This morning I want to talk about The Marvelously Ordinary Life. In way of introduction, I pray you know your life matters deeply to God. He not only created you the way that you are with your talents, interests, and even idiosyncrasies, but He sent Jesus to die in your place so that this life you’ve been given might be lived to the fullest!
Of all the characters whose stories are recorded for us in the Book of Acts, there is one that has always jumped out at me — Philip. Here’s why… Philip was not one of the original 12 Apostles, we have no record of him being present during Jesus’ ministry, he presumably came to faith years after Jesus’ ascension to heaven making him the prototypical second-generation believer; and yet, the entire story arch of his life is documented for us!
There is no question Philip lived a marvelous life but the reason his life has been written down for Christians to read about and consider throughout the centuries is how starkly ordinary it should be for all who’d dare follow Jesus and embark on a crazy journey of faith.
While there was a Philip listed as one of the 12 Apostles, our man Philip is first introduced in the first several verses of Acts 6. We read, “In those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And the saying pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip…”
I mentioned this early but it bears repeating… Biblically, we know absolutely nothing about Philip before his first mention here in the book of Acts. While we know he was Jewish, aside from this we have no records of his family or upbringing and no account of when or how he came to be a follower of Jesus. That said, there are a few things we can assume…
Whether it was on the Day of Pentecost when Peter preached an amazing sermon and 3000 souls were saved or on some later occasion, a moment came in his life when Philip heard the Gospel preached, rejected the religion of his fathers, repented of his sin, surrendered his life to Jesus, joined this Jerusalem Church, was likely discipled by one of the Apostles, and started looking for simple ways to live out his faith within the community of believers.
With that in mind, Philip’s story begins no differently than yours or mine. Philip wasn’t one of the original Twelve and the Bible doesn’t indicate he enjoyed any unique pedigree. Philip had no formal training, didn’t attend seminary, nor did he possess a degree in theology. Philip is never referred to as an Elder and we have none of his sermons recorded in Scripture.
Instead, Philip lived out an ordinary Christian experience. He came to faith in Jesus, plugged into a local church, and started serving faithfully. And yet, over a period of time, Luke tells us that because Philip had come to demonstrate a “good reputation” among the brethren being known as a man “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom,” when the Apostles ask the church to “seek out from among you seven” Philip was chosen to be a Deacon!
If you desire to live The Marvelously Ordinary Life, you should keep in mind that Philip was chosen for this new position for one simple reason — it was a role he was already filling! When the Church need to appoint men to be Designated Doers, they looked for men who were already doing! You see Philip wasn’t waiting for a title or some official position to begin serving. Philip was chosen to be a Deacon because he was already being a Deacon!
The first movement in Philip’s Marvelously Ordinary Life — when he goes from being a member of the church to now possessing a position of authority — occurred through simple faithfulness. Philip was faithful over little, so God decides to increase his plate!
The next time we see Philip comes at the beginning of Acts 8. It’s likely Philip had been a Deacon for a number of years when we read, “At that time (following the murder of Stephen) a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles… As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to 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. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.”
With regards to The Marvelously Ordinary Life don’t miss how this second movement in Philip’s life arose… A difficult circumstance that was completely out of his control (persecution), forced him to leave Jerusalem and end up in Samaria!
As you can imagine life was good in Jerusalem. Ministry was fruitful and growing. Philip was excelling in his role as a Deacon. Then, without warning, his dear friend Steven is murdered and this man Saul begins making “havoc of the church” forced everyone to “scatter!”
While Saul’s intentions had been evil, what resulted from this persecution ended up being counterproductive. Instead of squelching the spread of the Gospel, this scattering of believers only increased its spread! As we just read, this persecution forced Philip to travel down “to the city of Samaria” where he’d end up “preaching Christ!”
Almost overnight and without any forcing of the issue, Philip the Deacon becomes Philip the Preacher! The man who’d been charged with waiting tables and cleaning toilets now finds himself cast into the mission field through an event he was literally powerless over.
As you seek to live The Marvelously Ordinary Life never forget any event or circumstance that is out of your control still remains in His! And since this is the case, you can always trust that whatever situation you may be facing is part of God’s larger will for your life!
With everything that had happened Philip could have been bitter. He could have been angry at God. His friend had just been murdered. The church he loved was under attack. Philip has been forced to leave his job, ministry, home for an unfamiliar city in Samaria!
And yet, notice Philip saw this pour turn of luck as being a potential opportunity! The moment he arrives in Samaria we’re told Philip “preached Christ to them!” I love the fact Philip simply “preached Christ!” Remember, Philip has no formal theological training. He’s not a polished public speaker. Philip was a designated doer. That said… Philip knew Jesus!
Notice, Philip didn’t come to town and begin preaching to these Samaritans some type of religious code to live by. Rather, Philip tells them about the Person who changed his life! He told them about Jesus — who He is and what He’s done for them.
Luke continues by telling us “the multitudes heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed.”
Please don’t overlook the significance of this very subtle coupling of “hearing and seeing” — the order isn’t an accident. This Spiritual Awakening taking place among the Samaritans occurred as they were “hearing” a message being articulated by a man in whom the power of God was being practically demonstrated in his life through these miracles.
As a preacher, Philip did more than tell them about Jesus — His life demonstrated a power that could be seen! In a profound way, Philip’s life validated his message and his message was consistent with the life that he lived! Philip preached Christ not from an intellectual basis but from the experiential. He spoke of a Christ he personally knew!
May I ask… What makes your life any different from the unbelieving world around you? Is there a difference? Do people see the joy of the Lord? Do people see a peace that can only be described as otherworldly? Do you demonstrate the grace of God and the love of the Father to those around you? Consider… If people were only reaching conclusions about Jesus by looking at your life, what conclusions would they reach?
I’ve mentioned this before but this is what so many often get so wrong about witnessing. Evangelism is not so much an activity you do, but a witness you are! It’s a light that shines not from oneself but from the Light of the Spirit indwelling you!
In his book, The Work of the Pastor, William Still wrote, “My whole view of the Christian’s responsibility for primary evangelism is founded upon that belief that the greatest evangelistic and pastoral agency in the world is the Holy Spirit dwelling naturally in God’s children, so that Christ shines out of them all the time… We have to let our light shine — not hide it, and certainly not flash it, which draws attention to ourselves… Let its beam blaze out like a lighthouse, believing that Jesus Christ is witnessing through us, in and to the world.”
Since Saul had initiated this “great persecution” in Jerusalem, Philip now finds himself becoming the central figure behind this Awakening taking place in the region of Samaria. Through events not of his own making, Philip the Deacon had become Philip the Preacher. He’d been called and commissioned to be God’s man to reap a most incredible harvest.
To say the Samaritan Church was blowing up would have been an understatement. The Church was bursting at the seams. It was the hot place to be on Sunday. Attendance and conversion rates were never higher. This Church was new and fresh. As you can imagine it didn’t take very long for Philip to find himself in the spotlight — Pastor of a Megachurch!
This church was rocking and rolling and Philip’s ministry had never been better when… Acts 8:26, “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.”
Wow! Talk about a wicked curve. God abruptly interrupts this season of vibrant ministry by sending this “angel” to Philip with instructions to leave Samaria! And if that weren’t enough, notice the particulars of these new marching orders… The destination would not be the populated cities of Jerusalem or Gaza, but instead the road between the two!
This was such a bizarre directive Luke even goes out of his way to point out that this trek of road was nothing but desert! Understand, these instructions didn’t make any sense. Why would God remove Philip from the midst of this incredible work and send him to a place that was literally unpopulated? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this would be the last place on earth you’d send such a gifted preacher!
Knowing that his destination was to simply head “south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” we’re told, in Acts 8:27, that “Philip arose and went.” Philip abruptly leaves Samaria, seemingly unannounced, and proceeds to travel back through Jerusalem and begin the long, lonely walk through the hot desert towards Gaza.
Let’s jump back into the story… Acts 8:27, “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.”
In order to make sense of why God had sent Philip into the desert, we to develop a little profile of this man! Luke tells us he was an “Ethiopian, a eunuch of great authority” serving as a type of Treasury Secretary under “Candace the queen of the Ethiopians.” This means this man was wealthy, powerful, and influential.
Luke also tells us this Ethiopian “had come to Jerusalem to worship” and was now “returning” home. While he’d traveled some 200 miles from Ethiopia with the desire to “worship” the God of Israel, it’s safe to reason his experience hadn't been a positive one.
For starters, because he was of African descent, the furthest into the Temple he would have been allowed would have been the outermost Court of the Gentiles — which Jesus called on two occasions a “dean of thieves.” It was hardly a worshipful environment.
Beyond this, according to Deuteronomy 23:1, it’s unlikely he would have even been allowed into the Temple at all because he was a eunuch… The Law of God stated very clearly, “He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the LORD.”
Amazing, we read that as this man “was returning… sitting in his chariot” he was “reading Isaiah the prophet.” There is no doubt this Ethiopian (regardless of what his experiences had been) was able to use his status to procure a priceless copy of the Prophet Isaiah.
It’s safe to say this Ethiopian was a nobleman on an even nobler quest! He was searching for the Truth. The world and all that she offered had left him empty. Religion and all that it promised had left him wanting. He desired a real, life-altering encounter with God.
As this man makes his way back to Ethiopia, there were two things going for him. He was digging into God’s Word, and while he needed someone to help make sense of the things he was reading, God happened to be one step ahead of him.
Acts 8:29, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.’” Don’t forget Philip is walking this lonely, dusty road from Jerusalem to Gaza when this chariot with all of its entourage comes speeding by. How else would he have noticed the chariot?
Then, as Philip admires such an interesting sight (imagine being on a deserted road in West Texas and a row of black Escalades come whizzing past you), Luke says “the Spirit” tells him to “go near and overtake (or literally go and attach yourself to) this chariot.”
Acts 8:30-31, “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.”
Explain the hilarity of this section of Scripture.
Acts 8:32-38, “The place in the Scripture which he read was this (Isaiah 53): ‘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 (literally I beg of 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.”
Talk about The Marvelously Ordinary Life… While Philip only saw a lonely, desert road stretching from Jerusalem south to Gaza, God knew there would be a man from Ethiopia traveling this very road in desperate need of someone to share the Gospel with him… Unbeknownst to Philip, God had another harvest primed for the reaping!
Though many in the same position would have hesitated to make the kind of move that Philip did, especially when obedience would take him from the amazing work in Samaria — a position of security to uncertainty, from a sure thing to a who knows, from the hotbed of success to ministry in a desert, once Philip heard from God he acted immediately.
This third movement to Philip’s Marvelously Ordinary Life was only possible because he was willing to obey God’s Word — and don’t overlook the fact Philip was armed with only one word. God said, “Go” and Philip went! He didn’t need an explanation. Didn’t ask God for all the details. All Philip needed to act in obedience was his marching orders. He trusted God and his life was lived in complete and absolute surrender.
I should also add that Philip clearly possessed a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Notice this entire story begins with God giving Philip a command that contained a specific destination. And what did Philip do? He went to this road, traveled south as he was told, and simply waited for God to provide further instructions. Then, as a result of his obedience to be exactly where God told him to be, the Spirit broke the silence with a second command…
Philip “catch the chariot!” Once again, Philip followed God’s leading with a simple faith… He ran up, caught the chariot, and proceeded to run alongside it. It was only then, after continued obedience that seemed bizarre to say the least, that God’s ultimate purpose began to come into view when he heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah! If Philip hadn’t been sensitive to the Spirit and obedient the exchange would have never happened.
You see Philip understood the best place for him to be was in the will of God, but he also realized the only way to be in the will of God was to obey the commands of God given through His Word and His Spirit.
If you’re like me the obvious question that jumps off the page is how did Philip hear the voice of the Holy Spirit? While Luke tells us that “the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot'” how was Philip certain this was actually God’s voice speaking?
Though it’s unlikely Philip received an audible directive, I am convinced the answer lies in (1) a person being Spirit-filled, (2) that person possessing a desire to listen, (3) developing a familiarity with His voice, and (4) having a bold faith to act upon a particular impression.
