A quick comparison:
Sean Connery made seven James Bond films while George Lazenby made one.
Paul shows up in chapter after chapter of the book of Acts while Philip gets little ink in comparison.
Connery defined the role of James Bond and went on to a stellar acting career. Lazenby took Bond to a new place, one that has not yet been revisited by any other actor playing the role, and then his career went nowhere. Yet Lazenby’s single Bond film is heralded as one of the high points of the series. (It’s one of my personal favorites too.)
Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy spirit, contributed greatly to the writing of the New Testament. Philip, as near as I can tell, left not a single word on a scroll for us yet he provides an example of what it means to play a role and impact generations to come.
Philip the Food Service Worker
If you’ve read Acts 6, you know that Philip was one of the seven trustworthy people who were “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” who were asked to wait on tables so the Apostles could devote themselves to teaching and prayer. Philip and the others took on the task of waiting tables and distributing food to widows with a great will, and the people around them praised God.
That’s not the last we read of Philip. He enters into another scene soon after.
Philip the Wandering Preacher
In Acts 8, we see Philip wandering around Samaria, north of Jerusalem, having great success preaching the word. The Holy Spirit worked through Philip to draw people to God. But just as we are reading that people were responding to Philip with great joy, it turns out the Holy Spirit tells him to leave the region of Samaria entirely and get on the desert road south of Jerusalem leading to Egypt.
He’s not told why but he goes all the same.
An important Ethiopian official is ahead of him in a chariot. The Holy Spirit tells Philip to get close, and as he nears the wagon Philip hears the Ethiopian reading aloud from Isaiah 53. The man ends up inviting Philip into his chariot to help him understand what he’s reading.
Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:35.)
That Isaiah passage is one many of us have heard, the Messiah as the Suffering Servant. If you read it carefully, you can see that it is a synopsis of the work of Jesus on our behalf: we have sinned and deserve punishment, he is blameless and takes our punishment for us, he triumphs and we are drawn with him in victory into eternal glory.
It’s all right there. That’s why Philip could tell the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus from that very passage.*
Is Philip the George Lazenby of the Book of Acts?
The only other mention of Philip is in Acts 21 where he and his family gave Paul a place to stay on his way to Jerusalem. It’s clear in that passage the emphasis is on what God was doing through Paul. Philip barely gets mention. Yet Philip served in ways that no one else did.
That’s the way it is with God. We are each able to serve because of what God is doing through us. It’s what makes each of our ways of serving God unique.
God has chosen to act through and within the individuals he has made us to be. I am different from you and you are different from me. God working through me looks different from God working through you, yet it is the same God who works through us all:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6.)
I bet Philip knew that.
*I once preached a sermon on Philip and the Ethiopian. If you’re interested, you can listen to it here. Go down the page to the 8/20/2006 entry and click on the little speaker. The link marked “Scrolls” goes to the Bible study I wrote to go with the message. (I didn’t write the materials linked as “Notes”, though.)