Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What does a Biblical Evangelist Look Like? Lessons from the Life of Philip

Since Philip is the only Biblical character who is specifically called an evangelist, his example is a meaningful one for those who are called to be evangelists today. What are some of the principles one can learn from his life?

It is important for those who are called to be evangelists to have a servant’s heart (Acts 6:1-7). At the beginning, Philip was not an evangelist. He was chosen to be one of seven deacons and he volunteered to help serve food to widows. He had a good reputation, was full of the Holy Spirit, and full of wisdom. He was ordained into a ministry of helps when the Apostles laid hands on him and prayed over him. By serving faithfully, Philip freed up the Apostles to spend time studying God’s word and preaching. By serving he was following in the footsteps of Jesus who said, “I did not come to be served but to serve” and “the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all.” Later, because he had served faithfully; God promoted him to become the first evangelist. In like manner, the evangelist today must be willing to serve before being promoted by God.

The evangelist must go (Acts 8:5). In Acts 1:8 Jesus commanded the disciples, “…You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (NKJV) but the disciples did not start to spread out beyond Jerusalem until Acts 8:1 when a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria…” (NKJV). As part of this Gospel migration, Philip the evangelist went to the city of Samaria. Notice, he did not stay (like the Apostles), he went. Jesus gave the command, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) and “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).  These verses are known as the Great Commission. They are commands to be obeyed, not just good suggestions. The key word in these verses is the word “Go.” It is not time for Christians to stay home sitting in the comforter with their feet propped up watching television, rather it is time to obey Christ’s command to “Go.”

Evangelists should be willing to go where it is dangerous or uncomfortable (Acts 8:5). Phillip went to Samaria, where the inhabitants had a centuries long animosity towards the Jews. It was potentially dangerous and definitely uncomfortable, but he went anyway. A missionary once said, “There are no closed doors, as long as one does not care whether one comes back.”

The work of an evangelist is to preach Jesus (Acts 8:5). Philip preached Christ to the lost people of Samaria. There are many different messages preached these days. Ministers preach on the “anointing”, on “double-portion blessing,” on “Six Secrets to a Happy Marriage,” on “How to Achieve Financial Security,” and on the meaning of obscure Greek words, but ultimately, there is only one message that matters. That message is Jesus! The true evangelist will preach about the miracles of Jesus, about how He died on the cross for our sins, and how He rose from the dead. The message of the evangelist is Jesus.
The Gospel is for everyone, regardless of race, nation, gender, or background (Acts 8:5). Philip preached to the Samaritans; this was a revolutionary act in his time. Traditionally the Jews and the Samaritans had no contact with one another. They hated each other. Yet, Philip broke tradition and went to those who were different. In doing this, he followed the example of his master, Jesus, who had ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). When the Samaritans accepted the Gospel, it was a great breakthrough because it proved that Christ is for the whole world, not just the Jews.

The preaching of God’s word attracts multitudes (Acts 8:6). When God’s word is preached, one can expect large crowds of people.  Some will accept Jesus, some will ridicule and mock, but when the Gospel is preached there is definitely not silence. True Gospel evangelism never remains silent or hidden. When people start accepting Jesus, a ruckus ensues. Some have questioned the value of mass campaign evangelism in today’s society but Philip’s story provides a valuable example for today’s evangelist. Mass evangelism is not the only way people come to Jesus but Philip’s example shows is a valid way to minister to people. William Booth said, "No sort of defense is needed for preaching outdoors, but it would take a very strong argument to prove that a man who has never preached beyond the walls of his meetinghouse has done his duty. A defense is required for services within buildings rather than for worship outside of them." Jonathan Edwards said, "Preach abroad! It is the cooping yourselves up in rooms that has dampened the work of God, which never was and never will be carried out to any purpose without going into the highways and hedges and compelling men and women to come in."

The preaching of God’s word should be followed by miracles (Acts 8:6-7). Philip demonstrates that when the Gospel is preached, it is normal for miracles to occur. Jesus said, “These signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons… they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18). When Jesus sent the disciples out to preach, “They went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20). Paul said, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power…” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). A powerless Gospel is no Gospel at all. The church does not need a new definition of the Gospel, but a new demonstration of the Gospel. The message needs miracles, declaration requires demonstration; in terms a seventh grade student would understand, the church needs both “show and tell.” Some have said miracles were only for the Apostles, but Philip was not an Apostle. His example shows that God’s power worked for the second generation of believers and indicates it should work in every generation of believers.

