Things we should know about God and his work

Text Romans 8:28 Time 07/11/10 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Romans 8:28 is one of the great texts of the Bible, a verse worth knowing and learning. Down the years it has been a comfort and blessing to countless believers. It’s often likened to “a soft pillow for a tired heart” and is one on which many a weary traveller has laid his head.
In many ways it stands on its own and I want to treat it separately this evening. It acts as a sort of summary of Romans 8:1-27 but also anticipates the great climax at the end of Romans 8. Paul has already said that there is no condemnation for Christians, for those who are in Christ Jesus. They have the Holy Spirit who will even one day raise their bodies from the dead. They are God’s children and heirs. Though they presently suffer they will one day share in Christ’s glory, glory incomparable with any suffering known in this life. It is for this end that creation is groaning and believers groan too. By nature we are very weak but the Holy Spirit helps us and effectively prays with us and for us.
Now before we go any further we ought to say something about what Paul actually says here. We are probably wisest to accept the NIV margin for the first part - And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God. What seems to have happened is that early on someone objected to this phrase all things work together for good as if it somehow happened automatically and so some very early manuscripts do read (as NIV) in all things God works for the good. If you would prefer the NIV text that’s fine. For the rest of the verse the NIV is excellent.
So our text is
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.
We want to say five things about the verse
1. Here is something we ought to be in no doubt about
Paul begins And we know …. It’s a favourite phrase with him. He has already used it three times in this letter (see 8:22) and uses it at least another five times elsewhere. It contrasts rather with verse 26 where he says we do not know what to pray for. Yes, there are things Christians do not know. We should not be afraid to admit it. Many things are hidden from us. But it’s a little bit like an exam in school – what matters is not what you do not know but what you do know. That is where the emphasis should lie in our thinking. These are things we know, things about which we are certain.
The question arises as to how we know these things and, of course, we know them because they have been revealed. God revealed this truth to Paul and through Paul to all believers. If we enquire further as to how Paul learned it, we cannot be far wrong when we say that he learned it from the Scriptures and from his own experience.
1. Scripture
He knew, for example, the story of Joseph and how despite everything seeming to be against that boy and despite his father Jacob’s despair, God worked it all together for the good of his people. All the way along, despite the evil intentions of others in the wonderful words of Genesis 50:20 God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Or think of the story of Daniel's three friends and how King Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown into the fiery furnace and yet not a hair of their heads was even singed but God brought about a miraculous deliverance from them. Think of Daniel himself and the way God rescued him from the mouths of the lions.
2. Paul’s own experiences of the Lord’s dealings with him had taught him the same thing. He had been in trouble time and time again but later on writing to Timothy he says Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them (2 Timothy 3:11). Again and again Paul had seen God use impossible situations for the advance of the gospel. Many of us could share our own experience in this same way.
2. We ought to know that God is at work
The verse begins God works or all things work. Everything that happens from the mightiest earthquake to the silent movement of the wings of a butterfly; from the most insignificant action of the most insignificant person to the decisions of the world’s most powerful leaders, God is at work in it all. God is at work and we ought to be alert to that reality. God has not wound the universe and left it to turn like some gigantic clockwork time-piece. No, he is actively at work in everything. Nothing happens apart from him being at work in it. We had that catechism question this morning -
“What are the decrees of God?” The answer: “The decrees of God are His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby for His own glory, He has fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass.” The catechism goes on to ask “How does God execute His decrees?” The answer is that “God executes His decrees in the works of creation and providence.” Providence is then defined as “His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.”
3. We ought to know that he works for good
God works for the good or all things work together for good. Knowing what we do of God this should come as no surprise. He not only works but he also works for the good of his people. All his efforts are bent in that one direction. We must be convinced of that. He is the one who was proclaimed to Moses (Exodus 34:6, 7) as
The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.
In the New Testament James says (1:17) Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Let's never doubt the goodness of God.
