Philip Among Seven

INTRODUCTION: After the resurrection of Christ, the apostles saw thousands in Jerusalem become part of the growing church, but members who were non-Jews complained that their widows were being neglected. The apostles directed them to carefully select men from among themselves to carry out that ministry so the apostles could concentrate on prayer and preaching. Stephen was the first man listed among the seven chosen, and he later became the first martyr in the church. Philip was second in the list, and his ministry went beyond serving widows in the church body after the dispersion from Jerusalem. The names of the other five men appear only in the verse that lists all seven, and none of the seven are found in any book other than Acts.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the King James 21st Century Version.


A - PHILIP WAS CHOSEN AS ONE OF SEVEN TO SERVE WIDOWS

Acts 6 "1 And in those days when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them and said, "It is not fitting that we should leave the Word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, look ye out among you for seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word." 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip and Prochorus and Nicanor, and Timon and Parmenas and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles. And when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. 7 And the Word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."

COMMENTS: In the early period after the church at Jerusalem had grown to include a large number of people, the grumbling about a disparity in the care of widows became known to the apostles. The text states that the twelve called the mass of believers together and emphasized that it was not appropriate that the apostles should neglect the word of God, and therefore other men should be chosen to assure that responsibility would be covered. The twelve apparently were in agreement and acted as a group, since the text does not name any individual who addressed the assembly. The brethren were advised to select men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, and having good judgment to discern truth. This pleased the entire assembly and seven men were chosen. The apostles then prayed and laid their hands on them to signify their appointment to that business. The ministry of prayer and preaching was thereby represented as the sufficient role for the leaders of this first church. After this was done to dispel the murmuring, the text states that the Word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly. Also a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. None of the apostles had been part of the priesthood, but this did not prevent those who were of the priesthood from responding in their hearts to the Holy Spirit inspired message that was delivered by common men.

It was very important that the matter of murmuring (consistent complaining, grumbling, grudgfulness) be dealt with so love in unity within the assembly would be promoted to provide the best environment for spread of the gospel message. This remained an important matter as churches continued to develop over the coming years, and letters from apostles to dispersed churches bear this out. 1 Peter 4 "7 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer. 8 And above all things, have fervent charity {love} among yourselves, for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. 9 Use hospitality one to another without grudging {murmuring}. 10 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." Philippians 2 "14 Do all things without murmuring and disputing, 15 that ye may be blameless and unoffending, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, 16 holding forth the Word of Life, that I may rejoice in the Day of Christ that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain."


B - PHILIP LEFT JERUSALEM AND WENT TO THE SAMARITANS

Acts 8 "1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church. Entering into every house and haling men and women, he committed them to prison. 4 Therefore those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. 6 And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spoke, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed with them; and many taken with palsies and who were lame, were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city."

COMMENTS: The martyrdom of Stephen is recorded in Acts chapter seven, and the young man Saul (later known as Paul) was present at that stoning. That event sparked general persecution by the Jews to the Christians in Jerusalem causing a scattering of many believers into Judea and Samaria. However, the twelve apostles remained in Jerusalem, apparently not being directed by the Spirit to leave at that time. The persecution did disperse believers from Jerusalem but it did not silence them, and in fact the gospel began to spread through more than just the twelve apostles. Those dispersed "preached" (or published, meaning to make public) as they shared the gospel openly where ever they went as they had truly been changed in their hearts to believe that salvation to everlasting life is found only in Christ Jesus, the Son of God.

The text does not explain why Philip as one of the seven to serve widows, went from Jerusalem to Samaria, but he boldly proclaimed the message of Christ. The people paid close attention to what Philip was saying to them, as they also saw the miracles that he performed. Unclean spirits cried loudly as they came out of many people, and others were healed of serious illnesses. All of this brought joy to that city. There is no direct explanation of why Philip had the ability to cast out spirits or to miraculously heal sickness. All seven candidates to serve widows were to be full of the Holy Spirit, and the apostles had laid hands on all of them when they were commissioned to serve the church body. We have this record about Stephen before he was stoned by the Jews. Acts 6 "8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people." So we know from scripture that at least two of the seven had the gift to perform wonders and miracles as did the apostles.


C - PHILIP'S WITNESS TURNED THE PEOPLE AWAY FROM SIMON'S SORCERIES

Acts 8 "9 But there was a certain man called Simon, who earlier in the same city had used sorcery and bewitched the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is great with the power of God." 11 And for him they had regard, because for a long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. 12 But when they believed Philip's preaching of the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Then Simon himself believed also; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done."

