Then he got to the kicker of his ministry that made him emotional. He told me how the bishop explained the impact of what he was doing. He said that there are many people who come to church seeking God who before hated God, didn’t believe in Him, and despised Church. But, because they see an American coming all the way around the world to their country, paying his own way, and giving them free dental care, many have changed hearts and are coming to church seeking God. The Lord is using the Minister of the Mouth to open a door halfway around the world in Uganda.
Philadelphia means “brotherly love”. The Church there was a faithful church. They were persevering in the face of persecution. Like Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira, Jesus acknowledged that the Philadelphians kept His word, didn’t deny His name and have endured patiently.
Something unique about this church is found in the words, “I know that you have little strength”. Is our Lord criticizing them? Is this a strike against the church? I don’t think it is. I don’t think this is a criticism because Jesus doesn’t have any criticism for this church at all. It’s the only other church besides Smyrna that does not receive any rebuke from the Lord.
So, what does “little strength” mean then? Well, most commentators think it indicates something about their size – not their spirituality. In other words, they were a small congregation. They were not strong in numbers. Maybe they were only big enough to fill someone’s living room or basement. Maybe they were still renting a gymnasium in a local elementary school.
If the church in Philadelphia was small in numbers, then perhaps this makes sense for us of what Jesus means when He says, “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.”
#1: Seize Opportunities to Serve (v7-8)
Jesus wants them to seize the opportunity to serve that He is giving them. Notice verse 8, “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” Many times in the NT the phrase “open door” means an opportunity to spread the Gospel to new areas. First Corinthians 16:8-9 says, “….” Second Corinthians 2:12 says, “….” Colossians 4:2-3 says, “….” And then Jesus says to the believers in Philadelphia, “I have opened a door for you”.
Jesus was enlarging the territory of their witness. They were going to come across new people in new opportunities to tell the Gospel. It’s like Christian radio stations broadcasting to closed countries so people can hear the Bible’s teachings. It’s like countries that are closed to missionaries somehow deciding to allow
Illustration: The Minister of the Mouth. My dentist goes to Uganda every other year to do medical missions. The people of Uganda call him the minister of the mouth. After flying almost 20 hours and then taking a 4 hour bus trip he begins his rigorous schedule which is basically treating more than 80 people a day from sun up to sundown. He was telling me that it is normal to have a crowd of several hundred people waiting outside his clinic every day. Everyone waited very patiently and no one fought to be ahead in line – there was no line. It’s not like American consumerism where its all about the customer. He told me one story where the bishop forced him to take a lunch and leave a little girl in the chair after he had just anesthetized her. Worried about leaving her the bishop said she’ll be fine and will be there when he gets back. And she was. A half hour later he came back and she hadn’t moved, and he said that as he walked through the crowd everyone started clapping and patting him on the back and asking him if he had a good lunch. Then he got to the kicker of his ministry that made him emotional. He told me how the bishop explained the impact of what he was doing. He said that there are many people who come to church seeking God who before hated God, didn’t believe in Him, and despised Church. But, because they see an American coming all the way around the world to their country, paying his own way, and giving them free dental care, many have changed hearts and are coming to church seeking God. The Lord is using the Minister of the Mouth to open a door halfway around the world in Uganda.
Now don’t miss what Jesus said: “I” have opened a door for you. This Church needed to see Who was giving them an open door. He says, “These are the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open.” These words, like so much in Revelation are very Jewish. Jesus was practically quoting word for word Isaiah 22. Turn to Isaiah 22 and lest read verse 15-24. In this scene there are 2 men in Israel: Shebna and Eliakim. Shebna is condemned and rejected by God for his disgraceful service and presumption of honor. Eliakim, however, is chosen by God to replace Shebna, and his career will be full of honor, authority and glory. Notice that verse 22 is word for word what Jesus quotes. Just like Eliakim’s career as the holder of David’s key was glorious, so the career of Jesus Christ on David’s throne would be absolutely glorious. Both passages convey that the one who holds David’s key has absolute, unchallenged authority. His decisions are final. Where He gives permission (open door) no one can prevent (shut that door).
He gave them an opportunity to serve that they didn’t have before, and He wants them to seize it. Did you know that? God pre-plans opportunities for us to serve and He wants us to jump at them when they come up. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared in advance for us to do.”
Perhaps what this meant for Philadelphia was that if they took advantage of this opportunity to spread the Gospel, it would result in their church growing. More lost would hear the Gospel from them and come to Christ and begin to grow their church in numbers. I say maybe that is what the Lord was getting at. I can tell you one thing for certain though, more opportunities to serve means the chance for more rewards from Christ. The Gentile churches seized the opportunity to help the Jewish churches in 2 Corinthians 8:3-4, “They gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” John the Apostle told some Christians who had seized opportunities to serve not to lose the reward they earned for doing so; in 2 John 8 he says, “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.” The Lord was putting in front of the Philadelphians an opportunity to earn an even bigger reward for the day they stood at His Judgment Seat.
Are we seizing opportunities to serve? Are we watching for the open doors in conversations with unbelievers to share the Gospel? If the Lord opens opportunities for us to help another brother or sister out in practical ways are we seizing it? Run through the doors opened up to you. Seize your opportunities to serve.