The Gospel sets people free from demons (Acts 6:7). Jesus took authority over demonic forces and he gave this authority to His disciples (Matthew 10:1; Luke 9:1). He commanded them to “cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8). When God's word is preached with power, the devils that are in people get stirred up and begin to act up. The evangelist should not be scared or bothered by demon manifestations. Simply take authority over them in the name of Jesus and keep preaching. People are set free when the Gospel is proclaimed.

Great joy follows the evangelist (Acts 8:8). When Philip evangelized, the people of Samaria celebrated because so many sick and paralyzed people were healed. They were happy because the demon-possessed were set free. They rejoiced because their sins were forgiven as they responded to the Gospel. Great joy always follows the preaching of God's word. 

When evangelists preach, people are baptized (Acts 8:12). Baptism is a sign of salvation. It is not necessary for salvation, but it is a public testimony that conversion has occurred.

After evangelists lead people to Jesus, they need the help of other ministry gifts to disciple people (Acts 8:14). First, Philip the evangelist preached and multitudes were saved and healed. Then, when the church in Jerusalem heard what God was doing, they sent Peter and John to authenticate the move of God and to disciple the new believers. After Philip completed his job as an evangelist, the job of the Apostles began. The most common question the evangelist is asked is: How do you follow up on new believers? The truth is no evangelist can do everything alone. The evangelist is not the only one involved in the process of turning a convert into a disciple.  Standing beside the evangelists are the other ministry gifts; the pastor, the prophet, the teacher, and the apostle.

The power of God is greater than any counterfeit magic. Simon the Magician astonished the people of Samaria with his magic but when Philip showed up it was obvious that Simon’s power palled in comparison to God’s power. Simon stopped being astonishing and was astonished himself. There are many different belief systems and religions in the world today. But, God’s power still stands supreme.

When Evangelists preach, sinners are attracted to the Gospel (Acts 8:9-13). Simon was a charlatan, but when he saw the miracles, he believed the Gospel and was baptized. Was Simon really saved? The language Luke uses for his conversion is the same language he uses for the conversion experiences of others.

Evangelists should not seek personal glory (Acts 8:18-19). Simon was not interested in using the
power of God to help people; he was more interested in using it to build his own prestige. In some ministry circles, evangelists are looked down upon. This is because of the numerous scandals that have resulted from evangelists who have abused their position. It is time to restore integrity to the evangelistic ministry.

Evangelists are not driven by money (Acts 8:20-24). When Peter was offered money for the gift of the Holy Spirit, he was enraged. This brings to mind the story of Elisha’s servant Gahazi who tried to make money off Naaman. In a similar manner, Martin Luther fought the sale of indulgences. Today, some evangelists have tried to merchandise the anointing instead of staying focused on leading the lost to Christ. Jesus did not die on the cross so that preachers could get rich. The story of Peter’s response to Simon serves as a reminder that the gifts of the Holy Spirit can never be sold, only given.

The real Gospel exposes false motives (Acts 8:20). Simon did not want the Holy Spirit so he could help people; he wanted it for his own personal gain. When the Gospel is preached, false motives are not able to remain hidden for long.

Evangelists know that some who respond to the Gospel will fall away. The Bible says that Simon believed and was baptized. This is the same language the book of Acts uses for others who were saved. Later Peter curses him and says, “You have no part in us.” Was Simon really saved? If so, how did he lose his salvation? How do people today lose their salvation? Sometimes evangelists are criticized because not everyone who gets saved in their meetings end up attending a local church. The evangelist is often asked, “Why do some of those who get saved in your meetings fall away?” It is a shocking statistic that 380 of the 500 people who heard the last words of Jesus did not follow his command to wait for the Holy Spirit in the upper room. The fact that some might pray a prayer of salvation at a crusade and later continue to live in sin is no reason to stop praying with people for salvation.   

Evangelists take every opportunity to share the Gospel (Acts 8:25). Peter and John were not evangelists by calling, but as apostles they did the work of an evangelist. Because of the word that had spread about the work Philip was doing, there were many open doors to share the Gospel in Samaria and they took advantage of the divine opportunity. They went from village to village sharing the Gospel.
Evangelists must go where God sends them (Acts 8:26). Philip was in the middle of leading a successful revival in Samaria when an angel of the Lord told him to head south along the desert road to Gaza. As Philip walked along the road, he fulfilled Jesus’ command to “go out into the highways and hedges” (Matthew 22:9). God does not want us to stay inside the four walls of the church. He wants us to take the Good News out on the roads.  Many preachers today would love to minister to the surfers in Hawaii or in an upscale neighborhood in California in the midst of luxury, but God is looking for someone who is willing to go to the desert. God often sends evangelists to spiritual deserts. A hot, dry road through the middle of the desert is not the best place to be called, but it is important to go where God tells one to go. There is ministry waiting to be done in the spiritual deserts of the world.

