THE TWELVE 2008 — PHILIP
Ordinary athletes grow. As our video clip reveals. And ordinary apostles grow too. Which is point number one. And Philip was one of those kinds of apostles. In the four lists of the twelve apostles found in Scripture, the fifth name on every list is Philip. All twelve apostles were Jewish so they had Jewish names—except Philip. He undoubtedly had a Jewish name too, but Scripture doesn’t record it. Instead, his name in Scripture is a Greek name that means “lover of horses.” Greek civilization had spread through the Mediterranean afer the conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC and many people in the Middle East had adopted the Greek language, culture, and customs. Acts 6:1 (NKJV) identifies them as Hellenists. So we think Philip came from a family of Hellenistic Jews.
John 1:44 says Philip was originally from Bethsaida, the home Andrew and Peter. Since they were from the same town, they probably all grew up attending the same synagogue. Not only that, but we think Philip was also a fisherman just like James and John and Peter and Andrew. In John 21, after the resurrection of Jesus, verse 2 says the group that joined Peter fishing included “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples.” We think the “two others” there were Philip and Andrew because elsewhere in Scripture they are often described as being in the company of the men named in the passage.
Therefore, if Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Nathanael, and Thomas were all fishermen from the same region, they were more than likely friends and business partners long before they were disciples and later apostles. So as their friendship grew, and their business grew, so apparently did their interest in spiritual things. For they were among the first people to follow Jesus and among the first people to be chosen as apostles.
And when Jesus did so, please notice who he picked. Jesus could’ve picked the brightest individuals from the synagogues. The ones studying theology from families of Levites. But instead, He picked a handful of ordinary individuals fluent in the language of the marketplace and the people of that day. He picked people who were familiar and comfortable working with more than one culture, custom, and language. And most significantly, he picked people who were already living in community with each other to teach others what living in community is really all about.
In all these areas, I think Philip was growing. Undoubtedly, he didn’t always agree about everything with his friends growing up in Northern Galilee. They still argued. Disagreed. But they always reconciled. Stayed in relationship. And learned to get along. And this is what growing and maturing followers of Jesus do today. Point number one is: Ordinary apostles grow. Just like John did when speaking truth in love.
What else do we know about Philip? Matthew, Mark, and Luke give no details about him at all. But in John’s narrative, Philip is often paired with Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew) so we can assume the two of them were buddies. We also know Philip the apostle is not the same guy as Philip the deacon because Acts 6:5 and 8:4 says Philip the deacon preached in Samaria while Acts 8:1 says Philip the apostle stayed put in Jerusalem during the initial waves of persecution. Acts 8:1 says, “All except the apostles were scattered through Judea and Samaria.”
We first meet Philip the apostle in John 1, the day afer Jesus had first called Andrew, John, and Peter. You will remember that Jesus had called them in the wilderness where they were hanging out with John the Baptist. John pointed them to Jesus the Lamb of God and Messiah so they left John the Baptist and followed Jesus. Right after that, Philip steps onto the scene.
John 1:43 (NIV) says, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’” Apparently, before Jesus left for Galilee, Jesus Himself actually sought out and found Philip. Putting all his plans on hold just like he did for Mary after the resurrection. Aren’t you glad Jesus puts people before protocol? We’ll talk more about that in a minute. But notice something else here about Philip’s call. It is the first time Jesus actually says to someone, “Follow Me.” And Jesus only had to ask Philip once.
At the end of Jesus’ ministry, in John 21:19 and 22, Jesus asked Peter to “Follow him” twice in addition to telling him three times to “Feed my sheep.” Peter needed the extra encouragement. Philip didn’t. Philip was the first to hear and obey those words to Follow Jesus and he would do so till the day he died. Ordinary apostles grow. And keep growing till the day they die.
