Obedience and Love
Revelation 3:8: "I know your works. 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."
Our Lord begins by saying, "I know your works." The Greek verb He uses for "know" here indicates a complete and detailed knowledge of all of the production in that congregation. Nothing escapes His notice. Then there is a break, and rather than going straight into the evaluation statement, which usually includes a list of things for which the congregation is praised, He interrupts the normal flow that we have seen in the last five evaluation reports and He gives this note of encouragement: "See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut." This is a parenthesis. Literally it says, See, I have given before you," not set or placed before you. The Greek word there means to give and it indicates God's grace in providing opportunities to this congregation related to evangelism and missions. The opportunity for outreach to the unbelieving community in Philadelphia and beyond was something that was considered a grace gift from the Lord Jesus Christ. It may have been a reward for their obedience and maturity, that despite the fact that they were small in number they were a congregation that had been steadfast in their allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. They had matured in their spiritual life so that they had reached the stage where they had a mature love for the Lord Jesus Christ.
We know that this phrase about opening the door is an idiom that indicates evangelistic opportunity because of the way that it is used in other passages in the New Testament. For example, in Acts 14:27: "On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles." 1 Corinthians 16:9: "because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me." 2 Corinthians 2:12: "Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me." This opening of a door is an idiom for opportunity, that God provides the opportunities for evangelism and to explain the gospel to those who are lost. Colossians 4:3: "And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains." The application of Colossians 4:3 is that today as missionaries go out one of the things we should pray for is that God will give them opportunities, that he would open doors for them, that they would be able to penetrate the cultures they are seeking with the gospel.
"…no one can shut it." This is an ongoing opportunity. The tense of the verb there, "I give before you and open door," is a perfect tense, indicating an action that has been completed in the past and the emphasis is on the ongoing result of that past action. So there is an ongoing opportunity for the congregation at Philadelphia to be involved in evangelism in the culture around them, as well as missionary outreach.
"…you have a little strength." What that means essentially is that they were apparently insignificant; they were small in number. But there was something else about them. Despite the fact that they were a small congregation and did not appear to have much impact in the eyes of the culture around them because of their size or numbers they were spiritually strong. He says, "you have kept my word." In John's vocabulary this is a phrase that is just loaded with meaning. When we read that we thing just that they have been obedient, and that is the end of it. But if we go back to the Gospel of John this is a phrase that the Lord Jesus Christ used numerous times as He was communicating with His disciples. It is a phrase that John himself picks up from the Lord Jesus Christ and utilized it several times in his first epistle.
In John 14 there are four different uses related to this phrase "keeping my word." John 14 is part of what is known as the upper room discourse, the last lengthy teaching from the Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples before He went to the cross. He was instructing the disciples related to church age doctrine and He began to teach them about their responsibilities and obligations as apostles in the coming age and of the coming of God the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this He is expounding upon the great commandment that He gave at the end of chapter 13 that we should love one another even as he loved us. So there is much that He said in the next few chapters related to love. In 14:15 He talks about our love for Him. There are many believers who are indeed grateful that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins, and in that gratitude they have the beginnings of a love for their savior and for God the Father. But just as your brand new baby learns to love you as they grow older, so do new baby believers learn and grow in their love for the Lord Jesus Christ and for God the Father. That love for the Lord Jesus Christ and for God the Father is not measured by feeling or emotion or sentiment. It is unfortunate that we live in an era today when modern folks define love in subjective impression and subjective feeling. People sing songs about O How I Love Jesus and they are overwhelmed with emotion and sentiment but they don't understand what the Word of God teaches about how love for the Lord Jesus Christ is measured. Jesus says, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." The measure of our love for the Lord Jesus Christ is not defined by the warmth of appreciation which wells up within us when we think about our salvation. That is true and that is good, but that is not what the Scriptures are talking about when they talk about loving the Lord. Jesus says we have an objective barometer for measuring our love for Him. "If you love me you will keep my commandments." This is not talking about our salvation, this is talking about what our spiritual life entails after salvation as we grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. In John 14:21 He goes on to expand on this: "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."
