Jesus’ last words to his followers were a command to take the gospel everywhere, but they seemed reluctant to leave Jerusalem. It took intense persecution to scatter the believers from Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria, where Jesus had instructed them to go. Philip, one of the deacons in charge of food distribution, left Jerusalem and, like most Jewish Christians, spread the gospel wherever he went; but unlike most of them, he did not limit his audience to other Jews. He went directly to Samaria, the last place many Jews would go, due to age-old prejudice.
The Samaritans responded in large numbers. When word got back to Jerusalem, Peter and John were sent to evaluate Philip’s ministry. They quickly became involved themselves, seeing firsthand God’s acceptance of those who previously were considered unacceptable.
In the middle of all this success and excitement, God directed Philip out to the desert for an appointment with an Ethiopian eunuch, another foreigner, who had been in Jerusalem. Philip went immediately. His effectiveness in sharing the gospel with this man placed a Christian in a significant position in a distant country, and may well have had an effect on an entire nation.
Philip ended up in Caesarea, where events allowed him to be Paul’s host many years later. Paul, who as the leading persecutor of the Christians had been instrumental in pushing Philip and others out of Jerusalem, had himself become an effective believer. The conversion of the Gentiles begun by Philip was continued across the entire Roman empire by Paul.
Whether or not you are a follower of Christ, Philip’s life presents a challenge. To those still outside the gospel, he is a reminder that the gospel is for you also. To those who have accepted Christ, he is a reminder that we are not free to disqualify anyone from hearing about Jesus. How much like Philip would your neighbours say you are?
Strengths and accomplishments:
- One of the seven organisers of food distribution in the early church
- Became an evangelist, one of the first travelling missionaries
- One of the first to obey Jesus’ command to take the gospel to all people
- A careful student of the Bible who could explain its meaning clearly
Lessons from his life:
- God finds great and various uses for those willing to obey wholeheartedly
- The gospel is universal good news
- The whole Bible, not just the New Testament, helps us understand more about Jesus
- Both mass response (the Samaritans) and individual response (the man from Ethiopia) to the gospel are valuable
- Occupations: Deacon, evangelist
- Relatives: Four daughters
- Contemporaries: Paul, Stephen, the apostles
Key verse: “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
Philip’s story is told in Acts 6:1-7; 8:5-40; 21:8-10.