What the world calls successful is often not. At least not according to Jesus Christ.
Such was the case with the church at Philadelphia.
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
As far as the world was concerned, they were puny (“I know you have but little power”). As far as the Jews in the city (probably) thought, they were a weird, God-denying, spiritually lost cult since they followed Jesus as the Messiah (“I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not… come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you”).
But because this church had kept Jesus’ Word, had clung to Jesus rather than to the shifting winds of human strength or public perception, Jesus had no rebuke for them. The living, risen, King Jesus has nothing He feels compelled to call this church out on. Nothing to tell this collection of Christians to repent of.
And that’s pretty cool.
An implication from that for us, one that I believe Jesus put this letter in His Bible specifically for us to draw, is that pleasing Him is far more important than pleasing other human beings. Or pleasing ourselves. Conquering sin and the Devil by His grace for His glory are far more important than conquering some career goal or relationship dream for the sake of someone else’s approval of us, or for our own fleshly satisfaction.
A church loves others well when she loves Jesus best. And a church serves others well when she serves Jesus most.
How many of those Christians who met, most likely in a house, in the ancient Asian city of Philadelphia would be cheering us towards that goal right now, as they worship Jesus in person? They could tell us about what matters from the better side of eternity, with eyes unstained by tears and hearts made full by the brightness of God’s throne. They could tell us what He wrote to them about His promise for their faithfulness.
And of course thanks to Christ, we can read it for ourselves right now.