Key Texts: 2 Cor. 4:18; Acts 2:44-47, 4:34-37, 6:1-7, Acts 8, 21:7-10
The lesson this week is full of all kinds of things for us to consider and talk about, all of them drawn from the story of Philip the evangelist. Right at the start, it is a bit difficult to figure all this out because there are multiple Philip’s in the New Testament. Two of them also had the name Herod and were part of the ruling family that had such dominance in Jesus day. Then there is Philip of Bethsaida who became Philip the disciple who brought Nathaniel to Jesus and later, some Greeks. He is known also as Philip the Apostle who later preached in Greece and Syria. Then there is Philip “the evangelist” who appears several times in the Book of Acts. We first meet him as one of the “table waiters” who was chosen to help care for the poor in the early church. Then, because of persecution, he moved to Samaria where his missional efforts met with good success. It is reported he even performed miracles there. Then Philip shows up down in Gaza involved in that famous encounter with the Ethiopian official that resulted in his baptism. The Ethiopian Christian church dates its origins to this encounter. So, there is a lot to talk about.
We begin by looking at two very interesting verses. First, 2 Corinthians 4:18 – “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” NIV. Or there is the NKJV which I like even better, “While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” There is a lot to contemplate here because those engaging in mission are dealing with unseen realities that are actually the eternal elements in life and existence. This is powerful motivation!
Secondly, there is Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is a loose reiteration of the Great Commission found in Matthew. Notice that it speaks first of the power of the Holy Spirit as the means of carrying out the commission. Here we humans need to get a clue. We cannot do mission. We can only participate in what the Holy Spirit is empowering. Secondly, this text lays out something of a geographic strategy, from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, then to the ends of the earth. In the life of Philip the Evangelist we see this being worked out.
Let’s look at some of the particulars in Philip’s life and experience:
- He shows up first as one designated to wait on tables set up to care for the poor. Acts 2:44-47, 4:34-37. What do we learn about the Early Church here and how it fostered care and fellowship? Do you think that can be replicated today?
- What were the problems that arose that created considerable social tension? What do you make of the word “murmuring” and what of its effects?
- What do you learn from the solution they devised to resolve the problem? Did the solution work? Are there divisive social tensions where you go to church? How alarmed should you be about that?
We can also look at Philip in Samaria. Most everyone knows there was big tension between the Jews and the Samaritans yet Philip went to Samaria and his efforts met with considerable success – (Acts 8:1-6, 6-15). Notice that the fact that the “Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans – the testimony of the Woman at the well – had somehow become a thing of the past. Do you have any ideas as to how or why that might be?
There is also the famous story of Philip and the Ethiopian – Acts 8:26-39. Some things to notice about this story:
- Samaria is north of Jerusalem while Gaza is well south. Philip was going to the “ends of the earth,” so to speak.
- Here Philip addressed a one-person audience. Those encounters are often the most effective.
- Notice that the Ethiopian was ready to hear the gospel. Why?
- Notice the trajectory to baptism. It was short. Is that kind of thing advisable?
- Notice Philip left right after the baptism giving the Ethiopian no nurture. Is that advisable?
We ought not pass by the fact that later Philip lived in Caesarea Maritima where his four daughters prophesied thereby helping to advance the gospel cause. Along the way, Paul (who used to be Saul the persecutor who was the cause of Philip leaving Jerusalem to go toe Samaria) came and stayed with Philip. In this instance, the persecutor and the persecuted met right in the home of Philip where Philip helped nurture and probably instruct Paul.
- There is cause here to contemplate the effect of the gospel on the human person and heart. What does the gospel do to the human hear that former enemies can be at peace?
- Notice also that persecution did not destroy the church – it did do much harm – as much as it gave it cause to spread out far and wide.