A daughter complained to her father about how hard things were for her. “As soon as I solve one problem,” she said, “another one comes up. I’m tired of struggling.” Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen where he filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In one he placed carrots, in the second, eggs, and in the last, ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil without saying a word.
The daughter impatiently waited wondering what he was doing. After awhile he went over and turned off the burners. He fished out the carrots and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. He poured the coffee into a bowl. Turning to her he asked, “Darling, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. He brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. She smiled as she tasted its rich flavour.
She asked, “What does it mean, Father?” He explained that each of them had faced the same adversity—boiling water—but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg was fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. By being in the boiling water they changed the water. The father then asked his daughter, “When adversity strikes, which are you?”
Far too many Christians discover that when adversity strikes they are more like carrots or eggs than coffee. This results in many Christians and many churches bringing about little or no change in society. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case. We can learn from the church of Philadelphia—a church which faithfully served God in the midst of great adversity. The book of Revelation is often referred to, as the revelation of Jesus Christ, for it is the heavenly Jesus who is giving this message to the apostle John. Our passage falls within a part of Revelation known as the letters to the seven churches. These were churches founded by the apostle Paul, which were located in modern-day Turkey. Philadelphia is the only church which does not receive a stern warning from Jesus. Rather this church receives encouragement for bearing up under a great deal of trials, persecution, and suffering. In Philadelphia, life was hard; the city was destroyed by earthquakes many times. The Christians in the city faced constant opposition from the Jews, and often felt like they had little strength.
Our world is no different: we are facing a global pandemic, and we are in lockdown as a country. We wonder where God is in the midst of all of this. Times are hard. We feel overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the troubles on our path. As Christians, we are called to be led lights for the gospel, but in these dark times, we feel more like flickering candles. How can we proclaim the gospel, when there is so much resistance? The apostle John tells believers the answer is to keep holding on to Jesus. There is always hope, for the church is called to remain faithful no matter what fiery trails invade our lives. Jesus’ message to us as we face this lockdown is: He is Holding Us Up and we must never stop Holding On to Him.
1. Holding up vs. 7-9
The church at Philadelphia had suffered huge persecutions from both the Roman Empire and the Jews living there. At the time of this message, the Roman Emperor Domitian is on the throne. He hated Christians, and would do anything to stop the spread of Christianity. It is into this situation that Jesus speaks his stunning message of hope. He declares, “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 vs. 7b.” Jesus is declaring in these words, first and foremost that he is holy, holy in his character, in his actions, in his purposes. He is God, the true and living God, over and against all the false gods, which were being worshipped in the city of Philadelphia. Jesus has authority and is in control of all things. The images of the key of David and the open door have their origin in the book of Isaiah and they symbolise authority. Therefore, because of Christ authority and sovereignty, the members of the church at Philadelphia can have assurance that God is with them in this difficult situation. He is holding them up and supporting them, and he understands their pain.
Jesus praises this church for not giving up in the face of hardship and adversity. He holds them up as an example to us. Jesus says, “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut vs. 8a” This church refused to give in, when so many others had compromised the gospel. Jesus tells them, I have placed before you an open door or an open mission field. This church was perfectly placed for the gospel to go out into the parts of Eastern Europe where many pagan and barbarian tribes lived. Therefore, Jesus says, I'm giving you a mission field go out and tell the world about me. However, this church might say, ‘but Jesus, we are too small to make a difference, how can we go out, and share the gospel with all that we are facing’? Our Lord replies, “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name vs.8b.” Jesus was saying to them that through his word, and his name, they could overcome any obstacle that faced them, for the name of Jesus is above every name. Paul, in writing his letter to the Philippians, says: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father vs. 9-11”.
In the same way that Jesus held up the Philadelphian church, he is holding us up. Jesus is the ultimate reality; he is the one who is holy and true. Revelations 1 tells us that Christ holds the keys of death and Hades. Jesus is in complete control, there is nothing which surprises him. He knows what we are going through, because He has walked this way before. Jesus tells us when we feel overwhelmed, when we feel stressed; when we feel we just can't go on, we must remember these words. If we love him, He says to us, I know you are weak, I know you are weary, but you have kept my word, and not denied my name. Having little strength, means that we will rely on Jesus, instead of relying our own abilities, we will look to Christ in times of great hardship, and know He is with us until the end of the age. Therefore, He places before us an open door. This open door will always look different depending on the mission field placed before us. The Church has been given an opportunity to shine Jesus light and love into the darkness. So we take our stand. We refuse to let fear rule our hearts instead of faith. Jesus is holding us up, just like the church at Philadelphia.
2. Holding on vs. 10-13
The Philadelphian church has been held up by the Lord. Now this church must hold on in the face of great adversity coming their way, for Jesus says “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. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown vs. 10-11. The Lord promises them because they have kept his commands and have held up under great distress, he will keep them from the hour of trial. What this means is when their suffering seems too much to bear, Jesus will walk alongside them and will give them the strength to overcome it. They will not falter. They will pass the test, even if the whole the world fails it. Jesus gives us three Faith filled reasons in verse 11 to Keep Holding On.
