Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Philip Factor

God uses ordinary people in extra ordinary ways!

"Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot." So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth." So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing." Acts 8:26-39

This is the story of deacon Philip. He was not an apostle but an ordinary follower of Christ made extraordinary by certain qualities he possessed, the sum of which I call the Philip Factor.

The Philip Factor is that you can be ordinary but used by God in extraordinary ways only if you are OPEN to God's Ways, OBEDIENT to God's Will and OVERFLOWING with God Word.

Firstly, Philip was OPEN to God's Ways in his life. He was an ordinary Church member in Jerusalem but was chosen and appointed as a deacon. Seven deacons were chosen in the early church in Jerusalem to free the Apostle from practical tasks, especially the task of distributing aid to the widows. These deacons were chosen as they were "of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom" (Acts 6:3). Philip was chosen as one of the seven, which shows us that he was living a victorious Chrisitan life, shining forth Christlikeness in his character and conduct.

As the early church grew and became established the role of a deacon continued and was further qualified. Paul wrote to Timothy to appoint Elders and deacons in the church at Ephesus and the deacons were to "be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience" (1 Timothy 3:9-10).

Philip opened his heart up to the Lord, having faith in Christ's transforming power. Though Philip was initially an ordinary Church member he rose up above the ordinary to live an outstanding, extraordinary life for Christ. All of us can do this as we claim all the riches of Christ that are available to us. According to Scripture, once we have a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (that is from the time we become a born again Christian) we have available to us "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). All of God's provisions for us to live victoriously and for our lives to count for eternity are available to us if only we would open our hearts to His ways and trust in Him above all else.

This is my own experience. For many years I was an ordinary church goer, regularly attending appointed meetings and participating in Church events. However, I was an extremely fearful, shy and insecure individual and went to church as a form of survival. The turning point came when I went to university in London and started attending a church called Holy Trinity Brompton . I went on an Alpha Course and on the final weekend away the Lord met me in a powerful way as I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Bathed in His power, I suddenly had a revelation of my position in Christ. I knew I was not destined to survive and beg like a dog for crumbs from the Master's table, but to be seated in heavenly places with the Master, clothed in His righteousness, living in His victory. Soon after that time God led me into full time missions work and I was sent to Singapore where I live to this day as Pastor in the English service of a church here. This happened because God gave me the power to live an exemplary life for Hiim, and because of this I gained favour from man and slowly was recognized as having a godly character fit for the Lord's service.

Secondly, Philip was OBEDIENT to God's Will. After his fellow deacon, Stephen, was martyred, Philip fled Jerusalem into Samaria, avoiding the great persecution in his home town. Jesus had said that the Holy Spirit would empower the believers in Jerusalem to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) but they had only really been effective in reaching Jerusalem and Judea, the Jewish people most culturally like themselves. However, it took persection to force these early missionaries to reach their next destination, Samaria. The Samaritans were a people group hated by the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea due to their corrupted form of judaism and their origins from intermarriage with Assyrians, the hated enemy of Israel from generations past.

It was into the midst of this hated race that Philip fled. He loved the Lord too much to hate the Samaritans any more. He knew that his Lord had taught "If you love me keep my commandments", and a final commandment that Jesus had given to His church included being His witnesses in Samaria. So the story in Acts shows us that "Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did'" (Acts 8:5-6). Philip was thrust right into the middle of God's will and because of his openness and obedience He found himself in the midst of a revival!

This is where we come to the passage quoted at the beginning of this article. In the middle of a great revival in Samaria an angel of the Lord comes to Philip and tells him to go south along the road to Gaza. Philip knew this meant travelling into a desert, a barren and undesirable place. Previously he was thrust into God's will by circumstance with no real options. However, now he is presented with a choice - obey and go into a desert or disobey and stay in a wonderful revival. What would you do? The flesh would want to stay but going into the middle of God's will is always the wisest choice, so that's the wise decision Philip took as he "arose and went" (Acts 8:27).

The name Philip is a Greek name meaning "lover of horses". For a horse to be useful it needs to be broken-in and bridled. The breaking-in process is the breaking of its stubborb and wild will and the act of bridling is to put a bridle on the horses head so the rider can control it. Jesus wants to ride on our lives, leading us into the Father's will, the best place for us to be. But, before this can happen, our will needs to be broken until we get to the point, like Jesus, where we can say to the Father, "not my will but yours be done".

Philip was truly broken-in and bridled by the Lord. Even though the Lord's guidance seemed crazy he willingly and joyfully obeyed and ended up being very glad that he did. Indeed, Philip's obedience would eventually result in a revival where a whole nation turned to Jesus. It is recorded that the African nation of Ethiopia became a Christian nation in about AD300 and this fact can be traced directly back to the meeting of Philip with the Ethiopian Eunuch that we read about in this passage.

Just think of the many "coincidences" that occur in this story. Philip walked 50 miles and "just happened" to come across the caravan of one of the most influential person in the nation of Ethiopia (the trusted treasurer of the queen). As he ran past the Eunuch's chariot it "just happened" that he was reading aloud Isaiah 53, a passage concerning the sacrificial work of Jesus on the Cross. Then, as Philip was invited into the chariot to share the good news of Jesus and the Eunuch wanted to profess his faith in Christ and be baptized there "just happened" to be some water nearby, in a desert! When we obey the guidance of the Lord, be it through angels or the Spirit Himself, there will be many divine coincidences that I call "God-incidences" that will lead us to do mighty works for the Lord.

Thirdly, Philip was OVERFLOWING with God's Word. He had obviously immersed himself in the Word of God he knew - the Old Testament writings and the teachings of Jesus passed to him by the Apostles. It was because he knew God's Word he could accept his divine Samarian assignment where others would have defaulted. It was because he knew God's Word that he could leap into the chariot with the Ethiopian Eunuch and, from the word that dwelled in Him richly, overflowed a clear interpretation of Isaiah 53 in the light of the work of Christ on the Cross and his resurrection and ascension.

We need to immerse ourself in the Word of God daily. Listen to it, read it, study it, memorize it and meditate on it. Empowered by the Spirit, His indwelling Word is a powerful weapon. When we are forced into situations we would rather not be in then the Word of God will keep up safe and strengthen us to be victorious (like Philip in Samaria). When he leads us to walk through desert roads the Word of God will sustain us and gush forth from us to refresh the weary souls of others God leads us to, those who will pass that word to others.

The Ethiopian Eunuch would not have travelled alone. He would have travelled in a large caravan of possible a hundred or more people. He was a rich and influential man who would have travelled with body guards, members of the royal court, merchants and others. History tells us that many Ethiopians converted to Judaism from the time of Solomon (through Queen Sheba), so the nation of Ethiopia at that time was under the blessing of Abraham and would have been a powerful and influential land. So, when he gave his life to Jesus and was baptized, this would have been witnessed by the whole caravan. Because of his influential position I believe many others would have immediately followed his example and as they travelled back to Ethiopia with the Good News there would have been a mighty revival in that land. All because Philip was OPEN to God's Ways, OBEDIENT to God's Will and OVERFLOWING with God's Word.

You may feel like you are just an ordinary person living a meaningless, ordinary life. But with Christ in your life you can be used in extra ordinary ways if you will simply be OPEN to His ways, OBEDIENT to His Will and OVERFLOWING with His Word. Let the Philip Factor be evident in your life.

Today, open your heart and let Jesus in even more! Determine to live in His full and abundant provision for you. You'll be amazed at what the Lord can do through your life.


Rev.Tim Gibson