At times we may find it difficult to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Challenges to our faith can stem from things within us, such as fears, memories, and unholy desires. They can stem also from things around us, such as opinions of friends or family, cultural values that tempt, and other beliefs or philosophies. From within and without, we may experience stresses that threaten to degrade, damage, or even imperil our life in Jesus.
Late in the first century A.D., in the Roman province of Asia (now western Turkey), the Christian community in Philadelphia must have experienced similar challenges and stresses. Like the other six churches addressed in the Revelation to John, this church existed in a significant city in that province. Many realities of life in Philadelphia – for example, economics, politics, diverse religious beliefs and practices, and public opinion – undoubtedly tempted individuals and the community to neglect, compromise, or even repudiate their belief in and commitment to Jesus. Indeed, in today’s passage, we find the church in Philadelphia characterized as having little strength.
How tender, then, the encouragement conveyed in this letter to the Christians in Philadelphia! This encouragement grounded in two realities. One reality consists of God’s sovereignty. Despite forces to the contrary – and Revelation vividly pictured considerable forces contrary to God! – God is forging history toward his end. And that end, as seen in the last pages of Revelation, is glorious beyond our imagining! The other reality consists of God’s love in Jesus. In Jesus, God supremely gave of himself to love the world. This God was committed to the Philadelphian Christians. In Jesus, God continues to commit himself in love.
How encouraged the Philadelphian Christians must have been by the reminder of God’s sovereignty and love! Despite having little strength, they remained steadfast in belief and commitment. Indeed, they were commended for keeping God’s word and standing for Jesus against pressures to compromise or deny their faith.
No matter the time in our life, or the particular circumstances, whether we feel strong in faith or weak, may we too be encouraged to steadfast belief and commitment by the reminder of God’s sovereignty and love. May we grow in keeping God’s word and standing for Jesus against realities within us and around us that could degrade, damage, or imperil our life in Jesus. For God, in power and love, has glory in store for the world!