Back in the day (college, that is) I was part of a really incredible daily missions prayer group. A small group of us met every weekday at five o’clock to pray for specific missionaries and for the gospel to be spread throughout the whole world. One time when a few new people showed up I thought it’d be a great idea to ask an icebreaker question. Which it probably would’ve been if I’d stuck with something like, say, “What’s the coolest place you’ve visited?” But instead I went with, “If you could marry any Bible character, who would it be?”
The top responses were a Jesus juke about the church being the bride of Christ, anyone but Solomon, Ruth, Moses, and (from one of the new guys) – “One of Job’s daughters after he was healed. It does say they were really beautiful.”
That memory came back to me when I was trying to sculpt this post together. It’s a challenge to not relegate people in the Bible to coloring pages (or icebreaker questions!) We can fall into seeing Scriptural narratives as a handful of stories about kinda-sorta-flawed-but-still-faith-giants who we should try to emulate. It requires diligence to see the saints in the Word as they indeed are: brothers and sisters who are loved by God as we are. The Spirit chose to tell us what He did about their lives to encourage Christians through the ages. It’s exciting!
With that said, I wanted to write about one of the saints from the gospel of John who has encouraged me. It was a tough choice, because there are a lot of people in it who I have come to love like my own earthly family.
Peter…obvs. Because, ya know…he’s Peter. And Nicodemus, who asked Jesus questions in the dead of night. The answers he hears from God’s Son lead him to question his fellow Pharisees in broad daylight in chapter eight. We see him again in chapter nineteen, clearly leaving his old life behind, joining Joseph, (bringing 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes) to bury Jesus. I’m so grateful for Martha and Mary, the sisters I cry with as we confess Jesus as Christ together even as we weep over death’s seeming victory.
But the one I want to write about today is Philip. He appears by name eleven times in John’s gospel, and we’ll look at a few of those appearances.
John introduces Philip as someone Jesus goes to Galilee to find, giving him an authoritative invitation right away: “Follow me!”
This confirms Jesus’ words to the disciples in the final discourse:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…” John 15:16
Right after Jesus’ call, we see Philip start to go and bear some fruit:
“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.” -John 1:45
Philip had been paying attention to God’s revealed Word. He recognized that that Someone greater than Moses and the prophets was coming and he was on the lookout. John portrays the drama of the division amongst everyone who hears Jesus all throughout his gospel. It’s most clearly seen in chapter seven. Some confess him as the Christ, some want to kill him, some choose to sit on the fence and not commit one way or the other. John calls anyone who will listen to full belief in Christ, and one way he does this is by recording examples of people who followed Him as Lord, including Philip.
We next see Philip being tested by Jesus before the feeding of the enormous crowd in chapter six. No doubt that experience humbled him greatly and subsequently built his faith in Christ as the Bread of Life!
In 12:21 some Greeks come to him asking to see Jesus. Philip is a Greek name (it means “lover of horses”) so that explains why they came to him. He goes and gets Andrew and they go tell Jesus. Interestingly, it isn’t recorded in that chapter if the Greeks did got to see Jesus or not. But Jesus’ words following this event do explain His perfect purpose in coming and the reward that awaits anyone who serves Him wholeheartedly:
“And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – John 12:23-26
Church tradition says that Philip might have died a martyr’s death. While we don’t know for sure, we do know he was present during the great revival as well as strong opposition that arose against believers after Pentecost. Jesus’ words would have reminded him to persevere in serving the Lord, knowing that eternal life in Christ awaited him.
The final time John mentions Philip by name is in chapter fourteen. It’s a passage that’s particularly poignant to recite out loud. Read it aloud to yourself if you can:
“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” -John 14:7-11
This passage is the main reason I wanted to focus in on Philip. He had been with Jesus for three years and didn’t know Him fully. Yet Jesus explained it patiently because He wanted Philip to understand. And the Godhead had everything perfectly planned to send the Holy Spirit to guide believers into all the truth (16:13).
Again, we don’t know exactly how Phillip’s life ended out. But from what’s written, we know he was called and chosen, a son who loved and therefore rebuked and disciplined (Rev. 3:19) and one member of the great cloud of witnesses pointing us to worship the glorious King.
One thing about God that causes me to marvel daily is how He can love each of His children personally, fully, and flawlessly. That’s probably because I don’t even come close to treating my own loved ones in that way. So today I pray that you’re able to be encouraged by the stories told about other believers in the Word, knowing that you are loved by the threefold God just as they are. And may you be filled with hope as we anticipate the greatest family reunion ever. It’s getting closer with every passing second!