Unqualified Praise: The Church in Philadelphia

When Jesus addresses the angel (pastor) of the church in Philadelphia (Rev 2.7-13), he has nothing negative to say about his ministry or the church. In a culturally influential city where position and power as measured by the world were important, the pastor had not capitulated to play the cultural games it would take to gain influence and avoid the haranguing of the “synagogue of Satan,” the unbelieving Jews. He had “little power” (Rev 2.8). But he had great faithfulness. Jesus has no charge to bring against him. There is praise without caveat.

We can understand better how Jesus deals with many of the other churches. “You have been steadfast in doctrine, but I have this against you: You have left your first love.” “You haven’t denied my name, but you have tolerated the teachings of Balaam or Jezebel.” We sympathize with this because we know ourselves and our churches. There is always something wrong. There is always a sin or sins that need to be addressed. We are sinners, and we know it. To have Jesus point to sin in our lives may be painful, but it is understandable.

But what happens when he doesn’t? What happens when he says, “Well done” with no caveat? What happens when he praises us through the voice of his servants with no rebuke? How comfortable are we with that?

Surely there was some sin in the pastor and/or church that could have been pointed out. No doubt there were struggles with sin in individual lives as well as the church as a whole. Jesus doesn’t believe that they need to be mentioned. Obviously the pastor and church were dealing with sin appropriately when it was coming up. They were struggling with them, confessing them, repenting of them, and pursuing righteousness. When that is happening, they are doing what needs to be done. Jesus is pleased.

But there are some of us who aren’t pleased with this. There always has to be something to pointed out and nit-picked. “Yeah, that man is faithful, but he’s still a sinner.” “That church is a good church, but remember that they are full of sinners.” If someone praises us for our faithfulness, we deflect it by qualification. “Thank you, but if you just knew me and all the sin in my heart, you probably wouldn’t be saying that.”

Why do we do that? Why is it so difficult to accept praise for our faithfulness, thank the person giving it, and move on? Maybe we’re scared of pride swelling up in our hearts. That’s understandable. However, one truth that we learn from Jesus’s address to the church at Philadelphia is that we need to accept his praise for our faithfulness without groveling. There are times that Jesus has nothing bad to say about us. If we are dealing with our sins appropriately as they occur and are pursuing righteousness, Jesus is pleased with us.

At times, I’m afraid, we view Jesus as a nit-picker. To keep us humble he must always be exposing some sin in our lives. And if a sin isn’t obvious to us, then we will feel guilty for not seeing any sin and, therefore, confess our blindness and pride as sins. There must always be something.

But there’s not. Are you faithfully dealing with your sin when it is exposed? Are you confessing it, getting things right with others when your sins have affected them? Are you listening to other godly people when they tell you that there are sins with which you need to deal? Are you pursuing what is righteous? Then Jesus says, “Well done;” no reservations, no caveats, no holding things back that he really wants to say. He is pleased with you. Accept it humbly, say, “Thank you,” and keep being faithful.