Philip the Evangelist

In Acts 21:8 Philip is called "Philip the evangelist," and therefore we are justified in taking him as a sample of an evangelist according to God, and may expect to find helpful principles as to gospel work in the brief record of this honoured servant of Christ given in the Acts of the Apostles.

The name Philip means "a lover of horses"; but the grace which won his heart, and the preciousness which he found in Christ as Saviour, made him long that others should taste the same grace, so that instead of a "lover of horses" he became a lover of souls. Blessed change! He is first mentioned in Acts 6, where, owing to the need for some to care for the distribution of help among the widows, seven men were to be chosen by the saints, and set apart by the apostles for this work.

Three qualities were to mark those who were selected. Firstly, an "honest report"; secondly, "full of the Holy Ghost"; and thirdly, "wisdom." (Acts 6:3.) And while it is only said that Stephen was full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, yet, I think, we may conclude that the remaining six answered, in their measure, to that which was required by the apostles. And therefore in considering Philip's personal character we may justly say that he was a man of honest report, controlled by the Spirit of God, and marked by wisdom.

Being of honest report is, then, the first characteristic of Philip, and that would, no doubt, be a wide expression, covering his business or domestic life, as well as what he was amongst the Lord's people. Fidelity in temporal things is an essential quality of a servant of Christ. "If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?" (Luke 16:11-12.) As to temporal things, they are committed to us as stewards, and an unfaithful steward is not the one to whom the Spirit of God will minister the true heavenly riches, which are the proper portion of the saints; hence "of honest report" is found before "full of the Holy Ghost." I would press this especially upon young brethren, as much dishonour has been brought on the Lord's name through the mistaken zeal of those who neglect their domestic or business duties in order to distribute tracts or preach the gospel.

In Israel the Levites were maintained by the tithes of the common people; and if we take the Levites to represent that which we are as the Lord's servants, and the common people that which we are in our domestic and business life, we see how much depends on being faithful in the home and business circles. Going on with God in daily life, the soul gets formed, so that, instead of the family and business being a hindrance, they can be used of the Lord to make His servants more efficient in His work, as in the discipline of everyday life they learn more of His grace and faithfulness.

The second characteristic of a true servant will be that he is energized by the Holy Ghost. It is often a long and difficult lesson to learn, that the only power for the Lord's work is the power of the Spirit of God. The helplessness that hangs upon God for all that is needed is that which brings strength to a servant of Christ. Natural eloquence, mental ability, fleshly means, may appeal to the intelligence of man, and crown the preacher with outward success; but the only power to reach the heart and conscience, the only power to effect anything for God, is the power of the Spirit of God. What one has, or is, as a man in the flesh, if relied upon, can only hinder the work of God. Peter and John, being "unlearned and ignorant men," did not hinder God working through them mightily; and Saul of Tarsus having been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel did not help of itself; he could say, "For He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me towards the Gentiles." (Gal. 2:8.) It was the same power in both, and there is no other power.

The Spirit is here to exalt Christ, and He acts on the ground that man in the flesh has been judicially removed from under the eye of God at the cross. And therefore to seek to bring the first man, or anything connected with that man, into the Lord's service is to hinder the Spirit of God. There is a sphere where natural powers have their legitimate place. A student uses his natural intelligence in studying for his examinations; a labourer uses his physical strength in his daily toil; and both can be used for the glory of God. But in the Lord's work - in spiritual things - the only power is that of the Spirit of God, and His power is all-sufficient.

