As church history unfolds with signs and wonders, healings, miracles, and powerful demonstrations of the Spirit’s power in the early days of the Church, the story suddenly undergoes a dramatic shift to introduce seven new characters to the God-story of the early Church. (Acts 6:1-6)
Peering into the pages with curiosity and fascination, six verses introduce unseen men to us, and yet in those fewest of introductions we see that God is at work in the early church to address issues of character, gifts, and leadership, but He also has a surprise for us.
Who are you looking for as emerging men and women of God in your church?
Perhaps, looking to the past, at the top of your list would be Elijah or Joshua, David, or weeping prophet Jeremiah. But Philip? Seriously? As the amazing story of Acts unfolds before us, we are aware of twelve apostles stepping up. From the beginning, the apostles witnessed creative miracles, blind eyes opened, lepers cleansed, entire villages cured of sicknesses and diseases, dead people rising from the dead – they knew what amazement was.
More than that, they had been out to villages and the miracles had continued, but at their hands. Impeccable qualifications, but God had no other plans, just one. God only has one plan, and it is perfect. You are included in that plan.
When you least expect it in the drama of Acts, new characters arise.
The sweeping scope of God’s plan is amazing, as is the wonder of his invitations to everyone, no matter how qualified or unqualified they are. They are invitations, but people are caught up in the drama of mission, commission, and evangelistic engagement before they realise they have a choice. Grace does not always mean the freedom to say no, but it gives you the freedom to be willing, to want and desire what God puts before you.
As the Church looks at Deacons Philip was not even named first, he was pipped to the post by Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. The story could happily end there, but it does not. There were lots of contenders for the deacon role, and Philip is not only a contender, but a good choice.
It is unfair to think of Stephen as the star of the show.
The reason for that is simple, it puts attention and focus on Stephen and not God. That may sound petty but think about it from God’s perspective. Do you think God wants to endorse such a focus with power and authority? He only did that with Jesus, and it was with an audible voice (Mark 1:11; Matt 17:5; Luke 9:35) drawing undivided attention to Him. In countless ways, Jesus remains the ‘man of the hour’ even today.
Some of us, however, are Philip. 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 announces “We are Jonah” recognising their predicament before God and looking for His great mercy. Today, many of us in the Church recognize we have a deep affinity with Philip. Philip is serving tables – we are not told what that meant, it was obviously clear to the readers at the time of writing.
You may wonder what is happening in your life at times if opportunities are fleeting.
People may even find themselves in a place of discouragement when they are waiting for doors to open. I can relate to that. It’s a bad example that I have used here about moving on from being a servant(deacon), but what I have in mind is more like being a sitting member of the church when you feel you would like to do much more, but the opportunity is not there. There may be times when praying for doors to open is not enough, what is needed is a window! At least you can see or climb out!
The thought of living in a room with no windows or doors to peer through can be daunting – it is not about praying the walls will disappear either! Ambitious as it sounds, it is unhelpful. God is at work and patience rules the day.
Let us digress for a moment and talk about chess. God’s purpose for us is our purpose. As a pawn in the chess game, if he wants you on a square for an uncomfortable time, that is his prerogative. You discern that through prayer. It might look like you could force a checkmate move, but you really can only see what the Lord shows you, and you cannot see beyond visual range unless he enables it. Trust Him.
Philip had been identified as possessing character, and part of the criteria for his selection was his reputation as a man full of the Spirit of God and wisdom. Philip is an obvious choice and he 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 am not sure he was disappointed – in fact, he most certainly saw it as an honour.
How different for us today. Serving does not come easy for all of us. Even elders and pastors do not always excel at this! As time shows, t is something that Philip does well, and it will lead to other things. God is at work in Philip’s heart. It is as if God prepares us for greatness by disciplining us to be servants. Servanthood is not about attracting greatness, but about serving, and servanthood does seem to be a precursor to more substantial and better things. Be aware that as you go out of your way to serve, that God observes your heart, He is always watching – your Father who sees in secret…
And so, the story unfolds. Saul is going berserk in the Church, arresting, persecuting, and executing the saints. So much has been happening in the early Church. And during it all, a surprise captures the church’s attention. Philip begins showing a noticeable shift in his ministry with a noticeable measure of faith demonstrated in the opportunities that God brings his way. (Acts 8:5-8) Suddenly, Philip is found in Samaria preaching with signs and wonders, healings and demons being cast out. The city is ablaze with great rejoicing. Imagine if that was in your city.
Philip gets a lot of love there! 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 speak to him, leads an 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, an exceptionally long time. But it all started with being a servant.
It is amazingly easy, with personal ambition gripping our heart, to glance at the narrative of Philip as something of a success story. If it happened for Philip what is to say that it cannot or will not happen for us? You already have experienced moments in life where opportunity passed you by and left you unnoticed. I know you have.
It may seem that even now, you lack the profile and recognition that you feel you deserve or once had, but Philip’s story shows that when the time is right, God will make sure you are thoroughly prepared for what He wants to do with you.
Our problem is a personal one. If we are not careful, our worship can be affected by the sense of the individuality that grips Western Church culture, rather than the joy of seeing the kingdom advancing and the people being touched, delivered, healed, restored, and encouraged by someone else.
At the right time, when the things that you can control and those elements that are not in your control are in place, God will do what He will do, with and through you. The Bible is full of stories of people who suddenly appear in the life of Israel, and just as suddenly disappear. Amos is a good one, as is Jonah and John, the Baptist., there are many more.
God’s many purposes for you
It is good to understand that God does not have a single task for us, but that his many purposes for us last until the day we die. Sometimes He has a lot of work for us to do, ‘preach, minister, witness,’ at other times the task is simple, ‘pray.’
This understanding encourages us to press through moments where we experience favour and recognition so that we do not become casualties to despondency and disillusionment when things move on – understanding that we are part of a bigger picture.
It is important we derive our sense of purpose, reality and identity from God’s continuing work and doing what He wants, not what we want, and when He wants it. In effect, we study now because of the opportunities that God will give on the morrow, we are good disciples now so that we are fit for use in the future.
We must not despise the day of small beginnings or the ordinary.
We must not despise the day of small beginnings or the ordinary. God has not promised us that our lives will be full of adventure, encounter and moments of mystery mingled with visions, dreams, angels and theophanies. The promise we do have is that all things are working together for the good of those who love Him and that we are never alone. The enormous treasure you have now, is what should satisfy your heart; Jesus. As we seek His face he reveals his hand, never the other way around!
Guard your heart, be jealous over the anointing God puts over you, be overprotective for it with a resolute passion to not allow anything in your heart and life that would otherwise grieve or quench the work or the Presence of the Holy Spirit. Always be given to thanking God and praising Him for what He is doing rather than what He is not, reminding ourselves that we walk by faith not by sight and do everything with full consideration of what a privilege it is that God uses you.
Attend these things diligently because it is easy to focus negatively on the small things that seem representative of all that God is doing when you are not bouncing with faith and expectation. Often, during those dark times, we are looking in the wrong direction – even small, hesitant steps of faith are rewarded by the One whom we have faith in.
Our hope is not in the astonishing work of revival, signs and wonders or breath-taking miracles, but in walking in cooperation with what God is doing in our midst and encouraging God’s people looking at the storms of life, to put their trust and confidence in Him. He is a good, loving and kind God.
Philip did well; he also had daughters that prophesied. The girls set a good example in what they learned and observed in their father. Modern prophets are no different to what we see and observe in Philips life, walking in humility, faith, and obedience.
They are also, because of their walk before the Lord, low maintenance and for elders and pastors, a joy to lead.