I’m amazed at a central idea this story illustrates that few discuss… There is no question God evaluates ministry opportunities and determines ministry success in a much different way than we do. Though God sent Philip to Samaria because a harvest was ripe for reaping, it is also true He sent Philip to this desert road for the same reason. This idea is really key to understanding what The Marvelously Ordinary Life looks like!
You see from God’s perspective one opportunity was not greater than the other — which is why God deliberately uses the same man for both occasions! While mass evangelism in Samaria brought God glory, it’s evident individual evangelism was just as important! Conversion numbers don’t always equate to the type of ministry success God cares about.
It’s clear this Ethiopian man was a genuine seeker desperate for God to reveal Himself. The world had ripped him off. Religion had left him empty. But God would not stand idly by and allow the cries of his heart to go unanswered — which is why He sent His man Philip!
In the book of Acts, we see God’s heart for the one lost soul on display over and over again. God always responds to a genuine seeker by sending one of His servants to “preach Jesus!” For example… The Apostle Peter was sent by God to the house of Cornelius. Paul would be sent to find the man in Macedonia. And in this instance, Philip is sent to reach this Ethiopian Eunuch. Please consider… Who is Jesus sending you to reach?
If you’re like me sometimes it’s so easy to become overwhelmed by the entirety of the lost world around us that we lose sight of the one lost soul right in front of us. Understand… That person you’re thinking of this very moment is so important to God that He is sending you to share with them the love of Christ! Like Philip, will you go?
Well, there was one final movement to Philip’s Marvelously Ordinary Life and it’s much different than anything else we’ve seen by this point… Acts 8:39-40, “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. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.”
According to Luke’s account, as soon as the Ethiopian emerged from the water, “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away!” This Greek phrase “caught away” is the word harpazô meaning to snatch out. In Latin, this word is translated as raptura or literally raptured.
Because “the eunuch saw him no more,” we can reason this act of snatching Philip away initiated by the “Spirit of the Lord” resulted in his body physically disappearing from one location only to then reappear in another. In this instance, Philip was “caught away” from this baptism scene only to be physically placed elsewhere on earth. Christian, never underestimate supernatural things that can happen in The Marvelously Ordinary Life!
The story closes with the Ethiopian “going on his way rejoicing” and Philip, finding himself in Azotus (which was a town north of Gaza), now working his way along the Mediterranean coast “preaching in all the cities” before finally settling in the northern seaport of Caesarea.
While Luke will shift the narrative away from Philip, this isn’t the last we see of this man. In Acts 21:8, Luke writes, “On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.”
It would appear Philip eventually settles in Caesarea where he continues serving Jesus. It’s likely he finds a job, in the process plants a church, over time gets married, and ends up having four daughters who grow up to love Jesus and have a ministry of their own.
I find it so very interesting where God eventually leads Philip and his Marvelously Ordinary Life… He goes from being a simple servant to a Deacon in Jerusalem, from a Deacon to a Preacher in Samaria, from a Preacher to an Evangelist on the road to Gaza, but in the end — from this encounter with the Ethiopian to Caesarea where he ultimately settles down — Philip becomes a Husband and a Father! Not only is God’s hand evident every step along the way, but Philip’s lasting legacy ends up being his family and not his ministry!
While The Marvelously Ordinary Life of Philip is a life offered to us all, his story does challenge us in many ways… In order to live such a life are you willing to serve because it’s a natural response to His grace or are you waiting on a position or title? If a difficult situation were to arise out of your control, are you willing to trust God and look for opportunities?
If God says “Go,” are you willing to obey Him even when it doesn’t make sense? Beyond this… How far as you willing to go to share Jesus with the lost souls he places along your path? Do you possess the same type of sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading?
In the end, God’s supernatural hand was all over Philip’s life and his journey was marvelous. And yet, Philip was just an ordinary guy God used to be one of the first Deacons, initiate an Awakening in Samaria, was central in this Ethiopian coming to know Jesus (who then took the Gospel back into Africa), and when it was all said had a Godly family. Christian, The Marvelously Ordinary Life of Philip is that same God has for you!
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