Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Episode Resources

Watch Heidi's story: How I—an Atheist—Fell in Love with Jesus

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth believes that when she is weak, it shows God’s strength.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: If my being weak will make you see a great God, then I say, “Okay, I’ll be weak. I’m willing to have just a little power, just a little strength so that you can see the greatness of the power of God.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Gratitude, for Wednesday, October 11, 2017.

Do you ever feel powerless on your own? Well, you are in good company—as Nancy will explain in the series "Letters to the Churches in Revelation, Part 7: Encouragement to Persevere."

Nancy: People have a lot of different ideas today about what makes a “successful” church, and they have a lot of different ideas about what makes a successful or a good Christian. What are some of the things that would be on your list?

If you’re looking for a church in the area, or you’re saying, “Is this person a person who is really a faithful believer?” There are different things you might think of. They might be some of the things that are on others’ lists. But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what others think or what we think makes a successful church or a good Christian. What really matters is what Jesus values in a church, what Jesus looks for in a believer’s heart.

Often the earthly perspective is very different than the heavenly perspective. The way we measure things, the way we measure success is often quite different than the way God measures that. We get a glimpse of that as we continue today in this series on the letter of Jesus to the church in Philadelphia.

Jesus commends this church. We’ve said that this is only one of two churches of the seven where Jesus has no word of rebuke, no word of criticism. This is a faithful church that He commends, so it gives us some glimpses into what He considers important in a church.

Yet, when I think about Jesus commending this church, I think about what happens sometimes when people commend us, when they give us compliments, when they tell us they appreciate something about us. Sometimes our tendency is to feel, “Thank you, but if you really knew me, you might not say that.”

I’m in a place in this ministry where I’m blessed to get encouragement from a lot of people. A lot who are here today have shared, “Your ministry has blessed me in this way. . . . God has used this book or this radio series in my life.” People get an image of public people, and they think, Oh, you must just pray all the time. You must never sin.

I know myself better than you know me. I live with me, and sometimes I think, If you really knew the things I struggle with . . . In those very earthy, flesh-centered, self-centered moments, which are frequent, who I really am, I think, “They wouldn’t even read any more of my books; they wouldn’t turn on the radio again, or go to our website.”

What I love about this passage is that the one who’s giving the commendation does know. It’s Jesus. He’s the holy One, the true One. So Jesus says to this church, “I know your works. I know who you are." He has those eyes that are like a flame of fire. He sees; He penetrates.

It's grace that would cause Him to look at us through eyes of love and acceptance, because He has paid the price for all that junk about ourselves that we know, that we think if other people knew, they wouldn't really like us.

Jesus is a merciful Savior. He's a gracious High Priest. As we read this commendation, I want you to think of it in that light. Because we think, Oh, that's a great church there in Philadelphia, but Jesus wouldn't commend my life. But He really can think of us as faithful and true to Him if He sees in us those qualities of faith and dependence and a repentant, humble heart that He apparently saw in this church in Philadelphia.

So this was not a sinless church, but it was a faithful church—faithful believers. And so can we be. That's what this church says to me, what I want to be true in my life. Things that Jesus says that are what make them worthy of commendation, that's what we want to take special note of today.

So Jesus says to this church, "I know your works. Behold I have set before you an open door which no one is able to shut” (Rev. 3:8).

And in the passage, we want to look at today: “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (3:8).

“You have but little power.” Now, I’m using the English Standard Version. I know that different translations read differently on this part of the text, but I think this is a good translation from everything that I’ve been able to study. “You have only a little power.”

A lot of your translations say, “strength.” “You have just a little strength.” It’s that word dunamis in the Greek. It’s a word that means "ability or capability." You’re not super-heroes. You have just a little power, a little ability, a little strength, as the world measures.

Jesus doesn’t go into detail what He means by that, but I think there’s several things it could have meant.

For example, this was a small congregation, probably few in numbers. It was not a megachurch. They probably had limited resources and capacity, little wealth, little knowledge, few natural gifts and abilities.

The people in this church were probably mostly from a humble social position. They were probably mostly lower-class, probably a lot of servants and slaves, people who would not have a lot of esteem in the eyes of the world. There were probably not a lot of great or distinguished men among her number. The mayor of Philadelphia was probably not a member of the church. They probably didn’t have a lot of big sports figures or people or renown who were part of that church—just a little power, a little strength, a little ability.

This is a church that probably had, as was true of most of the churches in that era, little apparent influence in the city, and the powers of wickedness and darkness were so great, the powers of idolatry were so great. So here’s this little church in the midst of all that that thinks, We don’t have much; we aren’t much. And they weren’t much. Jesus acknowledges that. He says, “You have but little power; you have but little strength.”

