PHILIP: THE MAN WHO LOVED TO TELL OTHERS ABOUT JESUS.

 

Week of May 31, 2009

 

Bible Verses:  Acts 6:2-5; 8:4-8,26-31,34-35; 21:8-9.

 

Lesson Focus: This lesson will help you learn to tell people about Jesus.

 

Be Willing to Serve: Acts 6:2-5.

 

[2]  And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.  [3]  Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  [4]  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."  [5]  And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.  [ESV]

 

[1-2]  This verse presents the juxtaposition of two realities in the new community: a growth in the number of disciples and a management problem that this growth is producing among Hellenists and Hebrews. Widows were regarded as needing community care when no family member could care for them. The daily distribution involved necessary food and probably some clothing. A complaint arose because the Hellenists felt that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. The way the problem is eventually solved indicates that it may well have surfaced not because of ethnic malice but because of a lack of administrative organization caused by the new community's growth across diverse ethnic lines. The community is aware that such distinctions cannot be maintained and supported in a community that confesses a Messiah who has come to give God's grace to all types of people. Something needs to be done to be sure everyone's needs are met. The Twelve consider the complaint legitimate but raise the question of the best way to solve it. They prioritize their role and delegate the responsibility, involving more people in the community's work as a result. They observe that it is not appropriate for them to neglect preaching to take up this problem directly and serve tables. This is a priority choice about observing the call of God versus a moral choice of right, wrong, and sin. They should do what God has called them to do, namely, teach and witness. They cannot and should not do everything in the church, but they should not neglect preaching. Someone else will be able to do this important ministry so that the apostles are free to keep preaching. In the apostles' view, this ability to prioritize activities and not be responsible to do everything reflects good leadership and stewardship.

 

[3-5]  The instruction is to select seven men from among the disciples for this task. There is no official "deacon" office here. These men take on this assignment to make sure that it is dealt with and no longer remains a problem. The idea that some issues should be handled by a group separate from the main teaching leaders is something that emerges in a similar way in later church structure. It is probably rooted in Jewish precedent. Synagogue leaders and leading men of the city are some examples of other offices, where skill and reputation combine and lead to service. That the selection comes from within the group to the leadership parallels the selection of Judas's replacement in Acts 1:15-26. Their qualifications have two major components: that they be spiritual men, and that their character be well accepted by others. They are to be full of the Spirit and of wisdom and to be men who carry a good reputation. In this context, to be filled with the Spirit means that their lives are directed by God's Spirit so that they are spiritually sensitive, able to make good judgments, a sign of spiritual maturity. They will have responsibility for caring for the widows, although other texts make clear that this is not the only way they minister for the church. In contrast to the duty of the seven, there is another two-pronged ministry that the apostles will devote themselves to perform. They will continue to be engaged in prayer and a ministry of the word. Preaching has been noted in verse 2, but here prayer is also seen as an important aspect of what the apostles will do in leading the church and seeking God's will. The word that the apostles speak on the matter meets with great acceptance, as the word is said to have pleased the multitude. Stephen leads the list and is described as full of faith and the Spirit. The remark sets the stage for the description of his wider ministry in 6:8-8:1. Philip is next. He will be a key character in Acts 8. The activity of Stephen and Philip probably exemplifies the character of the group as a whole.

 

Focus on the Messiah: Acts 8:4-8.

 

[4]  Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. [5]  Philip went down to the city 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 came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. [8]  So there was much joy in that city. [ESV]

 

It is hard for us to conceive the boldness of the step Philip took in preaching the gospel to Samaritans. For the hostility between Jews and Samaritans had lasted a thousand years. It began with the break-up of the monarchy in the tenth century BC when ten tribes defected, making Samaria their capital, and only two tribes remained loyal to Jerusalem. It became steadily worse when Samaria was captured by Assyria in 722 BC, thousands of its inhabitants were deported, and the country was re-populated by foreigners. In the sixth century BC, when the Jews returned to their land, they refused the help of the Samaritans in the rebuilding of the temple. Not till the fourth century BC, however, did the Samaritan schism harden, with the building of their rival temple on Mount Gerizim and their repudiation of all Old Testament Scripture except the Pentateuch. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews as hybrids in both race and religion, as both heretics and schismatics. John summed up the situation in his simple statement that Jews have no dealings with Samaritans [John 4:9]. Now in Acts 8 Luke is obviously excited by the evangelization of the Samaritans and their incorporation in the Messianic community. Philip both proclaimed to them the Christ, since they too were expecting a Messiah, and performed miraculous signs, exorcizing unclean spirits and healing many who were paralyzed or lame. Hearing Philip's message and seeing his signs, the crowds paid attention to what he said and the combination of salvation and healing brought great joy to the city.

 

Explain the Scriptures: Acts 8:26-31,34-35.

