The topic quickly became about heroes and role models last Tuesday as I met with a great bunch of guys, who are associated with what we call ‘Community 113” because we generally meet in unit 113 of the Threshold National Office Complex. Lately we have been taking our study on the road and meeting in the home of a member who has recently had some serious surgery and hasn’t been able to travel to join us. We spend the first hour or so catching up with one another and sharing the latest news. This week the death of Monty Lewis was a major topic of discussion. Monty had been a big part of several guys’ lives. His consistent witness and continual care for these men had made an enormous impact. He was a hero and role model to folks who had few good role models. We have been spending time in the book of Acts the last month or two and so I was able to share with them a great Biblical hero and role model of mine. Most of the guys had never heard of Philip the Evangelist and so they listened with rapt attention as I told the story.
The early church had grown quickly in a short time and experienced commensurate ‘growing pains’. The Grecian Jews who were so well represented on the day of Pentecost were feeling that their widows and orphans were being given short shrift in the distribution of food etc. The wise Apostles heard their complaint and took the issue to prayer. They realized that ‘waiting on tables’ while a noble endeavour would take them away from their apostolic calling, so they had the Greeks appoint some Holy Spirit filled people to perform this task. Our humble hero Phillip was one of these appointees. He begins his service to God in the service of others. He follows his Saviour in taking up the ministry of the towel. It is this very humble attitude, this willingness to serve that first attracts us. Then like the man with two talents he is given greater responsibility. Philip’s colleague Stephen is killed and a great persecution breaks out in Jerusalem. All but the Apostles flee and Philip goes to Samaria. God is using persecution to send the Gospel to: Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world. While in Samaria Philip shares the Good News faithfully and revival breaks out! There is a great party going on in Samaria. Joy is everywhere and Philip is in the middle of it all. Just then God says to him to go out into the dessert! You or I might have balked but Philip is ever the servant. He does not choose to hold on to the accolades of Samaria but heads off into the emptiness of the desert, like Abraham not knowing ‘whither’. There on the desert road he sees an Ethiopian official riding in his chariot. God nudges Philip and asks him to engage this official. Philip sets off running alongside this chariot engaging the official in conversation. “What are you reading?” he pants as he jogs along. It turns out the man who is in charge of the treasury of the Queen of Ethiopia was reading Isaiah 53. “Do you understand what you are reading?” ask the perspiring and out of breath evangelist. Finally the official has the chariot pull over and asks Philip up with him. Philip begins right where the man was and shared the good news of Jesus. He had taken the time to listen though it required great effort and he started to build on what God had already built in. Philip was humble enough to know that he did not serve in isolation. He did not have to start as if at square one. He listened for where God through others had left off and picked up God’s narrative from there. He knew this business of evangelism is God’s business and that he was at best a junior partner who needed to pay close attention to not plough a field his senior had already sown. The man came to faith they hopped off the chariot again and the official was baptized. And then, I’m not entirely sure how but Philip was off to his next encounter. Whether it was a great task or a little task Philip treated them all the same. He exemplifies the life of ‘kenosis’ that Philippians chapter 2 calls us to, and in doing so he is a hero. He is a hero when serving tables, he is a hero in the midst of great revival, he is a hero in the lonely desert because he was first a hero in humble submission to the King who took up the towel and the cross. We last see Philip many years later where he is known as Philip the Evangelist. He is the proud father of four young women who are following in their father’s footsteps as prophetesses. It seems that in his humble service he garnered such a rich reward and lasting legacy. These days church folk often think of evangelists as ‘revivalists’ but for those of us who seek to walk in the way of Philip the only one in scripture to whom this title, we know the key is humble service, tireless listening and ready proclamation accompanied by a willingness to follow our Senior Partner’s lead no matter where which marks us as Evangelists.