7 Steps in the Christian Life, Part 5

The Bible is the most important book every written. It is, in spite of what the critics have said, the most rational book ever written. Between its covers is the collected wisdom of thousands of years, from all kinds of people, both sons of God and otherwise. I hate to quote from Abu Huraira, Muhammad’s good buddy, but his quote proves the point that there is wisdom all over the world.

The wise saying is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it then he has a right to it.

Well, the Bible is chock full of wise sayings, from many different cultures, from different eras, that belong to believers. It’s over-loaded with life-changing wisdom that, if a person is shrewd enough to apply to their own life, will change it for the better. Abraham Lincoln was convinced that without the Bible, man would not know wrong from right. Ronald Reagan believed that the Bible had the answers to any problem any man would ever face. But it was Dwight L. Moody who said it best:

The Bible was not given for your information but for your transformation.

Through all the years of your life, the Bible is there for you to guide you every step of the way. We’ve been looking at some of the steps in the Christian life. Every believer takes these steps, in roughly the same order. The first step we take is that of receiving Christ. At some point in your past, you came face to face with the reality that you were a sinner in need of saving, and you received Christ into your heart. God is calling all sinners to receive His Son, and though most won’t, hopefully you did. Following that, you confessed Christ to people around you. In other words, your life – by work or deed – witnessed to those who knew you that you were a changed person. Christ changes lives. A born again believer can’t hide that, even if he tried. The third step is a tough one. After receiving Christ, the Christian must remain in Him. That sounds easy, but it’s not. God will hold onto you, but you must remain connected to Christ, like a branch is connected to the vine. It’s a conscious decision every believer needs to make all the time. It doesn’t just happen. It takes effort to remain in Christ. But without Christ, you can’t do anything or accomplish anything of lasting value. Another step is to follow Christ. Literally, according to Luke 9:23, we need to be “fused” to Christ; so close to Him that we follow as though we were His shadow.

The next step is found in the last book of the Bible, so it will be easy for you find.

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (Revelation 3:10 | TNIV)

To “endure patiently” was the command our Lord gave to church at Philadelphia. And it’s also the fifth step in the Christian life.

What we call the “book” of Revelation is really a long letter that was written to seven churches, of which the Philadelphian church was one. The letter was written by John and most of it details a revelation of Jesus Christ; that is, a revelation that God the Father showed His Son, who in turn showed it to an angel, who showed it John, who wrote it all down as best he could and sent it in a letter to the seven churches.

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1, 2 | TNIV)

Each of the seven churches is addressed personally in chapters 2 and 3, with the revelation detailed in the remainder of the letter. The revelation is really a vision of the future of the world from just after the Church Age to the Second Coming of Christ and beyond. You might wonder why Jesus needed to be showed these things. Well, He knew some of them already. In the Gospels, Jesus spoke extensively about the time of the Tribulation, that period of seven years just before His return. But Jesus said something interesting that explains why the Father needed to show Him the revelation:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matthew 24:36 | TNIV)

For reasons known only to God the Father, His Son knew about the events of the Tribulation, but not when He was to come back. So God showed Him in graphic detail the events of His coming and He showed the angel, and the angel showed John and John wrote it a letter. God doesn’t want anybody to be in the dark about the future.

7 Churches that needed to be encouraged

If you read John’s personal memo to each of the seven churches in Asia, you’d see a common theme which is addressed in the key verse of this section:

To those who are victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21 | TNIV)

That’s Jesus’ big word of encouragement to the churches. Even though they all had problems, they were all victorious because He was victorious. The idea that believers are victorious conquerors is addressed by Paul in one of the most famous passages he ever wrote:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37 – 39 | TNIV)

Who are the victorious conquerors? Believers and churches that put their full faith in the risen Christ. Victory is guaranteed, but not all believers are conquerors. It’s up to individual believers to latch onto Christ’s victory and make it theirs, by faith. Jesus wasn’t victorious until He did His work on the Cross. Sadly, many believers don’t want to do what it takes to overcome the world around them. Of the seven churches John wrote to, exactly none of them would be victorious. They all, without exception, were swallowed up in the mists of time; vanishing without a trace. We get the slightest inkling of a clue as to what happened to the churches in Asia in a passing reference Paul made in one of letters.