Allen Gardiner is one who did not. Gardiner was an officer in the Royal Navy and a faithful missionary to Patagonia in South America. He experienced many physical difficulties and hardships throughout his service to the Saviour. Despite his troubles, he said, “While God gives me strength, failure will not daunt me.” In 1851, at the age of 57, he died of disease and starvation while serving on Picton Island at the southern tip of South America. When his body was found, his diary lay nearby. It bore the record of his hunger, thirst, wounds and loneliness. The last entry in his little book showed the struggle of his shaking hand as he tried to write legibly. It read, “I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.”
4. We ought to know that he works all things together for good
Importantly, Paul says that all things work together for good. He is not simply saying that there are certain things in this life where we can be sure God is working for good but there are other things, of course, where either he is not at work or where, despite the Lord these work for our harm. No, it is a much more extreme statement than that. He is including
1. All things positive. This is perhaps the easiest to understand. Why is there such a thing as the Bible? Why is the Holy Spirit at work doing the things he does? Why are there such things as prayer and Christian fellowship and Christian witness? Where does a desire to serve others and family love come from? Marriage and friendship, food and clothing, the joys of music and art and conversation and games and sport, etc. All these good things and countless others are among the all things that work together for the good of God’s people. Whenever anything good happens we ought to see that God as done it. He has brought it about. Every good and perfect gift is from above.
2. All things neutral. With that we can include all the things we are perhaps not sure about or that are neutral or indifferent – such as the rain and the wind and various inventions such as radio, TV, microphones, recorders, computers, the internet; the size of your family, how much money you have. We could perhaps put the ability to read and education in general here along with the religious impulse in man and his desire to be creative. We can think, no doubt of many things that are neither good nor bad in and of themselves but that can be used in good ways and so without too much difficulty we can see fairly easily how they work together for the good of God’s people.
3. All things negative. But those two categories do not exhaust the phrase all things. All things surely also includes all the things that we would instinctively label as bad such as all forms of evil and suffering and sin. This is perhaps where we find some difficulty in going along with Paul. ‘What? The Devil and the Fall and all my troubles and sins are actually working together for my good? This is clearly what the verse says, however. If you are ill or have to go into hospital for an operation; if you are affected by a gale or a flood; if your car breaks down or you have an accident; if you are the victim of a burglary or some other crime; if you fall into depression or have doubts; if you are not married but would dearly love to be or you cannot have children though you long for them; if you are persecuted for your faith or face hostility; even if you sin by word or deed – all this God will work together for your good. This does not mean for one moment that we should be indifferent to what happens to us or whether we sin or not. It is no more right for a Christian to sin than for unbelievers to persecute believers but God can and does over-rule all things for good. This verse is here for encouragement not for licence. When things go wrong we have a tendency to despair and even when things are going well we can be prone to worry and anxiety. Here God tells us to put away our anxieties and not to give into despair. Whatever it is, God says, it is all part of his glorious plan and that plan is to do good to his people. And he will do his will. We can count on it.
Spurgeon says
"Did you ever hear of a man who got his health by being sick? That is a Christian. He gets rich by his losses, he rises by his falls, he goes on by being pushed back, he lives by dying, he grows by being diminished, and becomes full by being emptied. Well, if the bad things work for him so much good, what must his best things do? If he can sing in a dungeon, how sweetly will he sing in heaven!"
So our attitude to our troubles and our sins should be one that recognises and keeps in mind that God will do us good – despite our troubles, despite ourselves even. We can be sure of this.
5. We ought to know that he does this for those who love him and whom he has called
Now it is important finally to add that this is not some general law that applies to everybody. Paul does not say that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. He is careful to make clear that what he has to say does not apply to everyone but specifically to Christian believers.