Firstly, Christ says, “I am coming soon.” He will return one day, and on that day, He will bring peace to the world. Therefore, the church must hold on. He has not left us; His spirit is still with us. But one day He will return, and when He does, He will usher in the new heavens and the new Earth, where there will be no more suffering or pain. So the church can persevere, whatever challenges and obstacles awaits us because our goal is heaven, and our master is coming soon.
Secondly, Christ tells us “Hold on to what you have.” We told are to hold on to the words of Christ, to the promises of Christ. There are times when we will be tempted to take the easy route out, to give up our faith, and to succumb to the pressures of this world. In those times, we are to remember what Christ has taught us by His Word and through His Holy Spirit. We are to hold on knowing that in the midst of the storm, our Lord Christ Jesus is with us.
Finally, Christ tells us the reason we must hold on to his Word, “so that no one may seize your crown.” Our Lord was not referring to an earthly crown; rather, he was referring to a spiritual crown. The Philadelphians were part of Greek culture. In a race or sporting event, the winner would receive a golden wreath or laurel; this was known as a crown. In the same way, the Philadelphians were to run this Christian race, but if they cheated, or gave up halfway, they would not receive this crown. Paul reiterates this concept in his letter to his young student Timothy. He says, nearing the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Tim 4; 7-8”.
The church in Philadelphia was called to hold on to Christ and to persevere through the trials they faced. In return, God would tell them good and faithful servant, what you have done is pleasing in my sight. We are also called to persevere, for we know that our Lord is with us, walking with us. We are called to hold on to His Word, and to the promises, He made to us. Yes, we are all fearful, anxious, and unsure about what the present and future holds. But Jesus is telling us today that He is with us, He will hold us, guide us and give us the grace we need each day. Jesus is calling us to run the race and finish it, so that we too may receive the crown of righteousness. In the midst of adversity, trials and struggles we are called to persevere. But more than that, we are also called to change the world around us, just like the coffee in the boiling water. The Church in Philadelphia was known as the church of brotherly love. In the same way, we are called to exhibit that same warmth and brotherly love. We are being called as churches and as individuals to be God's beacons of hope in our communities. Jesus Christ has never forsaken us and He will never forsake us. The Lord our God is with us wherever we go.
The truest test of any building’s durability or strength is seen in how it stands up to the various elements which bombard it on a daily basis. Such as heat and cold, rain and sunshine, climate change, and even catastrophic weather conditions. Our building, Trinity Presbyterian Church, is facing a storm, and its name is Covid-19. How we weather this storm as a church will speak volumes about our character, our compassion, but most importantly our love for Christ. We are the church, but if we are to remain, we need to remember love is a verb. Love as a verb means to be involved, to sacrifice, to listen, appreciate, and work together. Love is a doing word, meaning giving up your own rights in order to serve your partner, friend, family or fellow church member. Pause 1-2-3
As come to our next sermon in our series, Paul reminds us the only way the church will last, is if it is built on Christ and held together with love. Without love, all the bricks and spiritual gifts are worthless. Our church, just like the Corinthian church, is a melting pot of different cultures, races and nationalities. Yet Paul calls on us as believers to be the light of Christ, to our church, our community, and our country. He wasn’t just writing this letter to married couples, instead to the various members of his diverse congregation. He reminds them no matter their different nationalities, different cultures, no matter their diverse gifts and talents, love united them. This same love unites us in a unique and beautiful way. Paul tells us the love for Jesus and for each other is Essential, Expressive, and Eternal. Pause 1-2-3
1. Love is Essential vs. 1-3
Just like a car needs an engine to run, a plane wings to fly and tennis racket strings to hit a ball, in the same way Paul tells us, we need love in order to function, both as believers and the church. Love is absolutely Essential for “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal... If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing vs. 1, 3”. We are to love one another, because God is love. God taught us how to love by sending His Son into the world. Jesus Christ taught us what love is by dying on the cross. He also commanded all those who follow him to love each other. Believers are given the gift of the Holy Spirit who teaches us to love one another and who pours out the love of God into our hearts. Therefore, we can see that love is essential and it enriches all it touches. Pause 1-2-3-4
The Essential nature of love means that all the sermons, prayer meetings, church services, Bible studies and seminars, are useless without it. If we can’t show love to our fellow brothers and sisters in this time of crisis, then we honestly need to check our own hearts, and ask the question have we truly understood the love of Christ. We can often be so caught up with all the gifts and abilities, which we have been given. Yet forget to do the simplest of things, like showing kindness and compassion those in need, regardless of status or privilege. See we are all given talents, gifts, and passions. If we use these unique gifts in love, it strengthens and enriches everything we do. It is incredibly easy to see the difference between a person who simply works for money and someone who is passionate about their job. We are called to passionately serve Christ and others during this difficult time. We are called to do everything in love, for without it we are nothing but hot air and noise. We are to show the kind of radical love, which Jesus showed us. John first letter says, “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister 4:19-21” Pause 1-2-3
2. Love is Expressive vs. 4-7