 

[26]  Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place.  [27]  And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship  [28]  and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.  [29]  And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot."  [30]  So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?"  [31]  And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. [34]  And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?"  [35]  Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. [ESV]

 

 [26-28]  An angel of the Lord instructs Philip to head south for Gaza on a road that is located in a desolate area. Gaza was the last water stop in southwestern Israel before entering the desert on the way to Egypt and was 2,400 feet lower than Jerusalem. There is another traveler on the road, a eunuch who is treasurer to the queen of Ethiopia, called Candace, a term used as a hereditary dynastic title rather than the woman's real name. Ethiopia is to the south of Egypt and is known as Cush in the earlier books of the Old Testament. It is in what today is known as the Sudan, and it was in the Nubian kingdom, whose capital was Meroe. As an Ethiopian, the eunuch probably is black, and so the gospel is expanding to a new ethnic group. He went to Jerusalem in order to worship. He is now on his return journey. Eunuchs were castrated men who often served as keepers of harems. They often served as treasurers. His condition would not allow him full participation in Jewish worship [Deut. 23:1]. He is an important person, a powerful man from a faraway place who hears the gospel. Since he is reading Isaiah from the Old Testament, he is most likely an adherent of Judaism, probably a Diaspora God-fearer (a non-Jew who worships the Jewish God). He would be limited to the Court of the Gentiles at the temple or perhaps just to a synagogue. The eunuch is reading Isaiah, probably aloud as was ancient custom to help the memory. He is wealthy enough to have his own copy of Isaiah. This would likely be a scroll (about 8 inches X 12 inches and anywhere from 16.5 to 145 feet long), written in square Assyrian Hebrew script or in Greek. The chariot he rides in is not a military carriage but simply a traveling vehicle that could hold at least three people. It is hard to know how luxurious the chariot was for a trip that took five months each way.

 

[29-31]  The Spirit, not the angel of verse 26, now directs Philip to go and join the man in the chariot. The Spirit frequently directs in Acts. Running to the man, Philip hears the eunuch reading Isaiah. Philip asks the man if he comprehends what he is reading. The eunuch humbly asks to be led in a discussion about understanding what Isaiah is saying. When the Ethiopian says that he needs a guide, it becomes clear why Philip is here, especially when the man invites him into the chariot. Philip the evangelist is ready to explain the text to his inquirer and even hurries to do so. Philip serves as an interpretive guide to God's wisdom, both to Scripture and to God's plan in Jesus. He fulfills the mission to which God has called this member of the church.

 

[32-35]  The passage being read is Isaiah 53:7b-8a. Isaiah 53:7 looks at the innocent, silent suffering of the servant and compares the figure to a sacrificial lamb, unjustly slain as verse 33 makes clear. Philip will compare this description to Jesus. The death is described as being taken up from the earth. It also is called humbling. In its context, the Isaian passage refers to both submission and the idea of injustice. This combination of the innocent person suffering and being taken from the earth is probably what Philip eventually explains about Jesus, with an elucidation of what this death now means in light of God's vindication. This tragic, unjust death, which looked as if it had resulted in all being lost, in fact resulted in everything being gained. The focus of the eunuch's question is on who is the text describing. The query from the eunuch leads Philip to preach the gospel from the Scripture. No other details of the conversation appear. After the eunuch is baptized, the Spirit carried Philip away to another place where Philip continued to preach the gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

Share Your Faith with your Children: Acts 21:8-9.

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[8]  On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. [9]  He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.  [ESV]

 

Paul's company sails to Ptolemais and stays for a day. This seaport was located about twenty-five miles south of Tyre on the Mediterranean's southern Phoenician coast. It was almost eighty miles north of Jerusalem and the population included both Jews and Christians. Then they go on to Caesarea, about another forty miles. This was a major port south of Mt. Carmel, with four harbors in the complex. Almost all the gods are represented here. Paul stays in Caesarea with Philip and his four unmarried daughters. About twenty years separate this appearance of Philip and the last reference made to him [8:40]. As an evangelist, he was especially gifted to proclaim the good news to those who were unevangelized. His four unmarried daughters were all prophetesses, which means that they had the gift of speaking for God utterances given them under the immediate inspiration of the Spirit. Acts 2:17-18 shows that such gifts come on both men and women. First Corinthians 11:5 indicates how a woman should give prophecy in the church. Philip and his entire family reflect a deep piety.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         What lessons can we learn about ministry and the organization of the church in Acts 6:2-5? What are the required qualifications of the seven? Are these qualities you look for in your church leaders?

 

2.         Note how God used the persecution of the Church to spread the preaching of the gospel according to Jesus' instructions in Acts 1:8.

 

3.         What do you learn about evangelism from the two events concerning Philip in Acts 8? Who are your "Samaritans?"

 

References:

Acts, Darrell Bock, Baker.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Intervarsity.