How we thank the Lord that He has shown us the church in Philadelphia as His heart's desire, and that He has also shown us the characteristics that made her great in His eyes. How precious to have such an example, that we may know where we should be and how we should be at the end of this age, in the midst of so much that comes short of His glory and grieves Him!
We saw in the last issue the three features of the church in Philadelphia that ravished the Lord's heart, that drew nothing but commendation from Him: they kept His word, they did not deny His name, and they loved the brothers. We left with the matter of loving the brothers, having done little more than introduce it. But having received fresh light from the Lord, we must return to the keeping of His word, for this is foundational, it is the starting point of everything, and we have not covered it adequately. Oh, this is exceedingly precious!
Philadelphia was the only church among seven to whom the Lord could say that they kept His word. It was the basis of all their blessing. Everything for the Lord's satisfaction and for our growth and fruitfulness issue from our keeping His word; it is most crucial. Therefore we must touch this matter more deeply. We must see what it really means to keep His word.
The Significance of John’s Writings
John's writings - his Gospel, Epistles, and Revelation - were the last books written in the New Testament, penned about 90 A. D., when John himself was close to ninety. The church had been on the earth for nearly six decades, and it had already declined, with seeds of further decadence everywhere. It was a day strikingly like our own. The Lord's children were beset with many teachings: some blatantly false; others insidious and subtle. The spirit of error was at work (1 John 4:6).
Moreover, hypocrisy was prevalent everywhere, as evidenced by John's repetition in his first epistle, "If we say ... if we say," (1 John 1:6,8,10), and, "He who says ... he who says …" (1 John 2:4,6,9). Many were making high-sounding assertions, but with no living to back them up, no righteousness, no love for the brothers. The result was confusion, the inroads of falsehood, and a loss of direction among God's people, very similar to our time. John's writings therefore are most timely and fitting for us today.
John undoubtedly was deeply concerned for the situation and sought the Lord for the answer, for the word to meet the need. The Lord gave it, and it became John's strong and definite burden in all his writings.
The prescription, simply speaking, was to return to the pure word of God, to the word of life that was in the beginning, and keep it. In both his Gospel and his Epistles, John brings us back to the beginning, back to the Word in whom there was life (John 1: 1,4; 1 John 1: 1), and back to nothing else. Moreover, at the opening of his last book, Revelation, the blessing is given to those who read the word, hear it, and keep it (Rev. 1:3).
In the beginning it was so simple: there was just God and His word. How uncomplicated! Things today are so complicated, including Christian things. There are so many "ministries," with Christian television and radio, books, tapes, seminars and workshops, etc., and many of these corrupt the Word or detract from it. It is like a Christian smorgasbord.
John brings us back to such an uncomplicated situation, back to our source, back to our home, back to simply God and His word. We were born of God (Jn. 1:13), and we were born of the word (I Pet. 1:23). This is our source. In a time of confusion we need to come back to our source, back to our home, back to the Lord Himself and His word.
We don't realize how much we have been away from the pure word until we begin to come back. The Jews in the Lord's day picked up many concepts contrary to the Word of God -the Lord was always coming up against them. We have done the same, unknowingly. We need to come to the pure word, perhaps laying aside many other materials, and by its shining have any discrepancies adjusted or removed.
It has been pointed out that John's ministry was a mending ministry. He mended the net at the place of rupture or incompletion. Considering the four gospels, we may say that John filled up the shortage left by the other three by supplying the Word, by emphasizing the Word of life. In other words, he filled up the gap in the net by the Word. It is only by this, for example, that the requirement of the kingdom in the Gospel of Matthew can be met. John provides by the word of life the supply to meet all the demand.
The Word and the World
John in his writings not only speaks particularly of the word, but also mentions the world many times, in fact more so than any other New Testament writer. In his Gospel he refers to the world almost eighty times, and in his first Epistle over twenty times. The world he speaks of is especially the religious world, the satanic system that crucified the Lord. These two, the word and the world, are mutually antagonistic, the world seeking to corrupt the word and destroy it, and the word exposing the world and overcoming it.
The two words in English, word and world, resemble one another closely. Look at them:
WORD ---------- WORLD
The only difference between them is the ‘L’ in world. If we add an ‘L’ to WORD, it becomes WORLD. We use this is an illustration of the real situation. We should never add anything to the Word of God. If we do, it becomes part of Satan's systematized world.
Satan, the enemy of God and His Word, has attempted repeatedly to destroy and obliterate God's Word and has never succeeded; the Bible has always survived. His other stratagem has been to corrupt the word by inducing his servants to add to it and thus incorporate it into his system, the religious world. In this, it seems, he has had a considerable measure of success.
