Reformed Quarterly Volume 9, Issue 1
Dr. Roger Nicole is a visiting professor of Theology at RTS in Orlando. Formerly, he was professor of Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he served for 43 years. He is the author of Moyse Amyrat: A Bibliography and co-author of A Bibliography of B.B. Warfield.
For many Christians, sharing their faith one-on-one with another person looms as a bewildering and, perhaps, frightening challenge of mastering all the correct theology and Scripture. Thus intimidated, they rarely rise to that challenge.
However, it does not have to be this way. The account of Philip the evangelist in Acts 8:26-40 offers exciting and helpful principles to help believers comfortably share their faith in a dynamic way.
THE RIGHT MESSAGE
Philip preached about Jesus, Who is the true center of the Christian faith. Less skillful people may start discussing the church, intending to encourage others to attend services with them. But this unnecessarily postpones their decision for Christ and often opens up an inconclusive discussion as to which is the “true church.” Similarly, a number of topics may be at the periphery of the faith, while Jesus Christ is at the center, and an appropriate witness should always point a person toward Him.
We can, in fact, assert that Philip preached “Jesus and Him crucified,” for the passage of Scripture which he was explaining is Isaiah 53, which centers on the redemptive suffering of our Lord.
THE RIGHT BASIS FOR THE MESSAGE
Philip used Scripture as the basis for his message. Many have attempted to use reason and to argue unbelievers into an acceptance of Christianity. Now it is true there are good reasons why the Christian faith is the best option for fallen humanity, but an argument often functions as a psychological challenge to resistance. Apologetics has its place, but it is not the primary tool of evangelism, and few people come to faith along this line. God has made no promise about the effectiveness of reasoning, but He did make a promise about His word:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return unto it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it (Is. 55:10,11).
But some say, “I don’t know the Word that well!” The answer is: it is your business to know it. Do not ever think that Bible knowledge is a prerogative of professional Christian workers; it is indispensable for every Christian witness, and every Christian should be a witness!
Still others will object, “But those whom I would reach do not believe the Bible!” And the answer is: never mind that! Leave it to God’s Spirit to accompany His Word and to make it effective as He promised in Isaiah. Philip had the joy of seeing this instantaneously. Such a blessing is also granted to us sometimes, but more often the statement of Ecclesiastes applies: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” (Eccl. 11:1)
THE RIGHT METHOD
Philip used the right method, which consists of reaching out to people where they may be found and leading them from there to Jesus Christ. Too often the church of Christ seems to function in terms of a command to stay where we are and wait for inquirers to come to us. Yet, the commandment of Christ is clear: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 24:19; cf. Lk. 14:21,23; Jn. 15:16; 20:21; Acts 1:8; and many other passages).
Philip’s ministry exemplifies clearly what is involved. It would have been easy for God to give a vision to the eunuch showing him how to get in touch with Philip in Samaria, or even more expeditiously with an apostle in Jerusalem. Instead of that, God sent Philip all the way from Samaria to the Gaza road, a journey of more than sixty miles. Philip had to travel this distance on foot in order to reach this man where he could be found. It was then incumbent upon Philip to join the chariot and to open up the conversation (Acts 8:29,30). Furthermore, he began the discussion at the very passage the Ethiopian was reading. In every possible way, Philip took the steps necessary to reach out for this man, from whom really not one step was required to meet Philip.
Jesus said “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (Jn.20:21). In the incarnation, Jesus had come all the way from heaven to earth, making common cause with the poorest and most disinherited people on earth and taking upon Himself the load of our sin. Similarly, He requires that we should be incarnated, so to speak, among those to whom we minister, adapting ourselves to their customs, their language, their interests — in fact, to everything that pertains to them except sin. The language of the ancient church concerning the incarnation applies well here: “Remaining what He was, He became what He was not.”
THE RIGHT SPIRIT
At the time when Philip was summoned to meet the eunuch,he was in the midst of a spectacular revival in Samaria. The apostles, doubting that Samaritans could be so easily admitted to church membership, had sent Peter and John to check things out,and they had placed their seal of approval on Philip’s labors. More importantly, the Holy Spirit had been given to the believers in a way reminiscent of Pentecost. At Samaria, the world, represented by Simon the magician, was jealous of the church’s success, the very opposite of what we often see in modern life.
Under those circumstances, the angel’s message must have been unwelcome. “Arise and go.” This is what God’s servants like to hear when things don’t go well, when finances are lacking, or when opposition appears to stymie one’s best efforts. It was obvious to Philip that this call was not a promotion to some more desirable form of service since he was directed to go to a “desert road.” He must have wondered why God should remove him from a highly effective ministry in Samaria in order to send him to an unpromising location for evangelism. Yet, he yielded complete obedience: “He arose and went.”
He had much time to ponder the significance of this move, for a journey of sixty miles or more on foot must have taken him at least two days. He may well have expected that God would assemble a large audience, since “the desert may blossom as a rose” (Is. 35:1). Yet, no such thing developed. Only one single chariot, one measly chariot, could be seen. Philip could hardly believe that God would make him travel sixty miles to do a job that every Christian could do! And so the Holy Spirit spoke to him: “This is it, Philip; walk and make contact with this chariot!”
It must have been tempting at this point to dispute God’s call and say: “Surely, Lord, you did not send me all the way into this desert in order to speak to just one person!” or “Since you tell me to walk to this chariot I will do it, but I resent being removed from the conspicuous triumphs of Samaria to this place of low returns!”
Philip resisted that temptation and even did more than God commanded. God had commanded Philip to walk, but this was not enough; in his zeal for the salvation of souls, Philip could not be satisfied with such a pace. “And Philip ran.” This shows the true evangelistic spirit: Philip running in the hot desert to be sure not to miss an opportunity to bear his witness to Christ epitomizes the zeal that each one of Christ’s servants should have for the salvation of everyone that he or she can reach.
Praise God for Philip the evangelist who had the right message — Jesus Christ; the right basis — the Bible, the word of God; the right method — reaching out to people where they are to lead them to Christ; and the right spirit — possessing a veritable passion to reach others for Christ.