The third quality mentioned in Acts 6 is "wisdom." And everyone who in any measure deals with souls, must feel the need of divine wisdom, so that the right message may be given at the right time. Two things are essential to this, viz., "the word of God and prayer." In Isaiah 1. 4 we read, "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned." Thus the Spirit of Christ would speak in the prophet, and how divinely we see it carried out in the life of our blessed Lord, as He dealt with needy souls, bringing the suited word home to heart and conscience, so as to meet the conditions of those to whom He spoke. And do not we need to have our ears divinely opened to hear as learners, so that as we study the Word it may be living and operative in our own souls, and that we may rightly divide that Word of truth? How many a soul has been damaged through the misuse of such passages as John 5:24, infinitely precious in their own connections, but wrested out of their connections and applied to souls where the real need is forgiveness of sins, not eternal life. A sort of mental peace may be attained, but a soul thus mentally brought to peace cannot grow. The foundation of forgiveness, justification, and peace, as in Rom. 3, 4, 5, has not been laid, and the work of the Spirit in that soul is therefore hindered through the lack of spiritual intelligence in the evangelist. It is of vital importance to study each part of Scripture in its own divine setting, and, as another has said, the Spirit of God can put it together as a whole in the soul. The word of God is that which furnishes the man of God throughly unto every good work, and patient study is the only way to become acquainted with the truth which God has given us in His word.

In addition then to the servant being formed by, and intelligent in the Word, there is the need of dependence on God in prayer. We find in James 1:5: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth liberally, and upbraideth not." The word of God and prayer is the divine order. God speaks to us first in His word; and as we read it, and get to know in any little measure the purposes of His love, it brings us to our knees in intelligent prayer - that spirit of dependence which was found in perfection in the Lord Jesus as a man down here, and which was found in great measure also in the apostle Paul, and others who laboured in prayer night and day. If we were more in prayer in connection with our feeble service for the Lord, laying hold of God for souls, we should be better able, in the power of the Spirit, to lay hold of souls for God.

The last thing we may consider in Acts 6 is that Philip had the confidence of his brethren. This is seen in their choice of him as one of the seven set apart to care for the widows.

The glory of Christ is the object God would have before each labourer; but it is in the assembly, which is His body, that Christ is to be displayed - morally now, as in Colossians 3:10-15; actually by-and-by, as in Ephesians 1:22-23. Therefore we may say that the assembly is not only the place from which the evangelist starts, but it is that also in view of which he works.

In John 20 the Lord had gathered His own around Himself, a new company, in a new place and relationship; and from Himself in the midst of that company He sent His disciples into the world, as the Father had sent Him into the world. He came from the scene of divine affection; and now, having brought His disciples into the circle of divine affections here (the assembly), He sent them forth with the administration of forgiveness of sins, into a world which lay under death and judgment, the Spirit given, as the Spirit of life, to sustain them in it.

So also in Ephesians 4 we find the Evangelist is a gift to the church, equally with the Pastor and Teacher, and therefore, I repeat, the assembly is the starting point, and the assembly, in a sense, is also the goal; for the evangelist labours not merely that souls may be saved from wrath, but in view of the body in which Christ is to be displayed.

Therefore, instead of evangelists and teachers labouring on different lines, and with diverse ends in view, they labour, according to God, for one common object, being all alike given "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." (Eph. 4:12-13.)

Hence, while it is quite true that the servant is responsible to his Master as to how and where he works, yet he also is responsible not to compromise that fellowship in which he is with the saints, And while each servant is individually under the control of the Lord, yet he cannot act as a unit, but has to weigh how, where, and with whom he labours, so as not to compromise the assembly from whence he comes. Thus, when Philip is labouring in Samaria, he evidently kept in fellowship with the assembly at Jerusalem from which he came, nor does he question the right of the apostles to send Peter and John to the scene of his labours; and it has been noticed before by others that Peter, in Acts 11, does not question the right of the assembly to require an explanation as to the manner in which he laboured in the case of Cornelius. Paul and Barnabas too, in Acts 13:1-4, start from Antioch commended by their brethren, and in Acts 14:26 they return, giving an account of their labours. And when again starting from Antioch on another missionary tour, in Acts 15:36-41, we find Paul and Silas are "recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God." But, as we may gather from the silence of Scripture, Barnabas and Mark sailed to Cyprus without that fellowship which cheered the others on their way. And it is not difficult to discern from the subsequent history which of the two were in the line of the Spirit of God.

