Portrait of a disciple: Philip, deacon or evangelist?

(Acts 8:5)  Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

Philip, means lover of horses. If that is of any eternal value to you, God bless it! Philip was also the name of an apostle, and one who was known as one of the seven. The one I endeavor to discuss here is the latter. This Philip, plausibly one of the first deacons and later referred to as an evangelist. Was he one or the other? Was he both? We know enough about Philip from the book of Acts to confirm a few things.

Philip was:

  • selected as a deacon (therefore not one of the twelve) (Acts 6:1-5)'Philip' photo (c) 2009, Missional Volunteer - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
  • a servant of tables and widows (Acts 6:2)
  • full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3)
  • a preacher of the gospel in Samaria (Acts 8:5)
  • a performer of signs and miracles (Acts 8:6,13)
  • a messenger of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12)
  • spoken to by Angels of the Lord (Acts 8:26)
  • directed by and submitted to the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26,29,39)
  • sensitive to opportunities to preach Christ (Acts 8:30-37)
  • qualified to baptize (Acts 8:38-39)
  • found at Azotus, preaching in all the towns en route to Caesarea (Acts 8:40)
  • in Caesarea at least 25 years amongst the Gentiles when Paul came to enter his house (Acts 21:8)
  • the father of four unmarried prophetesses (Acts 21:9)

Well, that is quite a list. If the bio of this man were en-scripted on a conference brochure, it surely would bring registrants! Honestly, doing careful evaluation of the activities mentioned in the scripture give us cause to think there was much more that Philip did that was not recorded for us. But then again, Philip was found in Caesarea where his journeying ended in Acts 8 some 25 years later. One could infer that he took retirement. But one could also infer that he remained there and did the work of an evangelist. Luke, the author of Acts, ascribed Philip as an evangelist should we?

So following well accepted conjecture that the appointment of the seven in Acts 6 is evidence of the first deacons in the church, we look to the question, was Philip a deacon?

Deacons are:

Philip was:

With minimal references to that which an evangelist actually does (Acts 21:8, Eph 4:11-12, 2 Tim 4:5), one must consider what information is actually available. Since it is obvious that Philip served in the capacity of deacon, we return to the question, was he an evangelist?

If Paul wrote to Timothy, and exhorted him to do the work of an evangelist, we could learn some characteristics of an evangelists calling from what he was instructed.

Timothy was to:

an Evangelist is to:

  • preach the gospel from the scriptures
  • correct errors in the church
  • prepare leadership for the church
  • and spread the gospel from place to place

In conclusion, a candid look at the capacity of Philip from the book of Acts tells two stories. One, he was worthy of their calling, and served the church as a deacons. Two, he served well in preaching the good news.

Philip, served as both a deacon (Acts 6:1-5) and an evangelist (Acts 21:8).

Both narratives of the function of Philip in the book of Acts illustrate the principle of service that a disciple is to emulate (John 13:10-14) in the church of Jesus Christ. As a deacon, Philip may have served tables, but it is unlikely that the requirements of his calling were restricted to delivering soup and sandwiches (more on this in another post later). Philip’s role as a deacon epitomizes the function of his role as an evangelist. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, he served his brethren through a posture of service and the function of a gift given to the church for its building and perfecting (Eph 4:11). The evangelist is not just a preacher of the gospel to the lost he is an essential component to the equipping of the saints. Philip was not just A deacon or just AN evangelist!

Philip was a disciple living worthily of the calling with which he was called (Eph 4:1). It just happened that he was fulfilling his calling, exercising the gifts he’d been given, and building up others in the church. His gifts and abilities were not requisite of ecclesiastical offices; they were requisite of service to the church of Christ! (Eph 4:11-16)

What do you think of this perspective? Do you think it is easy to get caught up in the ‘professional’ perspective of believers and the usage of their gifts? Have you ever experienced a desire to exercise your spiritual gifts but were unable to due to non-recognition as a ‘vocational office’?

(edited 9/19/12)

 

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This post is part of a series:

  1. Portrait of a disciple: Philip, deacon or evangelist?
  2. Portrait of a disciple: Stephen the sacrifice?

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James

I love writing about books, theology, and the Kingdom of God. I also enjoy viewing my vocation through a biblical lens. It is here at Seeking A Kingdom that I aim to hash out my thoughts on all these things.

7 thoughts on “Portrait of a disciple: Philip, deacon or evangelist?”

    1. I think it might be fair to say that all believers function as deacons in some capacity. It would be interesting to tease this one out of the scriptures, but I think that the duties of Christians and “deacons” are extremely comparable. To be fair, none of the men serving tables, including Philip were ever “named” deacon. But, they are well known in the Church as such. I think the conclusion is agreeable to your sentiment.

  1. Well said. It wasn’t until recently I realized I was permitted – actually called to pastor/shepherd or care for others. That caring for others is not just a job for others that get paid to do it. Sounds silly when I say it now.

    1. Jon, thanks for the comment. Indeed, it is enlightening when we discover that we too can serve in much greater capacity than we would be led to believe in most “institutional” settings. Pew warming is sub-par for those who’ve been elected.

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