P H I L I P T H E
E VA N G E L I S T
Lessons from the Ministry of Philip the Evangelist
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distribution
Copyright © 2015 F. Wayne Mac Leod
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written
permission of the author.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing
ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved. ESV Text Edition: 2007
A Special thanks to the proof readers: Diane Mac Leod, Sue St. Amour
CONTENTS
Title Page
Copyright
Preface
1 - Introduction and Context
2 - A Time for Everything
3 - Blinded by Success
4 - When and Where
5 - The Centre of Focus
6 - Fresh Experiences
7 - Out of the Spotlight
About The Author
N
PREFACE
ot much is known about Philip the evangelist. He was a deacon in
the early church of Jerusalem, but he left the area when
persecution arose in the city. He had a very fruitful public
ministry in Samaria, where God used him in wonderful ways to preach the
gospel with great power. He followed God’s call to leave Samaria and travel
to the desert of Gaza to reach a single Ethiopian official for Christ. He
preached in Azotus and surrounding areas, and ended up in the city of
Caesarea where he raised four daughters to love and serve the Lord.
While this is all we know from Scripture about Philip, I have been struck by
what this brief account of his ministry and life teaches us. There is within
this short account of Philip's life, some important spiritual principles for our
own ministry and service for the Lord.
Philip's life speaks to the issues of success, what the focus of ministry
should be, God's timing and leading. It challenges us as we step out into
new and fresh experiences, and encourages us to faithfulness in unnoticed
and unappreciated ministry.
I have been challenged by the simple truths communicated through the life
of Philip concerning what is important in ministry. I trust that God will use
this simple reflection of the life and ministry of Philip the evangelist to
encourage many to greater service and devotion to the Lord Jesus.
F. Wayne Mac Leod
T
1 - INTRODUCTION AND
CONTEXT
hese were incredible days for the church. By incredible I do not
mean easy. In fact, as we begin Acts 8 we meet Saul (who would
later become known as the apostle Paul). At this point in his life,
Saul had not yet met the Lord, and was on a violent campaign to destroy the
church of Jesus Christ. Stephen, one of seven deacons chosen to minister in
the growing church in Jerusalem, had just been stoned to death for
preaching about Jesus Christ. The combination of Saul’s violent campaign
and the martyrdom of Stephen had a strong impact on the early Christians.
Many chose to leave Jerusalem, the centre of this growing persecution.
They scattered to many different regions in an attempt to escape those who
sought to destroy them and the cause they represented.
While these were difficult days, there was also evidence of the powerful
work of God among the believers. Philip (not to be confused with the
apostle), was a deacon in the church of Jerusalem (see Acts 6). Like many
others, after Stephen’s death, he chose to leave Jerusalem and go to the
region of Samaria. It should be noted that the Samaritans were hated by the
Jews of the day. For Philip to go into this region was quite radical. It would
take the church many more years to accept the fact that salvation was also
for the Gentiles. Philip seemed to be ahead of his time in this regard. He felt
called to minister to the Samaritans, and God chose to bless this calling.
Acts 8:4-8 describe what took place through Philip's ministry in those days:
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the
Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was
being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he
did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of
many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were
healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city (Acts 8: 4-8).
What was taking place through the ministry of Philip was miraculous. It
appears that a revival broke out in the region of Samaria. As Philip
preached the gospel, the Samaritans “with one accord paid attention to what
was being said.” That is to say, they received the message that Philip
preached about the Lord Jesus. It would appear from this that many of the
Samaritans turned to the Lord Jesus as a result of the preaching ministry of
Philip in those days. Notice also that the Spirit of God moved among the
Samaritans not only to open their minds to the salvation of Christ but also
to heal them spiritually and physically. Through the ministry of Philip in
those days, many of these Samaritans were delivered from the oppression of
demons. Others were healed of their physical afflictions. In fact, the work
of God was so powerful that there was “much joy in the city” (verse 8). The
whole region seemed to be impacted by a powerful work of God’s Spirit.
We can only imagine the incredible joy that Philip must have been
experiencing in those days. God was using him in a wonderful way. He was
seeing the power of God releasing men and women from Satan’s grip. Lives
were being changed and a whole city was in the grip of godly joy. This is
one of those places where we could enjoy being forever. For many of us we
could only dream of seeing our ministries have such an impact. In fact, the
work of the Spirit through the ministry of Philip in Samaria was so
powerful that when news of what was happening reached the apostles in
Jerusalem (Acts 8:14), they sent Peter and John to investigate what was
happening.
When Peter and John saw clear evidence of God's Spirit, they, too, began to
preach throughout the villages of Samaria (Acts 8:25). There was no doubt
that the work taking place in Samaria was from God.
