Philip sets an example as an evangelizer
Based on Acts 8:4-40
1, 2. How did efforts to silence the good news have the opposite effect in the first century?
A WAVE of bitter persecution has struck, and Saul begins “to ravage” the congregation—an expression that in the original language describes brutal cruelty. (Acts 8:3) The disciples flee, and it may seem to some that Saul’s goal of snuffing out Christianity will be realized. However, something unexpected results from the dispersion of Christians. What is it?
2 Those who are scattered begin “declaring the good news of the word” in the lands to which they have fled. (Acts 8:4) Just imagine! Not only has persecution failed to silence the good news but it has actually helped to spread the message! By scattering the disciples, the persecutors have unwittingly enabled the Kingdom-preaching work to expand into far-flung territories. As we will see, something similar has happened in modern times.
“Those Who Had Been Scattered” (Acts 8:4-8)
3. (a) Who was Philip? (b) Why was Samaria largely untouched by the preaching work, and yet what had Jesus foretold would happen to that territory?
3 One of “those who had been scattered” was Philip.a (Acts 8:4; see the box “Philip ‘the Evangelizer.’”) He went to Samaria, a city that was largely untouched by the preaching work, for Jesus had at one time instructed the apostles: “Do not enter any Samaritan city; but instead, go continually to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 10:5, 6) However, Jesus knew that, in time, Samaria would receive a thorough witness, for prior to his ascension to heaven, he said: “You will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the most distant part of the earth.”—Acts 1:8.
4. How did the Samaritans respond to Philip’s preaching, and what factor may have contributed to their reaction?
4 Philip found that Samaria was “white for harvesting.” (John 4:35) His message was a breath of fresh air to those living there, and it is easy to see why. The Jews had no dealings with Samaritans, many even showing disdain for them. In contrast, the Samaritans found that the message of the good news ignored class distinctions, and thus it differed greatly from the narrow-minded thinking of the Pharisees. By zealously and impartially witnessing to the Samaritans, Philip showed that he was not tainted by the prejudice of those who looked down on them. It is hardly surprising, then, that crowds of Samaritans listened to Philip “with one accord.”—Acts 8:6.
5-7. Give examples of how the dispersion of Christians has led to the spread of the good news.
5 Today, as in the first century, persecution of God’s people has not silenced their preaching. Time and again, forcing Christians to move from one place to another—either prison or another land—has only helped to introduce the Kingdom message to people in the new location. For instance, during World War II, Jehovah’s Witnesses were able to give an outstanding witness in Nazi concentration camps. A Jew who encountered the Witnesses there relates: “The fortitude of prisoners who were Jehovah’s Witnesses convinced me that their faith was based on the Scriptures—and I became a Witness myself.”
6 In some cases, even persecutors received a witness and responded to it. For example, when a Witness named Franz Desch was transferred to the Gusen concentration camp in Austria, he was able to study the Bible with an SS officer. Imagine their joy when years later the two men were reunited at a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses and both were proclaimers of the good news!
7 Something similar happened when persecution caused Christians to flee from one country to another. In the 1970’s, for example, a great witness was given in Mozambique when Malawian Witnesses were forced to flee there. Even when opposition later arose in Mozambique, the preaching work went on. “True, some of us were apprehended and arrested a number of times for our preaching activity,” says Francisco Coana. “Yet, when many responded to the Kingdom message, we were confident that God was helping us, just as he helped first-century Christians.”
8. How have political and economic changes had an impact on the preaching work?
8 Of course, persecution has not been the only reason for the growth of Christianity in foreign territories. In recent decades, political and economic changes have also opened up opportunities for the Kingdom message to spread to people of many languages and national groups. Some from war zones and economically depressed areas have fled to more stable places and have begun to study the Bible in the land to which they have relocated. An influx of refugees has caused foreign-speaking territories to open up. Are you striving to witness to people “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” in your territory?—Rev. 7:9.
“Give Me This Authority Also” (Acts 8:9-25)
9. Who was Simon, and what evidently drew him to Philip?
9 Philip performed many signs in Samaria. For example, he healed those with disabilities and even cast out wicked spirits. (Acts 8:6-8) One man was particularly impressed with Philip’s miraculous gifts. He was Simon, a magician who was so highly regarded that people said of him: “This man is the Power of God.” Simon was now an eyewitness to the real power of God, as evidenced in the miracles performed by Philip, and Simon became a believer. (Acts 8:9-13) Later, though, Simon’s motives were tested. How?
10. (a) What did Peter and John do in Samaria? (b) What did Simon do on seeing that new disciples received the holy spirit when Peter and John laid their hands on them?
10 When the apostles became aware of the increase that was taking place in Samaria, they sent Peter and John there. (See the box “Peter Uses the ‘Keys of the Kingdom.’”) On arriving, the two apostles laid their hands on the new disciples, whereupon each one received the holy spirit.b When Simon saw this, he was intrigued. “Give me this authority also,” he told the apostles, “so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive holy spirit.” Simon even offered them money, hoping to buy this sacred privilege!—Acts 8:14-19.
11. What admonition does Peter give to Simon, and how does Simon respond?
11 Peter’s reply to Simon was firm. “May your silver perish with you,” said the apostle, “because you thought you could acquire the free gift of God with money. You have neither part nor share in this matter, for your heart is not straight in the sight of God.” Peter then urged Simon to repent and to pray for forgiveness. “Supplicate Jehovah,” said Peter, “that, if possible, the wicked intention of your heart [“this scheme of yours,” New Jerusalem Bible] may be forgiven you.” Evidently, Simon was not a wicked man; he wanted to do what was right, but he was momentarily misguided. So he pleaded with the apostles: “Make supplication for me to Jehovah that none of the things you have said may come upon me.”—Acts 8:20-24.
