09. Philip

Philip: The Hesitant Apostle
John 1:43-46

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

Go with me to the nearby supermarket.  You will notice a tall young man, dressed up in suit and tie, pushing his shopping cart.  He looks a little out of place, he should be seated behind an executive’s desk.  But here he is picking up some groceries.  In his hand he has a list.  He’s the kind of man who would never enter a supermarket without a list.  He does not shop on impulse.  He shops guided by a carefully made out list.

The list is made up of items in the same order that the shelves of the store are arranged.  That saves him from wasting time.  After each item is placed in the cart he puts a line through that item and moves quickly on to the next.  As he comes to each item on the shelf he makes a rapid calculation as to the best buy dividing grams into cents.  He is a careful man and waste is not his style.  After he has been checked out, he walks briskly to his car.  Here is a man who is methodical.

Watch him as he drives home.  He knows the best route that escapes traffic lights and stop signs.  He knows how to avoid the rush hour.  With scientific precision he gets home by the most efficient route.

Who am I talking about?  Philip the apostle in 20th century dress.  That is how H.S. Vigeveno describes him.

But let us look at Philip, as John the fellow apostle describes him.  We meet him four times in the Gospel and each time we do, the same picture is reinforced.

Philip the Hesitant Apostle  John 1:43-46

We first meet Philip in John chapter 1.  He appears to be different than the other apostles.  Andrew and his friend John follow Jesus, seeking to be his disciples.  Nathaniel and Peter will come out of their way to meet Jesus.  It says of Philip that Jesus found him.  I suspect that Philip was interested in following Christ, but perhaps hesitated to broach the subject.  After all you can’t leap into such things.  Look before you leap.  But Jesus takes the initiative.

Just a few hours later we see Philip again.  This time he is convinced.  He finds his friend Nathaniel.  But notice how he tells him about the Christ.  “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.

Now that is a very careful statement.  Well thought out.  Full of detail.  Obviously Philip thinks this information is relevant.  He has made a Biblical search to find out if Jesus fulfills what Moses wrote in the Law and if he fulfills what the prophets spoke about.  He then relates his town and apparent parentage.  Here is a man who has measured carefully the evidence and has made up his mind on those grounds.

Look at the way Andrew tells his brother, however, “we have found the Messiah.”  Exciting words.  Bold words.  Gets to the point immediately.  But Philip is no emotionalist. Of course his testimony doesn’t enthuse his friend Nathaniel.  So he says, as a true scientist would, come and see.  Examine the evidence yourself.

Philip the hesitant accountant   John 6:5-7    

Go with me to the second account that includes Philip.  The crowds have been following Jesus all day.  They are tired and they are hungry.  Jesus turns to Philip.  “How are we to buy bread so these may eat?”  And notice the next verse.  “This he said to test him for he himself knew what he would do.”  Philip is in the middle of a test, and doesn’t know it.

Why was Jesus testing Philip?  Apparently Philip was well known to the Master by this time.  He knew the nature of this careful man.  Upon that question being asked, Philip stands on his tip toes and scans the crowd with his computer-mind working.  It is probably from Philip’s estimate that the crowd was numbered to be about 5,000.  Once he has the number, he begins to multiply that by the cost of a small snack for each one and out of his quick mind comes the figure, 200 denarii would not be enough for everyone to get even a bite.  200 denarii would be the equivalent of half a year’s wages.

Poor Philip has failed the test.  He had a good mind for calculations, but he didn’t have a good mind for faith.  It was obvious to all, that there was no way to solve that problem the usual way.  There were no stores in the vicinity.  There may have been homes, but how easy would it be that if for dinner today you had 5,000 people drop in on you unannounced?  And presuming there was a store, which store would be able to provide lunch for that many.  It was an obvious impossibility.  But Philip’s imagination has not caught a hold of that, and of course he is really saying, “it can’t be done.”

Let us look at Andrew again.  He is there too, and quite a contrast to Philip.  Philip has just failed the test, and here comes Andrew.  He brings a boy and his lunch to the Master and says, about the lunch, (in Greek it is more interesting) “Here’s five barley loaves and two fish.  They are not much, BUT…”  Andrew is aware of the impossibilities, but he sees more than problems, he sees the possibility of miracles.  “It isn’t much, BUT…”  Andrew passes the test.  Philip is level headed, practical, realistic.  Andrew, however, is the one who helped resolve the need.

Philip the Hesitant Missionary    John 12:20-22 

We have now come to the last week of the life of our Lord before his death.  It is the feast of Passover, and there are Greeks at the feast.  They had heard about Jesus of Nazareth.  They wanted to meet him.  But how?  They approach Philip. Why they do this is not clear.  It has been suggested that Philip’s name is Greek.  It means lover of horses.  It is the name of the great Macedonian father of Alexander the Great.  It is probable that Philip the Galilean has Greek connections.  At least he is the only disciple with a Greek name.  All the rest are Hebrew names.  So with Philip they may have felt greater rapport.  They come.  “Sir, we would see Jesus.”

