Sixth in a series
“It’s not how you start, but how you finish.” In the proverbial story of the tortoise and hare, the hare darts out quickly, but a series of distractions and compromises renders its defeat. The tortoise, however, plods consistently and faithfully – step after step – and wins the race.
We have all seen the horrors of many morally compromised pastors who are like that hare. So much promise, so much potential, such a great start to ministry, yet they have been ecclesiastically disqualified. They do not finish well.
The same could be said for many churches. They start out with a bang, but are now limping along, wandering from the path. How about your church? Is your church standing strong in a world that wants her to fall?
The Church at Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) was one of only two churches in Revelation where Jesus did not register a complaint. In fact, He commended them for their faithfulness in the midst of great persecution and suffering. This congregation was small, but strong.
They were banished as outsiders from their formerly Jewish community, but now insiders in the Kingdom of God. As a result, Jesus, “the one who has the key of David,” gave them the following three assurances:
1. “I have put before you an open door which no one can shut” (v. 8a)
2. “I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan … to come and bow at your feet” (v. 9)
3. “I will keep you from the hour of testing” (v. 10a)
Jesus promises final victory to all those who stay faithful and finish strong. Their temporary difficulty will be rewarded with eternal glory. Jesus says, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God” (7:12).
Ancient Philadelphia was founded in the late second century, B.C. Eumenes II named the city for the love of his brother, Attalus II (159-138 B.C.), whose loyalty earned him the nickname, “Philadelphos,” literally “one who loves his brother.” In A.D. 17, the city was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt by Tiberius Caesar. Out of gratitude they renamed the city Neocaesarea (New Caesar) for a short time.
Just as the city changed names, Jesus promises to change the names of His faithful church in that city. He says, “I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God … and My new name” (3:12b).
The reward for their perseverance would be a name forever intertwined with His (see Revelation 19:12).
Jesus calls the early Jewish non-believers a “synagogue of Satan” (3:9). While they may have scoffed at such a designation, the enemy was at work through them inciting distraction and compromise. Satan is still on the move today, seeking those whom he can devour (1 Peter 5:8).
North Carolina Baptist churches may not be facing the same level of persecution as our first century counterparts, but the pressure is mounting. Let us stay faithful to the end. Let us finish strong. After all, it’s not how you start, but how you finish.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article is part of a series on the theme of the 2018 North Carolina Pastors’ Conference, “7 Churches of Revelation.” This year’s event will occur Nov. 4-5 in conjunction with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s annual meeting. Visit ncpastorsconference.org for more information. Clay Smith is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Matthews. Each column in the series is written by a different N.C. leader and refers to one of the seven churches in Revelation.)