If you are an unbeliever this verse is not for you. In fact, the very opposite could be said. Despite what good you may receive in this life, all things are actually working against you for you will be judged if you go on in sin. Repent! Turn to the Lord now before it is too late. Despite all your rebellion and sin God can work it together for your good. He speaks of believers as
1. Those who love him. Do you love the Lord? It is not an easy question in some ways. If you know anything, you know how treacherous your heart is. However, is there some reason to suppose that you love God? Are you at least committed to loving him and serving him? Do you want to please him? Are you trying to obey his command to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you do love the Lord, even though the level of your commitment may leave a lot to be desired, then you can be sure this promise is for you. All things are working together for your good. Despite all your troubles, despite all your sins, despite the Devil’s desperate efforts – God is at work and he is working for good, for your good! Oh what an encouragement this is, especially on the darkest days. Of course, we need faith to believe it. Some things have happened in our lives may be and we simply can’t see how it could possibly have been for our good. There are things and we still wonder why. I’m not saying, and this verse does not say, that we will always see how God is working things negative to our good.
Sometimes we will. Sometimes we will see how God has used trouble and adversity and even our own sins to wean us from this world and to teach us humility before God and compassion towards others.
At other times we will not see it at first but eventually we will at least have some idea of how it has worked for our good. Do you know the story of the northern Puritan Bernard Gilpin breaking his leg when arrested during the reign of Queen Mary? Gilpin preached in a place called Houghton far from London but worked of his faithful preaching reached the authorities in London and so he was arrested and had to make the journey to London to face almost inevitable martyrdom. Somehow on the way as he mounted his horse he managed to break his leg. Perhaps some questioned at that point how a broken leg on top of everything else was working for his good. What happened, however, was that his arrival in London was delayed. Apparently it was a s they finally reached Highgate that news came of the death of wicked Queen Mary and so he was safe from further danger.
Sometimes, in this life, we will never see it. I think I have mentioned to you before how one preacher has mentioned how his mother died 20 minutes before he arrived to see her for the last time and his question as to why in God's purpose he was not allowed to see her alive one last time. Who knows? However, this is where faith comes in again. We must believe this verse. We must trust that God truly is working all things together for our good. Who would not love a God like this?
The testimony of Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch lady who was so faithful in the last war in sheltering Jews from the Nazis, is powerful. She wrote
"Often I have heard people say, “How good God is! We prayed that it would not rain for our church picnic, and look at the lovely weather!'” Yes, God is good when He sends good weather. But God was also good when He allowed my sister, Betsie, to starve to death before my eyes in a German concentration camp. I remember one occasion when I was very discouraged there. Everything around us was dark, and there was darkness in my heart. I remember telling Betsie that I thought God had forgotten us. “No, Corrie,” said Betsie, “He has not forgotten us. Remember His Word: 'For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.'” She concludes, “There is an ocean of God's love available - there is plenty for everyone. May God grant you never to doubt that victorious love - whatever the circumstances.”"
2. Who have been called according to his purpose. Who have been called according to his purpose. We must not miss that final bit. In the end it is not that we love him but that he first loved us. That is what makes the difference. Yes, our choice is a free one but not in the sense that God had nothing to do with it. No, he works out everything according to his own will. It is according to his purpose that he calls people to himself. He has a good purpose and part for that purpose is to call people to himself. That call is always for their good. It is important to remember this.
I love the story of Drew Garner and the rough and unorthodox usual evangelist Rolfe Barnard in the United States. In 1954 Rolfe Barnard was taking a series of meetings in a Southern Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky, where a man called Drew Garner was the pastor. Lots of interesting things happened that week but at one point Barnard preached on Romans 8:28. He began his sermon by asking if anyone could quote Romans 8:28. Well, Drew Garner was fresh out of seminary and he was pretty sure he knew what Romans 8:28 was. And so he raised his hand and said And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God and then sat down. Barnard looked at him and he began to read the verse again. Yes, And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God just as Garner had said but there is more … to them who are the called according to his (and here Barnard boomed) PURPOSE!!!
That is the thing to remember. In Jeremiah 29:11 God says For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. This how he speaks to us all who are believers. What comfort such a fact should give us.
Perhaps this whole truth is seen most clearly in the cross of Christ. Remember Peter's words in Acts 2:33, 34 you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him and 3:15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. Yes, those who put Jesus to death were guilty before him. It was an evil act. And yet God worked it together for good. What he did with the cross he does with all things – for his own glory and for the good of his people.

A warning against being luke warm

Text Revelation 3:14-22 Time 01/08/10 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

We are looking at the seven letters to the seven churches found in Revelation 2 and 3. So far we have looked at six letters – those to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia. This evening I want us to look at the last of the churches – Laodicea.
We've done ESP-TSP- now it's just L. We've looked at Mixed, Praised, Mixed/Mixed/Mixed more Blame and Mixed mostly Praise. Now it is Blamed.
With Laodicea we have a loud blast against complacency and a call to wholehearted recommitment.
Once again we will look at the description of the church and consider ourselves as a church and as individuals in the light of it. Verse 14 says To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
Laodicea was the leading city of the region of Phrygia, about 40 miles south east of Philadelphia. It is almost due east of the first church Ephesus by about 90 miles. Situated where 3 important highways met Laodicea was in an ideal place commercially and became a rich commercial and financial centre. So wealthy was it that when it was damaged in an earthquake the citizens declined to receive aid from the Emperor’s coffers. Interestingly, its water was piped in from hot springs about six miles away. By the time it reached Laodicea it was luke warm. Also a famous medical school grew up not far away. It developed an eye medicine called Phrygian powder which brought fame to Laodicea. Again it was in a valley, the Lycus Valley. Just to the north was Hierapolis, where there was also a church and just 10 miles away was the church in Colosse. In Paul's letter to the Colossians he urges them to read his letter to Laodicea. That could be what we call the letter to the Ephesians, Paul having written the same letter to both churches. Paul had never been to Colosse or Laodicea. The church in Laodicea was founded by a man called Epaphras. Perhaps he founded the church in Laodicea too.
Clearly the church was in bad way by this time. It wasn't necessarily due to heresy as such or persecution but they had fallen asleep on the job there in Laodicea and they needed this very stern letter to wake them up. Perhaps we need something like that too. Let's hope not. So we say a number of things growing out of what is in this letter to ourselves as individuals and as a church.

1. Consider the character of Christ and the fact these are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness and ruler of God's creation
For the final time we have these words These are the words of .... This time it is These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. This again mostly taken from Chapter 1. Amen is, of course, a Hebrew word. It means “it is”. We are familiar with it ax the word we use at the end of our prayers or the prayers of others, meaning “it is so” or “I agree”. It is the word Jesus would often use to introduce something important that he was saying. We often translate “Truly, truly”. He is the one then who is true. That is what makes him a faithful and true witness. He is also the ruler over God's creation, the one through whom all was created and the one who sustains it all.
In Laodicea they had rather forgotten all this and they needed to be reminded. Perhaps we too need such a reminder.

2. Consider his word of condemnation for a luke warm church
In verse 15 we get that famous statement I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! Throughout the letter we get these statements – I know, I know. Whatever the state of a church it is something known to the Lord, whether it is something good or something bad. Here it is something bad. The church in Laodicea is described as being neither cold nor hot. The expression is sometimes misunderstood because we tend to think of being hot – being on fire for Christ – as something good and being cold as something bad. You could think that Jesus was saying better cold then luke warm. If you can't be on fire, do nothing. In fact the idea is of refreshment. On a hot day you want something cold to cool you down. On a cold day you want something hot to warm you up. What is never refreshing is something tepid or luke warm. Have you ever left a cup of tea too long. You go to taste it and it is tepid. Yuk! Or think of putting on the tap to get cold water and only getting tepid water. I remember as a boy making that mistake – going to the gym on hot day expecting cold water and only getting warm. Yuk!
What Christ wants is that we should refresh him. There are different ways to do that but somehow we must refresh him by the way we live.
A surely apocryphal story is told that in the days when Soviet Russia was under organised persecution there was an occasion when secret police turned up at a meeting and said ‘Okay anyone who is not really all out for Christ can go, the rest must stay’. No-one moved. ‘Good’ was the response ‘We are not secret police actually but fellow believers. We wanted to be sure there were no compromisers present.’ How would that work out here? Certainly when Israel went out to war anyone who felt afraid was actually encouraged to go home and not come – he may discourage others. Here the sentence has not been passed yet. There is time to change.

3. Consider his word of warning for a luke warm church
Once we get the picture correct in our head verse 16 makes sense So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth. That was the problem in Laodicea – not hot, not cold either, just tepid, luke warm. Just as a person getting a mouthful of tepid tea is likely to spit it out or someone after an ice cold cola will spit out the luke warm stuff, so Christ says he will react against such tepid believers by rejecting and ejecting them. They will have to go. He cannot stand such people. What a warning! Be hot, be cold, but somehow refresh the Lord. Otherwise, you cannot expect to draw near to the Lord.

4. Consider how it is possible to be self-deceived about your true state
How did they get to be so luke warm in Laodicea? It was a problem of not realising just how bad things really were. In their ignorance they had completely misread the situation. Verse 17 You say, I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. That was how they felt about themselves. In fact they were totally misreading the situation. Christ says But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Their situation was the very opposite of what they thought it was.
I remember haring a comedian say once that he had heard that to be popular with girls it was important to smile. So he went out smiling at every girl he met. It was only when he came home and looked in the mirror he realised he had a piece of dark green cabbage stuck on his teeth! We can all identify with such faux pas. But what about a man who is sure his job is safe and so organises his holiday and starts buying a car, etc, when the company intend to make him redundant at the end of next year? What about someone who is convinced all is well with him when in fact he has cancer and has only months to live? Like these men Laodicea had completely misread the situation.
They did not realise that they were
Wretched, pitiful – They were to be pitied rather than envied. They were sad and miserable not happy and glad. They were the opposite of Smyrna. The poor Smyrnans were told that despite their poverty they were in fact rich. The Laodiceans who thought themselves rich are in fact:
Poor. They had nothing at all to give. They were hardly able to keep themselves alive. Far from being the well taught Christians they thought they were they were paupers! There are many today like that. In some ways very rich but poverty stricken in truth – no comfort to share, no inward strength, no spiritual power.
Blind. They were blind. What ignorance there was. For all their claims to discernment they could not even diagnose their own parlous spiritual condition. Even the most intelligent in Laodicea knew so very little of what really counts. Again, how common that is – spiritual myopia, spiritual blindness.
Naked. Finally, they were naked. There was nothing to cover their exposed sin. They thought all was well between them and God but it was not.
Now the obvious thing not to do here is to say ‘Well, I’m glad I’m not like that’. Can’t we see the danger? We pride ourselves on our knowledge, our discernment, our strong sense of assurance – but are we fooling ourselves? Are we in fact wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked? Remember the Pharisee who (Luke 18:11, 12) stood up and prayed about himself: God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. Rather let’s be like the tax collector who beat his breast and cried to God for mercy.

5. Consider what those who have fooled themselves need to do to get right with Christ
If we examine ourselves and we find that, even if only in a small measure, there is something wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked about us what should we do? The Laodiceans are left in no doubt. Three things come out.
1. Go to Jesus for spiritual resources. Verse 18 I counsel you to buy from me … says Jesus. Three things follow. These are to deal with the spiritual poverty, nakedness and blindness that have already been identified.
1 Gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich. Some people talk about the riches of this particular tradition or that but real spiritual riches are found only Christ. Go to him. The gold he has is gold refined in the fires of his life of suffering and his death on the cross. There is none like it. Throw aside the gaudy baubles and imitation smack this world has to offer and find genuine treasure – knowledge, faith, hope, love – in and through Christ.
2 White clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness. All sorts of attempts are made to cover up man’s shameful nakedness but none of it works. It is Christ’s provision alone that cover us adequately. Laodicea was famous for its black wool and the garments made from it but what the Laodiceans was to be dressed in white, the white of holiness. Christ alone can provide such garments.
3 Salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see. As we mentioned the famous medical school near Laodicea had come up with Phrygian powder a great eye salve. Christ here calls on these Laodiceans to buy eye slave from him to enlighten them and clear their clouded vision. All who are outside Christ are spiritually blind. Those who come to him have their eyes opened to see their own sin and the righteousness that he alone can provide. You may wonder why it says I counsel you to buy. It is true that we cannot earn salvation but there is a sense in which it does cost. We need to give up on ourselves. We need to humble ourselves, recognising that by nature we are poor, naked and blind.
Have you done it? Do so now.
2. Be earnest and repent
Although this is a stinging rebuke for the church in Laodicea the Lord Jesus does not want to discourage them. He tenderly points out (19) Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. These words of rebuke and discipline grow out of his love for the Laodiceans. I punish my children from time to time not because I do not like them but because I love them. So with Christ and his people.
The proper way to react to rebuke and discipline is to repent. So be earnest, and repent. Waste not time but immediately turn from your sins. Don’t be half-heated about this, earnestly repent. That is the only proper response.
3. Open the door of your heart to Jesus
Then in verse 20 come those famous words Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Now these words have so often been used to speak to unbelievers that it is easy to forget that they were first addressed to professing believers. The actual picture here is of the Laodiceans gathered together at one of their meetings. All are present and as they look round at one another they are contented with themselves – they are quite contented. ‘Well’ they think ‘we’ve got things going pretty well here – good numbers, good singing, good preaching, plenty of amens.’ But then there is he sound of knocking at the door. Who can it be? Who has been left outside? ‘It is me!’ says Jesus. It was the same when the people went home. Oh how good it all was - they thought. But at the doors of their homes and their workshops this knocking keeps coming. It is Jesus saying ‘Let me in’. Can they hear him? Can you hear Jesus speaking to you today? If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, he says I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Oh what a feast there will be! All you have to do is just open the door.
Has the Lord Jesus been pushed out of your life? He is on the outside trying to get in? Open the door! Hear his voice today here in the Scriptures.
‘Behold me standing at the door, And hear me pleading evermore,
With gentle voice; O heart of sin, May I come in, may I come in?’ (Fanny Crosby)

6. Consider the promise here for those who overcome and the call to hear the Spirit
Finally as with the other letters there is a promise and a repeated command for overcomers – for those who take heed to what is said and repent.
1. The promise. John has already spoken of believers as those who have been made to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father (1:6) and in 2:26 the promise to the overcomer is authority over the nations. Here we read To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. The Laodiceans though they were rich but they were not. It is those who truly know Christ who have real riches. They share with Christ in his coming reign over the Kingdom of God. In one sense Christ already reigns and his saints with him but the final consummation is to come. We are still in the midst of mopping up operations following the great victory of the cross. Other New Testament verses teach the same thing.
Romans 5:17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
2 Timothy 2:12 If we endure, we will also reign with him. What a glorious future lays ahead for the persevering believer!
2. The command. Finally, do not miss that concluding command. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. If you have understood anything of what has been said this morning it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Now listen to the Word and do what it says – repent from any tendency at all to complacency, to lukewarmness, to self-sufficiency. Look entirely to Christ, trust in him alone and know his abundant blessing.

A call to hold on

Text Revelation 3:1-6 Time 25/07/10 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

There's an old Frankie Valli song. In it the singer is trying to persuade his girl friend not to give up on their relationship. He sings
“Let's hang on to what we've got Don't let go girl we've got a lot Got a lot of love between us Hang on hang on hang on To what we've got”.
There's another old song by Wilson Phillips that says
“Don't you know things can change Things'll go your way If you hold on for one more day Can you hold on for one more day Things'll go your way Hold on for one more day.”
Today's sermon is about something similar – the need to hang on, to hold on.
We are looking at the seven letters to the seven churches found in Revelation 2 and 3. So far we have looked at five letters – those to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira and Sardis. Today I want us to look at Philadelphia and Laodicea, Philadelphia this morning.
We've done ESP-TS now it's P-L. We've looked at Mixed, Praised, Mixed/Mixed/Mixed more Blame,. Now it is Mixed more Praise and Blamed.
Once again we will look at the description of the church and consider ourselves as a church and as individuals in the light of it.
The name Philadelphia we associate best with the place in Pennsylvania, USA, but the original is about 28 miles south of Sardis in that same area of western Asia Minor (today Turkey) where the other six churches are found. The name means “brotherly love” and comes from the name of the city founder, Attalus Philadelphus. It has now been swallowed up by a larger town. Like Sardis it was in Lydia and very fertile. On the banks of a little river, it was dominated by Mount Timolus. It was in an area of volcanoes and earthquakes. Tremors were frequent.
Once again we do not know how the church began but it is clear that at this stage it was flourishing despite persecution. In a letter full of striking images, Christ is able to give the church almost unmixed praise. So To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write.

1. Consider the character of Christ and the fact these are the words of him who is holy and true and who holds the key of David
As is the pattern, we begin yet again with the phrase These are the words of him and this time it is him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. He adds What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
1. Holy and true. First then he is holy and true. These are terms, of course, that apply only to God. The Christ is God come as a man. Part of his being God is that he is separate, other. He is not like us. Another part is that he is wholly true.
2. Sovereign. He also holds the key of David. This takes us back to the prophecy in Isaiah 22:22 I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. It applies initially to Hezekiah's servant Eliakim but also to Messiah. Christ is ultimately the ruler over God's house and he is free to come and go as he wishes. He has the key.
It is this reference that means this church is sometimes referred to as the Church of the Open Door. What is an open door? An open door is a way of describing an opportunity. Here the sovereign Lord Jesus Christ asserts his authority in this area. He opens or he shuts the door of opportunity as he chooses. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. He is the one, then who gives opportunities to God's people to know him and to serve him and to get glory to his name. When he chooses that such an opportunity will come then nothing can stop it. It is part of his rule over history.
2. Consider the blessing that this church has known in the past and how it is commended
So here is a church that has known blessings in the past. There have been great opportunities and there has been great faithfulness. What an example they are to us in that. I know your deeds says Jesus just as he has said to other churches – and clearly here they are good deeds that are known. Are we doing good deeds? As we have said, we are saved by faith but true faith is never alone and always leads to good deeds.
Here are some other good questions for us too.
1. Are we aware of the opportunities we have, thankful for them and using them?
Verse 8 reads I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. How were they able to do the good they did? Only because Christ had given them the opportunity to do good. Paul says in Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. To do good we must first have the opportunity to do good and that is entirely from Christ. The church in Philadelphia had been given lots of opportunities to do good and they had taken them. As ever, we don't know the background detail but they did have opportunities there.
The same sort of attitude should take hold of us. Although some of the opportunities that we knew in the past are not still here there are still many opportunities for us and we must be thankful for them and take them. Yes, it is not the way it once was when most parents were still together and they were at least willing to send their children to Sunday School and when most people were free all day on Sunday. No, often families are now split and they are busy on Sundays. However, we are still free to tell people about Jesus, to give out tracts on the street and invite people in. Let's be thankful that door is still open and let's make use of it while we can. The Lord may not keep it open for us much longer.
2. Are we being faithful despite our weakness?
The second I know regards their perseverance – their willingness to be faithful despite their weakness. I know says Jesus that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Again, we don't know the nature of their weakness - whether they were a small fellowship or one lacking in many gifts or something else. Weakness is something we know but, however. Now like the church in Philadelphia we must resist any temptation to excuse ourselves because we are weak. Rather, like the Philadelphians, we must be determined to keep Christ's word and determined to refuse to deny his name, however much we are persecuted. Is that our attitude? Are we determined through him to stay exclusively with the one who is holy and true? Are we willing to persevere in his word and in his name? That is how it must be.
3. Consider the promise of future blessing that is given to them here
To encourage these godly believers to press on there are, as with the other churches, promises for them to take hold of. These are quite specific promises but ones that we can also to some extent take hold of and act upon.