One of the things we see in this verse is a progressive knowledge of who Jesus is and who the Father is that comes as a result of our knowledge of the Word of God and our application of the Word of God. It is not enough just to know the Word of God and to have notebooks filled with notes, it is what goes into our soul and becomes a part of our life resulting in a change of thinking (Romans 12:2), having our thought transformed so that it changes the way we think about life and the way we interact with those around us and the way we interact with our Lord. So Jesus says the one who keeps His commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Him. This is clearly assuming that there are going to be believers who know the commandments but don't keep them. They are not demonstrating a love for Him. How do we love Him? Learning His Word; keeping His commandments. You cannot apply what you don't know, and you can't know something unless you take the time and the discipline to study it, learn it, and to be taught it—the Word.
As Jesus prayed to the Father at the end of this night in what is called the high-priestly prayer in John 17, "Father, sanctify them by means of truth; they word is truth." This is why we emphasize the teaching of God's Word, because the change agent in our life, along with the Holy Spirit, is the Word of God. The Holy Spirit doesn't operate apart from the Word of God and the Word of God doesn't produce fruit apart from God the Holy Spirit. We must know the Word of God. So when the chips are down, when life is tough, when we lose friends, when we go through marital difficulties, when our children are going through rebellious stages, when we are having to deal with parents who are going through health crises, when we go through financial crises, and any other kind of adversity, the only thing that gets us through, that focuses our thinking and stabilizes our emotions and gives us the right perspective for understanding how to deal with life, is the Word of God. It is great to know hymns, and there are hymns that we know that give us great comfort because they reflect the doctrine that is in the Word of God, but when you really go through those dark times in life what gets you through is not your friends, not fellowship. When you are alone at night in your bed and you are having to face the crisis the only thing that comforts and stabilizes in the Word of God.
So we have to know the Word of God, and we are told that when we learn it and obey it there is this progressive understanding of the Father that comes to us. As you grow in the knowledge of the Word Jesus Christ will reveal more and more of Himself to you. John 14:23, "Jesus replied, If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home [abide] with him." Here is that word related to the Greek word MENO [menw], to abide, that emphasizes that rich intimate fellowship that the believer ca have with the Father. As we learn His Word and apply His Word there is the development of a capacity of love for God the Father, and as a result of that we have a richer fellowship with the Father and the Son. John 14:24, "He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me."
As they left the upper room and were on their way to Gethsemane Jesus has the discourse on the vine. As he concludes that He again restates this principle: John 15:10, "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love." Again, abiding is related to intimate fellowship with the Father and it is related to walking and living our life in obedience to the Word of God. John 15:20: "Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also."
Then we see a commentary on this upper room teaching in the first epistle of John. The first epistle of John is John's mature reflection on what Jesus taught on that night in the upper room and afterwards. The vocabulary overlaps, the terminology is very similar, the themes are the same. But what John does since he is in his late eighties or early nineties by the time he wrote the first epistle he is reflecting on all that he has learned since he was a young man when Jesus first taught what he heard in that upper room. 1 John 2:3: "By this we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." There are many who misunderstand what this verse says. That is usually because they are the products of the sloppy vocabulary of 20th century evangelicalism. The wrong interpretation of this verse would be: "By this we know that we have come to be saved, if we keep his commandments." So that keeping the commandments then becomes the barometer for how we know if we are saved. But the reason we know that we are saved is because of the promise of God in the Scriptures that he who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ has eternal life. There is an assurance of salvation which comes through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit who bears witness to our spirit that we have become the children of God, according to Romans chapter eight. In fact, what we see in 1 John 2:3 is the same kind of vocabulary, the same verb tenses, that occurred in a conversation that Jesus had with Philip back in John 14. "Philip, how long have I been with you and you don't know me." If knowing Jesus equals being saved then what Jesus just said would imply that Philip was not saved. That would contradict John chapter 13 where Jesus said; "All of you are clean, except one [Judas Iscariot]." The phrase indicated that all of them had been cleansed from their sin, which happened at the time they put their faith in Jesus as their savior.
