By David Wise
Philip is the only man in scripture who is specifically denoted by the Holy Spirit as an evangelist – “Philip the evangelist” (Acts 21:8). Paul tells the ordained minister Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5), and he also denotes “evangelists” as one of the four ministerial offices in the New Testament church (Eph. 4:11). Paul certainly did the work of an evangelist, but he held a different office of an apostle, so he never referred to himself by that title. Therefore, we should examine Philip’s life to see the qualifying marks of “an evangelist” and how Philip conducted himself that led the Holy Spirit to single him out solely for this title in scripture. Philip’s travels in Samaria, to the eunuch, and then from city to city have received much attention, but we also see from his later life that his evangelism was also concentrated locally as well, not just traveling from place to place perpetually.
We are first introduced to Philip as “one of the seven” (Acts 21:8), ordained as a deacon in the Jerusalem Church in Acts 6:1-6. However, by Acts 8 Philip is preaching the gospel in Samaria with authority to baptize. Therefore, we would presume that he was given additional authority by the apostles to baptize, likely having a second ordination not noted in scripture to give him this authority. This is similar to men in our churches today who are first ordained as a deacon in their home church but subsequently are called to preached and then ordained again to the office of elder, with the corresponding authority to baptize in that office. Philip had great evangelistic success in Samaria, baptizing many people of both men and women (Acts 8:5-12). The substance of Philip’s preaching in Samaria that saw many converts and baptisms was simple – he simply “preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5). Later, when the eunuch asked Philip about the meaning of a verse in Isaiah 53, “Then, Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Therefore, we could say that “evangelistic preaching” is not crafty, skillful orations of deep spiritual truths but rather the simplistic message of “Jesus Christ and him crucified”, which was Paul’s singular message in his preaching as well (1 Cor. 2:2).
Up to this time, based on the information we have in scripture, the gospel had not yet been formally preached by the apostles or ordained ministers, such as Philip, outside of Jerusalem. During the persecution led by Saul, there were many members of the Jerusalem Church who were “scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria”, but the apostles remained in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). Then, “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the gospel” (Acts 8:4). Therefore, it’s likely that those in Samaria had been somewhat exposed to the gospel through these zealous church members, but the ministry (with authority to baptize) had not yet expanded outside of Jerusalem. Philip, then, brings the full gospel message to Samaria who had previously not been fully immersed in the gospel and baptizes the believers in that region. We see here (and in Philip’s later travels) that Philip is committed to preaching the gospel in areas (and to individual people) that have not fully or not at all been exposed to the gospel message.
Philip is then called by an angel of the Lord to leave the great evangelistic work – the true “revival” that’s still in full stride – in Samaria to go to the middle of the desert in Gaza (Acts 8:26). A chariot of a eunuch later shows up in this desert, but Philip is originally told to leave a thriving, fruitful area of ministry to just go hang out in the middle of the desert. In our carnal minds, we might think that’s a foolish decision. Why would a gospel minister leave a revival to go to the middle of a desert by himself? And then, even after the eunuch shows up, why would Philip leave the great success in Samaria to preach to one person? Just a simple math equation in our mind, at first blush would make us think that Philip would have more success, possibly been more profitable to the kingdom, if he would stay where the river’s already flowing and just keep baptizing more folks – “Stay where the people are at, Philip; why are you leaving to go be alone in the desert. Who are you going to preach to down there?”. Despite our carnal objections (and maybe his own too), he leaves Samaria in faith and follows the leadership of the Spirit to go to the Gaza desert.
Here Philip displays the proper mindset of an evangelist. Philip was willing to leave a prosperous field of ministry based solely on the direction and leadership of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t doubt, he didn’t hesitate, he didn’t negotiate with Lord to stay, but he followed the Spirit to the middle of a desert in faith, knowing that if God directed him there, then there was work to be done in this desert, even if it wasn’t readily apparent to Philip what that work was yet. Philip also displays the same mindset of the greatest Evangelist, Jesus Christ. Jesus was willing to leave all the riches, comfort, and glory of heaven, to sacrifice Himself for his sheep. Even though God’s people are a multitude so vast that no man can number, Jesus Christ would still have had to perform the same work of sacrifice to save one single person as he did the innumerable multitude of his elect. Jesus came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The Great Shepherd is not just satisfied with ninety-nine obedient sheep in the fold but is willing to “risk it all” to go find that one lost sheep that has gone astray (Luke 15:4-6). If heaven rejoices more over one lost sheep that is found than the other ninety-nine sheep that need no repentance (Luke 15:7), then we should have the same desire to pursue the repentance of one little child of God that might be off by himself like the eunuch was (even if it means leaving the large numbers of current obedient sheep like in Samaria). Also, we should have the same joy when one sinner like this eunuch is brought to belief in Christ as the same joy we have when we are baptizing folks by the thousands (which Philip had no doubt seen occur in Acts 2 & 4). If Jesus is willing to seek after one little lost sheep, so should we; if heaven rejoices in such a profound way with the repentance of one sinful sheep, then we should rejoice just as fervently as heaven does when this occurs.
I’m sure Philip was quite relieved when he did make his way to the middle of the desert, and there was at least somebody that showed up. A chariot of a eunuch from Ethiopia that was returning from Jerusalem was passing by Philip in the desert, and “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot” (Acts 8:29). As Philip runs up alongside the chariot, he yells out to the man in the chariot if he understood what he was reading? The eunuch responds to the fella running alongside his chariot, “How can I except some man should guide me?” Philip then makes his way into the chariot, reads over the passage in Isaiah 53, and “Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” (Acts 8:35) God has called men to preach, to fill the office of an evangelist, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” and other purposes detailed in the next few verses (Eph. 4:11-15). This child of God understood his need for someone to expound upon the meaning of these verses to him, (he had about given up on trying to figure it out on his own), and the Spirit of God sent an evangelist to him to preach Jesus to him from that text. The evangelist is concerned with teaching the word of God to the hungry sheep, but the focus and direction always comes back to Jesus Christ.
We also see how Philip the evangelist answered the question that was asked him but promptly brought the discussion back to Jesus Christ. When we are asked questions, we need to principally answer the question that we have been asked. Philip took the text that this eunuch was burdened over and asked him about, expounded the text unto him, then he used that as a springboard to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to him. We don’t need to redirect the attention of sincere inquirers elsewhere; answer their questions, address their immediate burden and need, and then always direct them back to the central theme of scripture – “Jesus Christ and him crucified”.
Furthermore, even though they started from Isaiah 53, Philip apparently had admonished the eunuch to believe on Jesus Christ and be baptized. That chapter in Isaiah 53 doesn’t mention anything about water baptism, but yet when they passed by a body of water, “the eunuch said, See here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (Acts 8:36) Obviously, at some point in the message, Philip had admonished this born-again child of God to believe in his Savior described in Isaiah 53 and submit to believer’s baptism. Since Philip “preached unto him Jesus”, that tells me that the evangelist has not properly “preached Jesus” until they have called upon their audience to believe on Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, and be baptized in Christ’s name. The eunuch was then obedient to the gospel call to believe on Jesus Christ and was properly baptized by Philip by full immersion of water (Acts 8:37-39).
Then, as soon as they were “come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip” (Acts 8:39). In some way, the Spirit “caught away” Philip from this waterside to another location in Azotus. Then, after Philip “was found at Azotus” he then went and “preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea” (Acts 8:40). Azotus (more commonly known as Ashdod in the Bible and today as well) is near to the Mediterranean coast. Philip traveled northeast about 60 miles from Azotus, stopping in “all the cities” on his route, generally following the Mediterranean coast, and finally stopping in Caesarea. There is no mention of the gospel being preached in Azotus up to this point. Jesus traveled through Caesarea-Philippi that is near the sea of Galilee, but no mention is made of the city of Caesarea (on the Mediterranean coast) prior to this passage. Therefore, it is safe to presume that both Azotus, Caesarea, and the cities in between, had never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ up to this point. Again, we see Philip preaching the gospel consecutively to cities that have never heard the gospel of Christ. The evangelist should be willing to preach the gospel wherever his current location is, literally wherever he is at, following the direction of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit dropped him off at Azotus, so he preached the gospel to them there. He then began traveling in a northeasterly direction, so he preached the gospel to all the cities that he showed up in. Finally, he preached the gospel in Caesarea too, exposing those citizens to the gospel for the first time, and apparently, the Spirit directed him to set up a home base there for an extended period of time. Philip again sets the evangelistic precedent that we should be willing to preach the gospel in cities that have never heard that message, but that is not the only duty of the evangelist.
