WHAT DOES YOUR VERSION OF AN IDEAL CHURCH LOOK LIKE?
Yes, I know. There are no perfect Churches… blah blah blah… we say that, but if we’re honest, we all have subtle (sometimes, not so subtle) unspoken expectations of what our Churches should do and be, and how certain things could better be done (especially if we were in charge!).
So let’s get past the denial and bargaining phase and move straight to acceptance. In your ideal world, what does your "perfect" Church look like? Go ahead, list out three of your top “requirements.”
On your list may appear things like: Biblical teaching, Christ centered Worship (but really excellent), a Passion for Prayer, Love for one another, Justice (caring for the oppressed), authenticity, Missions, Evangelism, etc.
Did you know that there was once a Church that Jesus would have scored a perfect 10 (factoring in that there are indeed no perfect Churches)? The Church I speak of is the sixth Church in our blog series through the 7 Letters of the Book of Revelation, the Church of Philadelphia.
Check out what Jesus thinks of them starting in Revelation 3:7. “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”
Before we meet the Church, let’s chat briefly about the JESUS of the Church.
To the folks in Philly, Jesus introduces three qualities about Himself that should instantly cause us to become alert, attentive, and to stand in awe. He says, He is “Holy”, He is “True”, and He’s got the keys to the door of every opportunity & every blessing you will ever experience.
They key is called, the “key of David”.
JESUS HOLDS THE KEY TO THE “NEXT” IN YOUR LIFE
While Christ being holy and true sounds familiar to us, the “key of David” may be unfamiliar. First off, this isn’t a reference to a literal key king David used to have. To appreciate what Jesus is getting at here, you need to jump back to Isaiah 22:22 where the key of David is symbolic of great authority and power. In that account, God placed, “the key to the house of David” on the shoulders of a man named Eliakim so that he could now access all the treasures and wealth of the king (In those days, keys were often larger and often times carried on one’s shoulders).
So when Jesus says He holds the key of David, it should conjure up in our minds images of kingship, a kingdom, and Lordship. Jesus is saying that all the gold and silver (and precious stones) on earth (seen and unseen) come from His treasury. 1 Chronicles 29:11-tells us that every fortune 500 company and every mama and papa shop belongs to HIM, and it’s at His discretion that men are made great. Proverbs 21:1 says the hearts of the kings and presidents, or presidential-hopefuls are in His hands and He directs them wherever He pleases. Get this, even our salvation, our ability to believe Him by faith, is a key He holds in His hands, for no man can come to the Father unless Jesus Christ draws them near by His Spirit (John 14:6).
Now here’s what should really cause you to stand in awe and at attention; because Jesus holds the key to every door of opportunity in your life and for your Church, no man, no angel, and no evil scheming spirit will ever be able to stand in the way of what He intends to do in and through your life! It’s not within their power to shut doors in your life (though they will try!), and on the same token, whatever door Jesus shuts, it’s pointless and futile to try opening it.
PHILLY – THE CITY OF LOVE (NOPE, NOT THAT ONE)
It’s thus with this understanding that He starts His letter to the awesome-but-not-perfect Church in Philadelphia, the home of Rocky Balboa and the most delicious cheese-steak sandwiches ever. I’m just kidding. Carmine’s in Netcong, New Jersey has the best cheese-steak sandwiches!
To their credit, the Philadelphian church (actually located in present day Alaşehir, Manisa, Turkey) receives nothing but commendations from Jesus. There’s not a single reprimand, simply just compliments and blessings. That’s not to say they were a sinless or perfect church, for no church like that exists. It’s just that Jesus saw nothing wrong with them (at the time) that rose to the level of being seriously rebuked.
In verse 8, Jesus says He knows their deeds, which can also read as, “He was deeply impressed with their good works…” He was so impressed that He was going to bless them with three things. First, He was going to place before them an open door of opportunity that no one could or would be able to shut. This was more than likely an open door of opportunity for unprecedented growth/outreach in ministry. Though they had “little strength”, Christ was about to open the floodgates of heaven and shower them with ministry rewards! In verse 9, we get a glimpse of what’s about to happen when Jesus says He will humble a group of people who had been making life miserable for them. He calls the group the “synagogue of Satan.”
WHEN JESUS THROWS SHADE AT YOUR HATERS
These were pretentious Jews who falsely believed they were doing God a favor by persecuting or making life difficult for Christians.
For our purposes, this refers to anyone in your life who makes life difficult for you in any way, shape or form because you follow Jesus Christ. Jesus says He is going to bring them low in humiliation, so much so that they would come to the Philadelphian Christians asking how it is they could know Jesus.
