Tagged: The Gospel

My Hero Philip

[This post is adapted from a talk originally given October 2011.]

I count it a privilege to work as an evangelist now while working to be an evangelist later. Which prompts the question, “what is an evangelist?” 

The simple answer is that an evangelist is someone who shares God’s Good News with others to win disciples for Jesus. But what exactly does this entail? A few years ago a conversation with a friend lead me to Scripture for an answer, and gave me a hero.

The Story of Philip

Happy Ending — Acts 21

Let’s start with a story. Actually, the end of a story. We’re in Acts 21, during Paul’s final journey to Jerusalem.

8 The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. 9 This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied. — Acts 21:8-9

Here we have a man named Philip. He’s got four unmarried daughters who prophesy. He’s hosting Paul and company in his home. He’s one of the seven. And, he’s an evangelist. But what does any of this mean?

Background — Acts 6

Flip back 15 years to Acts 6, which clues us in:

1 In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. 2 Then the Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to handle financial matters. 3 Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.” 5 The proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. — Acts 6:1-6

This is our first peek at Philip in the New Testament. The apostles are busy preaching and praying, so they appoint Philip and six others to handle the work of caring for widows — the work of “waiting on tables.” Our Philip is one of the Seven; he’s a deacon.

Middleground — Acts 8

Now, skip forward to Acts 8. It’s worth reading most of the chapter:

Philip in Samaria
4 So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the message of good news. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6 The crowds paid attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the signs he was performing. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

The Response of Simon
9 A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and astounded the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God!” 11 They were attentive to him because he had astounded them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he went around constantly with Philip and was astounded as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.


The Conversion of the Ethiopian Official
26 An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) 27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud.

29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”

30 When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this:

He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb is silent before its shearer,
so He does not open His mouth.
33 In His humiliation justice was denied Him.
Who will describe His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.
34 The eunuch replied to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or another person?” 35 So Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that Scripture.

36 As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water! What would keep me from being baptized?” [37 And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer. But he went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip appeared in Azotus, and he was traveling and evangelizing all the towns until he came to Caesarea. — Acts 8:4-13, 26-40

Here’s our Philip again, the deacon, a man appointed by the apostles to tend widows. Because the apostles are busy. The persecution starts, and where do we see Philip?

We see him evangelising Samaria – proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (8:12). We see him evangelising the Ethiopian Eunuch, telling him the good news about Jesus (8:35). We see him evangelising his way from Azotus till he finally settles down in Caesarea (8:40). In Acts 8 we see Philip doing the awesome work of evangelism, playing his part in the great commission as foretold in Acts 1:8.

Ending Again — Acts 21

That brings us back to Acts 21:

8 The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. 9 This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied. — Acts 21:8-9

What do we have?

We have a man named Philip, known as the evangelist. Indeed, this is one of only three times the word Evangelist is used in the New Testament. And, it’s the only time the word is used of a specific person.

He’s an evangelist. He’s also one of the Seven, a deacon. There’s some uncertainty about whether his role as deacon is still active by Acts 21. But Acts 21 flags him by that role, which makes it worthy of our notice.

Philip, the evangelist, known as a deacon. And he’s hosting a whole troop of out-of-towners: Paul, Luke, and the gang. And the hospitality gets a mention in the New Testament. The guy is good at hospitality.

Philip, the evangelist, known as a deacon, hospitable guy.

But there’s more: he’s managed to raise four daughters. To adulthood. Four virgin daughters. And raise them well, in the faith. His daughter’s are actively known for their prophesying. From some early records, it is said that Philip’s daughters lived to a very old age and were key informants to later generations about the earliest years of the Church. They were raised well.

Here’s a man, appointed as a deacon in Jerusalem because the Apostles are busy, and God uses him to evangelise large sections of the surrounding map. And he manages to entertain guests constantly. And raise a family extremely well. Is anyone impressed?

I am. As a father raising five daughters, seeking to share the gospel through hospitality, this guy is my hero. I want to be like him. I want to succeed in evangelism, in raising daughters, in showing hospitality. How awesome it would be to have the same things said of my girls and my work when I’m old. A very happy ending to an excellent story.

An Answer

Which brings us back to our initial question — what is an evangelist? What does it actually entail? Philip’s story holds the key. Through it God shows us that a) the role of evangelist and b) the work of evangelism do not fit into the boxes that are often constructed for them.

The Role of Evangelist

On the role of evangelist, I imagine God getting a big kick out of Philip’s story. The apostles are too busy — too busy to wait on tables because of their ministry, and what does God do? He uses Philip to wait on tables and evangelise the neighbourhood, and offer hospitality to visitors, and raise a family, successfully. Philip the Evangelist is doing a heck of a lot of different kinds of work.

Maybe you feel the need to carve out a watertight position called Evangelist, which involves people dedicated to evangelism and nothing else. Looking at Ephesians 4:11, where the term appears for the second time, in a neat and tidy list, it would be an easy temptation to fall into. But if Philip’s story wasn’t enough,  from the third and final use of Evangelist in the New Testament, we learn the watertight model doesn’t fit in practice.

Chapter 4 of Paul’s second letter to Timothy gives us a picture of Timothy’s calling. In that picture we see preaching, teaching and evangelism intermingled in Timothy’s work. Rather than being a single watertight role, Timothy is doing many different things. When we take Timothy’s story alongside Philip’s, it’s clear that a legitimate Christian calling to be an Evangelist need in no way be watertight, but legitimately involves a mix of tasks.

The Work of Evangelism

Moving on, as Acts 8 shows us, not only the role but also the work of evangelism can’t be strictly divided into neat units:

5 Philip went down to the city[a] of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. — Acts 8:5-7

Philip’s evangelism involved elements of directly proclaiming and of promoting the Gospel in ways that are inseparably connected. Both his words and his deeds were central to his work. The Samaritans believed because they heard and saw. Which means, for us, that the work of evangelism isn’t just about the words. Though the words are certainly centrally important, the work of evangelism is more comprehensive. Like the ministry of Jesus, which involved preaching, teaching, and healing, evangelism is a show + tell, not a tell alone.

So, what is an Evangelist? 

I’ve seen the church today tempted to divide the work of the Gospel into little, tidy units. This is the province of the missionary, there is the work for the deacon. This thing over here is called promoting the Gospel, but that over there, that is proclaiming the Gospel. Not that such categories can’t be helpful, but the story of Philip challenges us against boxing God.

What is an Evangelist? Well, Philip is. He’s the only one directly labeled that way in the New Testament, remember. When we look at Philip’s example of Gospel evangelism we see that it doesn’t fit into today’s tidy categories. Philip’s story encourages us to see the call of evangelism in a more integrated and whole way. A way of both showing and telling, involving the multiple tasks and talents God gives each evangelist. Indeed, a way which lets God do the story telling as He sees fit.