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15 | TNIV)

“Everyone in the province of Asia” must have included these seven churches of Revelation.

The city of brotherly love and the church there, Revelation 3:7 – 13

The fifth step in the Christian life, to endure patiently, was given to the church at Philadelphia. Let’s take a look at what was going on in that city of brotherly love when John wrote his letter.

The city of Philadelphia was located some 30 miles southwest of Sardis and was named after its founder, Attalus II, also known as Philadelphus. Earthquakes were not uncommon in that area and the whole city was destroyed in 17 AD, along with Sardis and many other cities in area. Fear of another quake kept people from living in Philadelphia, even during John’s day, so it wasn’t a huge metropolis. The city was relatively small, as was the church. The major false religion practiced in Philadelphia was the worship of Dionysus, but John seems to indicate that the major opposition to the church came from the Jews, not the pagans. John wasn’t the only follower of Christ to write to the church at Philadelphia concerning this. Just a handful of years later, Ignatius of Antioch would write this warning:

But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who had been a Jew, than to Judaism from one who never was. But if either of such persons do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchers of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men.

This gives a clue as to what became of this little church. More on that in a moment, but for now, Jesus pays them a distinct honor.

I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:8 | TNIV)

The Lord had referred to Himself as the one who opens doors no one can shut. This small congregation had apparently seen the open door and taken advantage of it. They were faithful servants of Christ in a pagan/Jewish city and in spite of opposition, never once denied the name of Jesus. Woodrow Kroll referred to this little church as “the Chapel of Opportunity,” because in spite of their size, the Philadelphian church reached out through that open door to the lost around them in a powerful spirit of evangelism. To this church, our Lord made this astounding promise:

I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. (Revelation. 3:9 | TNIV)

That’s quite a promise! Their efforts at evangelism – witnessing to the lost around them – would have a mighty breakthrough in the near future. People worshiping the false gods in the “synagogues of Satan” would accept the Gospel of Christ. The challenge to members of the church was to continually point to Christ.

In the few sentences devoted to Philadelphia, we can see some important aspects of evangelism. Ever wonder how the church – be it the church in Philadelphia or your own church – should approach the idea of winning lost souls? Well, the first thing we should notice is that it is Jesus who provides opportunities for soul winning. He opens the doors and He also shuts the doors. He holds the key. In other words, if you or your church wants to be effective evangelists for the kingdom of God, then you need to understand that Jesus is the One you need to trust to lead you in the right direction. In the pagan city of Philadelphia, doors were miraculously opened up for the believers to witness to members of the synagogue of Satan.

That first thing is what Jesus does for us. The next four things are things we as believers and church members need to be doing ourselves. Secondly, we are to be steadfastly loyal to our Lord. Regardless of what’s happening around us, our devotion and commitment to Jesus and the Gospel are non-negotiable. Thirdly, we can’t be shy about our loyalty to Jesus. We can’t proclaim our fidelity to Him on Sunday but then ignore Him the rest of the week, or worse, deny Him! Fourthly, love is all-important. If you love the lost, you’ll want to reach out to them and tell the Good News of the Gospel. You should even love members of the Synagogue of Satan and want to share the love of Christ with them. And lastly, we are not to limit our witness to people we “think” may respond; every lost soul is deserving of our efforts. Who would imagine that members of the dreadful synagogue of Satan would be running into the church acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ? Somebody had to plant the seeds in their minds.

No wonder our Lord encouraged the members of this little church to endure patiently. It’s not easy sharing the Gospel with the lost. Most of the time we’ll face rejection. Or worse. But endurance is essential. During His earthly ministry, Jesus offered a similar teaching:

Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.” (Luke 12:35 – 37 | TNIV)

Did this “little Chapel of Opportunity” endure patiently? It seems not. They were struggling a few years after John wrote them, and they had abandoned Paul in his hour of need. It seems to be a familiar story. A believer starts off strong but fades later on. This fifth step is a tough one. It’s not easy to “endure patiently.” But if we do, the rewards are nothing less than stunning.

Those who are victorious I will make pillars in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. (Revelation 3:12 | TNIV)

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