The people in this church probably didn’t occupy a lot of important political or business positions. As I said, they were not a megachurch.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a megachurch, inherently, or with a large church, inherently. The fact that a church is big does not necessarily make it greater. The fact that a church is little in all these ways we’ve just talked about does not necessarily mean that it is inferior spiritually to a bigger church. And what is true of churches is true of individuals. You may feel like a little person—weak, powerless. You’re not a well-known leader or influencer or speaker.

This church was small in size. It only had a little strength, a little power, humanly speaking; but they had spiritual power. In spite of their little power, their little strength, they were spiritually tenacious.

Jesus says, “In spite of the fact that you have but little power, two things are true of you. 'You have kept my word, and you have not denied my name'” (3:8).

“You have kept my word.” He refers to that again in verse 10: “You have kept my word.”

Apparently it mattered to Jesus that here was a congregation, though they were small, they were bound to the Scripture. They clung to the Word of God. They were loyal to the Scripture. They were obedient to the Word of God.

“You have kept my word, and you have not denied my name.”

In spite of the fact that they were little, they were going against the tide of the whole culture; they were a church that had courage; they were fearless; they were bold in their witness for Christ.

And that’s it. “You have kept my word; you have not denied my name.”

He doesn’t commend them for breaking any attendance records, for any major new programs or new initiatives—just for faithfulness to His Word and His Name.

Now that couldn’t be said of all churches today. I think of many denominations, and some of our Ivy League schools. Most of them that started out holding to the Scripture firmly, boldly proclaiming Christ, but today they’re spiritual facades. There’s nothing there. They deny the deity of Christ; they deny the inerrancy of Scripture; they deny the basic tenants of salvation. What Jesus said of this church could not be said of many today.

But here's a church that is weak; they've got little strength, but they are faithful. They are trustworthy. They are tethered to the Scripture. They have kept the faith. They are bold. They have not denied Christ's name under pressure. They’ve continued to boldly proclaim Christ in spite of their limited ability and capability.

Now these qualities: holding to the Word of God, holding to the name of Christ, they aren’t qualities that most people consider impressive. These aren’t qualities that make headlines or that will get you an interview on Oprah. These aren’t what people are looking for in an annual report of a ministry or a church, but these are the things that please Christ when He looks on a church or when He looks on a Christian life.

We talked in the last session about how Jesus gave to this church an open door. We said that the open door means opportunities for usefulness and for service. As we look at this part of the text, it strikes me that those opportunities to serve the Lord are not dependent on how much or how little power we have. They are dependent on our faithfulness, our willingness to rely on Christ and His power, which is made strong in our weakness.

God is not looking for churches or Christians of great power, great influence as the world measures that. Bigness and numbers and impressive feats and statistics matter a whole lot more to us than they do to God.

It’s easy to fall into the trap, even in the ministry we’re in. It’s easy to think, Okay, how many stations are we on? What’s our budget? You go to these conventions of national religious broadcasters, or whatever, and those are the kind of details we traffic. Those are the kinds of things people talk about. And those are the kinds of things too often I find myself consumed with.

But in Jesus’ economy, it’s not the little or the much power that you have. It’s your faithfulness to His Word and His Name.

He set before Philadelphia an open door. The meaning of the text, as you meditate on it here, is because she has but little power or strength. Our human weaknesses, our human limitations (and we’re conscious of those, I know I am constantly) those are an opportunity for God to display His power. You see that concept all through the Scripture.

Second Corinthians 12, God said to Paul,

My power is made perfect in weakness. [So Paul’s response is,] “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. . . . For when I am weak then I am strong” (vv. 9–10).

Paul says to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians chapter 1,

Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (vv. 26–29).

One commentator I read on this passage said it this way—I love this. He said,

Human weakness is no hindrance to the power of God; on the contrary . . . it provides the setting for the manifestation and the magnification of God’s power.1

I love that! From the outset of this ministry, I have felt so weak, so small, so little, so inadequate. If you only knew what it takes me to get to a recording day like this—the sense of the inadequacy, the weakness, the smallness. But this writer is saying our weakness provides the setting for the manifestation and the magnification of God's power.

If my being weak will make you see a great God, then I say, "Okay, I'll be weak. I'm willing to have just a little power, just a little strength, so that you can see the greatness and the power of God.

Now, this passage goes on to tell us that that faith and that faithfulness, in spite of their little strength and their little power, will be vindicated and will be rewarded. We see that as we come to verse 9:

Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you.

