One of the finest speeches ever given by an American president was given on June 26, 1963 in West Berlin.
Less than two years earlier, East Germany had erected the infamous Berlin Wall, which had become a profound international symbol of the great divide between those who were free and those who were under the yoke of communism.
Standing on the steps of the Rathaus Schoenberg before an audience of 450,000 Berliners, President John F. Kennedy said:
“Two thousand years ago, the proudest pride was civis romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest pride is Ich bin ein Berliner!… All free men, wherever they live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man , I am proud of the words: “Ich bin a Berliner!”
The sixth letter of Jesus to the churches in the book of Revelation is addressed to the Church of Philadelphia – Philadelphia, which means “Brotherly Love”. (Revelation 3:7-13).
Our Lord does not even offer a hint of rebuke to this church. He has nothing but praise for them. Therefore, Christians everywhere committed to being the body of Christ in the world might take pleasure in saying, “I want to be a Philadelphian clergyman.
Every church should be like the church in Philadelphia because it was a very loving church. She was firmly committed to doctrinal purity and a godly life, but unlike the Church of Ephesus, she was not cold, legalistic, or insufficiently caring. He found that essential balance between sticking to biblical truth and acting with a charitable disposition.
American minister and writer Sherwood Eliot Wirt once said, “I have learned that it is useless to talk about churches strong and weak, churches big and small. Such categories are unrealistic and irrelevant. There is only a loving church or a loveless church.
The apostle Paul said he could give all he had to the poor and could offer his own body to be burned at the stake, but if there was no love in his heart, he would not would still not be a true Christian – all he did in Christ his name would be no more than “a loud gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1-3).
Many years ago, after returning home from a long journey, my parents told me of a remarkable experience. They said that at one point during their trip they got hungry and decided to stop at a restaurant which turned out to be very busy. All the tables were full and there was nowhere to sit. Seeing their predicament, a deputy sheriff sitting alone at a table invited them to join him at his table.
Somehow, my parents said, the conversation turned to matters of faith and the deputy began to share a fantastic story. He said many of his family members, who are devout Christians, repeatedly asked him to go to church with them. He always avoided getting out of it and sometimes just boldly refused. Over time, he began to resent them for asking.
Nevertheless, they asked him again when the revival services were held in the fall of the year. This time, he said he had accepted their invitation, but with a plan to stop them asking him to go to church again.
Before leaving for services, he drank whiskey so that the smell of alcohol was heavy on his breath. Then he sprayed it on himself a little as if he were using eau de cologne. No doubt, he thought, reeking of alcohol and perceived as drunk, he would embarrass his family in front of the whole church and never be invited again.
To his surprise, however, he received the opposite response from everyone. His family was thrilled to have him with them, and the church overwhelmed him with grace and love. So moved by their true affections, he said he couldn’t resist giving his life to Christ.
Jesus said the Church in Philadelphia had “little strength” (v. 8). In other words, they were flimsy, but they were fabulous. They weren’t a large congregation and probably didn’t have many members. They weren’t stylish. Yet Jesus said he found them faithful.
Do you know how Christ defines a successful church? Success is not determined in terms of offerings, the size of its membership lists, the status of the community, or the scholarship of the pastor. Indeed, this is how many define an exceptional church. But real success is determined primarily by one standard – loyalty. Scripture says, “Now it is required that those entrusted with trust be faithful” (I Corinthians 4:2). No institution in the whole world has been given greater confidence than the Church of Christ—that confidence is to keep His Word and to proclaim His name (v. 8).
My wife and I were married in a church with a sign in front of the sanctuary that said, “Know Him and Make Him Known.” This is a good description of the mission of the church. Inspired by the Church of Philadelphia, a similar sign could read: “To keep his word and proclaim his name. That’s what Philadelphia was fully committed to doing.
Jesus also said that he had put an “open door” in front of this church that “no one could shut”. When God’s people are faithful, revival breaks out with new opportunities for evangelism and other missionary endeavors that advance the kingdom of God. If Christian love comes with hearts contrite with sin, a cool wind from God rushes into his house, washing away the decaying smells of Sardis and supplanting it with the sweet flavors of Philadelphia’s renewal.
I recently heard of a visiting minister who said he preached with extraordinary energy in a revival meeting. Yet, at the end of more than several days of meetings, he said it seemed to have little effect on the church or the community.
“I learned the cause of the failure from the frustrated pastor who told me about a split between two prominent families in the church that he couldn’t heal,” the guest preacher said. “The two families went to church for years but refused to talk to each other.”
The churches today know almost nothing of a true revival experience. But if a sizable number of God’s children would plead repentantly, “Create in me a pure heart, O God; and renew in me a righteous spirit” (Psalm 51:10), they would see such a movement of God in their midst that it would probably produce goosebumps on the pews.
The revivals were characteristic of what is known as the Philadelphia period in Church history (1700-1900). This period was the greatest missionary era since the Church of Ephesus or the apostolic period. These tremendous moves of God – the Great Awakening – the revivals – the era of Wesley, Whitfield, Edwards, Finney and Moody resulted in the salvation of thousands and thousands of people and even had a profound impact on the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. These revivals came at a time when secular rationalism was being pushed forward and the appetite for the things of God was being harshly suppressed.
Finally, the Lord promises in his sixth letter to the Church of Philadelphia that He would return quickly and save them from the great Tribulation which would fall on the whole world and test those who are part of it (v. 10). ).
Some believe that this text has immediate application and probably refers to a worldwide crisis of empire, particularly the Roman Empire at this time, which affected both believers and unbelievers. But Christ promises to protect his faithful.
Others, however, like Clarence Larkin in his book, The Book of RevelationArgue:
“[T]his “Hour of Tribulation” must yet be future and undoubtedly refers to the “Great Tribulation” which is to come upon the “whole world” just before the return of the Lord to establish his Millennial Kingdom, and as the promise is that the ‘Philadelphia Church’ Won’t Go Through Tribulation, Isn’t That More Proof the Church Will Be ‘Caught Up’ [in the Rapture] before the Tribulation?
Whatever the correct interpretation, the message is clear – no matter how great the trials that beset believers, those who remain faithful to the Lord can always be assured that they are safe in Christ’s care.
Moreover, faithful followers of Christ are promised to become pillars in the temple of God, possessing esteemed positions of stability and support. God will write His name on them so that they will bear the mark of their benevolent master. Thus, allowing them access to the City of God, New Jerusalem, where they will also receive a new name that will allow them to see his face and serve him joyfully forever (v. 12).
The apostle Paul wrote, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
“Let him who has ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (v. 13).
Reverend Mark H. Creech is executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He served as a pastor for twenty years prior to this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York. .
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