12. What is “simony,” and how has it proved to be a snare in Christendom?
12 The rebuke that Peter gave Simon stands as a warning to Christians today. In fact, the English word “simony” was coined as a result of this incident. “Simony” refers to the buying or selling of positions, specifically in a religious context. The history of apostate Christendom is rife with examples of this practice. Indeed, the ninth edition of The Encyclopædia Britannica (1878) noted: “A study of the history of the Papal conclaves leaves the student with the conviction that no election untainted by simony has ever yet been made, while in a great number of instances the simony practised in the conclave has been of the grossest, most shameless, and most overt kind.”
13. In what ways must Christians be on guard against simony?
13 Christians must guard against the sin of simony. For instance, they should not try to gain favors by showering generous gifts or excessive praise on those who appear able to grant individuals added privileges in the congregation. On the other hand, those who are thought to be in a position to grant favors should be on guard against showing favoritism toward wealthy ones. Both situations involve simony. Really, all of God’s servants should conduct themselves as ‘lesser ones,’ waiting on Jehovah’s spirit to make appointments to privileges of service. (Luke 9:48) There is no place in God’s organization for those who try to seek their “own glory.”—Prov. 25:27.
“Do You Actually Know What You Are Reading?” (Acts 8:26-40)
14, 15. (a) Who was the “Ethiopian eunuch,” and how did Philip locate him? (b) How did the Ethiopian man respond to Philip’s message, and why was his baptism not an impulsive act? (See footnote.)
14 Jehovah’s angel now instructed Philip to travel along the road leading from Jerusalem to Gaza. Any question in Philip’s mind as to why he should go there was answered soon after he encountered an Ethiopian eunuch who was “reading aloud the prophet Isaiah.” (See the box “A ‘Eunuch’ in What Sense?”) Jehovah’s holy spirit moved Philip to approach the man’s chariot. “Do you actually know what you are reading?” he asked the Ethiopian while running beside the chariot. “How could I ever do so,” the Ethiopian replied, “unless someone guided me?”—Acts 8:26-31.
15 The Ethiopian invited Philip into the chariot. Just imagine the discussion that followed! The identity of the “sheep,” or “servant,” of Isaiah’s prophecy had long been a mystery. (Isa. 53:1-12) Yet, as they traveled on, Philip explained to the Ethiopian eunuch that this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Like those who were baptized at Pentecost 33 C.E., the Ethiopian—who was already a Jewish proselyte—immediately knew what he should do. “Look!” he said to Philip. “Here is water; what prevents me from getting baptized?” The Ethiopian was baptized by Philip without delay!c (See the box “Baptism in ‘a Body of Water.’”) Afterward, Philip was led to a new assignment in Ashdod, where he continued declaring the good news.—Acts 8:32-40.
16, 17. How are angels involved in the preaching work today?
16 Christians today are privileged to share in work like that done by Philip. Often, they are able to present the Kingdom message to those they meet in informal settings, such as when traveling. In many cases, it is apparent that their meeting up with an honesthearted individual is no coincidence. This is to be expected, for the Bible makes clear that the angels are directing the preaching work so that the message reaches “every nation and tribe and tongue and people.” (Rev. 14:6) Angelic direction in the preaching work is precisely what Jesus foretold. In his illustration about the wheat and weeds, Jesus said that during the harvesttime—the conclusion of the system of things—“the reapers are angels.” He added that these spirit creatures would “collect out from his Kingdom all things that cause stumbling and people who practice lawlessness.” (Matt. 13:37-41) At the same time, the angels would gather prospective heavenly heirs of the Kingdom—and later “a great crowd” of “other sheep”—whom Jehovah wants to draw to his organization.—Rev. 7:9; John 6:44, 65; 10:16.
17 As evidence that this is taking place, some of those whom we approach in our ministry say that they had been praying for spiritual guidance. Consider one experience in which two Kingdom publishers were accompanied by a small child. At the end of the morning, the two Witnesses were about to stop their preaching work, but the child was unusually eager to go to the next home. In fact, he went by himself and knocked on the door! When a young lady opened the door, the two adult Witnesses approached to talk to her. To their surprise, the woman explained that she had just been praying for someone to call on her to help her understand the Bible. A Bible study was arranged!
18. Why should we never take our ministry for granted?
18 As a member of the Christian congregation, you have the privilege of working along with the angels as the modern-day preaching work takes place on an unprecedented scale. Never take that privilege for granted. By persevering in your efforts, you will find great joy as you continue to declare “the good news about Jesus.”—Acts 8:35.
a This is not the apostle Philip. Rather, it is the Philip who, as noted in Chapter 5 of this book, was among the “seven reputable men” appointed to organize the daily distribution of food among the Greek-speaking and the Hebrew-speaking Christian widows in Jerusalem.—Acts 6:1-6.
b Evidently, new disciples at that time were usually anointed by, or received, holy spirit at their baptism. This put them in line for the future hope of ruling as kings and priests with Jesus in heaven. (2 Cor. 1:21, 22; Rev. 5:9, 10; 20:6) However, in this particular case, the new disciples were not anointed at baptism. Receiving the holy spirit—and the miraculous gifts that were associated with it—took place only after Peter and John laid their hands on the newly baptized Christians.
c This was not an impulsive act. Since he was a Jewish proselyte, the Ethiopian already had a knowledge of the Scriptures, including the Messianic prophecies. Now that he had information about Jesus’ role in God’s purpose, he could get baptized without delay.