As this powerful work of God was spreading though the region of Samaria,
an angel of the Lord appeared to Philip. The angel had some instructions for
him:
26 Now the angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward
the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This
is a desert place. (Acts 8)
Put yourself in Philip’s place for a moment. You are in Samaria
experiencing an incredible revival. You are seeing men and women coming
to the Lord Jesus. You are experiencing the power of God’s Spirit move
through you as these men and women are set free from the power of Satan.
These are wonderful days and your heart is filled with the same joy the
whole city is experiencing. These men and women were newly converted.
There was no church for them to attend. They needed to grow in their new
found faith. There was much work to be done if they were to be established
in their faith.
In listening to the voice of the angel that day, your mind might begin to
wonder about what you were hearing. The angel is telling you that you are
to leave Samaria and go to the desert. What purpose would it serve for you
to go there? With a heart burdened for those who had just come to faith in
Christ, Why would God ask you to leave this wonderful work to go to the
desert? What would happen to these new believers? Who would take care
of them if you were not there?
We have no record of Philip questioning the wisdom of God’s leading.
Instead, Acts 8:27 tells us that he “rose up and went.” He did not know, at
this point, what God’s purpose was. More importantly, however, he was not
blinded by “success”. The fruitfulness of his ministry did not deafen his
ears to God’s call. His desire was to follow the Lord and to be wherever the
Lord wanted him to be, even if that meant leaving the fruitfulness of
Samaria to enter the barren desert of Gaza.
As Philip entered the desert, he saw an Ethiopian official travelling in his
chariot. He was returning to his homeland after worshipping in Jerusalem.
What was particularly interesting was that, as Philip approached, the
Ethiopian was reading a portion of the Jewish Scriptures that spoke about
the Lord Jesus.
When Philip saw that the official was reading from Isaiah 53, he asked him
if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian told him that he could
not understand unless someone explained it to him. He then invited Philip
to sit with him in his chariot.
That day, Philip had the privilege of sharing the Lord Jesus with the
Ethiopian. He had come to Jerusalem to worship, likely as a Gentile convert
to Judaism. That day, however, in his chariot, the Ethiopian official came to
faith in the Lord Jesus.
As they travelled along in the chariot, they came to a place where there was
water. Right there the Ethiopian asked Philip if he would baptize him as a
sign of his new found faith in the Lord Jesus. They stopped the chariot by
the water and Philip baptized the Ethiopian.
Acts 8:39-40 tell us that when the baptism was over, the Spirit of God
carried Philip away:
39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord
carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on
his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he
passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he
came to Caesarea.
The passage does not tell us how Philip was carried away. Notice, however,
for the second time, Philip was removed from his “successful” ministry and
taken somewhere else. We are left to wonder what happened to the
Ethiopian. Verse 39 tells us that he went on his way rejoicing and would
never see Philip again. That is all we know about him.
The next time we encounter Philip is in Acts 21:8-9. The apostle Paul
would stay with him on his way to Jerusalem.
8 On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we
entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven,
and stayed with him. 9 he had four unmarried daughters who
prophesied. (Acts 21:8-9)
Nothing more is known about Philip. He seems to disappear from the pages
of Scripture at this point. He settled in Caesarea where he would raise his
family of four daughters.
In the chapters that follow, I want to take a moment to reflect on what God
was doing through these events in the life of Philip. My prayer is that we
will be challenged to learn from him and God’s work in his life.
For Consideration:
What was happening to the church in Acts 8? What was life like for the
believers living in Jerusalem in those days?
Philip ministered to the people of Samaria. Why would this have been a
challenge for the church of the day?
What was God doing in Samaria in Acts 8? How was the movement of God
among this people evident?
Did it not make sense humanly speaking, for God to remove Philip from
Samaria at this time? Explain.
How did God lead Philip in the desert of Gaza, and what was the result?
Are you at a place in your spiritual walk that God could lead you in this
way?
What happened to Philip after the baptism of the Ethiopian?
How can "success" and human reason deafen us to the leading of God?
For Prayer:
Acts 8 describes a time of persecution where believers were scattered. Take
a moment to pray for believers around the world who are facing similar
situations today.
Thank the Lord for the way He moved in power through Philip in Acts 8.
Ask the Lord to help you to be a ready instrument in His hands.
Ask the Lord to give you the sensitivity to know when He is calling you to
a ministry and when He is calling you away from it.
Ask God to forgive you for times when you chose to ignore His leading,
choosing rather to remain where you were comfortable and blessed.
T
2 - A TIME FOR
EVERYTHING
And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord
carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on
his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:39)
here is a time for everything. The writer to the book of Ecclesiastes
spoke of this when he said:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under
heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
We see this quite clearly in the story of Philip in Acts 8. God called him to
minister in Samaria for a time and then pulled him out to go to the desert of
Gaza. When he baptized the Ethiopian in the desert, the Spirit of God then
took him away from Gaza and led him to Caesarea. In all these events God
had a purpose and a time.