I am glad they did not approach James and John the two sons of Thunder.  They might have tried to call down fire on these pagans.  I’m glad they didn’t approach Peter who would still be a long way from getting over his prejudice against Gentiles.  They came to the right man, Philip.  But, here is dear Philip.  True to form he is hesitant.  He doesn’t know whether he should or shouldn’t.  Was it proper?  Would his master talk to Gentiles?  Wasn’t the kingdom for the Jews only?  Philip wasn’t sure.  He wanted to look both ways before he leaped.  And even then he wanted a safety net.

So he goes to Andrew.  Andrew is the one who is decisive.  Together they go to tell Jesus.  But notice it is Andrew who is named first in that delegation.  Philip is the hesitant missionary.  He wants to be sure.

Philip the Hesitant Theologian    John 14:8-9 

We come now to the final night of that week.  It is the night before the crucifixion on Good Friday.  Jesus is spending that evening teaching his twelve followers about the essential things.  He has moved to the theme of his leaving them.  He mentions to them again his oneness with his Father.   Philip asks his question, “Lord, show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.”

You can almost see the face of Jesus drop.  Jesus responds, “Philip, Philip, Philip!  Have I been with you so long and yet you do not know me?  He that has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say “show us the Father!”

Dear Philip.  So slow to grasp.  So hesitant.  He suspects what Jesus is saying is true, but he has to be sure.  He must have it explained in such detail.  He must have no ambiguity, no mystery.  After three years of listening, talking, seeing, he is still not sure.  He must keep on looking.  You only make the leap after all the answers are in. It is the old problem of the paralysis of analysis.  Before any decision can be made all the possible questions must be in and satisfactorily answered.

Jesus asks Philip to examine his words, his works, are not these evidence enough?


We have been speaking of Philip.  Perhaps the time has come to talk about you and I. There are some of us who follow in the lineage of Philip.  We are hesitant souls.  We make sure to look both ways before we cross any street.  We are the ones who are careful.  We plan ahead.  We look after the details, before they arise.

Immediately some of us respond, “Well, what’s wrong with that?!  It sure is to be preferred to the impetuosity of a Peter.  You and I have met those people with zeal, but not according to knowledge.  They get hold of an idea.  They get all excited about it, and they jump on their horse and ride off in all directions.  These are the souls who make great proposals, but never count the cost, until disaster is parked on their front doorstep.  These kind of people are naïve and simplistic.  There is no way that I’m going to countenance that approach to life!”

I hear what you are saying!  I do not want to belong to that class of persons either, who insist that leaping blindfolded into the darkness is better than moving carefully with both eyes wide open. But, some of us are afflicted by the paralysis of analysis.  We postpone decision making because we want to be sure.  We don’t want to take any risks.  We want to be able to calculate the consequences of all of our decisions. But faith moves out at times into the unknown.  It is said of Abraham “He went out not knowing where he was to go.”  But he followed in faith the One who had called him.

There came a day in the history of Europe that was a dark day.  No one could see into the future.  Decisions had to be made.  King George the VI took the BBC microphone as the year 1939 came to a close.  War threatened at their very doorsteps.   No one knew the future.  Anything could happen.  King George in his message to the world gave his answer in the words of the poet, Louise Haskins.

       I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
      “Give me light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
      But he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.
      That shall be better to you than light and safer than a known way.”
      So I went forth and finding the hand of God trod gladly into the night….”

There are times when faith must move out beyond clear knowledge.  Knowledge can lead us a long way, but there are those times when we must make the best decisions we can, putting our faith in God alone.  That takes courage.  It takes boldness.  It takes daring.

That is why we speak of heroes of the faith.  There were people who dared great things for God.  They were not playing it safely.  They were the bold ones.

Let me urge you to have a bold faith.

Let me urge you to a boldness in your commitment to Christ.  Don’t be satisfied to follow afar off, in safety.  Commit yourself fully to Him.  Sign a blank cheque on your life, and let him fill in the amounts.  Give him yourself without reservations and without restrictions.  It is only to those, who give all of themselves to Him, that He gives all of Himself.

Let me urge you to boldness in your commitment to the Church.  Give yourself to the church.  Some of you young people should be seriously considering whether God wants you in the ministry of his church.  I recognize that if you give yourself to the work of the church that you will not be able to predict the years ahead.  But you can trust Christ.  Most of us will not be called by Him to give ourselves to the professional ministry at home or on the mission field, but will you be bold enough to commit yourself to one or more of the tasks of the church?

And then let me finally urge you to be bold in your commitment to this world. Some of us feeble souls are always looking for the right strategic moment to share our faith in Christ with those we work with or live beside.  We analyze the situation, always looking for the ideal time.  We hesitate and hesitate until the strategic moment is passed.  We wait for the perfect moment, but it never comes, and we say or do nothing. Let us be bold and commit ourselves to doing what our hearts tells us is right.  Let us be bold in our commitment to do our best to meeting the pressing needs of our world.  Do something for God.

Philip was a hesitant Apostle.  Some of us are hesitant disciples.  Christ is putting us to the test.  Will we pass it or not?