Rector's Reflections - 8 May

Rector’s Reflections

Philip the Deacon Gives a Masterclass in Evangelism

In yesterday’s reflections, I shared some thoughts on the importance of welcoming new believers into the life of a church community. This might involve a formal act, such as baptism, but there are also other ways of welcoming and embedding new believers in the community of faith. So once we have welcomed a new believer into a church community, is this the end of our evangelistic endeavours? Can we hang up our boots and relax?

The answer is no.  We need to ask ourselves the question: what next?  

In chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles, we learn how Philip the Deacon sowed the seeds of the gospel among the Samaritans, and that his ministry there bore fruit. We might perhaps have thought that Philip would then relax, or perhaps retire from the evangelistic task: after all, he had done an excellent job.  But he didn’t rest on his laurels. He remained open to the possibility that God might have another evangelistic task in store for him. And this is what happened: in the words of verse 26,  “an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza”.  I think there are 3 interesting things about this verse.

To start with, Philip was listening to what God wanted to say to him. He was open to the possibility of a further message from God.

Secondly, once he heard God’s message, he responded with obedience. He did what God was telling him to do. He could easily have ignored the message, telling God something along the lines of  “Thank you, God, for this- I’m busy right now, but I’ll certainly get round to doing what you have told me to do, as soon as I get a free moment”.   We can all be tempted to put off God’s call – often with the very best of intentions. We really do mean to think about it, as soon as we get a chance in the midst of our busy lives. But somehow the opportunity never seems to come – there’s always something else which claims our attention.

Finally, Philip was prepared to obey God even though he didn’t have all the information he might have wanted.  God had given Philip instructions: he was to “go toward the south to the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza”.   For what reason? God didn’t tell Philip the reason. And what was going to happen? Who was Philip going to meet?  Again, these pieces of information remained undisclosed. It was an exercise in trust.

I wonder if our own efforts at evangelism often prove less fruitful than they might be, because we fail to ask ourselves the question: what next?  God always has something wonderful in store for us – if we are prepared to listen to his guidance in our lives, with a spirit of trust and obedience. In the words of the old hymn, “Trust and obey, for there’s no better way”.  Good advice indeed– although it is so often hard for us to put this advice into practice.

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