But the pure Word of God still remains for all who will return to it and take it as it is, neither adding to it nor subtracting from it, and reading it in its context. The Psalmist said, "Thy word is exceedingly pure; therefore Thy servant loves it" (Psa. 119:140).
We may say that the ‘L’ added to the Word, which makes it the world, stands for Leaven. The Lord alerted His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 16:6). They had added to and subtracted from God's Word in the Old Testament: the Pharisees added; the Sadducees subtracted. Thus they defiled and systematized the Word to the point where they crucified the God who gave it.
The Lord's admonition is still needed today: we must beware of any additions to the Word or subtractions from it in the teachings and writings of men. They are still as plentiful today as when the Lord was here. Many have added their own concepts and traditions to God's pure and holy Word.
Keeping the Word and What It Means
In addition to returning to the word, John enjoins us many times in all his writings to keep the word. In his Gospel, for example, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me" (Jn 14:21). And, "If any man loves Me, he will keep My word" (Jn 14:23).
In his first Epistle: "Whoever keeps His word, truly in this one the love of God has been perfected" (1 Jn. 2:5). And, "He who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him" (1 Jn. 3.24). And in his Revelation: "You have a little strength and have kept My word" (Rev. 3:8). And, "Behold, I come quickly. Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book" (Rev. 22:7). This is just a sampling of many verses in John's writings to attest to John's burden (and the Lord's) that we keep the word.
What does it mean to keep the Lord's word? Seeing this will aid us greatly in our experience. The word keep is crucial. It denotes either of two things: 1) the doing, the performing, the carrying out of the word; or 2) the guarding, the treasuring, the holding fast of the word.
We will show that the second meaning, the guarding, the holding fast of the word, is the primary and essential meaning of keeping the word. The first, the performing of the word, comes out of the second as the fruit, the result. This is most meaningful in our experience. The essential meaning of keeping the Lord's word is to receive it, treasure it, guard it, and hold it fast.
Consider the parable of the Sower and the seed, given and interpreted by the Lord Himself. The Sower is the Lord, the seed is His word, and the various kinds of ground are the various conditions of man's heart. That is clear. We may skip over the first three kinds of ground and come to the fourth, the good ground. Concerning this the Lord says, "But the seeds that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with endurance" (Luke 8:15). One version renders the words keep it as hold it fast.
This parable in the Lord’s own words sheds light on what it means to keep the word. The good ground does nothing; it only receives the seed and holds it fast, guarding it, permitting no one to take it away. Such a heart treasures the word, cleaves to it, and allows it to take root and bear fruit - nothing more. The ground in this picture does not attempt to perform anything; it is not capable of that. It is only good for doing that for which it was made - holding the seed fast within its bosom. The seed, the word, does the rest. It does what the ground could never do: it grows and bears fruit. The word accomplishes what none of us could ever do; for, thank God, it is the word of life, not the word of work. It has life power to accomplish everything for which it was given.
The Psalmist in Psalm 119 said, "Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee" (v. 11). Here was good ground: here was one who kept the word: he did it by hiding it in his heart, not by attempting in himself to perform it, again showing the way to keep the word. The word hid can also be translated treasured. The author of Psalm 119 treasured the Lord's word and hid it in his heart, indicating that he guarded it and watched over it.
The whole of Psalm 119 is an outstanding example of one who kept the Lord's word. In fact, the word keep in relation to the word is mentioned some thirty times in this Psalm. The Psalmist uses many other words like, longing after the word, seeking it, choosing it, cleaving to it, loving it, confiding and hoping in it, delighting and rejoicing in it, meditating upon it, not wandering from it, and not forgetting it. All these reveal the attitude of one who keeps the word.
Oh, brothers and sisters, this is the keeping of the Lord's word that we so desperately need! This is what Philadelphia had; and it is this that produces brotherly love (1 John 5:2), the building up of the church, and all that God desires. May we see more here and be deeply impressed.
The following verses further confirm the ability of the word to accomplish its own work: "Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21); and, "I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up..."(Acts 20:32).
Not only is our spirit regenerated by the word of God, but our soul is saved by His word, saved by keeping His word as the good ground, as the word "implanted" implies. We can keep His word, but we cannot save our soul; the word of life with its transforming power will do that. Neither are we able apart from the word to build ourselves up, but we praise the Lord that His word is able. The keeping of the Lord's word will enable the word of God to build up the church He desires. Hallelujah! We need to put our full confidence in the word of God.
