Philip was the go-to guy.
There’s one in every group, the guy who does the everyday tasks to keep things running smoothly.
That’s not to say Philip didn’t adhere to Jesus’ mission. He was just as much a part of it as his fellow disciples, and he took it seriously.
“You could call Philip a multitasker,” says the Rev. John “Bud” Traylor. “He was a practical disciple.”
Traylor is a former president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, a former interim president of Louisiana College in Pineville and a longtime pastor at First Baptist Church of Monroe. He now serves as interim pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Baker.
“He may have been in charge of finding food for Jesus and the disciples,” he continues. “He is used to provide context for the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.”
This story, found in John 6:5-14, is commonly known as “The Sermon on the Mount.”
“When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do,” Traylor says.
Philip’s reply magnified what seemed to be an impossible task: “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
That’s when Andrew brought forth a young boy packing five barley loaves and two fish. Yet even Andrew had his doubts.
“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” he asked.
That’s when Jesus gave thanks to God for the small meal, then began distributing it to the crowd, the food multiplying before their eyes.
“When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled 12 baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten,” Traylor says.
“We don’t know much about his past,” he continues. “He’s not a Peter or a John or a James. God used him in the background. He was a multi-faceted disciple.”
Philip’s name is of Greek origin and means “lover of horses.” He’s first mentioned in the listing of disciples in Matthew 10:3, falling in fifth behind Peter, Andrew, James and John.
“Whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke mention Philip only in their listing of the apostles, John, in his gospel, featured Philip in several of Jesus’ key experiences,” Traylor says. “Like Andrew and Peter, Philip was from Bethsaida, a fishing village just east of the Jordan River, where it flows into the Sea of Galilee.”
The Bible doesn’t specify Philip’s profession or trade.
“But Philip was most likely a disciple of John the Baptist, whom God had sent to prepare the people by calling them to repent to recognize and receive Jesus as the promised Messiah,” Traylor says. Philip, he adds, also was likely present when John the Baptist presented Jesus with the declaration, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
“And we know that the day after Jesus enlisted Andrew and Peter as his disciples, he sought out Philip and commanded him to ‘follow me,’” Traylor says. “He’s always paired in the listings with the apostle Bartholomew. Many Bible scholars believe that Bartholomew and Nathaniel were the same person, because some of the apostles’ names were changed when they followed Jesus.”
Nathaniel and Philip were friends and fellow students of prophecy before meeting Christ. Both believed in the coming Messiah, and in John 1:45, Philip ran to Nathaniel and said, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Nathaniel was confused at first, because prophecy dictated that the Messiah would originate from Bethlehem. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but he was known to be from Nazareth.
Which prompted Nathaniel’s human response in John 1:46: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
But upon meeting Jesus, Nathaniel declared, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.”
This story is another example of Philip’s mulit-tasking.
“He, like Andrew, was always introducing people to Jesus,” Traylor says. “He was a very approachable disciple.”
This characteristic is highlighted in John 12:20: “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.”
“Now, it makes sense that they would approach Philip, because he had a Greek name,” Traylor says. “And Philip sought out Andrew, who also had a Greek name. And both approached Jesus in that context.”
Philip’s story continues, emerging in snippets, each highlighting a different facet of his character, each contributing to the whole of Jesus’ mission. And his story can serve as an example to modern-day Christians. Think of the people who make up a church. Some have prominent positions, others work behind the scenes, performing the most practical tasks that keep the church operational.
“Times may have changed, but the methods of man’s principles never do,” Traylor says. “There are a lot of people in the church who could relate to Philip.”
And they can relate to Philip’s inquiry about the future. Jesus promised to prepare a place in Heaven for those who believe in him.
“In the Upper Room, when Jesus announced to his disciples his soon departure to be with his father, Philip expressed his determination to see the father,” Traylor says. “This can be found in John 14:8. Philip’s question gave Jesus the opportunity to expand on his oneness with the father.”
Then followed the last task of Philip’s discipleship, that of witness to Christ’s resurrection and ascension into Heaven in Acts 1:13. He would share what he witnessed as a missionary.
Church tradition has Philip preaching in Greece, Phrygia — now western Turkey — and Syria. It’s believed that Philip was martyred in the city of Hierapolis in Phrygia by crucifixion, possibly upside-down.
Philip is associated with the Latin cross, as well as the cross with the two loaves, commemorating his part in the miracle at the Sermon on the Mount. He’s also represented by a basket filled with bread and is known as the patron saint of hatters.
In 2011, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that archaeologists had discovered a tomb in Heirapolis believed to be St. Philip’s. Archaeologists Francesco D’Andria said “the design of the Tomb, and writings on its walls, definitely prove it belonged to the martyred Apostle of Jesus.”
But there is one fact that should not be left up to speculation. “Some people think the Apostle Philip and Philip the Evangelist are the same person,” Traylor says. “They are two different people in the Bible. Philip the Apostle’s role played a key part in Jesus’ ministry.”