Aug 6, 2011

Portrait of a disciple: Philip, Deacon or Evangelist?

(Acts 8:5)  Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.
Philip. Means lover of horses. If that is of any eternal value to you, God bless it! Philip, also the name of an apostle, and one who was known as one of the seven. The one I endeavor to discuss here is the latter. This Philip, plausibly one of the first deacons and later referred to as an evangelist. Was he one or the other? Was he both? We know enough about Philip from the book of Acts to confirm a few things.*

Philip was:
  • selected as a deacon (therefore not one of the twelve) (Acts 6:1-5)
  • a servant of tables and widows (Acts 6:2)
  • full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3)
  • a preacher of the gospel in Samaria (Acts 8:5)
  • a performer of signs and miracles (Acts 8:6,13)
  • a messenger of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12)
  • spoken to by Angels of the Lord (Acts 8:26)
  • directed by and submitted to the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26,29,39)
  • sensitive to opportunities to preach Christ (Acts 8:30-37)
  • qualified to baptize (Acts 8:38-39)
  • found at Azotus, preaching in all the towns en route to Caesarea (Acts 8:40)
  • in Caesarea at least 25 years amongst the Gentiles when Paul came to enter his house (Acts 21:8)
  • the father of four unmarried prophetesses (Acts 21:9)
Well, that is quite a list. If the bio of this man were en-scripted on a conference brochure, it surely would bring registrants! Honestly, doing careful evaluation of the activities mentioned in the scripture give us cause to think there was much more that Philip did that was not recorded for us. But then again, Philip was found in Caesarea where his journeying ended in Acts 8 some 25 years later. One could infer that he took retirement. But one could also infer that he remained there and did the work of an evangelist. Luke, the author of Acts, ascribed Philip as an evangelist should we?

So following well accepted conjecture that the appointment of the seven in Acts 6 is evidence of the first deacons in the church, we look to the question, was Philip a deacon?

Deacons are:
  • dignified (1Ti 3:8)
  • reputable (1Ti 3:8)
  • proven blameless (1Ti 3:10)
Philip was:
  • dignified (Acts 6:3)
  • reputable (Acts 6:3)
  • full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom (Acts 6:3)
With minimal references to that which an evangelist actually does (Acts 21:8, Eph 4:11-12, 2 Tim 4:5), one must consider what information is actually available. Since it is obvious that Philip served in the capacity of deacon, we return to the question, was he an evangelist

If Paul wrote to Timothy, and exhorted him to do the work of an evangelist, we could learn some characteristics of an evangelists calling from what he was instructed.

Timothy was to:
  • correct false doctrine (1 Tim 1:3)
  • encourage and be an example (1 Tim 2:1, 1 Tim 2:8; 1 Tim 3:1-13, 1 Tim 4:12)
  • teach and instruct on matters of modesty (1 Tim 2:9-12)
  • preach, teach, and read scripture publicly (1 Tim 4:13)
  • teach honor amongst the elders (1 Tim 5:17) 
  • be selective of those he appointed and remain pure (1 Tim 5:22)
  • command the rich (1 Tim 6:17)
  • testify of the truth of Christ (2 Tim 1:8)
  • teach teachers (2 Tim 2:2)
an Evangelist is to:
  • preach the gospel from the scriptures
  • correct errors in the church
  • prepare leadership for the church
  • and spread the gospel from place to place
In conclusion, a candid look at the capacity of Stephen and Philip from the book of Acts tells two stories. One, they were worthy of their calling, and served the church as deacons. Two, they served well in preaching the good news.

Philip, was both a deacon  (Acts 6:1-5) and an evangelist (Acts 21:8).

Both narratives of the function of Philip in the book of Acts illustrate the principle of service that a disciple is to emulate (John 13:10-14) in the church of Jesus Christ. As a deacon, Philip may have served tables, but it is unlikely that the requirements of his calling were restricted to delivering soup and sandwiches (more on this in another post later). Philip's role as a deacon epitomizes the function of his role as an evangelist. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, he served his brethren through a posture of service and the function of a gift given to the church for its building and perfecting (Eph 4:11). The evangelist is not just a preacher of the gospel to the lost, he is an essential component to the equipping of the saints. Philip was not A deacon or AN evangelist!

Philip was a disciple living worthily of the calling with which he was called (Eph 4:1).

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