Jesus was essentially reassuring them, saying, “Listen Church, I know you have little strength and haven’t experienced much growth due to the persecution you’re facing. But stand back and prepare yourselves because I am about to bring more lost people to your doorsteps than you’ve ever seen. I myself, the one who holds the key to salvation will draw even the most antagonistic of Jews to your doorsteps so that they will be the ones asking, what must we do to be saved? I HAVE THE KEYS! GET READY FOR THIS OPEN DOOR”
SOMEONE’S AT YOUR DOOR
This beautiful encouragement begs the question: What open doors has God placed around you? (Whether personal or Gospel related?). From your vantage point, it may not look like an open door, until you walk up to it and turn the doorknob to find out it’s been unlocked (just for you by Jesus!).
In my faith and experience, I’ve observed that God often times goes ahead of us to prepare hearts to be ready to receive a conversation we may spontaneously initiative with friends about the Gospel. OPEN DOOR! Other times, He’ll go ahead of us and make people favorably predisposed towards us before we ever show up. OPEN DOOR!
I worked at Grace Church on the Mount through seminary as an intern ministering to young adults. At the time, Grace Church was in search of a senior pastor, and they found one in Armin Sommer (presently still the senior pastor). At the time of his hiring, I knew that budget cuts needed to be made. Since I was an intern, it seemed clear to me that I would be the first to go. So I began preparing my resume as I prayed through where I would land a new job. Unbeknownst to me, however, was the fact that Armin had been looking into the work I was doing at Grace and was highly interested in bringing on board a full time pastor to oversee the young adults at Grace.
In my first conversation with him, I had prepared a speech and a plea for him to allow me to continue with lesser hours as an intern. But of course, God had already gone ahead of me and provided an open door. From the moment I said, “Hi, pastor Armin, my name is Segun and I was wondering if you would consider….” I never even finished the sentenced. He was so enthusiastic about having me on staff that he subtly, but firmly insisted that I stay the course and continue with Grace because I was a part of the future he envisioned for Grace.
Like I said, God often goes ahead of us to OPEN DOORS! (You may, however, need to walk up to said-door and actually check the doorknob!)
So I ask again, as you look at your life and surroundings, where may God have opened some doors around you?
JESUS HAS A NEW NAME FOR YOU, (AND A NEW PLACE)
Ponder that some more when you have plenty of free time, in the meanwhile, here’s what else Jesus has in mind for the folks in Philly! Revelation 3:10-13, 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 the inhabitants of the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar 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. 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Sometime after the death of Jesus Christ, a powerful earthquake hit the Philadelphian region and greatly shook up the city of Philadelphia. Though the emperor at the time assisted greatly in helping rebuild the city, its citizens lived in constant fear of experiencing another earthquake, so much so that the daily aftershocks forced many of its citizens to abandon the city and live temporarily in the surrounding countryside. This obviously would have forced many of its citizens into a lower standard of daily living, which means, if you weren’t wealthy in the first place (as was the case for many Christians), then life just got even more difficult.
Consider the (literal) unstable world these Christians were living in and put that in the context of Jesus promising to make them unshakeable and unmovable “pillars in the temple of God” in the new Jerusalem when heaven meets earth.
Would you describe this season of your life as somewhat shaky? Perhaps you’ve faced one major trial, or you’re experiencing the aftershocks of someone else’s trouble?
If that describes you, Jesus says, “Just keep walking with me and keep keeping your eyes on me. This is only a trial run for your reign in the city of God where I will soon bring you.” In fact the next promise ties into this promise. Jesus speaks of personally writing new names on us, three names in fact. The name of God, the name of the city of God, and a very personal name that He Himself will give us.
When I first read this, I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of new names! How am I supposed to remember them all and not get confused about who I am? Is it even possible to have an identity crisis in heaven?” My best guess here is that these are all referring to the same thing. In other words, these are not so much three different names we’ll have to remember, but rather, they’re all picturing one truth, which is that we will have a true citizenship in the new heaven and the new earth, a place we can finally call home.
This is great news, my friends! It means that your name has been securely marked down and spelled out in the book of life in the registry of the new city of heaven. It means God knows your name. Jesus knows your name. The Holy Spirit knows your name. Every high-ranking angel and ministering angel will know your name. All the Old Testament saints will know your name. All the believers in the Church age will know your name, and any other creatures we find in heaven will know your personal name.
They will all know your name because you belong there and because Jesus Himself has written on you that name!
So when you ponder the doors of opportunity for the Gospel God has placed before you, consider the fact that it’s also about populating heaven’s registry with more names of people you’ll spend eternity with.
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.