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A Study of John (selections)


We know little about Philip beyond a few references to him in the Gospel of John. He was one of the twelve disciples and is always listed fifth in the four lists of the twelve. He was from Bethsaida and seems to have had a close relationship with Andrew, Peter’s brother. He is said to have died in Hierapolis which was in Phrygia of Asia. According to early church history, "Phrygia was assigned to Philip as a mission field by the risen Christ when He appeared to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, and ‘The Martyrdom of St. Philip in Phrygia’ tells of his preaching, miracles and crucifixion there."

Kerr writes concerning his character, "Of a weaker mold than Andrew, he was yet the one to whom the Greeks would first appeal; he himself possessed an inquirer's spirit and could therefore sympathize with their doubts and difficulties. ... Philip, versed in the Scriptures, appealed more to the critical Nathanael and the cultured Greeks. Cautious and deliberate himself, and desirous of submitting all truth to the test of sensuous experience, he concluded the same criterion would be acceptable to Nathanael also"

As I read the few references to Philip, I got this impression of a man who genuinely cared for others and wanted to bring them to Christ. Let us learn a little bit about him from the Gospel of John and perhaps it will cause us to want to follow his example and bring people to Jesus. As Howard Hendricks noticed, in the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering and stammering.

The first mention of Philip in John is in the first chapter.

John 1:43-46

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

Verse 43 starts off by telling us Christ found Philip and called him to follow. The conversation they had is not recorded. Jesus may have spoken with Philip on prior occasions, but now it was time for Philip to make a commitment to follow Christ. And he did so without hesitation. The joy he had for finding and serving the Messiah was so great that he wanted to share it with others. Is our joy that great? Do we still have the same excitement as the first time we committed to follow Christ? Philip went to tell his friend Nathanael. Which friends of yours should you be telling about Jesus?

Nathanael was like a lot of people we talk to about Jesus or about coming with us to church – he immediately began making excuses. He asked, can anything good come out of Nazareth? This may have been because of a personal prejudice against the Nazarenes, or it may have been because of his understanding of scripture that prophesied the Messiah would come out of Judea in Bethlehem. Whatever his reason, Philip didn’t argue with him. He simply said, come and see. He knew that his intellectual arguments would not convince Nathanael. But he also realized that if he only could bring his friend to Christ, then Nathanael would experience the same joy he felt.

This is an important lesson in witnessing to others. We don’t need to get into a long argument. Philip explained his reason at the beginning – We have found the Messiah of which the prophets wrote. He gave Nathanael a good reason to be interested, but he didn’t try to force the message down his throat. He simply said, come and see for yourself.

William Sangster tells the story of when he pastored a Methodist church in Scarborough. He had an eccentric member who tried to be a zealous Christian. Unfortunately, the man sometimes did not have the best timing. The man was a barber and one day after lathering up a customer for a shave, he came at him with the poised razor, and asked, "Are you prepared to meet your God?" The frightened man fled with the lather still on his face!

Philip was much more gentle in his approach. These verses show to me Philip’s strong desire to bring others to Christ. As Fausset commented, "Converted himself, Philip sought to convert others." He cared about others and wanted them to meet Jesus. Do you want other to meet Jesus?

The next mention of Philip is when Christ is preparing to feed the five thousand.

John 6:5-7

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."

Have you ever wondered why Christ asked this question of Philip? He was not the one who kept the money bag – that was Judas’ job. Some have suggested that it may have been that this desert place was close to Bethsaida, Philip’s home town, and Jesus asked him expecting Philip to know where they could find bread in the city. But I don’t think that’s why Christ asked him the question. I think Jesus knew Philip had a heart for the people. He wanted to prepare him for his future ministry. I believe Philip had a genuine concern for these people’s needs. He was probably already concerned for their physical welfare since he knew that food supplies were far away.

So Jesus asks Philip a question which will be answered miraculously. And it is because Philip cares about the people that he has been singled out to participate in this miracle. In verse 10 we discover that its Philip and Andrew who are instructed to tell the people to sit down. Years later when Philip ministered in Asia, perhaps there were other times when he didn’t know where the answer would come from, but he remembers this time when Christ miraculously provided.

Gossip remarks, "...our Lord was taking pains to train him where his need lay, to help him to evade the dangers in to which his type of mind might lead him. ‘This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.’ Certainly he often does that with most us. Looking back at life, it falls into a pattern. What at the time seemed dark and inexplicable, perhaps even hard and cruel, tends to gain meaning and significance. It becomes clear that one who knows us very thoroughly, far better than we know ourselves, is taking trouble to train us, to correct our faults, to grant us chances to rise above our natural weaknesses."

Now we go to another time when Philip brings people to Christ.

John 12:20-22

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus.

Once again Philip brings people to Christ. I wonder what it was about his personality that caused these Greeks to feel comfortable asking him for help. Perhaps it was that they sensed he was the kind of person who cared for them and would assist them. So immediately he enlists the aid of his friend Andrew and he brings them to Jesus.

D.L. Moody said he once spoke with a woman who didn't like his method of evangelism. "I don't really like mine all that much either. What's yours?" he asked. She replied that she didn't have one. Moody then said, "Then I like mine better than yours."

In our everyday life there will be people that are looking for Christ. Are we willing to show them Jesus? Or are we too busy with our own cares and concerns? In Nathanael’s case, Philip had to go to him. With the Greeks, they came to Philip. But in both cases it was Philip that took them to see Christ. Let us be like Philip – willing to bring others to Jesus. You might say it was easier for Philip since Jesus was physically with them at that time. But we can still bring other to Christ today. We can share the gospel message with them; we can share what God is doing in our life; and we can invite them to join us for church, for our Bible studies, or for our fellowships together. Let us follow Philip’s example and be willing to bring others to the one who has blessed our life so greatly.

In the last mention of Philip in the Gospel of John, he will learn something very important.

John 14:8-9

"If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him." Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?"

Philip wanted to be close to Christ, and he wanted to bring others to Christ. It is only natural that when Jesus mentions knowing the Father that Philip wants to be close to him also. So he asks a question based on this desire in his heart to be close to God. And Jesus is about to reveal a tremendous truth to him. As Fausset wrote, "Philip in childlike simplicity asked, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.’ As he had led Nathanael and the Greeks to ‘see’ Jesus, so now Jesus reveals to Philip himself what, long as he had been with Jesus, he had not seen, namely, ‘he that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father...."

Philip had brought others to Christ; now Jesus brings Philip to God. For some reason Philip had not understood before that Christ was more than the promised man who would be the ruling Messiah of Israel. He now was learning that Christ was indeed God. That when he had been bringing others to Christ, he was also bringing them to God.

This is a lesson we need to learn because the same thing happens to us today. The more we do helping others to find Jesus, the more we realize how close we are to God. As we work in God’s kingdom, our focus becomes more and more on him. Let us be like Philip and be willing to bring others to Christ.

Here’s a little poem I found on the Internet:

For God so loved the world, not just a few,
The wise and the great, noble and the true,
And those of every class and rank and hue.
God loved the world. Do you?


This study on The Apostle Philip 1998 by David Humpal. All rights reserved.

All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the Revised Standard Version 1971, A. J. Holman Company

Quote of Philip in Phrygia from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, electronic version 1996 by Biblesoft

Kerr: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, electronic version 1996 by Biblesoft

Sangster story paraphrased from Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers, pg. 215

Fausset: Bible Encyclopedia and Dictionary pg. 568, Zondervan Publishing House

Gossip: The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 8, pg. 553 1952, Abingdon Press

Fausset: Bible Encyclopedia and Dictionary pg. 568, Zondervan Publishing House

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