When I think of the characters of the book of Acts, I think of Peter, Paul, John, Luke, and Timothy. But there is much to learn from some of the minor characters, too. Philip is one such character. He used his talents and opportunities to the fullest, in the service of Jesus Christ. He stands as a shining example of faith to all of us today.
Philip the Servant (Acts 6:1–6)
We first meet Philip in Acts 6:1–6. A group of widows was being overlooked in the daily serving of food, and the leaders of the church directed that the church select seven men who could be put in charge of this mundane but important task. Philip was one of these men.
The noun diakonos “deacon” is not used here, but a related noun diakonia “ministry” is used, as well as the verb diakoneo “serve.” It’s pretty clear that even if these men weren’t given the title of deacons, they did the same sort of work. We can see that while their work may not have been glamorous, and may not have been the same as the teaching function of the leaders, it was absolutely essential.
Philip was a man of humility, happy to wash feet. His service allowed the leaders to focus their attention on “prayer and the ministry of the word,” the job that God Himself had given them. It is not the best use of time and resources for teachers and shepherds to neglect their spiritual work in order to mop floors and organize rides. Philip’s service allowed all the work of the church to move forward. It also gave him the confidence (1 Tim. 3:13) to prepare for greater works.
Philip the Teacher (Acts 8:4–13)
In Acts 7, Saul attacked the Jerusalem church, scattering the disciples. Each of those members planted himself like a seed is his new community, and began to grow. “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.”
What a man of courage! Philip had been driven out of his home by persecution. He had watched one of his six fellow workers, Stephen, be stoned to death for his vocal faith. Rather than lay low and mind his own business for a bit, Philip immediately spoke up.
Why do any of us wait? The preacher and the elders do not need to be at your shoulder (the Apostles had stayed in Jerusalem). Why not this very week reach out to your neighbor, your friend, your cousin, your co-worker, with the good news of the gospel? Invite them to worship. Invite them to hear. Explain the reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). Don’t be scared, for Philip’s boldness allowed him to convert many in the city, including the most famous man in town, Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9–13).
Philip the Evangelist (Acts 8:26–40)
Soon, God gave Philip a new task. I suggest this marks a subtle shift in his work. In Samaria, he simply acted faithfully where he found himself. But in Acts 8:26, God appointed him to carry the gospel to new lands. “An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, ‘Get up, and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.’” There, he met a court official of Ethiopia who was reading the prophet Isaiah. Philip introduced himself, used the passage in Isaiah to explain the gospel, and baptized him. I like to think that Philip’s work started the evangelization of Egypt, Ethiopia, and all of northern Africa, as the newly-saved eunuch brought back the gospel with him.
And the eunuch wasn’t Philip’s only encounter. Acts 8:40 says that, as Philip made his way back north from Azotus, “he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea,” a large city on the shore of the Mediterranean.
The Lord needs more people who have the same “where-He-leads-I’ll-follow” attitude. Who spend the requisite time mastering the Bible, so that they can go out as soldiers, pushing the gospel into new lands. Who think of preaching not as a life of convenience, who do not search for “a good congregation,” settling behind the protection of a wooden pulpit, but who think of preaching as a life of service wherever God should lead.
Philip the Father (Acts 21:8–9)
I have saved the best for last. Luke says the least about this part of Philip’s life. Nevertheless, if you were able to travel back in time and ask Philip, I am willing to bet that this was the part that gave him the greatest sense of pride and satisfaction. It is Philip in his role as a father to four children!
Luke says in Acts 21:8–9, that he “had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.” It would seem that, for 25 years, Philip remained in Caesarea, sinking down roots and raising his family, preaching the gospel. And while reaching out to the community, he reached out to his own family.
Much can be speculated about “virgin daughters who were prophetesses,” but it’s safe to say that the girls were committed to righteousness in the midst of a sinful Greco-Roman society, and that they were busy and useful to the Lord in spreading the truth. Let us never forget that the most important mission field is our own kitchen table. Let’s be sure that we give our efforts to making sure that we save our own children, and give them the foundation they need to pass on the faith to their own children as well, so that when Jesus returns, the whole family will share a legacy of faith. –John Guzzetta