1. The promise of vindication
In verse 9 Christ says I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars - I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. As elsewhere, a lot of the opposition to the believers in Philadelphia was coming from the Jews of the city. The same phrase used to describe the Jews in Smyrna (see 2:9) is used here to describe the ones in Philadelphia - a synagogue of Satan. They claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars. The risen Christ has something to say about people like this. I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. It's quite a note to strike but it is something we always need to remember when we are under attack from persecutors – there is a great change coming. It won't always happen in this life but it will happen at some point. Our enemies will one day come and humble themselves before us and acknowledge that they were wrong and that Christ did love us all along. All the Muslims and Hindus and the Romanists and the atheists will all come one day and acknowledge the truth. “Yes” they will say “what we taught was not right. We were wrong. All along you were right and what you said was right and you always had the love of Jesus Christ.” Sometimes it does happen in this life.
2. The promise of protection
Then in verse 10 there is another promise Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. The promise is a reward for their obedience and their patient endurance. This is a very specific promise, of course, but it reminds us again that we are entirely in the hands of Christ who holds the key. At this very time we are being very much kept from the hour of trial that is presently on much of the world that is testing those who live on the earth. It is not like it is here in China or Burma or North Korea or parts of Indonesia or the Philippines or Pakistan of Israel. We must recognise Christ's protection over us and continue to obey him and endure and work patiently.
4. Consider the further promise and the word of instruction that is also found here
In verse 11 there is another promise and a word of instruction with it. Jesus says I am coming soon. Yes, one day he is coming again. It is nearer now than it has ever been. A verse like this does not refer only to that final coming but also to the way he comes to his people in special ways before that time too. At times there are delays, sometimes long delays, and our patience is tested. This is true in our lives as individuals and as churches. We are in a time now when it is as if Christ is away from us. We are not knowing his nearness as others have done in the past. At such times we need to take note of this word of instruction here – Hold on! Hold on to what you have. Why? So that no one will take your crown. There is always the danger of slipping away and losing the crown. We must not allow that to happen. Have you ever watched a game of rugby where Wales or whoever is playing against England or whoever you want to win are pressing towards the line and are about to score a try but then the ball slips out of the man's hands? For some reason he can't hold on to it. If only he could have held on it was a certain try. Well, in a similar way we need to hold on to what we have. Yes, we are not knowing Christ's nearness as we wish. Yes, the opportunities seem to be narrowing rather than broadening. However, we must continue to hold on to what we have. We must hold on to the Bible and its message, to the privileges that are ours in Christ, to the Holy Spirit. Don't let go!
5. Consider the promises here for those who overcome and the call to hear the Spirit
So we need to overcome, this time especially in the sense of enduring and being obedient and patient. The promises this time to Him who overcomes are twofold. Jesus says of the one who overcomes
1. He will be a permanent pillar in God's Temple
Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. As ever, this is a reference to heaven, to the everlasting Temple of God and to a permanent place in that temple. Of course, even now those who are faithful are part of the temple, indeed they are integral to it. They sound the praise of God – not just when they gather together but as they go abut their daily tasks.
2. Christ will write on him God's name, Heaven's name and his own name
The second promise is I will write on him 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 him my new name. So three names are written by Christ - the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, ... and ... the new name of Christ himself. You write your name on something that belongs to you. In a few weeks a new school term will start and so mothers up and down the country will be busy putting their children's names on all their clothing and equipment. If you ever see any of the Toy Story films you will notice that the character Buzz Light year has the name ANDY written on the sole of his right boot – because he belongs to Andy. The believers in Philadelphia are promised that all who continue in the right direction will have God's name on them and heaven's name (for that is where they are headed) and the name of Christ too, for he is their Saviour. Like those sticks of rock that have Brighton written all the way through so the name of God and heaven and Christ is on the overcomer, the true Christian who, having put his hand to the plough, does not turn back but keeps on going in Christ's own strength. What a call then, what an encouragement to hold on to what we have and not to let it go.
3. A final call to hear
Finally in verse 13 there is that repeated command He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. We say again -
You have heard. What are you going to do about it? The call is to hold on to what you have. The promise is of a permanent place in God's Temple, of being in God and in Christ and in the New Jerusalem. Don't lose such a crown. Be patient. Endure. Be obedient. Press on in Christ. Hold on to what you've got.