Reading, Hearing, Keeping
The Lord declares that person blessed who reads, hears, and keeps the Word, and that person is blessed indeed. Revelation 1:3 affirms: "Blessed is he who reads, and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep what is written in it, for the time is near." There are four matters included here: 1) the word is written; 2) we are blessed if we read it; 3) we are further blessed if we hear it; and 4) we are fully blessed and reach the goal if we keep it.
Thank God that the word has been written down, that it has survived for all these centuries, and that we hold it in our hands today, the Bible. What a blessing!
It has been written, of course, that we may read it. How blessed are those who have the daily habit of Bible reading! It is a must for all of us. But the purpose of reading the Word, please note, is that we may hear it, or rather that we may hear the Lord speaking to us in the Word. Many come short here. They are faithful to read the Word, but they seldom hear the voice of the Lord within speaking to them from His Word so clearly that they know what He has spoken. Yet this should be our normal and daily experience.
The Lord is speaking all the time: if our ear is attuned to Him, we will unfailingly hear His voice every day. We need to read His Word not only with our eyes but even more with our ears, our inner ears. We need His speaking directly and personally to us all the time.
Our hearing then is for our keeping. What the Lord speaks to us, that is what we need to keep in our hearts. We may not be able to keep all that we read, but we do need to keep what we hear from the Lord.
While we are reading with our heart attentive to Him, He will touch us and impress us with His word, perhaps only in a verse or a phrase, or perhaps in several verses. That is His speaking to us. It may be that after we have read, the Lord may remind us and impress us with verses we have read either that day or perhaps years ago. Or a brother or sister, in the church meeting or at any time, may speak a word that conveys the Lord's speaking to us. We should take it very seriously, treasuring His word and guarding it in our heart. We may meditate upon it, seek to remember it, consider it, speak of it to others, pray over it, and thank God for it. Dear saints, this is what it means to keep the word. May we do it with our whole heart! We are all capable of this - if we have the heart.
After we have heard from the Lord - whether it has been a word for us personally or even a word for the church (for we read, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit speaks to the churches") - it helps many times to write it down. I have found in my own experience that writing down what I have received from the Lord is an aid in keeping the word I have heard; otherwise, it may be lost. The very act of writing it down impresses it more deeply upon one's heart. It not only may help us at a later date, but may become food for others. I have practiced this quite often.
A Little Power
I have frequently pondered the Lord's word to Philadelphia, "You have a little power and have kept My word..." (Rev. 3:8). Why did the Lord tell them that they had a little power? It certainly is helpful to see that Philadelphia did not require great power to keep the Lord's word. To perform the Lord's word, yes, they may need substantial power, but they did not have that. They only had a "little power." But that was enough to keep His word. Very few of us have great power, but we all have a little power; and that is all we need if we will use it to keep His word, holding it fast, treasuring it, cleaving to it, and praying over it. We all have what it takes to keep His word in this way. Everything depends on our attitude toward it.
Since John has spoken to us so much concerning keeping the Lord's word, he himself should be a prime example of one who kept His word, and he is. We not only need the teaching, but even more the example. Teachings abound everywhere, and some are high and spiritual, but good examples are very rare.
Consider John. He wrote his gospel some sixty years after the Lord was on earth, yet he could write twenty-one chapters depicting the Lord's life and recounting His teachings in such fine detail. So many decades had elapsed since John was with the Lord, and John himself was greatly advanced in years, yet he could recall and record, for the untold benefit of millions of saints, the words and deeds of the Son of God with an intimacy, grandeur, and savor unmatched by any other.
No one else wrote such high and holy passages as the Lord's teaching in John 14, 15, and 16, and the Lord's prayer in John 17. We are greatly indebted. Moreover, he could call to mind much more than he wrote, which he says, if it were written, the world itself could not contain the books (John 22.25).
What was his secret? How could he recall all the events and words of the Lord with such definiteness and assurance? The answer assuredly is that he had kept the Lord's words, so many of them, hidden and treasured in his heart, not just words of knowledge but words of life that operated in him and made him like his Lord. Undoubtedly these words were nurtured and strengthened by the Spirit throughout his long life. Then at the appropriate time the Spirit reminded him of many things stored in his heart and he wrote them down. John was an exemplary keeper of the word. Thus he could write so frequently in his books that we must keep the word - he himself did it.
Consider this: when John was with the Lord along with the other disciples, he said very little. We can easily discover many of Peter's sayings - he was always speaking. Recently I looked through the gospels to locate the statements of John. I could find only one or two.
My conclusion is that John said little, but listened much. At the end of his days, however, he had very much to say. He poured out so many words that he had kept hidden in his heart; they were written down and became an immense blessing for the whole age. If we listen more, we will keep better, and what we keep will eventually be a great blessing not only to ourselves, but to many others.
