Thursday, December 4, 2008

Doing It Right

Approval, positive reinforcement, praise, all words that describe what most of us are looking for from parents, friends, and even the world. Generally speaking humans have a need to feel as if they are "doing it right", whatever that may be. It seems to be ingrained in us from the start when our parents would either praise us or correct us when we made our choices as a means to direct our behavior. In my own family, my father was the "administrator" of "corrective discipline", and there are a few incidents in my past where the expectations of my parents were made painfully clear. To be truthful, I never really can remember a time when I wasn't aware of just what my parents expected from me. Our Father in heaven has a few expectations as well, and I thought after discussing what He thought of the Church in Laodicea we might look at the church that got a "good" report card as a way to see just what God expects from us.

In Revelation 3:7-13 we find what Jesus has to say about the church at Philadelphia. Now the name itself has a commendation in that the meaning of the word Philadelphia is "Brotherly Love", and Jesus himself commanded in John 13:34 that we should "love one another; as I have loved you". So the first indication of why Jesus is pleased in this church is that it is apparently following His commandment. Another point that should be noted when looking at these seven letters is found in the words Jesus uses to describe Himself at the beginning of each letter. These descriptions relate not only to what Jesus expects from them, but what they are doing or not doing as well. Jesus uses the same word to describe Himself in both the letter to Philadelphia and the following letter to Laodicea, which is our clue as to what Philadelphia is doing right and what Laodicea is doing wrong.

The word Jesus uses is translated into English as "true", but has a much deeper meaning in the Greek. In Greek, it is pronounced "al-ay-thee-nos'", and actually means "real, true and genuine in every respect, opposite to what is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary, simulated or pretended". Ouch! It would appear what Jesus is trying to show us here is a contrast between the Philadelphia church which is genuine and true, and the church at Laodicea which is counterfeit and simply pretending to be true. Although both may appear on the outside to be the same, Jesus says He can tell the difference by simply doing one thing, and that is examining their "works".

What are the works that Jesus has observed that earn this church a good report card? Two things jump out at me in this passage. One, in verse 8 Jesus tells them that He has seen them exhibit a "little strength", keep His "word", and they haven't "denied" His name. Now keeping His Word can be accomplished by obedience to His commandments, something I think we can all figure out for ourselves. But denying His name? Again, looking at the Greek, the word for deny is "contradict", so it appears Jesus is saying that the believers at Philadelphia are being careful that their "works" do not contradict the standards laid out in scripture. Unfortunately for all of us, Jesus also says that it only takes a "little strength" to accomplish this. Personally, that hurts because it's not like I have never thought something along the lines of how hard it is to live life according to God's standards. Jesus, however, also mentions a second way in which this church is "doing it right".

In verse 10 Jesus makes a curious statement in which He commends the believers at Philadelphia for keeping "the word of my patience". This seems to be a strange phrase unless you look again at the Greek meaning of the words, and examine them in the context of what Jesus is saying here. I apologize if this is starting to look like a lesson in Greek, but there really is no better way to understand what Jesus is saying here than to dig a little deeper. The word for "kept" is "tay-reh'-o" which means to "attend carefully; keep in the state in which to observe", and the word for "patience" is "hoop-om-on-ay'" or "perseverance, enduring, not swayed by trials". So the believers in this church are making sure they are in a continual state of watching for something Jesus calls His patience. But what is Jesus being patient for?

If we step back and look at the context I believe we can see exactly what He means here. Remember these letters are addressed to the church as a whole, and what is the church? Of course, it is the bride of Christ; and what is the current status of the bride and groom? Obviously they are betrothed, but waiting for the wedding day when God will tell Jesus "go get her" in something we know as the rapture. So I believe the picture here is of Jesus watching His bride, the Church, for close to 2000 years. Now that is being patient, especially if you consider what these seven letters describe as the state of His bride to be! So what the believers in Philadelphia were being commended for was being faithful to watch for the day of Jesus' return, being steadfast even though they were being tried and tempted. The best part of all of this is spelled out clearly in the latter part of verse 10 when Jesus tells them that because of their faithfulness they would be delivered from the "hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world,to try them that dwell upon the earth." This is a direct promise to His church that they will be removed from this earth in what we call the rapture before the tribulation period begins.

We know what Jesus wants from us by reading this letter to Philadelphia. He wants us to strive to keep an attitude of watchfulness for His return, and live in such a way that the world will see our works and know we are obeying God's Word. We might steal a phrase from a popular movie you might recognize here; "It's what we do that defines us". Jesus knows our works; are we doing it right?