COMMENTS: A man named Simon had used his magic to dupe many people into believing that he had great powers from God, and he claimed that he was someone great himself. He had developed a following of those in both high and low station in life as they were convinced by his deceptions. But the public preaching of the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ by Philip were intended to bring glory to God. Many men and women who came to the point of believing Philip's message were baptized. The same very commonly used Greek word in the New Testament is applied to state that even Simon "believed" and was baptized. Simon then followed Philip being amazed by the miracles and signs that were done. The Jews did not normally associate with Samaritans because they had intermarried with Gentiles, and this is the first record of conversions to Christianity in Samaria after the resurrection of Christ.

There had been some Samaritans who had believed in Jesus during his ministry as he traveled with his disciples, following his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar. The living water offered by Jesus was received by the woman and other people, as they all had knowledge of the promise in scripture and believed Jesus to be that Messiah. John 4 "40 So when the Samaritans had come unto Him, they besought Him that He would tarry with them; and He abode there two days. 41 And many more believed because of His own word, 42 and said unto the woman, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard Him ourselves and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world." 43 Now after two days He departed thence and went into Galilee."


D - THE APOSTLES PETER AND JOHN WENT FROM JERUSALEM TO SAMARIA

Acts 8 "14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 (For as yet, He had fallen upon none of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, "Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit." 20 But Peter said unto him, "Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money! 21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God that perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. 23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." 24 Then Simon answered and said, "Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me." 25 And they, when they had testified and preached the Word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem and preached the Gospel in many villages of the Samaritans."

COMMENTS: The scripture does not provide the length of time before word reached the apostles in Jerusalem, or by whom the news was carried that Samaritans had received the Word of God. The wording again indicates that the apostles, apparently agreeing as a group, sent Peter and John to Samaria, and when they arrived they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. It is not clear if Peter and John prayed for all who had believed Philip's message and had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, or if the statement that the Spirit had not yet fallen on them was indicative of an additional gifting reserved for certain ones of them. When Peter and John laid hands upon those in Samaria, it is reminiscent of what the apostles had done with the seven in Jerusalem who had already had the prequalification of being full of the Spirit. After that, we know that Stephen and Philip had the power from God to perform signs and miracles. Throughout this section of scripture about Peter and John at Samaria there is no more mention of Philip.

Following are two passages from the first chapter of Acts about the coming of the Holy Spirit that were addressed directly to the eleven apostles. Acts 1 "5 for John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence." Acts 1 "8 But ye shall receive power after the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." The gospel message was given by the Lord to be spread in Jerusalem and Judea, to those in Samaria, and even to include Gentiles as it would spread around the whole earth. On the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem when the apostles were heard miraculously in the native languages of Jews who had come from many other nations, Peter concluded his subsequent detailed witness about Christ Jesus with the following words. Acts 2 "36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." 37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Then Peter said unto them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.""

The text does not indicate any observable reaction in those in Samaria who received the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands by Peter and john, and it is not clear whether Simon was one of the recipients or just an observer. But, when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money for them to give him that same power, indicating that his primary interest was in promoting himself rather than promoting Christ. Peter's sharp reprimand made it clear that having the idea that this gift from God could be purchased with money would bring about the result that Simon and his money would both perish. God is in control of these matters and Simon could have no part in any of them as long as his heart was not right before God. Peter did not put Simon completely aside from grace, as he directed him to repent of his motivations and actions, and to pray that God would forgive him of his inner thoughts. Peter's perception was that Simon was far from the sweetness of grace, and was still captive to his own sin. Only the Lord knows the heart of all men, including Simon, and we have no further documentation in scripture about this man named Simon. He had asked Peter to pray to the Lord for him that none of the frightening things would happen to him, and that may be an indication that he only feared consequences but did not personally seek the peace that passes understanding. When Peter and John had testified and preached the Word of the Lord, they preached the Gospel in many villages of the Samaritans on their returned to Jerusalem.

--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

Lord, I thank you that scripture has revealed that Philip's was esteemed by others in the church as one who met the qualifications outlined by the apostles for service to the Grecian widows. It apparently was obvious to the general assembly, and it was confirmed by the apostle's as they appointed him, that he was full of the Holy Spirit. I pray that I will study your Word diligently that your Spirit will also be evident in my life to bring glory to your name. When danger developed to men such as Philip after Stephen lost his life, Philip was not deterred from serving you, as he allowed himself to be used to spread the gospel to a group of people who were not well respected by the Jews. If there are circumstances in my life that redirect my areas of service to my Lord, may I be open to any new opportunities you present for me to continue to praise your name, and to share your message of eternal life with others. Remove from my heart Lord any vestige of a gall of bitterness that I might have so that my earnest desire is to seek only the glory that is part of the Kingdom of God. I thank you for calling me out of the darkness of my sin, into your marvelous light of truth and life! Amen.

Published 20 June 2014