Listen to what the Lord God said to Job:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determines its measurements—surely you know?
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garments
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come and no farther,
and here you proud waves be stayed?” (Job 38:4-11)
Notice that God measures the foundation of the earth and shuts the sea in
with doors. He prescribes the limits for the waves of the seas saying, “Thus
far shall you come and no farther and here you proud waves be stayed.”
God has a purpose for the waves of the sea. He limits how far they will
travel. What is true for the waves of the sea is true for us and our ministries
as well.
King David had a great burden to build a temple for the Lord, but God had
another purpose for his life. Instead, the task of building this temple would
go to David’s son Solomon. Moses led the people of God for forty years in
the desert, but would never enter the Promised Land himself. The task of
leading God’s people into the land and settling them in that land belonged
to Joshua. Both David and Moses had a deep passion to see the fulfillment
of their dream, but God had another purpose. To go beyond God’s
appointed time is to be disobedient.
In the account of Philip in Acts 8 we see that God called him to a particular
task, and when he had accomplished that task he was moved to another.
Like the waves of the sea, God said: “Thus far shall you come and no
farther.”
Faithfulness to God implies being obedient to His call and timing for all
things. Faithfulness is not just about being busy doing the work of the
kingdom. You can be very busy in kingdom work and not be faithful to
God. Consider Philip for a moment. Imagine that Philip had ignored the call
of the Lord to go to the desert of Gaza, choosing instead to persevere in the
work in Samaria. He could have ministered to the Samaritans and discipled
them in their faith. He may even have seen more converts to Jesus Christ,
but would he have been obedient? God’s time for him in Samaria was up. If
he stayed longer he would have been disobedient to God’s purpose for his
life. He could not be faithful if he ignored God’s timing and purpose. For
Philip, to be faithful to God required leaving the fruitful ministry in Samaria
to go to the desert to preach to one man.
What does the story of Philip in Acts 8 teach us? It teaches us that God has
a purpose and a time for each of us. He sent Philip to Samaria to preach the
gospel of Jesus Christ. In His time, God then removed him from Samaria
and sent him to the Ethiopian official. When that work was over, the Spirit
of God moved him to Caesarea. What is important is that we do what God
has asks us to do for the time He has given us to do it. Philip was sensitive
to the Lord in this matter. He stayed for as long as the Lord gave Him and
then moved on.
Are you where God wants you to be? Is your commitment to your ministry
or your location stronger than your commitment to God? Have you closed
your ears to the call of God on your life because you want to see your work
advance further? As one who has been in ministry for a number of years, I
realize how easy it is for us to fall in love with the people and the ministries
to which God calls us. I understand the burden that God gives and the sense
of obligation to see that work through to the end. I also realize that I need to
be ready at any moment to sacrifice my own desire in order to be obedient
to God's call. Like Moses, sometimes God will call us to sacrifice the
privilege of seeing those we have ministered to for forty years enter the
Promised Land. Like David, sometimes God will call us to surrender the
burden of building Him a temple so that someone else can have this
privilege.
Philip left the revival of Samaria. He walked away from the Ethiopian
official and never saw him again. He was faithful, however, because he
respected God’s right to use him and to move him away when his time was
up. May God give us the sensitivity of Philip to His leading and His timing.
For Consideration:
How important is it that we consider God’s timing in our ministries and
personal lives?
Have you ever been in a situation where the work of God was hindered by
well-meaning servants who have stayed on too long?
What visions did David and Moses have to sacrifice because it was not the
Lord’s timing or purpose?
Is it possible for us to close our minds and hearts to the call of God because
of our personal burden for the work of His kingdom?
What is the connection between faithfulness and God’s timing?
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to help you to understand His call and His timing in your life.
Ask Him to enable you to know when He wants you to move on.
Ask the Lord to give you the grace to be willing to sacrifice your personal
vision for His call.
Take a moment to thank the Lord for His personal call on your life and
ministry. Ask Him to help you to be faithful to Him in how you carry out
that calling.
I
3 - BLINDED BY SUCCESS
Now the angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the
south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This
was a desert place. (Acts 8:26)
n our day, we value success. This is true both in the world and in the
church. We give special honour to those we consider successful. A
“successful” preacher will draw a crowd. We want to see big churches
and large crowds of people coming to know the Lord. While all these things
have their place, I have to wonder if this is really God's greatest priority.
For a few years now I have been acting as a supply preacher and fill-in
pastor for a small rural church on the island where I live. On a typical
Sunday we will have about 15 people in attendance (I’m guessing at this
number as I never count). For the past twenty years, the ministries the Lord
has called me to have been to less than twenty people at a time.
Some years ago, in one of those settings, a visitor approached me after a
meeting and said, “Wayne, you need to be speaking to thousands of people,
not to small groups like this.” I thought about this for a moment, but
realized that it was to these small groups the Lord had called me. Why
would I leave what God had called me to do for something else?
