And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things said he that is holy, he that is true, he that has the key of David…
"Thou hast a little strength." The words do not mean that the persecution had been so oppressive as well nigh to exhaust the church, so that it had only a little strength remaining. Rather they describe the condition of the church before the terrible trial came upon it. From the very beginning its ability had been but small. Yet small as its strength was, its members had stood firm in the face of cruel threatenings and alluring promises. And lo! as the reward of their steadfastness, the Lord declares that He has set before them "an open door" which no man could shut. That is to say, through the gateway of their fidelity, feeble as they were, they went under the leadership of Christ to a sphere of usefulness, which was peculiarly their own, and which no mortal could prevent them from filling. "Thou hast but little strength." How many in all our congregations may be truly thus addressed? Now, I know few passages of Scripture more encouraging than this. For one thing it suggests to us that the having of but little strength is not a matter of which we need to be ashamed. If one has brought it upon himself by his own iniquity, then it may be a matter of disgrace; but if it come in the allotment of God's providence, there is no moral reproach to be associated with it. Christ did not overlook the Church of Philadelphia, weak though it was. Is it not written, "A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench"? "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." The having of but a little strength may even come to be, in some respects, an advantage. For it is not a little remarkable that the two churches which received unqualified condemnation are those of Smyrna and Philadelphia, neither of which was strong; while on the other hand the severest reproof is addressed to the church of Laodicea, which any outsider would have spoken of as at once prosperous and influential. Thus we are reminded that where there is much strength there is also a disposition to trust in that; while, on the other hand, where there is conscious feebleness there is felt also the necessity of making application for the might of the Most High. But pursuing this line of thought a little farther we may see from my text that the having of only a little strength does not utterly disqualify us from serving the Lord. Feeble as they were, the Philadelphians had kept Christ's word, and had not denied His name. They kept their loyalty to Him even in their weakness. And,it is possible for every one of us to do the same. If my strength is small, God does not require of me that which only a larger measure of power could enable me to perform. Wherever I am, it is enough if there I keep His word; and however limited be my resources, He asks no more than that I use all these resources in advancing the honour of His name. Still further, if we proceed upon this principle, nay text affirms that a wider sphere will be ultimately opened up to us. Fidelity always rises. It is, in fact, irrepressible; for when Christ says to it, "Come up higher," no one can hold it down.
I. WE MAY LEARN THAT USEFULNESS IS NOT THE PRIMARY OBJECT OF THE CHRISTIAN'S ATTENTION. Not what we can do for others, but rather what we are in ourselves, demands our first attention, for to do good to others we must first be good ourselves. Usefulness is to character what fragrance is to the flower. But the gardener does not make the fragrance his first or greatest aim. -Nay, rather his grand design is to produce a perfect flower, for he knows if he succeed in that, the fragrance will come of itself. In the same way the Christian's first concern should be with his own character. To be holy is our primary duty, and through that we pass to usefulness.
II. But if these things are so, we have, as another inference suggested from this text, AN EASY EXPLANATION OF THE GREAT USEFULNESS OF MANY WHO ARE IN NO WISE NOTEWORTHY FOR STRENGTH. Few things are more commonly spoken of among men than the fact that the most successful soul-winners in the ministry are not always those who are most conspicuous for intellectual ability or argumentative power. In the same way you will sometimes find a church whose members are poor in this world's goods, and not remarkable for that culture which modern circles have so largely deified, yet famous for its good works among the masses; and when you look into the matter you find the explanation in the consecrated characters and lives of those who are associated in its fellowship. They have sought their usefulness through their holiness, and not their holiness through their usefulness; and therefore it is they have had such signal triumphs.
III. Finally, if the principles which I have tried to deduce from this text are true, we SEE AT ONCE HOW SUCH APPARENTLY OPPOSITE THINGS AS CHRISTIAN CONTENTMENT AND CHRISTIAN AMBITION ARE TO BE PERFECTLY HARMONIZED. The full discharge of duty on the lower level opens the passage up into the higher. We see that illustrated in secular departments every day. If the schoolboy wishes to gain a high position as a man, he must be content, as long as he is at school, to go through its daily round, and perform in the best possible manner its common duties. The better he is as a scholar, the more surely will the door into eminence open for him as a man. But if he trifle away his time, if he despise what he calls the "drudgery" of education, and so leave school without having learned those things which he was sent thither to acquire, then there will be nothing for him in after life but humiliation and failure. Doors may open to him, but he will never be ready to enter one of them. Fretting over our weakness will not make things better, but it will prevent us from bringing anything out of the little strength we have.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
WEB: "To the angel of the assembly in Philadelphia write: "He who is holy, he who is true, he who has the key of David, he who opens and no one can shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says these things: