences to whom the epistles of the Seven Churches were written. They are written to: 1) seven literal, first-century churches in Asia Minor; and regarding, 2) seven historical church eras. In each letter, Christ gives the admonition, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The seven letters represent either the attitudes or conditions of the leadership, as well as the organizational units and periods of each church body.
We read in verse 8, that Jesus Christ told the Philadelphians that they had only a little strength, a little power (dunamis). They had a small capability for wonderful works and mighty deeds, and a limited ability to get things done effectively. If they were dynamic, it was only on a small scale. The letter contains implications regarding the Philadelphian church that we may not have considered before.
Christ's statement that the Philadelphians have only a little strength is not necessarily a criticism. While the overall tenor of the letter is extremely positive, Christ is merely stating facts. The Philadelphians have only a small capability for miraculous work, a little physical or spiritual aptitude, and a small measure of effectiveness. Dunamis is not entirely lacking, but it is present in only a limited amount.
If we were to speak of the 'The Philadelphian' church as a person, then by the above account, the Philadelphian would probably not be the one healing people when his shadow passes by, such as one of the apostles did. Nor would he be the one moving mountains, prophesying of future events, or speaking in unfamiliar languages. He may not even have great speaking ability or a dynamic personality. This is not to say that power and effectiveness are entirely lacking, just that the Philadelphian would probably not have the same dramatic outworking we observe in other biblical figures.
Why is there only a small amount of dunamis? From the rest of the letter to Philadelphia, it does not appear that the low level of dunamis is due to any great failing or negligence in duties to God. On the contrary, the letter is a commendation because of faithfulness. A look at the Parable of the Talents can give us insight--
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey" (Matthew 25:14-15).
The word ability in verse 15 is also dunamis. These verses affirm that 1) talents are given by God, and 2) apparently the bestowing of talents depends somewhat on the capability the person already possesses.
Perhaps part of the reason the Philadelphian does not have much dunamis, as viewed through this parable, is that God did not give Philadelphia many talents. Remember, if God has ordained that something be done, He will supply the power for it to be accomplished. If He has not given that power, it may be because it is His will that it not be accomplished. Along the same lines, it is interesting to note that Christ Himself was limited in the works—dunamis—He could perform because of the unbelief in some areas (Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:5-6)! XXX
The two faithful servants doubled what was given to them, while the unfaithful servant produced nothing at all. Although the amounts were not as important as the growth, both faithful servants gave Christ a 100% increase on what He bestowed to them.
In this example, we can see the Philadelphian as the servant who received only two talents rather than five. It is possible that he did not possess the same natural ability as the one who received the five. However, even though he had fewer responsibilities, and the scope of what he stewarded was smaller, he was considered just as faithful. The Philadelphian may have had only a little ability, but with that ability he was able to keep God's word and not deny His name according to Revelation 3:8. His power enabled him to keep God's command to persevere (verse 10).
God was pleased with the Philadelphian church. We know from Hebrews 11: 6, that "Without faith it is impossible to please Him." The first two servants in the parable pleased God, therefore it can be said they had faith. Thus, we can conclude that Philadelphia did indeed exercise faith. But, as we peruse the letter further, we will see that the last church of the seven, Laodicea, does not have faith. In contrast to the church at Philadelphia, the Lord is so displeased with Laodicea that it makes Him sick to His stomach. He is so nauseated, that He feels like throwing up. Laodicea is as unfaithful as the one talent servant. Yet she considers herself rich in talents, knowledge and gifts.
The scripture says, to whom much is given much is required. And Christ said to the people of His day that the Ninevites would stand against that generation in the judgment. Why? It is because Nineveh had faith in the word of the prophet Jonah, while One greater than Jonah spoke to His own people, the Jews, and they received Him not. Philadelphia was given little, in contrast, Laodicea has been given much.
In 1893, Ellen White indicated that those who had resisted the 1888 message, and later repented, accepted the counsel of the Lord to Laodicea (1 MR 349). Conversely, those who ultimately rejected the 1888 message were guilty of rejecting the counsel of the Lord to the Laodicean church. When we read the last verses of Revelation chapter 3 we see that the Lord has not given up on Laodicea, but is chastening and rebuking her out of His deep love and desire to save her. There is hope that she will finally repent of her self-serving ways. Meanwhile, the Lord waits for that day to come. How long will we continue to disappoint Him?