I wonder what Philip felt when he heard the call of God in Samaria: “Rise
and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to
Gaza”. Acts 8:26 specifically mentions that this was a “desert place.” Philip
was being called away from a “successful” and high profile ministry (news
of what God was doing through him had reached the apostles in Jerusalem)
to the desert. I am sure there would be many people who would question
this call. For some, such a call might be seen as being beneath their
qualifications and dignity as a successful minister of the gospel. Philip
heard that call, however, and left the revival in Samaria to go to the desert.
Along with this, he left all the attention he was getting, all the incredible
experiences of God’s work he had been a part of and the sense of incredible
fulfillment he knew as a useful servant of God.
The Lord’s ways are different from our ways (see Isaiah 55:8). God’s
priorities are not the same as ours. There are many examples of this in the
Scriptures.
In Acts 11, we read about the church in Antioch. The Lord was doing a
wonderful work in Antioch in those days. In Acts 11:20-22, we read:
20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on
coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord
Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great
number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came
to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to
Antioch.
When Barnabas (who was involved in this work) saw the incredible work of
God in Antioch, he realized that they needed help. He went to Tarsus to find
Paul and asked him to come and help with the work in the city (Acts 11:25).
For a whole year these two men worked in Antioch. Acts 11:24 tells us that
“a great many people were added to the Lord.” In fact, verse 26 tells us that
the first occurrence of the term “Christian” was in Antioch.
As this wonderful work was taking place under Paul and Barnabas, the
church in Antioch gathered together to pray. As they were praying, the
Spirit of God spoke to the believers present that day and said: “Set apart for
me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts
13:2). When the church heard those words, they laid hands on these two
men and with prayer and fasting sent them off.
What is important for us to notice here is that Paul and Barnabas were key
leaders in this wonderful work of God in Antioch. That day, the Lord God
called these two men away from a successful ministry to go on a mission
trip where they would experience great struggle and persecution. Why
would God take away the leaders of this revival at such a time? We do not
always know the reasoning of God, but what is important for us to note is
that Barnabas and Saul were willing to leave the successful ministry in
Antioch for an unknown future as they followed the leading of God.
Consider the apostle Paul, whose ministry was so vital to the early church.
Many of the early churches were planted by the apostle. Paul had a
missionary heart. God had called him to be the apostle to the Gentiles. It
seems, however, that at the peak of his ministry, the Lord stopped him. He
would spend years behind the bars of a Roman prison, unable to travel and
do the missionary work he loved to do. Why would God take Paul from a
successful itinerant ministry and send him to prison? While we do not have
the answer to this question, it is important to note that the Lord has a time
and a place for us.
The same principle applies to the life of Moses. At the age of forty, when he
had the influence and position to set the people of Israel free, the Lord sent
him into the desert. It was not the time for Moses to lead the people of God.
Moses was in that desert for forty years before the Lord would again speak
to him about delivering His people from bondage. Why didn’t God use
Moses at the height of his power and influence? Again, there are many
possible answers, but we must recognize that God’s ways are different from
our ways and his timing is different from ours.
While we all would like to be part of a ministry like Philip’s in Samaria,
God will sometimes call us out of such ministries to serve in a more humble
capacity. Our tendency is to feel that if God is blessing, than I must be in
the right place. Don’t be deceived by this. God was richly blessing Philip’s
ministry, but He also called him away from it. We can become content in
the blessing and “success.” This can be a dangerous place for us as it can
deafen us to any other call of God on our lives.
We can become so content in “success” that we don’t want to move. Our
success can make us so proud that we feel it is beneath our dignity to go to
a less prestigious church or a less fruitful ministry. As we watch the work of
God’s Spirit around us we can reason away the call of God in our lives. We
can begin to feel like God needs us if this ministry is to continue to succeed.
As we bask in the success of our ministry, we can come to a point of not
wanting to hear of God leading us anywhere else. Our success can blind us
to any other leading of God.
Success is a wonderful thing, but it can quickly distort our perception of
obedience to God’s leading. Philip left the revival of Samaria to go to the
desert because that is where the Lord led him. He would not stay in Samaria
if God was leading him elsewhere –even if it was to the dry and barren
desert.
Faithfulness and success are two different things. It is not those who are
successful who are most faithful, but rather those who are willing to turn
their backs on success in order to be obedient. What does Acts 8 teach us?
It speaks to the dangers of success (as wonderful as it can be). Acts 8 gives
us an example of a man who was willing to turn his back on a “successful
ministry” in order to be obedient to the leading of God. He refused to allow
his success in ministry blind him to the call of God to the desert.
Don’t make success your goal and your god. There is only one God, and He
reserves the right to take you from the blessed ministry of Samaria to the
desert of Gaza. Don’t let the dazzling lights of success keep you from
hearing the call of God. Don't let success make you so proud that you are
unwilling to minister in more humble ways. True faithfulness to God is not
found in success but obedience. Are you ready to be obedient? May the
Lord give us grace not to linger in success longer than He desires. May He
give us grace to walk in complete obedience to His call on our lives no
matter where that might take us.
For Consideration:
Why do you feel there is such an attraction to the “successful ministry”?
Is being "successful" wrong? Explain.
Give some examples of how God removed people from “successful”
ministries and sent them elsewhere?
How can “success” blind us to the call of God?
How can success become a god for us? What is true success in ministry?
What is the difference between how God sees success and how the world
views success?
What is faithfulness? What is the difference between faithfulness and
success?
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to help you to be faithful to Him no matter the cost?
Ask the Lord to bless your ministry and make it successful.
Ask the Lord to protect you from the temptations of "success."
Ask God to give you a heart that will leave everything to follow Him.
Take a moment to thank the Lord for past successes. Recognize that you
owe all success to Him.
A
4 - WHEN AND WHERE
27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a
court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in
charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28
and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the
prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join
this chariot.”
s we read about the ministry of Philip in Samaria and Gaza, we
understand that the Lord God has a very particular plan.
Consider, for example the call of God for Philip to leave Samaria
and go to the desert. Philip listened to the call of God and travelled the
distance required. As he was walking on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza,
an Ethiopian official was passing by reading a passage from the book of
Isaiah.
I am struck by the incredible plan of the Lord here. Not only was the timing
perfect, but Philip was the man God had chosen for this particular task.
Philip was where God wanted him to be at the very moment in time God
wanted him to be there. To linger in Samaria when God had called him to
Gaza, even for a moment, may have meant missing the opportunity God
had given him to minister to this Ethiopian official.
I understand that God is a sovereign God who can orchestrate events to
accomplish His purpose even when I am not as faithful as I should be. I do
believe, however, that there are many ministry opportunities we miss
because we linger too long in what God has not called us to do.
In the days of Queen Esther, the Jews were living in exile. Haman, a Persian
official of the king, disliked the Jewish population and set his heart to
destroy them. When Mordecai, Esthers Jewish guardian, discovered this
plot to kill the Jews, he appealed to Esther for help. Listen to what he told
her in Esther 4:13-14:
13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to
yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all
the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and
deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and
your fathers house will perish. And who knows whether you have
not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
There are two important details we need to see in these two verses.
First, notice that Mordecai believed that God could raise up anyone to help
deliver His people from the evil plot of Haman. If Esther remained silent at
this time, God could find someone else to accomplish His purposes for the
Jews. If Esther remained silent, however, he was convinced that she and her
family would suffer the consequences and perish.
Second, Mordecai believed that, in the sovereignty of God, Esther had been
made queen for this very moment in time. God had put her in a place of
influence to rescue her people from the evil plot of Haman to destroy them.
God had a particular purpose for Esther, and this was the time for her to
stand up and accomplish that purpose. To linger at this time without doing
anything would have meant the death of her family. She was God’s
instrument and this was the precise time for her to act.
We see a similar thing happening in the days of Joseph, as recorded in the
book of Genesis. Joseph was sold into slavery and went to Egypt. There he
gained the favour and respect of the king’s official. He was thrown into
prison at a time when the king’s cupbearer and baker were also there. He
interpreted their dreams for them and things came to pass exactly as he had
predicted. When the Pharaoh of Egypt had a dream he could not interpret,
the cupbearer remembered Joseph and told the king about him. Pharaoh
asked that Joseph be brought to him to interpret his dream. When Joseph
successfully interpreted this dream, Pharaoh made him second in command
of the nation, under him. Under the skillful administration of Joseph, both
Egypt and Israel were spared in a time a great famine.
Looking back over the events of his life, Joseph would later say to his
brothers:
20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,
to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are
today.
Joseph had a clear sense of the Lord’s timing and purpose in his life. He
was thrown into prison at a time when two of the king’s servants needed to
have their dreams interpreted. He was taken out of prison at a time when
famine was about to break out in the land. He was given a position of
honour in the nation when his family needed provision and protection.
Joseph recognized that he was where God wanted him to be at the exact
time God wanted him to be there.
In 2 Samuel 5:22-25 we read the story of how David conquered the
Philistines after he became king.
22 And the Philistines came up yet again and spread out in the
Valley of Rephaim. 23 And when David inquired of the Lord, he
said, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come
against them opposite the balsam trees. 24 And when you hear the
sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse
yourself, for then the Lord has gone out before you to strike down
the army of the Philistines.” 25 And David did as the Lord
commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to
Gezer.
What particularly strikes me in this passage is how the Lord God led David.
God not only told him what he was to do, but how and when he was to do
it. David was to go up to conquer the Philistines, but he was to do so in a
particular way. He was to go around behind them and wait until he heard
the sound of marching in the balsam trees before attacking. God was very
specific. David was victorious because he was obedient to God’s way and
God’s timing. I do not expect that David would have won this victory had
he refused to wait for the sound of marching in the trees as the Lord moved
ahead of him into battle.
What we see in all of these illustrations is that God has a particular purpose
and time for the things He does. Philip was sensitive to the leading of the
Lord and found himself exactly where the Lord wanted him to be at the
right time.
We are not always obedient to the Lord and sometimes linger in doubt or
disobedience to His calling. Let me conclude this reflection by taking a
moment to consider what happens when we linger in doubt or disobedience
when God calls us to step out in faith.
Lost Opportunities
When we linger longer than God intends, we may very well miss the
opportunities God has given us to minister in His name. Philip could have
missed meeting the Ethiopian. Esther could have missed the opportunity to
rescue her people from Haman. David could have lost the battle with the
Philistines.
While God is a forgiving God, lost opportunities are not something we
ought to take lightly. Consider what God has to say to His prophet in
Ezekiel 3:18:
18 If I say to the wicked, “you shall surely die,” and you give him
no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in
order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity,
but his blood I will require at your hand.
There was to be no hesitation for the prophet. God's wrath was coming and
the people needed to be warned. There were consequences for failing to do
what God called the prophet to do when He called him to do it. To fail to
communicate the word of the Lord when asked to do so was to bring
judgment both on himself and those he had been called to warn.
Philip was where the Lord wanted him to be when the Lord wanted him to
be there. The result was that the Ethiopian came to know the Lord Jesus as
he travelled on his way home.
Hindered Personal Growth
If we linger where God has not called us to be, we will miss the
opportunities God has given to us to grow in fellowship and intimacy with
Him. Philip experienced the power of the Lord in the desert of Gaza. He
saw how God led him and opened the doors for him to minister. He
experienced the work of the Spirit of God in his life as he led the Ethiopian
to the Lord.
God develops our gifts and draws us closer to Himself through the things
He calls us to do. As we step out in obedience, He teaches us what we need
to know and stretches us in new ways. If we want to grow in our spiritual
walk, we need to be people who are willing to walk in obedience. We will
never experience our full potential in Christ if we linger where God has not
called us to linger.
Hindering Growth in Others
My first term as a missionary was on the island of Mauritius. It was not
long after I arrived that the Lord showed me the work He had called me to
do. The church, to which I had been called, had experienced division. I
remember on one occasion how the Lord showed me a picture of a battle
field with wounded soldiers scattered as far as I could see. I felt the Lord
was showing me that my role was to help those wounded soldiers back on
their feet. Over the course of the next three years, the church committee and
I worked and prayed for God to bring the healing necessary to the church
and restore the unity and fruitfulness they had once known. After three
years, it was time for me to return to Canada on furlough. The church
wanted me to return to continue the work but as I sought the Lord about
this, I had a sense that I had done what He had asked me to do.
Around that time the Lord brought a national pastor to the area. As the day
for my departure drew near, it became more and more obvious to me that
this pastor was the one God had called to take over where I had left off. I
knew that he had gifts I did not have. I felt that if the church was to
continue to grow, it would not do so under my ministry as I had already
done what God had asked me to do. The church too understood the leading
of the Lord in this matter and called the pastor to take my place.
Under the ministry of this national pastor the church grew. I knew that this
would not have happened under my ministry. God’s purpose was to move
the work forward through this national pastor. I needed to know my
limitations, and the call of God. I realize that had I remained in this ministry
there may have been some blessings, but I would have hindered this
national pastor from doing what God had called him to do. I would have
stood in his way. For him to be all God wanted him to be and for the church
to grow I needed to get out of the way. My time was up.
For Philip to achieve the purpose of God, he needed to be where God
wanted him to be. If he stayed in Samaria or Gaza longer than God intended
for him, he would only be getting in the way of what God really wanted to
do. There is a price to pay for lingering where God does not want us to
linger. There is a cost to pay for not stepping out in God’s timing to be
where He wants us to be. May God give us grace to discern His leading?
For Consideration:
Is it possible to miss God’s timing and leading? What are the
consequences?
How is God’s leading and perfect timing evident in the life of Joseph?
Can we run ahead of God? Consider God’s leading in the life of David in 2
Samuel 5:22-25.
Have you ever missed opportunities God has given you by lingering where
you should not have lingered?
How is it possible to hinder the work of God in someone else’s life by
staying too long where we are no longer called?
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to forgive you for missed opportunities to minister. Ask Him
to give you grace to walk in obedience to His call on your life at any
moment.
Thank the Lord that He is the sovereign God who has a perfect plan for
your life. Thank Him for the privilege you have to be His servant and to
minister in His name and for His time.