Traveling all over the countryside preaching the gospel to people that have never heard the gospel before does not constitute the full work of an evangelist. Philip did not remain on this “traveling circuit” indefinitely the way that the Apostle Paul did. We see from Acts 8:40 that Philip made his way to Caesarea, and then we hear nothing about him until Acts 21:8, when he’s still in the same city, Caesarea, hosting Paul in his travels. Philip’s ministry in Samaria was in the early days of the church, possibly around 35 AD. Then, we hear nothing from him until Paul stops by, which was probably around 56-58 AD and Philip was still in Caesarea. So, we have possibly 20 years that Philip the evangelist preached the gospel in his adopted hometown of Caesarea, in his local community. It’s very likely that Philip only preached by traveling extensively for a few years early in his ministry like we see in Acts 8, but he spent over 20 years preaching ministering locally in Caesarea. What did Philip do during his time spent locally in Caesarea? No doubt he fulfilled his calling the same way he did in Samaria, in the Gaza desert, in Azotus, and the cities on the coast – he did the work of an evangelist; he preached Christ unto them.
Mature believers need to continually hear the preaching of the gospel too. Jesus told Peter to “Feed my lambs” (the young, new converts; the babes in Christ), but he also told Peter to keep on teaching those lambs after they mature, “Feed my sheep; Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). This again follows the pattern laid forth by Jesus in Matt. 28:19-20: “teach – baptize – then teach some more”. In other words, preach the gospel and make disciples, baptize the converts, and then keep on teaching those believers so they continue to mature in the faith. So, Philip didn’t leave town immediately after he preached in Caesarea. Instead, even though it’s not implicitly stated in scripture, I believe it’s evident that he “taught, baptized, and taught some more” locally in Caesarea. He didn’t leave Caesarea from some hot, upcoming, new, or fresh field of gospel labor, but he remained in Caesarea for probably over 20 years continuing to preach to those same people he originally converted. This is an integral part of the work of an evangelist too – not just preaching the gospel and baptizing folks and leaving town but continuing to teach the same folks for many years to come as well.
I think sometimes we want to glamorize evangelism as only traveling to foreign countries and preaching the gospel to “the heathen” that have never even heard the name of Christ. However, we see from Philip’s example that is only a small sliver of the work of an evangelist. He spent a relatively short period of his ministry traveling and preaching in that way, but we see the majority of Philip’s evangelism was performed in his local community in Caesarea. What is arguably more necessary than this “foreign evangelism” is preaching the gospel in our local communities. Philip was committed to bringing the gospel to those who did not know Christ, but we don’t have to cross America’s borders to find those who fit that bill. There are plenty of born-again children of God – starving saints just like the Ethiopian eunuch – who need the guidance of an evangelist (a preacher) to expound the word of God to them right here in our local communities. Evangelism, I believe, should primarily begin in our local communities and in our individual homes and families.
Another distinguishing aspect of Philip the evangelist was that he had “four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (Acts 21:9). This was a time in the early church when the Holy Ghost was manifest in a profound and unique way. One of those manifestations – which was prophesied in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the early New Testament church – was that “I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17). This was fulfilled here in Acts 21:9 and was being fulfilled in the Corinthian church too (1 Cor. 11:5). Now, those prophetic gifts have ceased (1 Cor. 13:8), and women do not have the authority to teach in a public way in the church (1 Tim. 2:11-12). What we want to notice though about Philip’s daughters is that they were devoted to the church, were filled with the Holy Ghost, and by prophesying were serving God in about the most fervent way possible for a young lady at that time. That tells me that Philip did not just direct his preaching and evangelism to the outside world, but his commitment to preaching the gospel was also concentrated in his own home, as evidenced by his godly young daughters.