Turning to Acts 8:4-5, we see that Philip was identified with a rejected Christ; he was one of those whom the persecution had scattered abroad, and this would indicate his being consciously in the fellowship of the Lord's death - that which is set forth morally in the Lord's Table (1 Cor. 10); that which is, according to God, the common bond of Christian fellowship, and to which, as gathered to the Lord's name, we give expression in coming together to break bread each first day of the week.

The One whom we confess as Lord has passed out of this scene by death, the "disallowed indeed of men." And it is therefore incumbent on everyone naming the name of the Lord to depart from iniquity or unrighteousness. And, I judge, unrighteousness in 2 Tim. 2 has an ecclesiastical bearing primarily, although doubtless wider in its application. And any religious system of men which acts as if Christ were honoured and accepted in the world is without doubt unrighteousness, a denial indeed of the truth of Christianity, and an excuse for unfaithfulness to Christ. The so-called servant receiving honour from a world which has refused his Master? Imagine a servant being "enthroned" where his master was "crucified"! It is unrighteousness, and from unrighteousness the servant of the Lord must depart. The death of Christ has cut His people off from this scene, and from every system of religion which in principle denies His rejection here; so that to depart from iniquity, and purge oneself from vessels to dishonour, is the only way to become a vessel sanctified and meet for the Master's use. It is one thing to be a mere instrument, and quite another to be a vessel meet for His use.

A man being used of God by no means proves tat either his position or methods of working are right. It is often argued that a man being used is sufficient proof that one can rightly identify oneself with him; but God could make a dumb ass speak with man's voice to rebuke Balaam, and God is sovereign, and can use any instrument He pleases. But He desires vessels meet for His use. And such a vessel carries in itself, and is formed by the truth it is used to convey to others. Therefore, as has often been said, what we are is of much more importance than what we do. God would by the Spirit form the vessel to carry the gift which may have been bestowed; and thus in 1 Corinthians 12 we have the gifts set in the assembly, in chapter 13 the vessel formed in the divine nature (love), and in chapter 14 we have instructions as to the proper exercise of the gifts.

If, then, the servant has to depart from iniquity, and purge himself from vessels to dishonour, there is another important word of instruction in 2 Timothy 2, viz., "Lay hands suddenly on no man." That is, as I understand it, identify yourself suddenly with no man; and in the Lord's works how manifestly inconsistent with all divine principles it is to seek the help and countenance of those, even though they may be Christians, who are still identified with that from which we have separated as unrighteousness. To do so is not only to compromise ourselves as the Lord's servants, but also to compromise the fellowship in which we are.

In order to be crowned the servant must strive lawfully; fidelity, not success, will gain the Master's "Well done" at the end. Many argue that "the servant must have liberty of conscience," which is true, but is there not a danger of putting conscience instead of Scripture? Conscience is not a guide, not even, indeed, a good guard, unless governed by the word of God. And one would also venture to suggest that there is such a thing found in Scripture as godly subjection to those who are over us in the Lord. (Heb. 13:17.) Independency of action is diametrically opposed to every principle of Christianity.

Turning again to Acts 8, we find Philip preaching with spiritual intelligence. To the Samaritans, who were not exactly Gentiles, but, according to John 4:25, were looking for the Messiah, he preaches Christ; while to the Gentile eunuch, who had no link whatever with the Lord as Messiah, he preaches Jesus. This bears out that which we have already noticed as to the need of spiritual wisdom, in order to give the suited message to those with whom we speak.

We may notice also how Philip is sustained by divine power in Samaria, and that many of Satan's captives are set free; this reminds us of the "young men" in 1 John 2, who, through having the word of God abiding in them, overcame the wicked one.

Passing on to verse 26, we see the obedience of a true servant of the Lord. He has been used for doing a great work in Samaria, but Philip realizes that he has not been left down here to do great things, but to be for his Lord's pleasure; he is not guided by circumstances, but by the Lord. The mighty work in Samaria is abandoned, and Philip, at the bidding of his Lord, is found in a desert. Being in the path of obedience, the Spirit is free to use him; for if the power of the Spirit is the only power for the Lord's work, it is only in the path of obedience that that power can be realized. Being in that path, the Spirit says to Philip, "Go, join thyself to this chariot"; and not only is Philip in the path of obedience, and in the power of the Holy Ghost, but he is also in the energy of divine affection. This has been connected by another with Luke 15, where the father ran to meet the prodigal; here the servant, in unison with the heart of God, runs to carry the glad tidings of salvation to the thirsty soul.