Ask God to help you to be more discerning about His leading in your life.
Ask Him to help you to know when He has called you to move and when
He has called you to stay where you are.
O
5 - THE CENTRE OF FOCUS
39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord
carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on
his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:39)
ne of the great temptations in ministry is for us to want to be the
centre of attention. We want people to need us and depend on us.
We want people to see us and appreciate our gifts and experience.
Those who preach the word of God can do so to impress their listeners with
their speaking skills and knowledge. We can attend meetings at church so
people will think highly of us. I have been in churches where people were
trained to be friendly so as to impress the newcomer with how friendly the
church was. While many of these things are good in themselves, the
question we want to consider here relates to the focus of our life and
ministry.
When you preach to impress your listener, who is the real purpose of your
message? When you focus your attention on friendliness and programmes
to impress people, what is the real goal of your church? When people come
to your church because they like the style of music or the format of the
worship service, what is their primary concern? While the answers to these
questions are not always obvious, it is possible that the attention could be
on us and not on God?
2 Chronicles 5 is the story of the dedication of the temple of Solomon. At
that time, the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the temple along with
the holy objects used in the worship of God. This was a wonderful time for
the people of God. They were worshipping in a brand new building—one of
the most incredible buildings of the day. It was filled with gold, bronze and
elaborately decorated curtains and pillars. One could not enter into this
building to worship without being impressed by the craftsmanship.
As the meeting unfolded, 2 Chronicles 5:6 tells us:
6 And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had
assembled before him, were before the ark, sacrificing so many
sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered.
There was such a spirit of generosity experienced that day that the priests
could no longer count how many sacrifices were being made.
The music was glorious. The Levitical singers were dressed in fine linen
and played cymbals, harps and lyres. One hundred and twenty priests
played trumpets. 2 Chronicles 5:13 describes the music:
13 And it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make
themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord,
and when the song was raised the trumpets and cymbals and other
musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his
steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord was
filled with a cloud.
As music and praise to God rose up in the temple that day, the Lord
responded and made His presence known in a cloud that descended on the
people gathered.
Notice the result of this great cloud descending in 2 Chronicles 5:14:
14 So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the
cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
Consider what was happening at that great worship service. God’s people
entered one of the most incredible buildings ever made in Israel. They were
dazzled by the architecture and rich decorations on the wall. People brought
more offerings than they could count. The music was so incredible that it
brought the very presence of God into the building. God descended on that
building and made His presence known in the form of a cloud. As the cloud
descended, it hid the gold on the walls. It covered the richly ornamented
pillars and curtains. The music stopped. The offering of sacrifices stopped
because the priests were no longer able to perform their duties in the
presence of such glory. There was silence and awe. As glorious as the
building and music were, it was nothing compared to the presence of God
felt and seen that day. The people stood in silence, reverence and humility
before this holy presence. Thoughts about the music and the building were
set aside—the centre of focus was the glory of God that had filled that
place.
How easy it is for us to be focused on secondary things. These things are
important, but we dare not let them take first place in our lives and
ministries. The church of Ephesus in Revelation 2 is an example of this.
God commends them for their hard work, their toil, their patient endurance.
They could not bear those who were evil. He saw how they were able to
discern truth and were not deceived by false apostles. Despite their
persecution for Christ, they had not grown weary in their faith but were
holding strong to the truth and the principles of His word. God commends
them for these wonderful characteristics but He had something against them
—they had lost their first love (Revelation 2:4).
God went on, in Revelation 2:5, to tell this faithful church in Ephesus:
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do
the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your
lampstand from it place unless you repent.
What was happening in the church of Ephesus? They had lost their centre of
focus. They were faithful to truth and the principles of God’s Word. They
endured hardship for the truth but in the process they had moved God from
the centre of their lives. Truth and Christian lifestyle became the focus and
their relationship with God was pushed aside.
In the course of the history of the church, we have seen many great revivals
come and go. I have often found myself wondering if the reason we do not
see God’s presence remain in these revivals is because people fall in love
with the experience of revival and push God aside. We love what we are
seeing. We love the fruit of the revival. We love those who preach the
message to us, but do we grieve the Spirit of God by worshipping the
message and the experience?
In Revelation 19, an angel appeared to John with a message. When John
saw this angel and heard the incredible message he fell down at his feet to
worship the messenger. Listen to the response of the angel to John:
10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me,
“You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your
brother who hold to the testimony of Jesus, Worship God.”
Have you ever found yourselves focusing on the messenger of God? We
admire and look up to the one who brought us to the Lord and discipled us.
It is possible, however, to delight more in the messenger than in God. How
easy it is for our focus to shift from God to a servant of God or to a set of
doctrines. These become the centre of our attention. We live for them, and
our relationship with God suffers.
