The first three gospels virtually ignore Philip, he is included in their lists of the disciples, but that is all. Only John gives us more detail:
Aside: there is mention of a believer called Philip in Acts. He appears in Acts 8 where he preaches the word in Samaria, he also meets with the Ethiopian Eunuch and baptizes him, then gets miraculously transported by the Spirit to another area and then at the end of Acts, (20 years later) he is recorded as giving hospitality to Paul and his companions. For various reasons, it is generally understood this is not the disciple Philip, but rather is more likely to be the Philip listed as one of the first deacons chosen in Acts 6. There is not enough time this morning to explain those reasons, but I accept this interpretation, so if you wonder why I’m not mentioning the Philip in Acts, that is why. He’s a different Philip!
Accepting that, the real detail about Philip comes from John’s gospel, which records 4 interactions Philip has with Jesus …
- John 1:43–46. Philip goes to Nathaniel and brings him to Jesus.
- John 6:5. Jesus tests Philip about food for the 5,000
- John 12:21f. Philip brings some Greeks to Andrew who want to meet Jesus and they both go to Jesus.
- John 14:8–11. Philip says to Jesus, “show us the Father and that will be enough for us”.
So, what do these actions teach us?
Philip is a name which is derived from the Greek word Phileo, which means friend. It has often been said that people’s names are significant and noted how regularly we live up to our names.
Philip was such a person, the first thing he did when he met Jesus was go to his friend Nathanael.
Friendship is important. It is one of the most important sources of influence in our lives. It is particularly visible in children, but it is just as important in adulthood. Memes about real friendship abound on social media, but if you boil them down, they all suggest that friend, a true friend is the one who sticks with you through thick and thin, the one who will not only share the high spots of your life, but who will also stick with you through the low spots.
I want to camp out on what friendship is, and how important it is for a few moments.
There is an old saying which says, “Choose your friends wisely. Because you will become what they ARE”!
The Romans used to say “if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”, and Paul quoting another proverb in Corinthians says “bad company corrupts good character”
Friendship is important.
However, there does appear to be a dichotomy or ambivalence about friends in the Bible.
On the one hand, we are called to be like Christ, who seemed to go out of his way to befriend all sorts of undesirable people. As Christians, we believe that we should proclaim the gospel to all the world, and act to overcome any political, social, geographical or ethnic (or any other) boundaries which might come between us and people.
In fact, the parable of the dishonest servant seems to be an instruction to us our resources on this earth to get friends
Luke 16:9 (NIV): I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Clearly Jesus is talking about friends who enter the kingdom with us here.
We even have a term for it “Friendship Evangelism”. The idea being we build friendships with people and on the foundation of that friendship, we share our faith. Someone once described it as “building a bridge strong enough for the Gospel to cross on”. And studies over decades has shown that by far and away the most successful form of evangelism is through our friendship with people.
On the other hand, we are told not to be friends with the world. James 4:4 says “don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God”, and I’ve already quoted Paul’s statement in Corinthians about bad company. Jesus himself said people will hate us because of our faith in him (Luke 21:17 Everyone will hate you because of me).
So, how do we reconcile the apparent desire of our Lord that we build friendships, with the teaching not to cultivate wrong friendships?
Maybe the example of Jesus will show us this …
- Jesus called his disciples his friends (John 15:15), yet Luke records that he spent the night praying to God before naming them (Luke 6:12,13).
- Shows he took great care about who he chose to be his friends.
- Shows a reliance on God’s guidance about who he chose as friends.
- Jesus clearly had “circles” of friends. Some were in a crowd, others in a larger group (the 72), then a smaller group (the 12), then an intimate few (the 3). He clearly gave some people more access to him, in terms of physical presence, time, depth of teaching (including revealing things about himself) than he did to others. Be careful about what you reveal to whom.
- Jesus never allowed his friends to stop him from truth telling. He was sometimes quite blunt with his friends. On one occasion he calls them stupid! Matthew 15:16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them, in John’s gospel, he allows people to leave him (and asks the disciples if they will leave him too), in fact, he doesn’t stop Judas leaving when he is revealed as the traitor. Famously, he even calls Peter Satan! His friendship with the disciples was never allowed to interfere with his relationship with God.
For us, the implications are fairly obvious, choose our friends carefully, don’t spread them too thin, but invest in a few, and never, ever allow them to interfere with your faith. If a friend does that, I would say they are not a true friend. Remember Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?” This is often used in the context of marriage, but it does hold true for all human relationships, especially friendships.
The next thing which I want to bring out of this is the concept of being a friend of God.
The term friend of God, unsurprisingly, comes from the Bible. In the book of James we read “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.” (James 2:23). The writer of 2 Chronicles describes Abraham as God’s friend, “Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” (2 Chronicles 20:7), as does Isaiah “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend” (Isaiah 41:8). Jesus says to the disciples I call you my friends in John 15, and he specifies what a friend of God does, how a friend of God acts. “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14).
So, friendship with God is possible, in fact, we should pursue it. God is not just some divine dictator barking orders or directions from heaven, waiting for us to muck up, so he can smite us. If you live with that kind of image of God, then I’m not surprised if you don’t want to follow him.
No, Jesus came and lived among us so that we could shake off that kind of understanding of God, and give us a way to the place where we can say for ourselves, “God is my friend”.
And going back to the saying I quoted earlier “choose your friends wisely, because you will become what they are”, when we make a point of protecting and developing our friendship with God, actually living and acting in a Godly way becomes less of an effort – we are growing to be like him.
In other words, if you want to become more Godly, choose to live your life with him as your friend!
John 1:43–51 Philip was From Bethsaida, he led his friend Nathanael to Jesus. Jesus first called Philip personally, and Philip trusted and followed him.
Bringing people to Jesus can seem a very daunting prospect. Som any things seem like massive barriers to us. Philip shows us that telling people about Jesus need not be like that. All we have to do is tell our friends, take them to Jesus, then withdraw and leave them to him. This is actually really easy.
Firstly, Philip says to his friend “we have found the one about whom the Moses wrote”. He knows that this is something which would spark Nathanael’s interest. It is often said that we should only scratch where people are itching! Don’t answer questions for people they are not asking, all that does is antagonize them.
Secondly, when Nathanael questions Jesus’ origin by saying “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?”, Philip’s response is not to try to argue or justify, he merely says, “come and see” he uses the same words that Jesus used on more than one occasion “come and see” (in fact the invitation “come” is the great invitation of the grace of God.) We don’t need to intellectually prove Jesus’ existence, all we need to do is make the offer, “come and see for yourself”. Jesus can touch people’s hearts without fancy arguments from us.
When he was confronted with more doubt Philip also used the Scriptures. His evidence was Moses and the prophets. It is good to tie in our witness to the word of God.
What we can learn from this story is that all we have to do is point the way, not convince or pressurize the people, and we have a great resource in the Scriptures to draw on in our witness.
Our aim should simply be to introduce people to Jesus, to encourage them to meet with him, rather than is so often the case to argue them into becoming Christians.
Philip’s first thought was to go to someone he knew well. I touched on this above when I talked about Philip being a friend, but too often when we think about evangelism, we think in terms of going to total strangers. Sometimes it even involves learning a new language and moving to a new country, but Philip teaches us that every one of us has a rich seam of gold right in front of our noses. Friends, neighbours, family members, work colleagues all need to know the peace of God, yet so often we neglect it. Sometimes it is embarrassment, sometimes it is fear of being ridiculed or rejected, sometimes we have blotted our copybook by the way we have acted. Witnessing to someone who knows you warts and all can force you to look very closely at how (or if) your action really do match your claims of faith, and that can be a very uncomfortable place to be.
Finally, the first attempt at witness was actually rebuffed. Nathanael questioned Philip’s testimony about Jesus. Note that Philip didn’t try to address the question (Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?), he didn’t argue with Nathanael, instead what he did was change tack, and invite him to “come and see”. It worked. If at first you don’t succeed, then give up? NO try again. Do not be discouraged by someone’s apparent rejection of the Gospel. Perhaps another approach will work better. We would do well if we did that. We don’t have to argue Jesus’ corner. Having introduced Jesus to people, all we need to do is leave him to it!
So, here are some take homes from Philip’s way of bringing people to Jesus that we can learn from..
- Philip witnessed to his friend Nathanael. We don’t have to present the gospel to total strangers to be effective witnesses.
- Philip introduced Jesus in terms that Nathanael was already familiar with. Look for and find points of connection for people.
- When Nathanael responded negatively, Philip didn’t argue or give up – he changed tack. We can change our witness to the circumstances (provided we don’t gut it of the power of the Gospel in the process).
- Philip introduced Nathanael to Jesus and then left him to it. Successful evangelism is not measured in conversions. It is measured in introductions.
The third thing I want to think about this morning comes from the account of the feeding of the 5,000. In John’s description of this event in John 6, we read that Jesus asked Philip a question. With all the crowds are all around him, Jesus asks Philip “where shall we buy bread for people to eat?” One thing that really strikes me is that John explains WHY Jesus asks Philip the question, “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do” (John 6:6).
Philip’s response to Jesus’ test was to ask how they could “raise enough to buy food” then, having counted the cost, he concludes that they would need 8 months’ wages and even then it would not be enough. Too often we think money is the answer to all of our problems, that if we throw money at it, the problem will go away! In Christ, such considerations fall short of His will. I sometimes ponder, did Philip pass the test with this answer?
Does God do or say things, or conversely NOT do or say anything, but leave us in the dark sometimes to test us?
I hated tests when I was growing up. It seemed to me that everything I did was measured in a test. At school, in scouts, at Sunday school, everything we learnt was subject to testing, and I never saw the point.
When I was 18, I sat in my mum’s car and this man sat in the seat beside me. He had a clipboard, and I had to drive where he told me to drive, I had to complete the manoeuvres he asked me to complete, and I had to answer the questions he asked me about the Highway Code and the car, and its maintenance.
Passing my driving test was for me, one of the most significant moments of my life. For a start, although I had passed exams at school, passing the driving test was a key to successful job applications.
Of course passing the test opened a door to more freedom, it gave me the right to drive on my own, and as I said, being able to drive seemed to be something which the majority of potential employers wanted in an applicant, so it opened doors for me which would otherwise have been shut, but it did more than that.
But passing my driving test also did something else for ME – it showed me something about tests.
It showed ME that I could drive – we don’t often consider this, but passing a test, any kind of a test benefits us, and although often we think about tests being for the benefit of others, actually, one of the best things about a test is that passing it benefits us far more than it does the tester.
It shows us WE can do it.
- Passing the driving test showed ME that I could drive.
- Passing my surveying exams showed ME that I could be a surveyor.
Passing a test shows it’s that we are capable of doing the thing that we are being tested about. Thinking about God, thinking about our faith, I want to leave you with this thought.
If you are going through a testing time, right now. Whether you have a particular issue you’re dealing with, a relationship which is a bit of a burden to you, something in your life that you are thinking “I don’t know how much more of this I can take”, be encouraged!
God KNOWS how much we can take, but often we don’t. So perhaps, just perhaps, the test is happening for YOUR benefit, to show YOU that you can do that thing, or endure that thing, or that your faith IS strong enough when you are doubting. Perhaps, you are enduring a test because you need to understand that your faith is stronger than you ever imagined it could be, that it is precious and efficacious and that the other side of the test, you will be more confident in yourself and assured in your faith.
James writes this about testing, “the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3–4). Peter says of tests that they will prove our faith.
And as a final thought, if you think God is silent, don’t be discouraged. The examiner is always silent while the test is in progress.
Lastly, Phillip says to Jesus “show us the father and that will be enough”.
It strikes me that part of our nature is that very often we can never get enough.
So often we have to go further, or get richer or be faster than the last thing we did.
We are driven to always outdo ourselves. We see it regularly on our televisions, shows in series format often do what they describe as “pushing the boundaries” as if that is a good thing, but there is a real lesson here to learn about something being “enough”
The Rolling Stones “I can’t get no … satisfaction” is a cry of the age we live in. Many people if not most people have yet to learn that the deepest yearning inside them cannot be satisfied with stuff or status or anything else this world can give us.
Paul learned that. He said “I have learned the secret of being content in each and every circumstance”
Even as Christians in our churches we sing songs to God that have lyrics like “You’re all I need – you’re all I ever wanted”, then we go home and we fight and clamour along with the rest of society to get more, to get ahead and by our actions show we are not satisfied and that we haven’t learned Paul’s secret.
One key to being content in life is to get to a place of being satisfied, and I’m not just talking about physical satisfaction.
There is a sense in which it could be our own fault, Haggai talks of never being satisfied, he says, “You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” (Haggai 1:6). In his prophecy, Haggai says to “pay careful attention to your ways” in v5 and v7.
So, what do we seek for satisfaction, what is it that will be enough for us?
Haggai says in his prophecy that making sure our priorities are right, that putting God first is the key. Philip says something which is very similar, he says “show us the father and that will be enough”, Philip didn’t say “satisfy my desires” or “make me powerful”, he said that the presence of God is the key to being satisfied, and Jesus’ response is “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9).
The writer of Hebrews describes Christ as the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” (Hebrews 1:3).
(Colossians 1:15) “The Son is the image of the invisible God”, and John says “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known”. (John 1:18)
So, If Philip is right in that seeing the father is enough for us, we can be sure that the most effective way fo that is through Jesus.
It is in our own relationship with Jesus where the father is ultimately revealed to us, so it is Jesus that our deepest satisfaction lies.
I have heard people say, that because Christians can be content with less and don’t chase after riches like people around them that they are not ambitious. in fact I’ve personally been told that I don’t have enough ambition, enough drive in me, that I’m too satisfied with too little, and should strive for more.
This is a lie and a twisting of the devil to make unimportant things seem valuable and to devalue and belittle the richest gains you can experience, far from settling for less, I would say the opposite is true, people who chase after the things of the world and are satisfied with that are aiming too low. Why be satisfied with the trinkets of this world when we can gain the riches of heaven in Christ?