If there is a strong need to commit to evangelism locally in our communities, the need is even more dire to commit to evangelism – preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ – in our own homes to our own families. Philip exhibits this “family-centered evangelism”, but it is evident throughout the scriptures as well. In Acts, we see entire families converted to the truth together – Cornelius, Lydia, the Philippian jailor, and “all their house”. When Cornelius was anticipating the arrival of Peter and a great message from God, he didn’t go get strangers off the street to hear the gospel, but he “had called together his kinsman and near friends” (Acts 10:24). Cornelius wanted to make sure his family and his close friends heard the message of the gospel that he was greatly anticipating. When Jesus healed the wild Gadarene who wanted to follow him, instead he tells that man to “Go home to thy friends and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” (Mark 5:19) Jesus didn’t say, “now that you’re healed, go to some foreign country and save souls”, but rather “go home and tell your friends” – go home and tell the people you love and care for about the saving power of Jesus of Nazareth. In like manner, arguably the greatest need for evangelism is not in foreign countries, but is fathers preaching the gospel and teaching the word to their daughters and sons (just as Philip did with his four daughters) to where they are built up and equipped to serve God in his kingdom.
Parents need to be looking towards the next generation and equipping their children with the message of the gospel. God granting a man and a woman the responsibility to care for another human life is such a grave and austere responsibility. The parents, and principally the father, are charged with raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). We have a responsibility to chart the course of our arrows, our children, committed to our quiver by the Lord, and then to let them fly to the glory of God (Psalm 127:3-5). The parents are commanded to teach the word of God to their children – “And these words, which I command thee this day… thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deut. 6:6-7) In other words, parents should be “evangelizing” their children when they are going about their daily activities – sitting in your home, taking a walk down the road, lying down, or getting up; during these daily activities, we are teaching the word of God to the next generation.
Parents need to evangelize their children just like Philip did to the Samaritans (and no doubt his daughters too) – parents need to “preach Christ unto them”. Then, the next generation will be well equipped to serve God in the kingdom, just as Philip’s daughters were: “That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones polished after the similitude of a palace. That our garners may be full, affording all manner of store: that our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets. That our oxen may be strong to labour; that there be no breaking in, nor going out; that there be no complaining in our streets.” (Psalm 144:12-14) It’s very probable that the reason we don’t see the prosperity in our churches that is promised in these verses is due to the lack of teaching of the next generation to where our sons and daughters are not established as plants and cornerstones as they ought to be in the kingdom. The only way to remedy this problem and see the great prosperity and growth promised by the Lord here is a commitment to teach and preach the word of God individually by the parents in our homes.
I believe we can see that the work of an evangelist is broad and diverse, but yet simple at the same time. The evangelist’s responsibility is to “preach Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5). However, the “them” varies from time to time. We should preach Christ, both abroad and at home, in other countries and in our local communities, to strangers and to our kinsman, both publicly and privately, always under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Like Paul described his evangelism to the church at Ephesus, “Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons…And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house…For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God…Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:18,20,27,31) He taught the whole counsel of God, both publicly and privately, night and day, even with tears burdened over this flock. That’s the “sold-out commitment” to preaching and teaching the gospel that Philip displayed in his ministry as well.
Paul perfectly summarized the “work of an evangelist” in his closing thoughts to Timothy – “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). That was Philip’s commitment as an evangelist – to the Samaritans, he “preached Christ unto them”; to the eunuch he “began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus;” he preached the word in his local community in Caesarea and he preached the word to his daughters in his home. Paul continues in his admonition to Timothy: “Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine… But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:2,5) Paul tells Timothy to be ready to preach the gospel “in season, and out of season” – when it’s convenient and also when it’s inopportune, when you’re fired up and also when you’re plum tired, when the people want to hear and also when they don’t want to receive anything you say, whether you’re among strangers or among family and friends, whether you are abroad or you are at home, whether you’re preaching to large congregations in Samaria or a single hungry sheep in the middle of a desert, whether it’s a great assembly or your little daughter at home, all the while following and submitting to the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit… what is the work of an evangelist? To “preach Christ unto them”, just as Philip the evangelist did.