Wherever there are open doors, there will be opposition. We quoted in the last session from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 16 where he said, “A wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (vv. 8–9).

There are always efforts to shut the door of usefulness that Christ opens, and that’s what was happening in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, as with the church in Smyrna that we saw a few weeks ago, there was opposition from the Jewish community. They were hostile. The Jewish community was hostile toward the Gentiles because they believed that the Gentiles were not God’s chosen people, and they were hostile to the converted Jews who had placed their faith in Christ. They believed that they had no part in the truth. So they were saying to these Christians, “You are not really God’s people.” They excommunicated these Jewish believers.

So these Jewish believers were rejected by men, but they were accepted by God.

This local Jewish synagogue had rejected the Messiah, and that’s why it’s called “a synagogue of Satan.” Now you can imagine, being in that city where you grew up in the synagogue, and the Jews, the leaders were the ones you grew up to respect—it’s like the pastors, the rabbis, the whatever. Now Jesus is calling it “a synagogue of Satan.” That’s pretty strong language. What does that mean?

That means that the synagogue is not being led by God as these Jews claim, but it’s really being led by Satan. That name Satan means "adversary." Satan was opposing the work of the gospel and the work of Christ through those Jews who were opposing the church. Jesus is saying here, “They claim to be the true Jews, and in fact they are Jews—ethnically, legally, ceremonially. But, they really aren’t Jews. They aren’t Jews spiritually. They are Jewish in name only.” That’s why He’s saying, “They lie. They claim to be the true Jews, but they’re not true Jews spiritually.”

Christ’s promise to this faithful, little church that’s caught up in this whole situation is that one day the tables will be turned. They’ve been thrown out, but one day these greatest adversaries will come and bow down before their feet and will honor those that they once persecuted; and maybe these opponents will actually be brought to faith themselves. Romans 11, in fact, tells us that in the last days there will be a large number of Jews who will be converted to faith in Jesus Christ.

“Those who opposed you will one day come and bow down before your feet and acknowledge that you really do belong to Me.”

It’s a picture of captives in the battlefield who have been the opponents and now they are brought into submission. It’s a picture that Jesus gives to the church in Philadelphia of what is the Christian expectation of the ultimate triumph of Christ and the submission some day of those who once opposed Him.

Keep that in mind when you look around and you see all the opponents of Christ in government, in media, in education, in position of influence, in your work place, in your home, in your neighborhood. Right now it seems like those who hold the power oppose Christ on many fronts, but remember, the day will come when the tables will be turned.

“They will come and bow before your feet and discover that I have loved you” (Rev. 3:9).

Those who reject Christ will see the error of their ways. They will regret their refusal to worship Christ, and they will be brought to their knees, and some of those will believe and will be saved. God’s people—and who God’s people are is evidenced by their perseverance under pressure—God’s people will be vindicated.

In the Old Testament you read numerous prophecies that in the last days the Gentiles will come and bow down before Israel. Now we’re seeing that the day will come, in an ironic twist of this passage, that the Jews who have not believed in Christ will one day bow before the predominantly Gentile Christian Church. Unbelieving Jews who rejected or persecuted the followers of Christ will acknowledge that these Christians really do belong to God.

That vindication on the part of our opponents may not come in our lifetime, for us. We may not live to see it here on earth, but it will come, and one day those who have opposed God’s people will be subdued.

The problem is we give up too easily. We are intimated by the opposition, or we take on a combative posture. You see Christians who do that sometimes today. You see some ugly stuff in the blogosphere. You expect non-Christians to act like non-Christians, but sometimes, sadly, Christians act like non-Christians in the way they dispute and debate with non-Christians.

Listen, we can proclaim the truth with kindness and grace and love and winsomeness. You don’t have to get combative. You don’t need to get combative with your mate or your boss or your co-worker. Just know that in God’s time and in God’s way, He’s going to vindicate truth.

But instead of getting combative, some of us just cower under the opposition. We get intimidated by it, and we think, I’ve just got a little power. I don’t have any influence. I can’t really make any difference here. So we’re tempted to zip it up, not to share the gospel, just huddle together in our little holy huddle, not stir up trouble, not make any waves.

We have all kinds of excuses. After all, Christians today, this is not a Christian nation any longer. We’re living in a post-Christian era. We are in the minority—not those who claim Christ, but those who truly hold to the Word and the name of Christ—and so we get this inferiority complex. We’re just a small feeble band, and the opposition is great and the danger’s out there. So we’ll just wait for some more favorable circumstances, wait until the tide turns.

Remember that in Philadelphia, God said to those Christians, “I’ve given you an open door.” In a place where there was much antagonism, God still opens doors, even in the midst of hostility and opposition.