The Essential nature of love is the beginning and not the end. Paul goes on to tell us that it must be seen through our actions towards those we care about. Love must be expressive and put into practice daily. This is why Paul says: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres vs. 4-7.” Love is a verb. Paul gives us some of the actions we should take to make love a reality, and some of the verbs we should avoid. This is what love is: patient, kind and rejoices with the truth. The word patient in the Greek means long-suffering. It means to help carry someone’s burdens. To walk with them both in the good times and, far more importantly, in the bad. Be slow to get angry with each other. Then, love is kind. The author Raold Dahl wrote that of all the human characteristics, kindness is the greatest. Like Jesus, kindness is moved by the needs of the sick, the poor and the downtrodden. Love also rejoices in the truth. In any argument, there is your side, my side and the truth. There should be complete transparency and honesty with each other. But the truth shouldn’t be a club to beat each other over the head with. Always speak the truth in love. Pause 1-2-3
We are also shown what love isn’t. It’s not envious, boastful, proud, it does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs or delight in evil. Do not be envious of each other’s achievements or successes, rather rejoice together. Love is not puffed up, rude or arrogant. It is too gentle and sensitive to dishonour others. Love puts the interests others before our own, instead of being self-seeking or selfish. When we care about each other, we bear with each other, we don’t keep score, we take no pleasure at the misfortunes and tragedies of others. Paul reminds us not to keep score of these past hurts or arguments. This will make our love richer, our lives more peaceful, and our church filled with love. Remember what he says love always does: It always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres, no matter the circumstances. Pause 1-2-3
3. Love is Eternal vs. 8-13
The very nature of love is sacrificial; it drives us, calls us, and encourages us to strive for something better. It is when we put others before ourselves that we truly understand the nature of love, the heart of God and the power of Christ. Love is Essential, love is Expressive, love is Eternal, it will always prevail. This is why Paul says: “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away... And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love vs. 8, 13”. We can think of these as the three abiding graces. They will remain when all else has gone: faith, hope and love will be with us when we enter heaven one day. We have faith in Christ as the author and perfector of our salvation, through whose precious death on the cross we are granted access to eternal life. We might think we won’t have faith when we reach our eternal home, yet we will still depend on God to supply our every need. Hope gives us purpose and meaning in this topsy-turvy life. We can look forward to the future with hope, knowing God is already there and is working all things for the good of those who love him. We also have a secure hope in the promises of God. Faith and hope are individual, self-contained and personal graces. Pause 1-2-3
Yet love covers our feelings and actions towards others and God. When we love, we reach beyond ourselves to be concerned about others. Our love for God and for others will grow into the perfect expression in heaven. More than that, by loving well, we become more like God, since God is love. Love never fails, because it is rooted and established in God. God’s very nature and essence is love. Therefore, we can trust God. Everything else in this world will eventually break down, and turn to dust. But God’s love will endure for ever, it is permanent, it protects us, sustains us, and encourages us. Then no matter what storms of life sweep across our paths. We will endure, we will survive, and we will thrive if God’s love is at the centre of our lives. Pause 1-2-3
This is his promise to everyone sitting here. We must put our trust and our hope in Him alone, God will not let us down, and He will not fail us. Because God is love, and in Him there is no darkness, His perfect love will drive out all fear. So let us put our trust in the unfailing love of God, and we will never be disappointed or dismayed. For God’s love will always light our way. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. Pause 1-2-3
The phrase “do not worry” or similar phrasings thereof appear 365 times in the Bible. Once for every day! However it is difficult not to worry at this time. There are moments where it feels like everything is carrying on as normal. I see restaurants and shops open. I see people still going to work, builders working on new houses, busses driving along. Yet there are things that remind us of this crisis. Joshua is home, a number of people are working from home. There is a shortage of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. There are people at the door, spritzing our hands with hand sanitizer before entering the church. Pause 1-2-3
Yes, it is okay to be worried or anxious during this time. It is okay to ask not to shake hands or hug people. It’s okay to miss physical church services. We might not know what the future holds, but we know the One who holds the future. Our God of love is with us, no matter what happens. Thus, I encourage us to think of how we love those around us. Love means taking care of members of our community who are at risk. That means, if you have someone working for you, consider asking them to work from home, or if it is a position where this isn’t possible, ask them not to come to work, but carry on paying them where possible. Love means washing our hands, following rules set forth by our government, listening to experts in the field, so that we can flatten the curve. Pause 1-2-3
Love means being patient in this time of uncertainty. Love means being kind to those in critical positions – our medical staff, our pharmacy staff members, the clerks in the stores, who would probably like to practice social distancing, but who carry on working because they are needed. Love rejoices in the truth. Ignore fake news and fear-mongering, and listen to credible news sources. Remember that love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. When this health crisis has passed, we want to be able to stand together, saying we showed the love of God, our trust and hope are intact and together we persevered, as a church, as a family and as South Africans as a whole. May the love of God dwell in our hearts through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. May these words by Third Day lift our hearts and calm our fears: “Your love, oh Lord. Reaches to the heavens. Your faithfulness stretches to the sky. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains. Your justice flows like the ocean's tide. I will life my voice to worship You, my King. I will find my strength in the shadow of Your wings. Knowing God will care for us and carry us through this crisis because “these three remain faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”