God delights in using ordinary people to do extraordinary things for His glory. The story of Phillip in Acts 8:26-40 is about an ordinary man who was useful and effective as a servant of God.
Luke introduces us to Philip in Acts 6 as one of the deacons selected by the Jerusalem church. In a large and growing ministry, Philip was known as one who had a good reputation and was full of God’s Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3). It wasn’t long before the church at Jerusalem began experiencing intense trouble. Stephen (a fellow deacon) was killed and his death opened a new door for persecuting Christians in that city. As a result of the persecution the people in the church scattered. But as they scattered, they faithfully proclaimed the Word of God wherever they went (Acts 8:4). Philip went north to Samaria where he enjoyed a successful ministry. “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:5-8).
Philip experienced great success in his ministry in Samaria. However, in verse 26 something happened that changed everything for him. There are at least five qualities from Philip’s life recorded in verses 26-40 that are instructive for what is needed to be useful in ministry for God.
Usefulness to God requires obedience
“Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went…” (Acts 8:26-27).
Many have the idea that if God wants them to change directions, He will cause what they are currently doing to fail. But God wants us to be willing to follow His leading even in the midst of success. Obedience means obeying God regardless of what success you may be currently experiencing.
When the angel gave God’s instructions to Philip, there was no explanation as to why he was to go and there was no information as to what He was to do. The only information he was given was where he was to go. Obedience means obeying God regardless of what information is unavailable.
Too often we want everything to line up perfectly before we make a decision. But God often asks us to just be willing to obey Him in the first step. As we obey Him at this point, He graciously unfolds the additional steps we are to take.
Philip was called leave a large urban ministry that was successful to a place of obscurity in the desert. It was a 120 mile journey by foot from Samaria to the desert near Gaza. Obedience means obeying God regardless of the cost.
Usefulness to God requires tenderness
“So [Philip] arose and went, and behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him…” (Acts 8:27-30).
Notice that the means God used to move Philip have changed. At first, Philip received direct revelation from God through the voice of an angel, but now there is the inner direction from God through the Spirit. People who are used by God are willing because their hearts are tender and sensitive to the inner ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
We loose our tenderness to God when we grieve the Holy Spirit by doing what we know God does not want us to do, and when we quench the Spirit by failing to do what God directs us to do. Philip was tender to the Holy Spirit because He was filled with the Holy Spirit as demonstrated by His submission to God.
When the Spirit told Philip to overtake the man’s chariot, Philip didn’t hesitate—he ran! Tenderness to God’s Spirit produces an eagerness to do what God has for us to do.
Usefulness to God requires openness
“So Philip ran to him and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:30-31).
When Philip arrived at the chariot, he found a man from a different culture, a different ethnic background, and different nationality. But Philip didn’t allow these differences to keep him from going up to him and engaging in ministry. When we are called on to minister to others we perceive as different, we must be open to minister in spite of those differences.
Philip was paying attention to what was going on and noticed that the man in the chariot was reading from Isaiah. This was clearly an open door and so Philip asked him a very basic question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” When we are called to minister to others, we need to have our eyes open to divine opportunities.
Usefulness to God requires confidence
“The place in the Scripture which he read was this: ‘He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.’ So the eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:32-35).
God was clearly at work in the life of the man to whom Philip was called to minister. When the question was asked who the passage in Isaiah referred to, Philip not only gave the answer, which was “Jesus,” he also took the opportunity to proclaim the truth about Christ from the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures. When we are called on to minister to others, our confidence in knowing what to say comes from knowing the Scripture and understanding how Christ is revealed throughout the Scriptures.
God uses ordinary people who are obedient to Him, tender to the Holy Spirit, open to others, and confident in the truth. This year is a great opportunity to develop these qualities of usefulness so that God will be glorified