Do we, beloved brethren, know what it is to run after souls for Christ?

We may say, "The gospel is preached, let them come and hear it"; or, "God can save and bring them in without us." But what saith the Scripture? "How shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things." (Rom. 10:15.) See also Matthew 22:9: "Go ye therefore into the highways." Again, Acts 26:17: "Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom I now send thee." Trace through the Scriptures where you please, you find the abiding principle is that the evangelist goes to the people with the glad tidings; hence his feet are described as beautiful. To confine our preaching to the rooms in which we meet to break bread would be foreign to the whole teaching of Scripture; and not only so, but would give a sort of ecclesiastical sanctity to the building, thus dragging Christianity down to the level of Judaism.

On the other hand, the servant has not only to consider the character and associations of those with whom he labours, but also the character and moral associations of the buildings into which he invites sinners to come and hear him. Lack of godly care as to this might not only lead to the servant himself being identified with evil, but also to his compromising his fellowship with the saints. If we make the winning of souls our object, we are in danger of forgetting what is due to the Lord, and what is due to the saints.

But if the Lord Himself is the object before our souls, that assembly which is so dear to His heart will be dear to us; and the one who knows anything of that circle where divine affections glow, and where Christ in the midst of the priestly company declares the Father's name, will not fail to exercise godly care in his service, so that the Levite may indeed minister to the priest, that thus the Lord may have His proper portion.

Returning to our chapter, we may notice three other points in Philip's ministry. Firstly, "He opened his mouth." This may appear of little moment, yet I think it has a practical lesson for us, if we connect it with Nehemiah 8:8 and 1 Cor. 14:9. "They read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading": "Except ye utter words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken?" Eloquence is surely not needed, nor finely-pointed sentences; yet, from the two passages quoted, we see that the servant is responsible to speak distinctly and simply. However precious the truth ministered may be, it cannot be for edification, if those ministered to can neither hear or understand what is said.

The second point is, he "preached unto him Jesus"; not doctrines or theories, but a living, loving, personal Saviour. Philip has no difficulty about his text; he has learned that Christ is the spirit of Scripture, and therefore from the passage the eunuch was reading he preaches Jesus, the theme of the glad tidings of God. The eunuch, having no doubt previously experienced God's sovereign power in new birth, is prepared to receive the Saviour preached to him, and desires, too, to be identified with the death of Him whose life had been taken from the earth, and is therefore brought by Philip, through baptism, into the Christian circle.

The last point in the chapter is that Philip is displaced by the one he preaches, so that when he is caught away by the Spirit his convert can go on his way rejoicing without him; even as the two disciples of John the Baptist, who heard John speak and followed Jesus.

One other glimpse we get of Philip in Acts 21:8-9, where he is seen in the home circle entertaining the Lord's people, from which we may gather that the home was not neglected by this much-used servant of Christ. His daughters too we find are amongst the Lord's people.

In thus taking up Philip's history to illustrate certain principles in connection with the gospel, we must remember that much of what we have illustrated did not come out in Scripture until after Paul's conversion, the administration of the gospel being committed to him, as well as that of the mystery. And Paul's gospel starts with Christ in glory, and involves the end before God of man in the flesh. When this is apprehended in the soul the servant is of necessity cast upon the power of the Spirit, as that alone which can affect anything for God.

It is a day of bustle and excitement, and there is ever a danger of our being affected by the character of things around. We need to be more with God to know increasingly what quiet waiting upon Him is, so as to avoid being carried away by the stream of mere fleshly activity in the Lord's work. L. H. F.

What was then the life of this Jesus, the Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief? A life of activity in obscurity, causing the love of God to penetrate the most hidden corners of society, wherever needs were greatest. J. N. Darby.