Philadelphia & Laodicea

Philadelphia and Laodicea are two churches that represent two different areas of Christianity.

Watchman Nee

PHILADELPHIA (see Rev 3.7-13)

"Phileo" means "to love", and "adelphos" means "brother". Philadelphia is brotherly love. Of the seven churches, only two churches escape reproof and of those two, only one, Philadelphia, is wholly approved and praised. For Philadelphia alone, there is praise without reproof.

What is the characteristic of Philadelphia? "I know thy works (behold, I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut), and thou hast a little power, and didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name" (Rev 3.8) That which characterizes Sardis is struggling with death. Because the church at Sardis was mingled with the world, it needed to struggle for life and to start out anew all the time. But Philadelphia is brotherly love. Here there is a return to the love of the brethren. It is no longer the world because everyone is a brother. It has no need to struggle free from death and the things of death that end to cling on. Philadelphia is simply a restoring of the original position of the brethren before God where all is love.

As Sardis came out of Thyatira, so Philadelphia comes out of Sardis. The Protestant church comes out of the Roman Catholic Church, while Philadelphia comes out of the Protestant church. We cannot pinpoint which group is the so-called Philadelphia, but it is quite evident that it is a new move of the Holy Spirit. This new move lifts people out of the dead Sardis and places them in a position of love of the brethren, in other words the position of the body where the only recognized fellowship is that of love. This is Philadelphia.

Keeping the Word

Philadelphia possesses two features: one, they keep the Word of the Lord and, two they do not deny His name. Here is a group of people who are led by God to learn how to keep the Lord's Word. God opens His Word to them so that they can understand. There is no creed in their midst, only the Word of God. There is no doctrine, only the Word. There is no tradition, only the Word. There is no opportunity for man's opinion, only the Word of God. After the apostles, this is the first church, which the Lord praises, for now a group of people has completely returned to the Lord's Word. To them no authority other than the Lord's, no teaching, no creed, is of any use.

It is possible for people to be able to preach and understand doctrine and yet not know the Bible. It is possible to learn a creed and accept it without knowing the Word of God. Does this sound somewhat strange? If the church needed a creed the Lord would have given it to us. Today people analyze the Bible and form it into a creed. The Bible is infinite in nature, but the creed is definite. The Bible is involved, the creed is simple. The creed can be understood by the foolish, but the complexities of the Bible are intelligent to a certain group of people for it requires a certain condition to understand it. The Word of God is wide open to those with life to enter in; but a creed is something so widely opened that all who desire to may come in. The Bible cannot be understood unless the reader has life and singleness of eye before the Lord, but a creed can be understood by anyone who has a clear mind as soon as it is read.

People may think the way is too narrow; so they try to widen it in order to get people in. But the Philadelphians reject all creeds; they simply return to the Word of God. "Thou didst keep my word," says the Lord. In all of church history, only in the era of Philadelphia has the Word of God been so much understood. Only in Philadelphia does God's Word have its rightful place. In other times people accepted creeds and traditions, but the church in Philadelphia accepts nothing but the Word of God. Throughout church history, there have never been so many ministers of God's Word as in Philadelphia.

Do not deny His name

"Thou didst not deny my name," says the Lord. This, too, is a special feature of Philadelphia. After such a long history of the church, the name of the Lord Jesus has unexpectedly become the very last name. People pay more attention to men's names--perhaps to Peter's or the other apostles. Or Christians may chose to call themselves by some other preference of theirs such as doctrine or nationality. Many take pride in saying, "I am a Lutheran," or "I am a Wesleyan"--the names of men. Many proudly declare themselves to be Coptic or Angelican, named after a place or country. These many names completely divide God's children. It looks as if the one name, the name of the Lord Jesus, is not sufficient to separate us from the world.

If anyone should ask you, "Who are you?" and you answer, "I am a Christian," he will not be satisfied. He will insist upon knowing what kind of Christian you are. The Lord Himself considers His name to be quite sufficient for His children. But only in Philadelphia is His name reckoned as sufficient. There is no need for many names, for names separate. His name is enough! Remember the Lord is quite concerned about t his matter.

The overcomers in Philadelphia

Many brothers ask me the question, "What do the overcomers in Philadelphia overcome?" Do you realize the difficulty here? The overcomers in Ephesus have overcome the tendency to forsake their first love; the overcomers in Smyrna have overcome the external threat of death; the overcomers in Pergamum have overcome the bondage and temptation of the world; the overcomers in Thyatira have overcome the teaching of the woman; the overcomers in Sardis have overcome spiritual death and the overcomers in Laodicea are to overcome lukewarmness and the deceit of pride. But what do the overcomers in Philadelphia need to overcome? Everything has been accepted, everything is fine.

Philadelphia is a church after the Lord's own heart. Yet in this church the Lord still gives promises to those who overcome. What must they overcome? There seems that there is nothing that needs to be overcome, there seems to be no problem.

However, the Lord does give His warning here. "I come quickly: hold fast to that which thou hast, that on one take thy crown" (Rev 3.11). This is the only warning in the letter to the Philadelphians. The Philadelphians must be careful to hold fast that which they have. In this, they must overcome. In other words, they must not lose that which they already have. Do not change or alter it. The Lord has only one request: keep that which you have.