Recall how at the last supper John reclined on the Lord's bosom (John 13:23). It seems that was his habit; he wanted to be as close as possible to the Lord and catch every precious word from His mouth, storing them in his heart. To keep the Lord's word we too need to get very close to Him and attend to every word He speaks.
Five times in John's Gospel he refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He was very conscious of the Lord's tender love for him. Did the Lord not love the other disciples? Certainly He did. But it seems that the Lord took note of John's endearing love for His word and his keeping of the word and granted him a special manifestation of His love. The Lord's words were surely fulfilled in his case, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me ... and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21).
The church in Philadelphia, similar to John, could rightly say that she was "the church that Jesus loved." The Lord Himself said this of her, "Behold, I will cause them of the. synagogue of Satan ... to come, and worship before your feet, and they will know that I have loved you" (Rev. 3:9).
Did the Lord not love the other churches? Assuredly He did. He even loved the church in Laodicea, telling them, "As many as I love I rebuke and discipline" (Rev. 3:19). But He manifests His love especially to those like John and Philadelphia who evidence their love by keeping His word. As individuals we should emulate John, and as churches we should follow Philadelphia to treasure and keep His word. Then we will unfailingly partake of the blessings of His love bestowed upon John and Philadelphia. May it be so!
Mary of Bethany, just as John, is another outstanding example of one who kept the Lord's word, proving it by her works. We first meet her in the gospel account in Luke 10, when Jesus was received as a guest into her home by her sister Martha.
We know the story well. While Martha busied herself in the kitchen preparing a meal, Mary was overwhelmingly attracted by the Lord and sat transfixed at His feet listening to His word.
Martha, anxious and distracted in serving, wanted help and commanded the Lord to tell Mary to come to her aid. But the Lord replied that Mary had chosen the good part, which would not be taken away from her. The Lord will never remove anyone from such a position; He desires and intends that. He would have been delighted if Martha had come and joined her sister at His feet. Dinner could wait; there was more important business.
I recently heard a brother with tears give a testimony that touched me deeply. He said, "The Lord, the Word of God, was in my home, sitting in my very living room, and I occupied myself in the kitchen, away from Him, frantically running to and fro to serve Him. I spent a lot of time cooking up this and cooking up that - all to ‘serve the Lord’ - but I missed Him, I lost the opportunity of being with Him and hearing His word."
The brother repented before the Lord. Many of us have treated the Lord in the same way. He dwells within us; He is so near; yet we have not spent adequate time with Him, seeking His word, listening to His word, and storing it in our heart. Fruitful service issues from this. How sweet is His word to our taste! May we taste the sweetness of it.
The next time we see Mary is in John 11, when Jesus arrived belatedly and raised Lazarus from the dead. He spoke those wondrous words, which Martha heard and passed on to her sister Mary: "I am the resurrection and the life." This must have been the topmost in preciousness of all the words received by Mary from the Lord. She not only heard them, but saw the reality and treasured it in her heart. It was these words and this event that triggered what occurred the next time we see Mary.
In John 12:1-8 we view Mary for the next and final time in Scripture: it is climactic. Martha is still in the kitchen serving, but she is at peace now. Lazarus, fresh from the dead, is just sitting there - that is all he need do. His presence is a powerful testimony. And Mary? She is still where you might expect her, at the Lord's feet. Mary was always at the Lord's feet: it signifies the attitude of lowliness, devotion, openness, and receptivity that we always need to keep His word. And then, a marvelous event occurred: Mary took a pound of very precious ointment and poured the whole thing on the Lord, reserving none. She anointed the feet of Jesus and filled the whole house with the fragrance of the ointment. It was a kind of spiritual explosion, which has sent reverberations through the centuries.
Judas was quick to react, saying the ointment should have been sold for three hundred denarii (a year's wages). All he could see were dollar signs. He saw no worth in the Lord of glory and His holy word as Mary did. The Lord interjected, "Let her alone! She has kept it for the day of My burial" - a most significant declaration.
It appears that Mary was the only one with spiritual intelligence concerning the Lord's death, burial, and resurrection; so she alone was able to anoint Him beforehand. How was she so enlightened? It is clear: she listened to Jesus' word and kept it. She heard Jesus speak of His death, burial, and resurrection; she received these words, treasured them and kept them. The Lord said that she kept the precious ointment for Him -she did; but what she kept inwardly was the Lord's precious word. The pouring out of the ointment was the proof and fruit of her keeping the Lord's word, testifying how exceedingly precious the Lord and His word were to her.