When we get saved we don't really know very much about Jesus. We know that He is the God-Man who died on the cross for our sin, and that if we trust in Him we will have eternal life. But that is just a small amount of information compared to all the information that is given in the Scripture that we can learn about our Lord Jesus Christ. That comes after we are saved, it is the process of growth. So in 1 John 2:3 John is saying, "This is how we know we have come to know Him." That is, this is how we can measure our advance to spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity isn't based just on what you know, but you can't have spiritual maturity in ignorance. We have to know the Word of God before we can apply the Word of God. Knowledge of the Word of God plus application of the Word of God leads to spiritual growth in the child of God. 1 John 2:4: "Whoever says, 'I have come to know him,' but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist." He is saved but he is an immature baby believer. 1 John 2:5, 6: "but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love for God has reached perfection [been brought to maturity]. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, 'I abide in him,' ought to walk just as he walked." For John the "in him" is related to abiding in fellowship.
So when we read Revelation 3:8 the Lord is praising the church at Philadelphia: "you have kept my word." That keeping His Word indicates that they are mature believers. They may be weak in numbers but they are strong spiritually, for they have learned to love God by keeping His Word. It is the mature believer who has spent time in the Word and built that relationship with Him to grow to maturity.
"…and have not denied my name." Denying Jesus' name is an idiom for rejection of Christianity and biblical truth. The implication here is that, yes, as a believer you can deny Jesus, you can turn your back upon the Word and can indeed become involved in extended carnality. This is the warning that we find in 2 Timothy 2:10-13: "Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory." Attaining salvation is not, again, obtaining eternal life, it has that idea of that full realization of salvation once we enter into heaven. "Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him [positional truth]…"
You have eternal life the instant that you put your faith alone in Christ alone, but one you have this new life then the next issue is what you are going to do with this new life. Are you just going to stay a spiritual infant, a spiritual baby, or are you going to press on to spiritual maturity and spiritual adulthood. Think back to when you were about ten or twelve years of age and probably got involved in some sort of argument with your parents because you wanted to do something and they didn't want you to do it. In frustration you said, "Why won't you treat me like an adult?" You realized when you were at that age that your life begins when you are an adult. Real life isn't when you are a child and under the authority of your parents where you have to do everything the way they want you to do it, real life begins once you have grown to maturity and you can then engage all of the things that are going on in the world on your own as an individual person. The same thing is true in the Christian life. We are born as spiritual babies, but the real benefits, the real depth and quality of that eternal life that Jesus offers us, that abundant life, comes with spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. The problem is that most Christians are just satisfied with getting into heaven and they don't understand that there is more to the gospel than just getting into heaven when they die. There is a richness and a fullness of life today that comes only as a result of your growth and maturity in the spiritual life. And if you don't spend the time studying the Word of God and letting God the Holy Spirit transform you into the character of Christ you never develop that capacity for life that the Lord has for you. Only with that mature capacity of life are we then able to truly glorify Him in every area of our life.
So Paul goes on to say: "…if we endure [post-salvation growth], we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself." The implication is that if we don't endure we won't reign. But we are still saved. Reigning with Him is part of the reward package that the faithful believer receives at the judgment seat of Christ. We are developing today the capacity to rule and reign with the Lord Jesus Christ in the coming kingdom as kings and priests. If we deny Him His place of authority in our life He will deny us the ability to reign with Him. That is, if we spend our life focused on the details of life, seeking happiness apart from the Lord, not putting the Word of God first as the priority in our life and our relationship to the Lord, then He will deny us the privilege and responsibilities that we could have had if we had only trusted the Lord and grown to spiritual maturity. He remains faithful to His promise to save us. What happens to many believers at the judgment seat of Christ is that after that evaluation and all of their works are immolated there, and nothing is left, the text says that they shall enter into heaven, yet as through fire. They don't lose their salvation, they just lose their rewards and the potential of serving the Lord in the Millennial kingdom.
So what the Lord Jesus Christ is reminding the church at Philadelphia of is that they have produced works that have eternal value. They have kept the Lord's Word; they have grown to spiritual maturity; they have not denied Him, so there is a place, a privilege to rule and reign with Him.