In Philip, Jesus found a growing disciple with a seeking heart already living in community with a close group of friends he grew up with. We know this is true because the first thing Philip does after Jesus found him was find someone else for Jesus. John 1:45 (NIV) says, “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’”
Philip thought his search was over because, as verse 45 says, he found Jesus. But it was really just beginning, because as verse 43 says, Jesus actually found him! Jesus is always the one who looks and keeps looking for us first. Long before we even think about following Him. And when we realize he loves us like crazy, and has been pursuing us, but is also calling us to grow up a little bit, and take an interest in spiritual things, He lights in us a fire that questions and doubt cannot extinguish.
This becomes obvious in the life of Philip where John records that the first thing Philip does after Jesus found him was find someone else for Jesus. And Nathanael, in response to Philip’s invitation, asks in John 1:46 (NIV), “‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ ‘Come and see,’ said Philip.” Which is good answer even today. Maturing followers of Jesus know Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the ones who convict and convince people to obey. His faith was growing again. Which is point number one. Ordinary apostles grow. Don’t believe me? Come and see.
Our next Philip story occurs in John 6 at the feeding of the fifteen thousand. I know the Bible says five thousand, but that was just the men. According to Matthew 14:15, evening was approaching and the people needed to eat. So in John 6:5 (NIV), Jesus asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Why did Jesus single Philip out and ask him? Perhaps it was because Philip was from nearby Bethsaida according to John 1:44. So he would know of any 24 hour Walmarts still open that late in the evening. Perhaps it was because Philip was the one who usually found places to stay and food to eat for Jesus and the massive crowd of people following him. Judas was the treasurer and Philip was the administrator. Both of those things could be true. But the only reason Scripture specifically reveals is because Jesus was testing him. John 6:6 says, “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.”
So Jesus was testing him. Not because Jesus didn’t know what would happen. John 2:25 says Jesus knows what is in a man. As the calling of Nathanel also reveals that we’ll study next time. Jesus was testing not because He didn’t know what was going to happen but because Philip didn’t know what would happen. He was growing in communicating within known customs, culture, language, and communities, but he still had spiritual questions and doubts. In John 6:7 (NIV) he answers Jesus saying, “Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’”
Instead of picturing tomorrow’s glowing headlines “Jesus feeds multitudes!”, he focused on the impossibility of the situation. Instead of focusing on the mighty acts of God already accomplished in his life and in the lives of others, he zeroed in on the crowd, overwhelmed by the numbers. Don’t forget. Philip had been there in John 2:2 at Cana when Jesus turned water into wine. He had already seen numerous times when Jesus healed people. But like Peter walking on the water, when we took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the waves, when Philip took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the multitude instead of the Master, he doubted. His faith withered. And whenever we take our eyes off Jesus, we begin to doubt too. Our faith withers. And everything looks half empty.
But when we fix our eyes on Jesus. The author and finisher of our faith. We begin to believe again. And grow. And everything looks half full. Jesus calls ordinary people from different customs and cultures, languages and communities to grow up. And put their faith in Him instead of in their feelings. He longs to be our daily bread. He taught us to pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” But before He did, He went out of his way to explain in John 6 that He was their daily bread. That’s what the 12 loaves stacked on the table of shewbread in the holy place of the sanctuary was supposed to teach them! One loaf per tribe. Daily [symbolic] bread for everybody! But Philip had forgotten that. He needed to set aside his pragmatic, common sense and pessimism and learn to trust the riskier but more rewarding potential of a growing faith in Jesus.
When we studied Andrew, we noted how John 12 tells the story about some Greeks that wanted to visit with Jesus. Perhaps because Philip’s name was Greek or because everyone knew he was the apostolic administrator, they went to ask Philip first if they could see Jesus. Philip, still learning to put people before protocol apparently weighs the pros and cons. On the one hand, he had heard Jesus say in Matthew 10:5-6 (NIV) “‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.’” On the other hand, he may have remembered Jesus originally revealed that He was the Messiah to a Samaritan woman.
Although the focus of His ministry was to Israel first, He was after all the Savior of the world, not just Israel. John 1:11-12 (NIV) says, “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” Later, in Romans 2:10 (NIV) Paul would simply say Jesus came “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”
But growing believers like Philip often prefer protocol to people. They see everything as black and white. They want rules to be rigid and unchangeable. There was no protocol for introducing Gentiles to Jesus yet and Philip, though he had grown up with the influence of Hellenistic Judaism, didn’t have the faith to include them yet. So he took the Gentiles to Andrew instead. Who wasted no time in introducing them to Jesus. Was Philip right or wrong to bring those Greeks to Andrew instead of Jesus? What do you think?