Our keeping of the Lord's word will inevitably have the same result as Mary's. It will issue in our pouring out all we are and have on the Lord Jesus. He is looking for this. Bethany was eventually a little Philadelphia, so pleasing to the Lord. At the heart of it was the keeping of the Lord's word, which He treasures above all. Whether we are a brother or sister, let us aspire to be a John or a Mary, and altogether a Philadelphia.
I will descend now to a rather menial level and then raise it to the divine, for I want to portray the elements of a modern day personal computer (PC) as an illustration of the divine technology involved in keeping the Lord's word.
Every PC user is well aware of two components of his computer, which he uses constantly: they are the hard drive and the memory. Every PC has these two distinct components (except for a few cheaper models, which use a disc drive instead of a hard drive). The hard drive is a metallic disc that is capable of receiving many magnetic impressions. Its function is to store very large quantities of information in the computer. The hard drives in some computers can store 500 million characters, and some even more.
The computer memory, on the other hand, has a greatly reduced capacity, usually of only a few million characters, for its function is not storage, but application. When the computer is used for any kind of application - for example, word processing, graphics, etc. - the memory receives information from the storage on the hard drive and makes it accessible to the user.
Without the memory, the information is locked away as in a warehouse. The memory makes the data available for instant access and usage. Both the hard drive and the memory are indispensable. If no data or data programs have been stored on the hard drive, the memory cannot call upon them for desired applications.
Now every one of us is like a personal computer, each with a hard drive and memory installed. However, I would not like to speak of a hard drive in us, but rather the "heart drive," which should not be hard but soft. Our heart drive is capable of receiving and storing a tremendous amount of words given by the Lord. Its capacity is phenomenal - you can see how great it was in the Apostle John. The heart drive is simply our heart, where we can treasure and hide the Lord's words for future use at any time.
When a person is regenerated, he receives a new "heart drive," a new heart (Ezek. 36:26). It is capable of receiving many divine impressions through the Lord's word. The old heart drive, which was really a hard drive, for it is called a "heart of stone," has been taken away - thank God!
As the newborn child of God begins to grow and commune with the Lord, he receives divine communications from the living word of God. These he begins to store, one by one, on his new heart drive. They are there, and if he preserves them properly, they will be available for needful applications that arise. They only need to be transferred from the heart drive to the memory, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Lord said, "The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name ... will remind You of all things which I said to you" (John 14:26).
When in the believer's daily life or service a certain need arises, the Holy Spirit can touch a key in our being, and a word from the Lord hidden in our heart will he transferred to our memory where it is available to be applied. If the believer’s life with the Lord is normal, this will happen continually and spontaneously. This is the way the Lord Jesus Himself lived.
For example, the believer in his daily life may be faced with the need to experience Christ in a certain way. The Holy Spirit can find just the right word, if it has been stored, to meet that need and supply the believer through the word so that he is greatly benefited. Or the believer may meet someone who is in urgent need of a word from the Lord to carry him through a trial. The Holy Spirit will locate a fitting word in the believer's heart drive, call it to his memory, and the believer will pass it on to the needy soul to his great relief and blessing. The gospel may be imparted to many unbelievers with great wisdom in the same manner.
As the believer grows in life and the knowledge of the Lord, more and more words will be added to his heart drive on a daily basis for the Holy Spirit to draw upon. The vast room on his heart drive will begin to be utilized. When he has known the Lord for five or ten years, in a normal situation, he should have accumulated a good number of words. By twenty or thirty years of walking with the Lord, he will have a considerable storage to meet many needs and applications. And when he is advanced in years and mature in life like John, his heart drive will be filled, perhaps near to capacity, with living words of God that have been treasured and nurtured over the years. He can "bring out of his treasure things new and old" (Matt. 13:52) to minister to many people and meet many needs.
We have been speaking of a normal Christian life. The problem is that many of us are not normal; there is not much storage in our heart, and the Holy Spirit is severely limited in the availability of words for application. But, thank God, we can begin at whatever stage we are to keep the Lord's word, to store in our heart many living words for the Spirit to access. We should grasp every opportunity to fill our heart with the words He speaks, guarding them and nurturing them.
Every computer user realizes the danger of losing data by not properly saving it to the hard drive. I personally have had sad experience in this. Precious information was lost through inadvertence: it was not saved properly and could not be recovered. It was a lesson to me that when the Lord speaks I need to watch over His word with care and store it securely in my heart.
May the Lord bring forth the reality of the church in Philadelphia among us through many of us giving all diligence to keep His word in love. Amen!