Jesus said the Philadelphians were doing well, “because you have a little power, have kept my word, and have not denied my name” (Rev. 3:8b).
What does it mean to have little power? A church with little power is a small or weak church. The Philadelphians weren’t anything special. They lacked the resources of their Laodicean neighbors, and they didn’t have the reputation of the Sardians. Like David, the shepherd boy, they were of little account in the eyes of man. But weakness is no barrier to God. If anything, it’s an advantage because God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27).
A God who shares the stage with no one seems to delight in choosing the least qualified and the most unlikely. When he needed a man to lead Israel against the Midianites, he chose chicken-hearted Gideon. When he needed a herald for the gospel of grace, he chose law-loving Saul. And when he needed a father of many nations, he chose grey-haired Abram. In the economy of grace, the weak and unqualified seem to have the inside track.
If you were to tour the churches of Asia, you might be dazzled by the energetic Ephesians, the affluent Laodiceans, and the spiritual Sardians. And you might be tempted to dismiss the small Philadelphian church as inconsequential.
But Philadelphia was where the action was. Jesus had given this little church an open door that no one could shut. What a wonderful encouragement for those of us who think we have nothing to offer.
You may have no money, no reputation, no ability, no connections, no education, and no chance, but as long as you have the Lord, you have everything you need. You may have no power, but the Lord-with-the-key (see Rev. 3:7) has given you authority over all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19).
How had they kept his word? They believed Jesus and took him at his word.
What made the Philadelphians special was this: They were believing believers who were persuaded that the Lord is good and trustworthy. This is the only clue to their commendation. Nothing else is recorded. Search the letter to the Philadelphians and you will not find seven steps to success, or twelve strategies for church outreach. The Philadelphians simply believed Jesus, and that made all the difference.
The question to ask is not why the Philadelphians had an open door, but why some of the other churches weren’t as fruitful. The answer is they were captive to unbelief. They put little stock in the grace of God.
The Ephesians’ unbelief was evident in the way they were working themselves to death. The Sardians’ unbelief was in their refusal to receive the gospel. And the Laodiceans’ unbelief was in their boast that they needed nothing from God. Unbelief takes many forms and not even believers, strangely, are immune from its insidious effects.
Extracted from Letters from Jesus, a finalist at this year’s International Book Awards.