Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:3a “Philip,. . .”
Simon the Leader, Andrew the Usher, James the Thunderbolt, and John the Beloved are followed by Philip. Always fifth on the Bible’s lists of the Twelve, Philip was evidently the leader of the second set of four. His name was Greek, made famous by the father of Alexander the Great, and meant “lover of horses.”
The Bible’s portrait of Philip can be summarized in three adjectives: earnest, blunt, analytical. First, Philip was earnest. From the beginning moment of his walk with Jesus, Philip was dead serious about his faith, unashamed to be known as a follower of Christ. When Jesus said to him, “Follow me,” Philip immediately obeyed and quickly went to tell his friend Nathaniel what had happened (JN 1:45).
Identification with Christ is an act of utmost urgency. Jesus made this very clear, easy to understand, “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory” (LK 9:26 NAS).
Once people personally trust in Jesus, they should be immersed in water, baptized as Jesus commanded, to make a public statement of allegiance to Christ.
Grandpa Marshall said, “You don’t have to be baptized to be saved, but if you’re saved, you will be baptized.” I never was totally sure of his logic here, but he was at least headed in the right direction. We need, by stirring the baptismal waters, to identify ourselves with Christ soon after our first moment of faith.
Identification with Christ should begin with baptism, but must not end there. It also entails, as it did for Philip, a desire to tell others about Jesus. As years go by, this initial desire to share may be squelched due to being burned by failures, or suppressed due to ridicule and embarrassment, or drowned under a flood of other good deeds we use to salve our consciences for disobedience in this vital area.
Normal Christianity contains a desire to share our faith. We may have squelched and squashed our urge to share Christ with others, but if we are true believers, the desire still lies buried somewhere within us. If this desire is dormant in us, we need to do some serious soul searching, and ask God to resurrect it.
While on a plane Monday, headed to speak in chapel at my alma mater, New Orleans Baptist Seminary, I was writing a brief on missions to present at our next staff meeting. I was interrupted by a prompting that I would be an ultimate hypocrite if I did not take time from my writing about the lost to share the Gospel with the young man next to me. Unable to muster a good reason not to share, I engaged him in conversation. He was a Tulane engineering student. I, a mathematician by training, chatted a while about our common area of interest and then reminded him mathematicians have historically tended to be very religious. I told him the order and structure I learned about in math classes helped convince me there had to be an ultimate reality behind them. I said I found fulfillment in Jesus, and gave him our web site address to contact for more info. He was congenial and gracious. I’m glad I took time to talk to him. It reminded me who I am and what I’m supposed to do. I’m a follower of Jesus, and should never be ashamed to let it be known.
Second, Philip was blunt. He could be abrupt, borderline rude. When his friend Nathaniel did not share his enthusiasm for Jesus, Philip curtly said, “Come and see” (JN 1:46). At the Last Supper, in one of the tenderest moments of Jesus’ life, our Master said knowing Him was tantamount to knowing the Father. In this beautiful, sensitive scene, Philip bluntly romped in, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus was crushed. We can imagine Him sadly shaking His head, furrowing His brow, and asking the Father for more time on earth to train the disciples, while saying, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (JN 14:9 NAS).
Philip, full of himself, and strong but wrong, has many of like mind today, matter-of-fact kind of people, folks who are not only rude, but actually proud of it. “I just speak my mind, I’m not going to be a hypocrite, I tell it like I see it.” To such we kindly say, you’re dead wrong, deal with it, get a grip, get over it, and get right with God. When you were baptized in water, somehow your sour disposition was accidentally baptized in vinegar; it needs to be re-baptized in a bowl of honey.
Third, Philip was analytical. He tended to overkill the obvious. Knowing this, Jesus tested Philip, saying of the 5000, “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” Our Master gave Philip a chance to shine, but instead, he groveled, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them” (JN 6:7 NAS).
Where’s the supernatural in this, the possibility for God to work a miracle? We often share Philip’s restricting, earthbound, tunnel vision. Let’s try not to be so obsessed with the impossible that we forget God makes the impossible possible. Always leave room for faith, for “with God all things are possible” (MT 19:26).
In difficult situations, our first response should be prayer, not practicality. Common sense is good and needed, but taken too far, becomes an obstacle to higher spirituality. “Facts and figures are a poor substitute for faith” (MacArthur).
Philip was extremely practical, down to earth, more interested in sight than in faith. The spiritual sometimes seemed beyond him. He wanted simple straightforward truths. “Just the facts, ma’am” would have been a good motto for him.
Unable to accept ideas at face value, he delved below the surface, substantiating everything. “Prove it” was his standard comeback. It is worth noting that Philip, when talking to his friend Nathaniel, said, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote” (JN 1:45 NAS). He had to have a solid basis for his beliefs. Having an analytical approach to everything, he studied Scripture, seeking a solid authority and legitimate, factual proof for everything.
People like Philip often struggle against pessimism and depression. We are too methodical, examining issues from all sides, often from sides that don’t exist. We mull over options repeatedly, analyzing life to death. Give us a dilemma, and in just one insomniac night, we can present you the next morning with at least a hundred different solutions to the problem, every one of them sad and depressing.
Now, having butchered this temperament, let me hasten to say it is not all bad. We need people willing to ask the hard questions, folks who are unafraid to show their own ignorance, who want more information, further clarification.
We analytical types–mathematicians, attorneys, accountants, bankers, the deep thinkers–are here for a purpose. Our role in the Church is to drive everyone else insane, to force them into a state of desperation that improves their prayer life.
Questioners keep Christianity from degenerating into superstition, from going too far afield in wild-haired schemes. The analytical ones probe us, forcing us back to the grounds, to the authoritative and legitimate underpinnings, of our faith.
Earnest, blunt, analytical–and then came the end. At Hieropolis, in present day Turkey, the priests to Mars, the Roman god of war, tied Philip upside down to a cross. His ankles and thighs were pierced with sharp stakes, so he would bleed to death. Since this was not cruel enough to satisfy their fury, they finished the job by stoning him to death. His last request was that his dead body not be wrapped in linen. He felt unworthy to be buried in any way similar to his Master’s interment.
Philip is one of the Apostles we embroider into stained glass windows. We make them artificial, plastic, unlifelike. We paint halos on their heads and put “saint” before their names, easily forgetting how tough life was for them, and how harsh it was to die a martyr. Paul described himself and the other Apostles as condemned to death, a spectacle to the world, fools for Christ’s sake, weak, without honor, hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, roughly treated, homeless, reviled, persecuted, slandered, the scum of the world, the dregs of all things (1 Cor. 4:9-13 NAS).
Don’t rob these men of their humanity. They were people just like us. They had plans and dreams like us, but gave them up for God. They had homes, but left them for God. When pierced, their flesh hurt like ours, but they endured it for God. When was the last time we consciously sacrificed something for Jesus? When did we last give up something, anything, even something minute, for Him?