Evangelists should be sensitive to God’s voice (Acts 8:26). Philip is led, first by the angel of the Lord, and than by the Spirit. Both times, he obeys. Luke uses this to show that Philip’s mission was Spirit-led and Spirit-inspired. So, it should be with the evangelist today. When God speaks, it is important to listen and obey.

When evangelists obey, doors are opened to share the Gospel (Acts 8:27-29). Some people have hard hearts toward God and some are open and ready to receive. As the evangelist stays sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and follows His leading, the evangelist will discover those who are ready to respond to the Gospel. 

Evangelists are desperately needed (Acts 8:30-31). The Ethiopian eunuch needed someone to explain the Scriptures. Today there are many people who have questions about God and the meaning of life. Who will answer these questions. The need is urgent. If the evangelist does not go, then who will tell them about Jesus? How can they understand unless someone explains? As Paul writes, “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who  preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15 NKJV).

When evangelists preach, every Scripture leads to Jesus (Acts 8:32-35). Jesus is the central point of the Bible. The Old Testament is Jesus concealed, the New Testament is Jesus revealed. Every verse in the Old Testament points forward to Jesus and every verse in the New Testament points backward to Jesus. No matter where one starts reading in the Bible, the scripture leads to Jesus. The difference between a real evangelist and another preacher who just uses the title is how much they talk about Jesus. People preach on many different subjects these days. Some preach on prosperity, others preach on holiness, some preach on how to be successful in business. Sometimes, preachers sound like they are reading excerpts from Reader’s Digest more than they sound like they are preaching the real Gospel. But, for the successful evangelist, it does not matter where he begins, he always ends with Jesus. For the real evangelist it doesn't matter what subject he's talking about or where he begins to read in the Bible, ultimately, his or her sermon will be about Jesus Christ.  The evangelist may begin by talking about how to have a happy marriage. But by the end of the message, the true evangelist will come to the place where he invites people to give their lives to Jesus so they can have a happy marriage.  The evangelist may talk about finding peace in desperate times, but ultimately his sermon will lead back to Jesus, the Prince of Peace. 

When Jesus is preached, people get saved! (Acts 8:35-37). When the Ethiopian heard the Good News he asked, “Is there anything to prevent me from being baptized?” When the evangelist preaches the Gospel, he or she can expect people to desire to come to God.

The Gospel brings great joy! (Acts 8:39). In Samaria, the whole city was filled with joy after Philip preached. The Ethiopian is also filled with joy after being baptized. The Gospel truly is good news.

When a person gets saved, he or she often becomes an evangelist. After being baptized, the Ethiopian continued his trip home. One can imagine him eagerly sharing the good news about Jesus with everyone in his country. As the treasurer in charge of the kingdom’s wealth he was a man of considerable influence. Today, the Christians in Ethiopia trace their spiritual heritage back to this man. Even when ministering to one person, the evangelist has the potential to impact an entire community or nation.

The Spirit sends evangelists wherever they are most needed (Acts 8:39). Philip was caught away and reappeared in another city where he continued to preach. Evangelists are the shock troops of the kingdom. Their function is similar to the Navy Seals or army paratroopers who are the first to advance into enemy territory to prepare the way for the main battle group. The evangelist moves in, does his or her job, and then moves on to his or her next assignment.

Evangelists often travel from place to place (Acts 8:40). Philip, the only person in the New Testament who is specifically called an evangelist, was an itinerant preacher, going from place to place sharing the good news. Today, evangelists often travel in a similar manner. They “blow in, blow up, and blow out.” Philip’s example sets a Biblical precedent for today’s evangelist.

Evangelists should have godly families, above reproach (Acts 21:8-9). One of the great challenges for evangelists today is in the area of the family. The life of an evangelist is often difficult because of extensive traveling and a busy schedule. Paul asks us in 1 Timothy 3:5, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” Unfortunately, the ministries of many evangelists have been damaged because of divorce and rebellious children. It is significant that the Bible tells us that Philip had four virgin daughters who all prophesied.  Philip raised his daughters to be holy and pure. Each of the four daughters kept her virginity in the middle of a city full of immorality and wickedness. The daughters were also involved in ministry with Philip. His daughters were a wonderful testimony to Philip’s commitment to be a Godly father. Philip’s family provides us a picture of what an evangelist’s family life should look like. First, The evangelist should be faithful to his wife. Second, the evangelist’s children should live Godly lives. Third, the evangelist’s children should also be involved in the ministry.