Listen to the challenge of God to the church of Laodicea in the book of
Revelation:
20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice
and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he
with me. (Revelation 3)
These are the words of God to a church. Inside that church were people
called Christians who were very busy with religious activities. God was
outside knocking on the door wanting to come in. God’s presence was not
among them. They had left Him outside. He was not the centre of their
focus. Other things had taken His place.
Someone once said: “It used to be that when we were looking for a new
pastor, we would ask the question: “Does the fire of the Spirit burn in his
bones.” Now we ask: “Where was he educated.” There is something quite
disturbing about this statement. It shows us that the centre of our focus has
changed. We are no longer depending on God, but on people. We are no
longer depending on the power of God’s Spirit to change lives, but on the
education and experience of our pastors.
What does all this have to do with the story of Philip in Acts 8? Simply this,
God took away the individual He had used to stir up and bring many to faith
in Samaria. He did not let Philip linger in the presence of the Ethiopian in
the desert of Gaza. How easy it would have been for people to place their
confidence in Philip, as the anointed servant of God. How much easier it
seems to be to focus on those we can see than on a God we cannot see.
By removing Philip from Samaria and from the life of the Ethiopian in the
desert, God was forcing these people to look to Him alone. The Ethiopian
would never see Philip again. As he returned home to Ethiopia all he had
was the Scriptures and his Lord. That was enough. He would not have
Philip in the chariot with him on the long drive back. His conversation
would have to be with his new-found Saviour. He would not return to a
country where there were many believers and a good church to attend. To
the best of our knowledge, there were no other believers in Ethiopia. His
focus would have to be on God. If he was going to grow in his walk with
God, his only option would have been to cling to the truth of the Word and
to the guidance of the Spirit of God. Philip was taken out of his life.
The same is true for the work in Samaria. We have no record of Philip ever
returning to Samaria. God removed the person He had used to bring many
to faith. These individuals would, no doubt, remember the ministry of
Philip, but if they were to grow in their faith, they would have to look
elsewhere. God took the focus away from Philip.
When we linger longer than we should, we take the focus away from God
and place it on ourselves. We all want to be useful. We all want people to
respect us and value our contribution. As normal as this is for us, the
temptation is that we value this more than we value the glory of God. Are
we willing to let God have the glory? Will we step away if, even for a
moment, people begin to focus on us and not on our Saviour? Will we let
our pride cause us to linger longer than necessary, taking away the glory
that belongs to God?
What do we see in this story of Philip in Acts 8? We see how God uses
Philip and then removes him. Philip did not linger when God called him to
go. He was to do the work and move on, lest in staying longer then he
needed to, the focus would shift from God to himself.
Philip would not see the results of his ministry to the Ethiopian. He would
not know the full impact of his work in Samaria. He would not have people
coming to him to say: “it was because of your ministry that I came to know
the Lord.” He would not see those he brought to the Lord again. He risked
having people forget him. The impact of his ministry would continue, but
Philip’s name would eventually slip away from their minds. This was not
important, however. What was important was that God would continue to
receive the glory and that He would be the centre of their focus.
Philip willingly stepped aside when his work was completed. God would
not let him take centre stage. He would do his part and then disappear from
the scene. Are you willing to do this? Will you surrender the centre of focus
to God? Will you step aside so that He can receive all the applause and
glory?
For Consideration:
Have you ever felt the temptation to be the centre of focus in ministry?
Explain.
What happened in 2 Chronicles 5 when the Lord took centre stage? What
changed in the worship service?
Is it possible for good things to take the place of God? Consider the church
of Ephesus in Revelation 2 in your answer.
Can we worship our doctrines and our worship format? Can they take the
place of God? Explain.
Is it possible for us to be more focused on our education and experience
than the work of God’s Spirit? While God uses our education and
experience, how important is it for us to recognize that the true source of
our strength is in God?
What needs to happen in your ministry or life for God to be the centre of
focus?
For Prayer:
Ask the Lord to forgive you for times when you have taken the glory due to
him for yourself.
Ask God to help you to make Him the centre and goal of all you do.
Ask the Lord to show you if you are lingering longer than you should in any
aspect of your ministry. Ask Him to help you to walk fully in His plan. Pray
that He would receive all the glory and that you would be content to be an
instrument through which He receives that glory.
A
6 - FRESH EXPERIENCES
river that does not flow quickly becomes stagnant. God has a way
of stretching us, and in doing so, He encourages us to grow in our
trust and dependence on Him.
God’s ways are not always predictable. As we look at how God led the
prophets and apostles in the Scriptures we see that they never really knew
what God was going to call them to do. Sometimes these men of God made
plans but God changed those plans. What was important was that they be
sensitive to the leading of the Lord at all times.
There is something quite unsettling for the human spirit in this uncertainty.
We like to predict what is going to happen. We like to plan our days and our
lives and work toward our goals. Ultimately, however, we are not