Philadelphia: Stable in unstable times

Unstable, shaky, uncertain… Ever had a time where these feelings were expressed? Have you ever had a moment when you just felt unstable on your feet, or like you were just about ready to pass out? Maybe it was as a kid and an uncle decided to spin you around and around…you were so dizzy you could barely stand.

I remember several years ago, a few of my co-workers finally talked me into doing the unthinkable – to run the Hollywood half-marathon. When I made the commitment to join them, I hadn’t run regularly in over two decades. To say I was “out of shape” was the understatement of the day.

Knowing what it would take to complete this goal, training began in earnest. I used the run / walk / walk / walk method to start with…emphasis on the “walk” part. However, eventually I was able to run a mile and then a 5K, and I kept making progress little by little.

As I was sharing my progress with a guy in the singles’ class I taught, he volunteered to run beside me on race day. He had done this exact half-marathon on multiple occasions and he was willing to help with the pace.

Race day finally came and our group of colleagues lined up early, before the sun came up. The race commenced and I could feel the adrenaline.

Unfortunately, a few things were working against me. First, adrenaline doesn’t last for the entire race! Secondly, the guy from my class was pacing me a lot quicker than I had trained. Honestly, I was worried about whether or not I would be able to finish.

At the 10-mile mark, everything hurt! My buddy was trying to encourage me, but all I could do was groan back a response. He told me, “It’s all in your head.” My body disagreed – the pain was everywhere. The next 25-30 minutes seemed like an eternity before I reached the finish line.

As I crossed the line, my wife was there, cheering me on. After I finished, I did the strangest thing. I just laid down on the sidewalk in Hollywood and waited for my friends to finish. No coaxing could get me back to my feet – my legs felt like rubber. To put it bluntly, I had no stability and I felt like I was going to pass out.

That half-marathon was a one-and-done! I got to at least cross it off life’s bucket list. But that feeling of instability serves as a good contrast to what is promised to the church in Philadelphia. Let’s take a look at this city, the message they received, and the promise given to them.

The Setting at Philadelphia

To understand the promise given to these believers, it’s helpful to understand a little bit about this city. Founded in 189BC by the Pergamum Empire, the city was named after the king’s brother – or more specifically, his brother’s characteristics.

The name Philadelphia is common enough now that most understand its etymology. The word means “one who loves his brother.” In Pennsylvania, Americans recognize Philadelphia as the “city of brotherly love” (at least in name, if not necessarily so in deed!).

The city bore different names throughout its history. It has been called Decapolis, since it was part of the ten major Asian cities. It was called Neokaisaria, literally a “New Caesar,” in honor of Tiberius. In the late second and third centuries, the inhabitants referred to it as “Little Athens,” due in part to its temples and its paganism.

The city was all but destroyed in 17AD by an earthquake, and only rebuilt because of the Roman aid of Tiberius. Quakes have been a consistent part of the city’s history. The city for all its wealth and trade was built upon an unstable foundation. Understanding that geographical setting helps us get a nuanced understanding of the promise that is coming to the overcomer.

In an “unstable” city, Christ had a “stable” church – and that’s a great picture of hope for the world we live in! Coming in the next section, we’ll unpack what the Head of the Church had to say to this faithful body.

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