Philip the Evangelist — A Pen Portrait

A. Naismith, Falkirk

Category: Exposition

While the Greek words evangelion and evangelizo (never translated "evangel" and "evangelize") are of frequent occurrence in the New Testament, the personal noun "evangelist" both in the Greek and in the English translation occurs only three times. An evangelist is one of the gifts of the ascended Christ to His church, Eph. 4. 11, one of the activities in the work of a dedicated man like Timothy, 2 Tim. 4. 5, and one of the personalities such as Philip who give their time and strength to the proclamation of the gospel, Acts 21. 8. These three pass­ages provide the student with the three occurrences of the word.

Philip the evangelist is not to be confounded with Philip the apostle, who is frequently mentioned in the four gospels but never referred to after Acts 1.13. Evangelist Philip was the second of the seven men of honest report chosen to fulfil the material and financial side of a deacon's work in Acts 6. 5. The main part of his story is narrated in Acts 8 where his evangel­istic service is prominent. Later, in Acts 21. 8-9, special reference is made to his family.

His home was in Caesarea on the Palestine coast. His movements were under the control of the Holy Spirit, sometimes directed by circumstances, 8. 4, 5, sometimes dictated by angelic messengers, 8. 25, and sometimes diverted to other channels by the Spirit, 8. 39, 40. His methods varied according to the needs of those to whom he was sent, or the requirements of the work in which he was engaged. Thus we read that he "went down to the city of Samaria" and found there attentive crowds willing to listen to the message he was promulgating; again, when personal contact was urgent and a man seated in a fast-moving chariot was to be reached, he ran to him and approached close enough to hear what the man was reading. When the Lord had no special companies or individuals for him to meet, an itinerant ministry in towns and villages occupied his time. Thus he carried on public, personal and peripatetic evangelism, and Wil­liam Blane has immortalized such gos­pel ministry in the verses:

His ears have heard the question, "Who to the lost will go?"

"Send me", he cries, his sin-purged lips with altar fires aglow.

"I'll bear the living message of free, forgiving love:

"O let me win the wanderers to the path that leads above".

Anointed by God's Spirit, trained at the Master's feet, Commissioned and sent forth by

Him, all furnished and complete: No human art or wisdom his talent could assist— A heavenly-minded, God-sent man is the evangelist.

Three words used in the original indicate different means by which the evangelist may get his message across. In Acts 8. 5 he is described as "herald­ing Christ", thus in bold and sometimes loud tones conveying the Word with authority to the multitudes. The verse following records that "Philip spake" in ordinary tones when he was address­ing individuals or small groups of listeners. Yet on every occasion he "evangelized". This word is used time and again and emphasizes the theme of the message, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Philip's ministry sums up four musts that should be characteristic of every true evangelist.

He Must Know the Scriptures. This is evident from verses 30 to 35. He was familiar with the prophecy of Isaiah, knew where the eunuch was reading, what he was reading about, and the glorious Person about whom the prophet was writing; he also understood the meaning of the words read. It is therefore essential that every true evangelist should possess an intimate knowledge of the Word of God, whether in the Old or in the New Testament.

He must Reach the Sinner. To fulfil the Lord's parting commission, the servant must "go" to those to whom he is sent, "into all the world", if needs be, and "to every creature", Mark 16. 15. He is not only a preacher: he must also be a reacher.

He Must Preach the Saviour. He "preached unto him Jesus", Acts 8. 35, as the Hope of the prophet, the Theme of the prophecy, the silent Sufferer, the submissive Redeemer and the Fulfiller of Scripture. To the crowds in the city Philip had preached Jesus as the Christ for whom both Jew and Samaritan were waiting. To the individual in the desert he preached Him as the crucified One, the risen Saviour of the world.

He Must be Ready to Baptize the Saint. Philip did this at the personal request of the young Ethiopian con­vert, 8. 36-38. The convert's desire for baptism revealed confession of personal faith for salvation, obedience to the Lord who had enjoined it, and identification in life with a crucified and risen Christ. The act of baptism implied immersion in the water, sub­mersion under the water, and emersion from the water.

There remains only a short reference in Acts 21. 8-9 to the family of Philip. It consisted of four girls, four good girls who were virgins, four gifted girls who prophesied. It would seem that their prophetic gift was confined to the house of Philip, and certainly could not have extended to public utterance in the local church.