The Seven Churches of Asia - Philadelphia (Part 3)

Robert E. Surgenor

Last month we noticed the manner in which the Lord presented Himself to the small assembly in Philadelphia. There was rapt attention as the reader continued to unfold the divine revelation of Him that is Holy and True. Having presented Himself as to what He was essentially, officially, and administratively, the Lord now commences to commend the little assembly that has so delighted His heart and ours.

The Commendation of Christ

"I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name" (Revelation 3:8).

Christ now presents Himself in relation to the mission of the churches. He sets before this numerically small assembly an open door. If you are familiar with your Bible you will recognize that this expression, "an open door" always refers to evangelical activities. Notice what Paul says to the Colossians, "Praying also for us, that God would open to us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ" (Col. 4:3). He also informs the Corinthians regarding his labors in Ephesus, "For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries" (1 Cor. 16:9). "Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord" (2 Cor. 2:12). Notice his expression in reporting his labors to his home assembly, "They rehearsed all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27).

Not only does the expression "open door" indicate evangelical activity, but it implies successful activity. Activity that will, without a doubt, bear fruit. Going into an area and preaching, seeing no fruit is not necessarily an open door. The evangelist, local or full-time, never has to force his way into an area to preach if Christ has set before that one an open door. I remember the late William Warke advising me, "Never force your way into a place. I tried doing that once and before it was all over I was mighty glad to get out!" Notice, the Lord says, when I open the door no man can close it! Christ is presenting them with an opportunity, He is giving them an open door. Let me ask you, is your assembly praying for the Lord’s guidance regarding open doors? Have we come to the time in the Church’s history when Christ has ceased to open doors? I don’t believe that to be the case at all. I believe that the problem lies with us. Are we sitting smugly in our halls singing, "Rescue the perishing, care for the dying," and never making a move to take the gospel beyond the confines of our hall? Is this not to our shame? Let me go further. Many have noticed that some men commended to the Lord’s work profess an exercise to look for open doors and to reach out into new ground for God. However, their intent seems to soon fade, due to the fact that they are soon bombarded by various assemblies to come for gospel meetings. Succumbing, they go. Of course, that ends cooking meals for one’s self, or eating in restaurants, paying for room rent, paying for newspaper ads, paying for invitations, paying for a room to preach, paying to have their clothes laundered. It is a wonderful change. So what are the consequences? Sad to say, the new ground lies virtually untouched. Popularity creeps in and the new work ceases and the circuit preaching commences. Would it be right to say, that a full-time evangelist who has never planted an assembly, is a contradiction to the intent of the risen Lord, when He said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15)?

In the U.S.A. we have 50 states. Fifteen states have more than two assemblies; three states have only two assemblies; thirteen states have only one assembly; nineteen states have no assembly. Numerically, the number of most assemblies is falling. None of the 19 states without an assembly are being diligently worked by our evangelists. It is a rarity to see evangelistic work being done farther than a "stone’s throw" from any assembly. The population of the states having no assemblies is 40,753,000 and the square miles are 1,148,824. There are 119 scriptural assemblies in the U.S.A., which averages two and one fourth assembles per state. In the U.S.A. we have one assembly every 29,400 miles and one assembly every 2,097,754 persons. Yet, in spite of these sobering facts, how often do you hear brethren pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into the great harvest field? Perhaps these facts will challenge some of our young brethren who have been given a gift to preach the gospel. The late Archie Stewart once said "The assemblies have the ability and would gladly support one hundred men working new places in this country." But, where are the men? Where is the desire?

Let me say, pioneering is a lonely path. Mr. Warke once said, "There have been times when I would have been glad to see a Christian’s dog, let alone a Christian." Perhaps some young exercised brother is reading this article. New work is lonely work, but new work is rewarding work. In 1963 a preaching brother advised me, "Out of sight means out of mind." In other words, keep visiting the assemblies or you won’t get supported. We proved that statement to be entirely wrong. How God-proving it is to launch out, not knowing from where your next penny will come. How great is the privilege to be able to wait on God and watch Him meet all of your need in His own unexpected and mysterious way. Proving the all-sufficiency of God is a wonderful privilege! Are you exercised my young brother? If your brethren perceive in you the gift, would they encourage you to make the step, going out in faith, away from the assemblies in full dependance on God? Would you be willing? The Lord says, "I have set before thee an open door."

Regarding an open door, the Lord is speaking to the assembly as a whole. Is your assembly exercised about discerning open doors of the Lord for evangelistic activities? Some assemblies have been given open doors relative to nursing homes, prisons, or open air evangelization. Others have had doors opened for them to carry on children’s work in other parts of the city. In some cities, the assembly is the best kept secret. This should never be. We should be well known and very evident in the area where the Lord has been pleased to place His name. Does the neighborhood receive gospel tracts and visits periodically? It should. Are we looking for an open door for witnessing? How long has it been since you brought a stranger to a gospel meeting? Sadder yet, have you ever brought a stranger to a gospel meeting. If so, why not? Did you ever consider why the Lord has left you here for a little while? Was it to become a tourist, an earth dweller? Certainly not! He has left you here so that you may live for Him and witness about Him. May the Lord help us to consider our ways and confess our sin. Remember — "I have set before thee an open door."

Christ continues. "For thou hast a little strength." They were numerically small. However, what are numbers to the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth? Was it not Abram that went out with 318 men against four great kings that had just been victorious over five other kings? And what did Abram do with his little army? He subdued them (Gen. 14). It could not be any other way! Look at Gideon with an army of 32,000 men going against the Midianites who were like grasshoppers for multitude (Judges 7:12). But what did God do first? He reduced Gideon’s army to 300 men! Why? God said, "Lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me saying, Mine own hand hath saved me." God must get all the glory! Then what happened? God gave Gideon the victory! Look at lonely Elijah against 450 prophets of Baal (1 Ki. 18). What happened? He defeated them!

All of these persons could be termed in the same status as the assembly in Philadelphia, "Thou hast a little strength. " Is that true of your assembly? Should not the experiences of Abram, Gideon, and Elijah encourage you? They certainly should if you can truthfully say, "we have kept His word and we have not denied His name." God is very clear on that point, "Them that honour Me I will honour" (1 Sam. 2:30). Cheer up my brother, my sister. Do not become discouraged because of your smallness. God delights to manifest His power in the midst of little strength. Look for open doors, pray for open doors, and when the Lord opens a door, go through it and labor fervently in spreading the gospel and I guarantee you that God will honor your godly effort and the Lord of the harvest will bless you with souls to Christ. Let us take the promise to Philadelphia to ourselves — "Behold, I have set before thee an open door"! Christ commends them, councils them, inspires them and has nothing against them. I hope that you will continue your stay with me in Philadelphia and enjoy the godliness and hospitality of the saints as we wait for more of this lovely letter to be read next month. Perhaps by then, Christ will have opened for your assembly - an open door.