Philip of Bethsaida is one of the privileged few who had the opportunity to live in close proximity to our Lord Jesus Christ during his years of public ministry. We so easily underestimate this privilege of viewing, day by day, in every possible circumstance of life, one who lived in full obedience to, and full dependence on His God and Father, one who in every situation displayed with full clarity that He is from above and above all – not of the earth – but truly the Lord from Heaven, John 3. 31.
As opposition arose and the leaders plotted the Saviour’s downfall, they came again and again to try Him with hard questions and to find fault – but His obedience and dependence is unfaltering. Philip may not have witnessed Christ in the Garden lying prostrate on the ground as He cried ‘Not my will, but thine be done’, yet still the perfect example was laid down consistently in every moment of the Lord’s life on earth. What an example laid down for Philip and all His disciples.
Philip did have the privilege of being in the Upper Room as our Lord Jesus signified in such a clear way that it was His delight to be obedient to the Father. Taking the emblems, speaking of His body to be broken, and blood to be shed, He freely gives thanks to God before so willingly distributing to the disciples with the words ‘Given for you’, Luke 22. 19.
The purpose of such privileges in the life of Philip was to teach him the importance of Christ-like obedience and dependence on God in the changing circumstances of life. While he would not have appreciated the significance of them all at the time, they would be a treasury of learning to call upon at the required time. I believe the specific recorded incidences in the life of Philip show how he develops from the Lord’s example, bringing him to his finest hour in Christ-like behaviour.
Philip appears on the scene at the beginning of John’s gospel with the simple request of Christ to ‘Follow me’, John 1. 43 – the start of a life of learning at the feet of Christ. A first, simple instruction from the lips of Christ must be followed without question before further guidance is given. Although we know little of his life before this, his reaction gives insight into the mind of Philip prior to the call of Christ. With deep understanding and evangelistic instinct, he quickly finds Nathanael and declares to him, ‘We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write’, John 1. 45. This is suggestive of an intimate knowledge of the word of God, leading to an understanding of the One who was coming. It is also suggestive of a life seeking after the promised One.
Nathanael is another who seems to have been seeking. In response to the question of Nathanael, ‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip believes a meeting with Christ will be the evidence required to the genuine seeker, as he declares, ‘come and see’. Whatever Nathanael’s experience alone with God under the fig tree, he was totally convinced he was in the presence of the Christ as the Lord Jesus makes mention of it.
The next mention of Philip follows a time of learning for the twelve. They are sent out two-by-two, with the clear instruction to take nothing with them, but that they should preach and heal, Luke 9. 2. This gives them the opportunity to build, through experience, their ability to depend upon God in simple obedience. They returned rejoicing in what God had done through them, sharing with the Lord Jesus all that was accomplished.
The Lord then takes them apart from the multitude to be alone with Himself, but a great multitude of five thousand men beside women and children follow Him. It is John’s Gospel that highlights the fact that Jesus uses this opportunity to ‘prove’ Philip, John 6. 6. Seeing the great multitude approach, He asks Philip, ‘whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?’ Philip’s response is that two hundred pennyworth of bread is not enough that every one of them may take a little. Luke reminds us that the desert place belonged unto the city of Bethsaida. Philip, coming from the area, would have had the knowledge of what resources were available in the city. I believe the Lord was testing how dependent they were upon God to provide following their experience in being sent forth. This is the first of two lessons that Philip had to learn. Dependence on God will not be limited by natural resource. At this stage in his development, his immediate response still considers natural resources, and limits the provision to all receiving a little. Our Lord Jesus never leaves anyone partially satisfied, but fully meets every need. The second lesson quickly comes as the time of testing is not yet finished. What follows is a challenge of obedience to all the disciples as the Lord commands, ‘Give ye them to eat’, Mark 6. 37. This is the simple test of obedience, believing that Christ will never command the impossible but always provide the power and means to those who seek to obey. None of the disciples, Philip included, have yet realized the importance of obeying every request of Christ.
Later, as the Lord begins to prepare His disciples for His departure, He promises that ‘if I go, I will come again and receive you unto myself’, John 14. 3. Thomas is the first to respond that they don’t know where He is going. The Lord’s response highlights that He is the only way to the Father, and that knowledge of the Father is knowledge of Him. At this point Philip interjects with the simple request, ‘Lord, shew us the Father and it sufficeth us’. I believe this is an important point in the development and progress of Philip’s dependence and obedience, an understanding of the one they are expected to depend on with simple obedience. The greater his appreciation of the person of Christ, the stronger will be his desire to obey every command.
The Lord’s departure brings a time of real persecution for the church. Yet through the difficult circumstances, the gospel flourishes, souls are saved, baptized and added daily. Acts chapter 8 begins with the evidence of great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem, resulting in the believers being ‘scattered’ abroad. Interestingly, the origin of the word used for scattering, is closely associated with being ‘sown’. Therefore, we can see the purpose of God being fulfilled through the difficulties with individuals being sown by God to further the spread of the gospel.
Following the scattering, Philip goes down into Samaria preaching Christ. What follows is a time of real blessing, with the evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit being shown in many miracles through the hands of Philip. Demons are cast out, those who are sick know healing and there is great joy through the city. News of the blessing reaches the ears of the apostles at Jerusalem and they send Peter and John down to Samaria, who, through prayer and laying on of hands, are involved in the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the believers in Samaria.
Humanly speaking, this must be considered as a finest hour experience: seeing the blessing of the gospel preached with such strong evidences of God using Philip in His purpose; the church being developed; God’s power displayed in such a real way; and a whole city filled with the joy of the Lord. However, I believe Philip’s finest hour is found further down the chapter. ‘And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went’, Acts 8. 26-27.
What an opportunity for Philip’s training at the feet of Christ to come to fruition. Acknowledging the truth of 1 Corinthians chapter 3 verse 7, ‘So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase’, he willingly moved on from such a scene of blessing, knowing it was a work of God and not dependent on him, to show simple obedience to the call of the Lord. Notice the nature of the call:
Without knowledge of what was required of him, or the purpose of God in his going, Philip arose and went. Leaving behind scenes of blessing, where the work of God was flourishing, this simple step of immediate obedience is the evidence of a life fully given over to Christ. The nature of the call gives specific direction, but no final destination or purpose. Philip doesn’t seem to delay, but immediately responds by heading south to the desert place, with full dependence on God to direct and provide. We know that God uses his simple response to reach out to a seeking soul, ensuring there is one who can carry the gospel into the continent of Africa. However, the finest hour of Philip will never be measured by the souls that were saved, but rather his obedience and dependence on Christ. It seems that the training of Christ is all leading up to this moment in the life of Philip. What a reminder to us that God expects us to be attentive to His call, expecting us to be fully obedient with a dependent spirit. May God help us to be Christ-like as displayed in the life of Philip!