The Expository Files

Philip, The Evangelist

Acts 6:1-8:40

[ From The Editors: This article is the ninth in a series we will publish this year, calling attention to twelve people who though being dead, instruct us (Heb. 11:4). They speak to us through the testimony of their lives as written in Scripture. Over the next few months, we will develop a theme title. And, near the end of the year we are planning to publish these twelve articles in book form (Kindle, Nook and old fashioned print and ink). These passages and people can equip us and motivate us toward greater service to our Lord.]

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and
to the ministry of the word.”

And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
- Acts 6:1-8

This was a time of rapid growth. The gospel was being preached in and around Jerusalem and people were learning, responding and obeying the gospel. Thus, “the number of the disciples was multiplying.” That was an occasion to rejoice. But sometimes, with growth in numbers, there are problems that need to be addressed.

Among the disciples there were widows with legitimate needs and there came a time when some were neglected. The apostles knew this problem needed attention, but they would not let this become a distraction from the primary work of preaching the Word of God.

The apostles said: “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” The solution was to appoint certain qualified men, to take care of this benevolent matter. Among those men there was Philip, the evangelist. What can we know of this man?

Observe in Acts 6:3, three things we can know about Philip right away: (1) He was a man of good reputation. Think of reputation – in the ideal sense – as a result of consistent behavior. Christians shouldn’t think of reputation as something you manufacture, purchase, manage or market. As a result of consistent behavior, reputation is formed, maintained and known. Obviously, before the selection of Philip, the activity of his faith in Christ was consistent and well-known – thus, his good reputation.

(2) He was full of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think we should understand this in some mystical sense, nor even in terms of inspiration and miracles. After this, in verse 6, the apostles laid hands on these men. We can associate that with spiritual gifts and abilities given to spread the gospel and edify. But the initial reference in verse 3 should be understood in terms of influence, not
mystical direction independent of will or learning. All Christians – then and today – should be living under the influence of the Holy Spirit, filled with what God provides through His Spirit (see Gal. 5:22,23). The task in Jerusalem required men who bore the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

(3) Philip was a man of wisdom. He was thoughtful and prayerful and a student of God’s will, anxious to make good application of the Word in his life. This, of course, should be true of every one of us. Learning combined with a good heart that is motivated to apply the Word of God with good discipline, in all aspects of daily life.

How do you think Philip became this kind of person?

There is only one way to become this kind of person. Put your life under the grace and the authority of the Creator, by obeying Jesus Christ. If you find people in the Bible with morally attractive character – it will always be because of their heart and will to love and obey God. That’s the source of all good character.

Philip in Acts 8

Philip was in Samaria, north of Jerusalem. Sometime after the event in Acts 6, there was a wave of persecution against Christians causing a scattering out of Jerusalem – so now, Philip is in Samaria. Let’s see what he was doing there.

Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done. (Acts 8:4-13)

Acting in character, Philip is preaching. And because the apostles had laid their hands on him to confer these abilities - he was giving evidence of the truth of his message through miracles. But I want us to well understand – the miracles were secondary; the main thing was the message, the gospel.

This was not a side show or entertainment. This was not a performance to astonish an audience but leave them empty and lost. Philip was used by God to perform the miracles, as evidence that his message (new and unwritten at the time) was authentic and divine. The aim was that people would know the message came from God, and would respond.

One man responded, named Simon, and after the apostles arrived – Simon made the mistake I eluded to (see Acts 8:14-25). Simon got interested in the wrong thing, was rebuked by Peter, repented and the gospel was preached in many villages. One of the most notable and instructive conversion cases comes next in the story of Philip.

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8:26-40)

It is impressive that Philip did not expose the man to anything but Jesus Christ and Him crucified (see 1 Cor. 2:1-4). There was no effort toward self-exaltation, but every word was to lead the man to Jesus Christ. After this – we do not hear of Philip. A man of good reputation, spiritually minded, wise was used by God to preach the message and lead people to Christ.

What Can We Learn?

In Philip’s activity of faith in Christ there is this versatility we should admire. Here’s what I mean. Sometimes, Christians find one thing they can do – they do that in a particular place or way, and they never broaden their work . . . it is like we are locked in to doing one good thing in one way, and never developing any other areas of labor.

Philip served tables, preached in Samaria, then when called to preach to one person out in the desert, he went!! That’s the versatility of his devotion that I believe we should admire and imitate.

Maybe there are good things we can do in the Lord’s work beyond what we have done before, something different but God-exalting.

Could it be – we have limited ourselves to certain things; deeds which are good and right, but there may be other needs that we could fill. Good discipleship means – we are constantly exploring our own potential, and in that process, we may find out – there are good things we can learn to do; there are areas of service we can learn to fill - - breaking out of our narrow area of work, and finding versatility in our participation in the Lord’s work. I would ask that we think about that.

In Philip’s activity of faith in Christ the meaning of evangelism is captured. If I want to know what evangelism is, one step I can take in that quest is – to focus on the work of men like Philip. It is this simple: He was an evangelist. How does his example define the work?

Consider what he didn’t do. He was not a performer; He was not a manager of people; He was not an administrator; He was not a competitor with other preachers. He preached the truth about who Jesus Christ is, what He means to man, and what man’s response to Christ should be! He did that work – wherever it needed to be done; and the work was accompanied by his good behavior, punctuated by his righteous conduct in Jesus Christ.

We so need men like Philip today? We need to encourage young men of good faith to seriously consider giving their lives to this work. We need to help young men prepare and pray for them. Developing good people for future involvement in the Lord’s work is not something we can just wait to see if it happens. Paul said to
Timothy – find and teach and prepare young men for evangelism.

In Philip’s activity of faith in Christ there is simple obedience. The same obedience you see in Abraham, in Daniel and in Paul – is present in Philip, and it is the kind of obedience that says, “Wherever I am needed . . . Whatever needs to be done . . . I’m ready to go, ready to work and pleased to serve God.”

What a difference is made in lives, in families and in churches, when there are people who have this simple spirit of obedience. There are never enough of these people. We will always need more people like this.

Christians who, like Philip, will serve tables, travel, or do whatever needs to be done – for the greater cause of Jesus Christ. It is very much like Isaiah – who said, “Lord, here am I, send me!”

In Philip’s activity of faith in Christ there is no evidence of any interests in the praise of men. Not anything in the record indicates, Philip wanted to be mentioned, applauded, remembered or praised.

The attitude was, just show me where the work is! He was at the center of all this early activity in the spread of the gospel . . . the apostles laid hands on him . . . he worked miracles . . . he really took the gospel to Ethiopia – but would have been embarrassed if Christians had celebrated him or named a building after him.

It is that humility – that shunning of pride, that is the mark of a very good person, who can do so much good for the Lord and for people.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 19.11; November 2012