By Joyce Long
Poison ivy makes me crazy. It itches. I scratch it. Then it spreads. Isn’t that the way negativity works? If a friend complains about the weather, I chime in. If she’s upset with someone, I complain, too. When negativity overtakes me, I don’t like what I hear. Neither does God.
That is why I like to be around positive, encouraging people—like Philip, one of Jesus’ lesser-known disciples. We see Philip in action when Jesus first called him.
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip (John 1:43-46).
Because Philip was excited about his own call to discipleship, he wanted to share Jesus with his friend Nathanael. Philip loved both Nathanael and Jesus, so he chose to be positive. Out of respect, Philip graciously ignored his friend’s negative first reaction but also, and perhaps more significantly, opened the door for Nathanael to meet Jesus personally.
“Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel’” (John 1:49).
Philip the encourager soon became Philip the evangelist.
Biblical scholars note Philip’s name isn’t Jewish but rather Greek in its origin, perhaps honoring Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Nor does history explain how Philip became friends with two Jewish brothers, Andrew and Peter. However, Scripture notes the three of them were from Bethsaida (literally translated, “fish house”).
Because this fishing village was near the Sea of Galilee and Capernaum, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were probably friends and fishing buddies with Philip. In fact, Philip is always listed fifth in the Gospels after the two sets of brothers. Not coincidentally, Bartholomew, whom most scholars believe to be Nathanael, follows Philip in Matthew’s listing of the 12 apostles (Matthew 10:2-4). The pattern of being called together—James and John; Simon Peter and Andrew; Philip and Bartholomew (Nathanael)—translates well into their being sent out in pairs (Luke 10:1).
A closer look into the origin of Philip’s name, which means “lover of horses,” gives us perspective about his background. Horses in biblical times signified strength, power, and wealth. King Solomon had an estimated 12,000 horses in his stable of 4,000 stalls (1 Kings 4:26). Perhaps Philip’s family was from a line of wealthy, naturally inquisitive Greeks who depended on logical reasoning—a heritage that at times may have overshadowed his belief in the Son of God.
“Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” (John 14:8, 9).
Like many of us, Philip grew in his faith and his ministry. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and entered Jerusalem during Passover, some Greeks asked Philip to lead them to Jesus. Note they bypassed the more known disciples like Peter, Andrew, and John. Conversing with Philip may have been easier because he most likely spoke their language. In fact, tradition suggests that Philip was often sent to the Greeks to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.
Careful reading of the Acts of the Apostles reveals the deeds of two men named Philip, which can be quite confusing because they were so much alike. The apostle Philip witnessed Christ’s ascension into Heaven and was with the other apostles in the upper room deciding who should replace Judas (Acts 1). “Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven” (Acts 21:8) was appointed by the apostles to oversee the daily distribution of food to the Grecian-Jewish widows (Acts 6). Both men had a connection to the Greeks. Both men had a heart for serving. Both men acted courageously in the face of persecution.
After Stephen was stoned, a great persecution scattered the church. The apostles stayed behind in Jerusalem, however, risking Saul’s zealous efforts to purge Christians from Jewish culture. While Philip the apostle risked his life to stay behind with the other apostles, Philip the evangelist embraced a new role of proclaiming Christ in Samaria. Faith that begins in simple serving can catapult into full-scale evangelism even in the face of persecution and death.
Because Philip the apostle commissioned the other Philip as a servant of the church, both men knew each other. How well is not known. While the relationship between the two Philips mentioned in Acts isn’t expanded, both were led by the Holy Spirit to proclaim Christ.
Perhaps the apostle Philip had mentored the evangelist Philip after he was chosen to help the Grecian Jews and their widows. Both took risks in their ministry, preaching and teaching Christ in spite of possible persecution. Some scholars believe that some time after Christ’s ascension, Philip traveled into Scythia (South Russia), preaching the gospel there for 20 years.
Christian tradition suggests that Philip was martyred for his faith. One tradition describes his final days as preaching in the city of Hierapolis, close to the modern Turkish city of Denizli. Along with other believers he taught that Jesus was the Son of God and through the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, converted the wife of the city’s proconsul. The angry proconsul tortured Philip and his companions and, as the story goes, crucified Philip and his fellow apostle Bartholomew upside down.
According to another legend, Philip continued his preaching upside down, prompting the crowd to release Bartholomew and offer to free Philip, too. Philip refused the offer, dying on the cross. Another version says he was beheaded for his faith. Either way, according to tradition, Philip died proclaiming his Savior.
From the tribe of Zebulun and perhaps with a mixed Greek heritage, Philip had no special gifts, no stellar pedigree, and not much faith in his early days of following Jesus. In Twelve Ordinary Men (Thomas Nelson, 2006), author and preacher John MacArthur describes Philip as the “bean counter” of the Twelve. This label originated from John 6:5-7 when Jesus asked him where they should buy bread to feed the five thousand.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wagesto buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
But Philip didn’t remain a bean counter. His ability to connect people to Jesus by building relationships and sharing even his fledgling faith is a contemporary model for evangelism. Philip didn’t argue people into the kingdom. His Jewish heritage and learning weren’t as extensive as the apostle Paul’s. Neither did he walk on water like Peter. However, he worked through his natural tendencies to reason first, eventually growing into a faithful, highly effective disciple of Jesus Christ.
His legacy is much like ours today. Probably an initial follower of John the Baptist, Philip grew curious about living a different lifestyle, one that was unique, pure, and committed to holiness. Then he was introduced to Jesus—Emmanuel, “God with Us.” In Christ, Philip actually saw God in action, watching him heal, listening to him teach, and witnessing miracle after miracle. But he didn’t hoard the truth. He shared Jesus with his good friend Nathanael by inviting him to “come and see.”
Together Nathanael and Philip became a part of something bigger than they ever could have imagined, the church of Jesus Christ—not perfect, occasionally misguided, sometimes confused, but always enveloped in God’s amazing grace, growing exponentially in the face of persecution.
We can be disciples like Philip, whose positive invitation to “come and see” Christ opens the gateway to both salvation and Heaven. And then it spreads.
Joyce Long is a freelance writer in Greenwood, Indiana.
Who’s in Your Circle?
God uses those around us to lead us closer to him, and he uses us to lead others closer to him.
• What people in your life are intentionally taking you under their wing to help you grow to be more like Christ?
• Who are you shepherding spiritually, taking the initiative to spur them on toward Christ?
• Pray that God will bring the right people into your path to partner with in these ways. Pray that he’ll give you boldness, humility, wisdom, and willingness to learn.