Philip the Evangelist wasn’t one of the Twelve. He wasn’t of the same caliber as Paul. He had to call in Peter and John from Jerusalem to lay their hands on new believers in Samaria for the Holy Spirit to come on them.
We see Philip first in Acts 6 not as an evangelist but as one of the Seven chosen to be responsible for distributing food to widows. Don’t get me wrong–it’s no easy job to deal justly between any two clashing cultures trying to live together in the same community. For Philip and the Seven it was Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews. That’s why they had to choose “men full of wisdom and the Spirit.” But it was obviously a lesser role in the church; the apostles themselves said so: “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.”
In Acts 8, Philip does some amazing things in Samaria–even signs and miracles–and preaches to the Ethiopian eunuch who was immediately baptized. Afterwards, we see him traveling to Caesarea, and then he seems to vanish from the Biblical record.
…the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
We don’t read about him again until 13 chapters (and about 20 years) later, when Paul goes to Jerusalem with money for the poor. What happened in these 20 years? What was Philip doing between Acts 8 and 21? We might have expected him to show up when Peter preached to Cornelius’ household in Caesarea, but he didn’t. In Acts 21, we find out that he’d married and had children, and there’s a church in Caesarea.
Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
He even sends some disciples to go up with Paul to Jerusalem (21:16). From history, we know the city Caesarea became an important center of early Christianity; its church was a beacon on a hill for many years because Philip gave the most vigorous years of his life to humble ministry out of the limelight.
When I went on a One Year Challenge, I was inspired by Paul and his companions. I loved the idea of having an itinerant lifestyle–going to many different places and interacting with many people while preaching the gospel. What an adventure! How awesome would it be to preach the gospel in places like Athens or Rome!
The truth is, not everyone is called to be like Paul, just like not everyone is called to be single all their life. The early church needed leaders and mature disciples and married couples to stay in the cities Paul preached in, even after he moved on. Who do you think did the hard work of discipling Cornelius and his household after Peter baptized them? It was most likely Philip.
Following the Great Commission might mean picking up your mat and going to a less desirable country or city that no one’s ever heard of. What the mission needs is not more itinerant preachers seeking an adventure, but faithful church builders who are willing to sacrifice their careers and comfortable lifestyles to go on mission and then to stay to build up and help a young church to mature. If we follow in the footsteps of men like Philip, we’ll see churches that are a light to their city for many many generations to come.