The crowd-pulling roar of Church history unfolding with phenomenal signs and wonders, healings, miracles and powerful demonstrations of the Spirit’s power in the days of the early church, suddenly undergoes a crunching gear change to introduce seven new characters to the God-story in the Acts of God.
Six verses are set apart to introduce previously unknown men to us as we peer into the pages, and yet in that briefest of introductions we see that not only is God at work in the early church addressing issues of character, gifting and leadership, but He is preparing to surprise us. (Acts 6:1-6)
Who are you looking for as emerging men of God in your church? Perhaps top of your list would be the fiery Elijah or maybe courageous Joshua, warrior David or weeping-prophet Jeremiah. But Philip?
Philip wasn’t even named first, he was piped to the post by Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
And of Philip nothing else is said. In fact, Stephen rises to the fore as the man of the hour with the stories and legends building fast around him, “full of grace and power, and was performing great signs and wonders among the people.” (Acts 6:7)
Some of us are Philip.
Apparently there is a tradition during Yom-Kippur that the Jews relate to the story of Jonah and in realising how they go astray from God, collectively announce “We are Jonah” recognising their predicament before God and looking for His great mercy. For many of us in the Church today there is the recognition that, at the heart of things we have a tendency to see ourselves as Philip.
My analogy at this point falls over. Philip had been recognised as having character and part of the process of his selection was that he was a man with good reputation, full of the Spirit of God and of wisdom. Great character issues. But the point I am moving towards, is that at first glance Philip rises to the opportunity to serve tables. Serving tables was not the starting point for Philip, at this point of his life it was the high point. I’m not sure that he was disappointed – in fact he probably saw it as an honour.
How different for us today. Serving does not come easy to all of us. Even Elders and pastors don’t always excel at this! But it is a starting point for Philip and it will lead to other things. God is at work in Philip’s heart.It is almost as if God prepares us for greatness by training us to be servants. The focus of being a servant however, is never to attract greatness, but to serve. But a servant-heart does seem to be a precursor to bigger and better things. And as you learn to serve God observes your heart. Heaven is always watching.
And so the story unfolds.
Saul is going berserk in the Church, arresting, persecuting and killing the saints. So much has been happening in the early Church. And in the midst of it all, a surprise emerges. Philip begins to rise to the opportunities that God puts before him. (Acts 8:5-8) Philip is found in Samaria preaching with signs and wonders, healings and demons being cast out. The city is ablaze with great rejoicing. When was the last time your heard that, if ever?
And my guess is, that they love Philip! How things are changing for Philip. And how things can change for you.
Even then, Philip’s life begins to unfold more and more. Philip, the unknown character who served the apostles and the Church in the launch of the church now begins to emerge even further. (Acts 9:26-40) Philip hears the angel of the Lord speaking to him, leads a high ranking Ethiopian official to Christ and then is snatched away by the Spirit of the Lord to Azotus where he continues to preach the gospel. Awesome! And I bet you would attend his conference!
Philip is inspiring. Between the lines of Scripture you can read passion, conviction, character, hope, trust and obedience. It is a long time since our cities rejoiced in God like they did for Philip, a very long time. But it all started with being a servant.
Who do you want in your Church? I have my hand up for Philip. God give us thousands of Philips.
[Written with my friend Philip in mind…]