I want to close this session by sharing with you a story that illustrates, I think, beautifully how God opens these doors. How one woman was courageous enough and bold enough to stand for Christ, to take the gospel into a place that seemed impossible, and how God honored her faith and her faithfulness.

A lady wrote to us not too long ago and said,

Dear Nancy,

I was an ardent atheist for over ten years. I was hostile and cold toward God. Evangelical Christians were at the top of my most reviled list. I felt that I did not need to buy to religion because I had a good life, a loving husband, two healthy little boys, a gorgeous house, and money in the bank. Yet I had this hole inside me and nothing I tried from shopping, to yoga, to every New Age philosophy could fill that hole permanently. Until . . .

I started to develop a relationship with my husband’s aunt who I knew was a Christian. One day she asked me to attend a church service with her and her husband. I finally confessed I was an atheist. I remember being so afraid that she would no longer like me. Instead, she invited me out to dinner, and I accepted. As I was getting ready to go, I told my husband that I was sure I would convince Sandy to see the "truth" and as a result of our dinner, she would become an atheist.

I sat through dinner with my arms crossed and barraged her with questions. She politely and patiently answered them all. Then she asked if I would pray with her [after being told that this woman is an atheist]. Every fiber of my being did not want to, and yet I did. She simply asked the Holy Spirit to soften my heart and open my eyes to the truth.

I'm so thankful for that aunt who looked at the outward circumstances and said, "Here's a tough nut to crack." But what she didn't know was that God was at work by His Spirit in opening the door to this woman's heart. Heidi goes on:

The next day I felt inclined to purchase a Bible. I told myself it was so I could know my "enemies" better. I began reading the Bible every day. I read the Gospels twice. My heart began to change. I was softening. The Word was changing me. It still amazes me the power that lies in that Book.

That's why when you hold fast to the Word of God, you don't have little power, you have great power.

On the 4th of July, Independence Day from my old self, I invited Jesus into my life. I was born again that second. I got off my knees and knew that my life as I had known it was over.

The following Monday I was looking for Christian podcasts when I was led to Revive Our Hearts. I have listened every day since. Revive Our Hearts has deepened my faith, convicted me, challenged me, and most of all, encouraged me. The Lord has used you so powerfully in my life.

Watch what has happened here. The aunt had stepped through this open door—what had seemed like hostile territory. God opens the door to Heidi's heart, and now Heidi is going to become a missionary, and God is going to use her. Now listen to this:

I cannot begin to express to you how Jesus has changed my life in these last several months. I’ve read the entire Bible, and the New Testament I’ve read countless times. [This was five months into her Christian journey.] I am spending two–six hours a day in the Word after my children go to bed. [Her husband travels during the week, so it gives her this time at night after her little ones go to bed.] I am so filled with love and joy that I am unrecognizable to even my husband. I have become a regular face at a Bible-believing church.

There is literally not one aspect of my life that has not been changed. The Lord has been so gracious and patient with me. Every day He reveals more of Himself to me. All I can utter is, "Praise the Lord."

You are probably wondering about my husband. The Lord has blessed me with such grace for one reason, to paraphrase 1 Peter 3, “to win over my husband without a word.” He has shown me to be patient and wait on him. My husband will be saved, though I may not see it this side of heaven. My children will be save, though again, I may not see it on this side of heaven. I am the legacy, the godly legacy. I bow my knees and pray for my children's future wives with divine understanding that their moms are praying for my boys. I am the praying "unceasingly" wife, mother, future grandmother (her children are little, little) and future generations to come. Through me, God’s will be done.

Now she’s looking for those open doors. Heidi was an opponent of Christ, but God opened her heart. God opened to her the door of salvation, and now is opening to her the door of service and using her to bring others to Christ.

Jesus says, “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

Walk through those doors He opens and then watch as in God’s time and in God’s ways even the opponents of Christ come to bow down before the feet of Christ and acknowledge that He is Lord.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has provided life-giving words to anyone who feels powerless today.

Do you know that there is great power in gratitude? That’s what Nancy says in her book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy. The book will show you why gratitude is so important and how to unleash the power of thankfulness in your life. It includes a 30-day devotional guide as an appendix, perfect for your own quiet time.

We’ll send you a copy of Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy when you make a donation of any size to Revive Our Hearts. Donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1–800–569–5959.

We’ve spent a good part of this Fall in the book of Revelation and haven’t taught much about the types of issues people usually associate with the book. But in our study of the letter to Philadelphia, we will explore the second coming of Christ. That starts tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to know the true source of power. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

1Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation. New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 101. (Citing Hughes, 59).

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