Many characters in the Bible appear out of nowhere, get a brief mention and then the Gospel narrative continues. Some only get described in one arena of life, they were a king, a prophet, a priest. We rarely get a deeper profile of a man. When we do, we can know the extra details God gives by design and for our edification.
David is one example of a man we know about in a deep way. We know his ancestry and childhood, his early years as a shepherd and then as a military leader, finally we see him as a husband, a father, and king.
In the New Testament Philip serves as one of those rare examples. We do not know as much about him as we do David, but we have some helpful and challenging revelations.
Philip the Deacon | Acts 6
In the list of the first deacons, Philip is mentioned after Stephen. We have no reason to see a hierarchy among deacons, but as with the order of apostles when listed, perhaps there is a reason.
Whatever the case, from the qualifications required of a deacon we can know that Philip had an honest report, was full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, and to be appointed with responsibilities he must have been a trust-worthy and capable man.
Philip the Evangelist | Acts 8
Although a call to preach was not apparently a requirement in Acts 6, Stephen and Philip are both found publicly and privately preaching the Gospel almost immediately.
For his part, Stephen was stoned to death and became the first martyr. His testimony spoke to a young man named Saul. Saul did not cast a stone, but he witnessed the event and perhaps helped stir up the crowd. He was certainly willing to hold their coats of the crowd while they murdered Stephen.
Philip also fell foul of Saul. Saul went from holding the coats of the crowd, to leading the persecution of Christians on behalf of the Sanhedrin. He went from house to house and if followers of Christ were found he imprisoned them and persecuted them. Along with many other Christians, Philip fled the city and ended up in Samaria.
In Samaria, Philip continued to preach and he performed miracles of healings and casting out demons. Multitudes professed Christ and souls from every segment of society were saved. The impact of Philip and other Christians resulted in “great joy in the city”.
In the midst of a revival, and with some opposition, Philip was a leading figure in the church in Samaria. And from this great work God takes the seemingly unusual step of calling Philip away.
One of the prominent witnessing examples in church history then takes place. Philip leaves the bustling city to go to the wilderness. Now, Philip was in Samaria, nearly 40 miles north of Jerusalem. God led Philip to witness to an Ethiopian who was on the road to Gaza some miles south of Jerusalem. So, God takes Philip at least 50miles to witness to one man. Who knows how many Christians Philip past by and who the Ethiopian had past. Why didn’t God use someone closer? Did God speak to some closer to the Ethiopian and perhaps they disobeyed? God only knows. But we do know that Philip obeyed.
Having shared the Gospel, led the Ethiopian to Christ and then baptised him, Philip disappears and is next found in Azotus (Ashdod). Azotus is on the south coast of Israel, near the border with the Sinai peninsula. From there Philip preached in all of the cities as he headed north and eventually settles down in Caesarea. But in many respects, his adventure had only just begun.
Philip then drops out of the narrative of Acts for nearly 25 years. But then in Acts 21 we find Philip once more. Evidently he had settled down, married and had at least four daughters. He had a home and a testimony. It seems the whole family faithfully followed Christ and shared the Gospel.
One day a missionary, an itinerant preacher passed that way and needed a place to stay along with his ministry partners. Evidently Philip did not view his home as HIS home but as a blessing provided by God to share with others. His door was open to help missionaries. Who was this missionary? It was Paul, formerly Saul, none other than the man responsible for Philip being driven out of Jerusalem all those years ago and being set on a path that led to his current home, family and ministry.
The Missionary Journey of Philip
1. Philip fled Jerusalem because of persecution and went to Samaria. 2. He preached in Samaria and then obeyed God and went to the road going down to Gaza. 3. Soon after he is found in Azotus/Ashdod. 4. Finally he preaches from city to city, heading north and finally settles in Ceasarea (maybe he met his wife there?)
Although “What if” questions can be dangerous, they can be provocative.
- What if Philip had chosen to recant Christ instead of his choice to stand for Christ and relocate to Samaria?
- What if Philip had refused to leave the flourishing city ministry and not gone to the wilderness to witness to one man?
- What if Philip had decided he had moved around enough and settled in Ashdod instead of continuing to preach from city to city?
Philip’s obedience, faithfulness, boldness and diligence provides a wonderful example. By all accounts, he did not have an easy life, but he was blessed and left an impact for the glory of God in his generation and for all eternity.