Sermon: Philip the Deacon

The podcast is available here.


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Today we celebrate Philip, but in the New Testament, which one is he?  There was Philip who was the brother Herod, so I’m pretty sure we can cross him off the list, but then there was also Philip the Apostle.  From the tenth chapter of Matthew, “Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits…” and Philip is one of the twelve that are named.  However, in the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, we learn that the disciples are becoming overwhelmed by the amount of work required of them, so they call seven others to work alongside them in the capacity of what we would now call a deacon.  The most famous is Stephen, because he is the first martyr of the Church, but included in the list of the seven is another, Philip, and it is this Philip that we celebrate today.  How do we know which one he is?

Before Paul (a.k.a. Saul) was converted while traveling the road to Damascus he acted as one of the great persecutors of the early church, which lead to the dispersal of many Christians.  Acts 8 describes it: “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.”

“All except the apostles…” meaning that the Apostle Philip remained in Jerusalem, but just a few verses on we read, “Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.  Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.”  Most scholars agree that this was Philip the deacon, who after the dispersal became a very effective evangelist in Samaria.  Apparently he did so well that the disciples in Jerusalem had to see it for themselves: “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.”

The most familiar story we have of Philip is the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch, also occurring in chapter 8 of the Book of Acts that we heard today.  It takes a good bit of work to sort this story out, but the eunuch was probably not as we understand a eunuch to be, but was most likely the Chancellor (think right hand person to the Queen) and guardian of the treasury.  In addition, he was a God-fearer.  That is, he was one who believed in the God of the Jews, and had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple.  It is on the return trip that an angel of the Lord brings Philip to him, who goes onto open the scriptures up, proclaiming the Good News, and baptizing him.  Following this, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.”  St. Irenaeus writes that upon returning to Ethiopia, the eunuch founded the Ethiopian Church.  As for Philip, he doesn’t return to the story in Acts until chapter twenty-one, about twenty-four years later.

Paul and Luke have been on a missionary journey.  Luke writes, “The next day we left [Ptolemais] and came to Caesarea; and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him.  He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.”  From there, St. Jerome tells us that Philip went on to become a bishop in the area and is believed to have died peacefully years later.

Philip found a place to call home.  He had a wife and children.  He did the work, quietly and steadily.  He was faithful to what he had been called to at a young age.  For every one of the great Saints we study, there are 1,000s more, who quietly, steadily, and faithfully go about the work of the Kingdom.  We can look to these great ones for inspiration and we can look at these other “great” ones, like Philip, for understanding how to live it out in our daily lives.

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