Reading: Colossians 4:2-6
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Missionaries often talk about countries in terms of open or closed. If they are an open country, it means that the government doesn’t put prohibitions or heavy restrictions on missionaries to come and spread the Gospel. If it is closed, it means that the missionary must disguise their work and take risks.
Many countries today are still closed to the Gospel and the work of missionaries – China, Turkey, Iran, Morocco, just to name a few. Many incredible stories have been recorded by missionaries who smuggled in Bibles behind the Iron Curtain during the height of the USSR. And when the Iron Curtain fell, missionaries jumped on the opportunity to freely enter into a formerly Gospel squelching land.
Natural disasters often provide the perfect open door for Christian organizations. Because many Christian missions organizations do humanitarian aid (and secretly evangelize), the hurting country desperately welcomes these missionaries to help out homeless and injured citizens.
Philadelphia, in Asia Minor, was a city built for the work of spreading a doctrine. No, not Christianity. It was an establishment for spreading Hellenism – the Greek language, religion, and way of life. A major road went through Philadelphia making it a city where Europe met the East and the various barbaric people beyond.
However, Christianity grew in Philadelphia, and soon Philadelphia became a prominent place not for the spread of Hellenism but of the Gospel of Jesus. In Revelation 3, Jesus tells them to see the open door he had placed before them that no one could shut. Perhaps, what Jesus is referring to is an opportunity to spread the Gospel.
Keep in mind that from the mid first century until the early fourth century, Christians faced intense persecution from ten particular Roman emperors, beginning with Nero and ending with Diocletian. Under those emperors, the Roman Empire was very much closed. However, despite their best efforts, despite the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Christians they slaughtered, the Gospel continued to flourish.
Philadelphia was a beautiful and rich city; however, it experienced a number of devastating earthquakes which brought ruin onto its many buildings and temples. Just like in the world today, this probably provided the perfect opportunity for Christians to share the love of Jesus.
Like Paul said in today’s reading, we must always pray for an open door. We must pray for the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of individuals to be receptive to the Word of Truth. And we must pray for the wisdom and courage to see and take hold of such an opportunity when it arises. Sometimes, just like the crumbling of walls in an earthquake, when a person is facing personal crisis, their heart is softened, and they are open to listening. What an opportunity to be an instrument that radiates the love and care of our Heavenly Father.