The problem with Philadelphia is that if they do not keep what they have, God will raise up other people to take away their crown. Originally, the crown was given to them, but if they depart from their position, others will take their crown. What the Philadelphians must overcome is that they must not lose what they already have possessed. This is quite different from the other seven churches. Let us therefore take note of the Lord's Word. Only one church--the church in Philadelphia is after the Lord's own heart. Its characteristics are that it keeps the Lord's Word and it does not deny His name. May we never be negligent in these matters.

LAODICEA (Rev 3.04-22)

Of the seven churches, five are reprimanded, one is without reproach (Smyrna) and one is wholly approved. The church, which is wholly approved, is Philadelphia. The Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant church, and Philadelphia all continue till the second coming of the Lord Jesus. The seventh one, Laodicea, also continues to the Lord's coming again. If Sardis comes out of Thyatira, and Philadelphia comes out of Sardis, then Laodicea comes out of Philadelphia. Do you see that one begets the other?

The problem now is: if Philadelphia should fail, it will become Laodicea. Do not think that Laodicea is the Protestant church for this is represented by Sardis. The Protestant church today can only be Sardis; it can never be Laodicea. It takes the fall of Philadelphia to become Laodicea. Sardis is an improvement over Thyatira. It comes out of Thyatira and is an advancement. Laodicea comes out of Philadelphia, but it is a regression. All these four churches continue until the second coming of the Lord Jesus.

The loss of brotherly love

Laodicea is a mutilated or distorted Philadelphia. Once brotherly love is lost, then immediately people's rights and opinions take over. This is the meaning of the word "Laodicea." It was the name of a city, named by a Roman prince after his wife whose name was Laodios. The prince changed the name to Laodicea, which in Greek means, "the people's rights or opinions."

When Philadelphia fails, the emphasis becomes more on "people" than on "brethren," more on people's rights," than on "brotherly love." Love turned to rights or opinions. When brotherly love is a living thing, people's rights are a dead thing; but whenever brotherly love is waning, people's opinions begin to prevail. The Lord's mind is not sought; things are settled by the majority opinion. Philadelphia is turned into Laodicea.

Spiritual pride

"I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot: I would thou were cold or hot." (Rev 3.15). This is the character of Laodicea. "Because thou sayest, I am rich and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked." (v 17).

This is what Laodicea is. Though it is neither hot nor cold it is full of spiritual pride before the Lord. To say, "I am rich," ought to be enough, but Laodicea emphasizes it with, "and have need of nothing!" But the Lord sees it differently for He replies, "thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked." From where does this spiritual pride come? Undoubtedly it is based on past history. Once the Laodiceans were rich; so now they imagine they are still rich. Once the Lord showed mercy to them; now they remember that past history although they are no longer in touch with the reality of it.

In the Protestant church today, one rarely meets anyone who boasts of spiritual richness. I have met many leaders in the Protestant church in China and abroad. Their consensus is: we fall short, we are not what we ought to be. I have yet to meet a proud man in Sardis. But those who are formerly of Philadelphia, those who once kept the word of the Lord and did not deny His name but have lost abundant life, they are the ones who boast. They remember their past history, though they have lost their past life. They remember how they grew rich and asked nothing; they are now poor and blind. Let me tell you, only fallen Philadelphia, the Philadelphia that has lost its life and power, can boast of its riches.

Learn to be humble

Therefore, brothers and sisters, if we desire to continue on the course of Philadelphia, we must learn to be humble before God. Sometimes I have heard brothers say, "The blessing of God is in our midst." I acknowledged the truth of it, yet I feel we need to exercise extreme caution in saying this, lest, inadvertently, it exudes Laodicean flavor. If one day we are inclined to say we are rich and have grown rich and have need of nothing, we are very close to Laodicea.

Remember there is nothing, which is not received. Even if the people who are surrounding you are all poor, you still need not know that you are rich. Those who live before the Lord are not conscious of their wealth. They who come forth from the presence of the Lord are rich, yet that are not aware of their riches. May the Lord be merciful to us in that we may learn to live before Him and, being rich, know not of our riches. It is better for Moses not to know the radiance of his countenance for, once known, it may become Laodicea. If it is known it may end up in lukewarmness. Those of Laodicea know everything, but nothing is real before God.

If we profess to have everything yet nothing can induce us to give up our life if we remember our past glory but forget our present condition before God, then the past was indeed Philadelphia and the present is surely Laodicea.

Be careful of pride

We should learn to stand in the position of Philadelphia. Keep the word of the Lord and do not deny His name. Stand on the ground of brethren, not of names. Do not be proud. Do not boast before the Roman Catholic Church. Do not boast before the Protestant church. Do not boast before the many sects and denominations. The moment you are proud you have become Laodicea. You are no longer Philadelphia. Brothers and sisters, which way are you traveling? May God give grace to His children that all may walk in the straight path of the church.

The way of the church as appointed by the Lord is Philadelphia. The Lord's way for us is only one #Philadelphia. Walk in it. Be careful lest there is pride. The greatest temptation in the Philadelphia way is that of pride: "I am better than you. My truth is clearer and broader then yours. I am not like you who have another's name." Pride will plunge us into Laodicea. Those who follow the Lord have nothing of which to be proud. The Lord will spew out the proud. May the Lord be merciful. I warn you not to utter arrogant words. Live in the presence of God and refrain from saying any boastful words. By living constantly in God's presence, we will not see our riches. Therefore, we will not be proud.

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