When I was a kid, I was regularly in the holiday plays my family church would put on. One year, I played an elderly woman who was the director or something of a community organization or a church. While I don’t fully remember my character’s role, I do remember that she had a little (stuffed animal) dog that was carried in a basket. The sound techs would occasionally make the dog bark. I remember one of my lines in reference to the dog was, “she’s tiny, but mighty!”
What does this have to do with the churches in Revelation? This line in that play so long ago reminds me of God’s workings in the church of Philadelphia: tiny, but mighty.
Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia.
This is the message from the one who is holy and true, thr one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open:
I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue–those liars who say they are Jews but are not–to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.
Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in thr city of my God–the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.
Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.
Jesus said the church of Philadelphia was weak. They didn’t have a lot of power. They were a poor people. They may have been small in number. This doesn’t sound overly encouraging, yet they were the second of only two churches whom Jesus did not rebuke. He loved them in their weakness.
Right now I feel small. I feel weak. It seems as if the whole world is crashing around me and I feel like the most insignificant person on the planet. I want to do something to make a difference for Christ. But what can I do? I can obey him. If you scoffed reading that, it’s okay; I did too initially. What difference does obedience make? It makes the biggest difference and the church of Philadelphia understood this.
Radical obedience to the word of God is what we as disciples are called to do. Our strength doesn’t matter. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul tells us that God’s power is make perfect in our weaknesses. God has always had a way of using the most lowly people to get His work done. King Davis was a shepard boy, Matthew was a tax collector, and Peter was a fisherman. Even in modern history the people who made a difference weren’t necessarily great people; they were obedient people. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie ten Boom, two people who made a huge impact in nazi Germany, didn’t have special powers or were particularly great. They were simply obedient. We see God’s might better when the people he uses are tiny. He needs us only to obey Him.
Continued obedience is rewarded in eternity. Jesus told the church to hold to what they have and they would receive their crown, citizenship in heaven, and a new name. Even if we never see the fruit of our obedience played out in a humanly visible standard in this life, we can take heart that clinging to Jesus and His words will have an eternal impact. While our salvation is not won by works, in the book of James we do see that works is the evidence for a true faith. Obedience to the holy scripture, no matter how small or insignificant it seems, will always please the heart of the Father and will never go without an impact in this life or the next.
While I don’t want to get into whether or not the rapture will happen pre or post tribulation, I will mention it briefly as may take part of this passage to mean that Jesus will save Christians from the tribulation. Tribulation or just Christian persecution, we need to understand that we as Christians will suffer. Jesus isn’t necessarily promising to save the obedient from persecution. Protecting from the testing may mean that we may not die from it or simply that He will be there for us through it. We need to accept that the promises of God are not the promises of health and wealth that we see in the prosperity gospel. Jesus says they hated Him so they will hate us too (John 15:18-25). During and after Revelation was written, Christians were being persecuted and martyred throughout the Roman empire. Likely this included some of the church of Philadelphia. While we may in fact be spared from the horrors of the tribulation, let our hope not be in avoiding suffering but in Christ alone. We should expect trouble in this world. But take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. (John 16:33)
When you are feeling small and overwhelmed by the happenings in the world thinking that you cannot make a difference, remember the church of Philadelphia. Remember that you can be weak yet obedient to the Word. Remember that your size or strength does not matter to the Creator of the universe. Your obedience is what matters. Never underestimate what a mighty God can do through a tiny human’s obedience.