Revelation 22:17 (NIV) says, “‘Come! Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.’” Philip was on the right track. He was growing. He was leaning toward the middle where grace abounds. Not all law on one side. And not no law on the other. But toward amazing grace. Right in the middle. Where people are as important as treasured theological positions. Where relationships are as important as the most helpful rules. But he wasn’t quite ready to take that plunge. Later, as we’ll see, he would. But not quite yet. Point number one: Ordinary apostles grow. Point number two. They do so by putting people before protocol.
Our final snapshot of Philip occurs in the upper room at the Last Supper. Jesus’ heart was heavy. He knew the cross lay ahead for Him on Good Friday. His time with the apostles was coming to an end. But the apostles hadn’t figured that out yet. So instead, He tries comforting their hearts! Maybe you’re familiar with these words in the King James of John 14:1-3. Jesus said, “ 1Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
Then He said in verse 4, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” What did Jesus mean? Jesus meant that He was going to die, be resurrected, and go to heaven. That if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father, though He is in heaven. Which should have been very good news to them. Except it wasn’t. Because Philip speaks up in John 14:8 and says what they were probably all thinking, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’”
Thomas had the reputation for doubting. But really, Philip doubted just as much. All this time. Three and a half years. In close personal fellowship with Jesus. Philip had heard Jesus teach. He had witnessed gobs of miracles. And yet he had not truly known Jesus. How do we know? Because Jesus says in John 14:7. “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.”
How can one spend years with Jesus and still not know Him? Philip, like many of us, was skeptical, analytical, pessimistic, reluctant, and unsure. He wanted to go by the book all the time. He had yet to learn to discern the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. He had been near Jesus for years, but didn’t personally know Him. His thoughts were filled with facts and figures not the Father. He was quick to obey, but slow to understand. And even slower to trust His growing faith in Jesus instead of his feelings. Which is point number three. Ordinary apostles grow. Point number one. By putting people before protocol. Point number two. And by putting faith over feelings. Point number three.
But the good news is Philip figured all that out. And when he could safely leave Jerusalem, he traveled to Asia Minor encouraging others to “come and see.” So the man who once took his eyes off of Jesus to focus on the multitudes eventually learned to fix his eyes on Jesus—bringing multitudes to Jesus. And so effective at doing so was Philip, that after those opposing the rapid growth of the early church had the apostle James captured and beheaded in 45 AD, next on their most wanted list was Philip.
So they tracked him down at [HeleOpolis} Heliopolis, in [FerIgea] Phyrygia, modern day Turkey and stoned him to death. Making Philip the 2 nd apostle to be martyred, only eight years after James, in 53 AD.
Philip’s life of faith in Jesus proves to ours that it’s possible to live that way. By faith. We may always have some questions rattling around inside and that’s okay. As long as those questions don’t paralyze us from sharing what do know. And even if they do, Jesus is gracious enough to handle our doubts and false starts. But if we simply keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Spending time with him feeding on the daily bread. There is nothing this world can do to separate us from him. We pray, we read, we share. That’s how you become Christian and that’s how you stay Christian. Now and then.
Hebrews 10:38 (KJV) says it this way: “The just shall live by faith.” Is that your desire? Will you be the first to follow Jesus in your sphere of influence this week? Sincerely obeying all you understand Him to be asking of you? Are you open to Jesus coming into your life and growing you up in Him? Even if the faith it takes to do so make you feel uncomfortable inside? If you are, my challenge for you today is to in the quiet of your heart to ask Jesus find one other person near you this week that you can invite to “come and see” the difference Jesus makes in your life. If like Philip you’re willing to do that Jesus’ sake, please repeat with me our Scripture theme for this series from 2 Corinthians 12:9 that’s on the screen.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen.
For more information see John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men pages 119-134.