This article is an excerpt from the Bible study Explore the Bible: Acts, Chapters 1–12. Explore the Bible is a book-by-book group Bible study that encourages participants to let the Word dwell in them and challenges them to live it out in their own context. Preview one month free at lifeway.com/explorethebible.
Obedience to the Spirit
The martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7 set off a scorching outbreak of persecution against Christians in Jerusalem. Like a storm wind that catches up seeds and then drops them far and wide onto new ground, the persecution against the church in Jerusalem scattered hosts of gospel witnesses into new areas. Wherever these believers went, they talked about the good news of Jesus Christ, which took root in many hearts. Acts 8 gives an example of this phenomenon in the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip and directed him to head south and go to a road that ran between Jerusalem and the city of Gaza near the Mediterranean coast. Philip obeyed in faith—immediately. Believers today can learn a lot from Philip’s obedience. God may prompt us to go to unexpected places or to prepare ourselves in unexpected ways to meet a strategic need.
Traveling along the road in a horse-drawn chariot was an Ethiopian man whom Luke identified as a eunuch, a man in charge of a king’s harem. This man was also the chief financial officer for Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians. The man had been in Jerusalem to worship at the temple. This fact suggests he was (or hoped to be) a proselyte to Judaism.
The man was reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah as he rode along. This suggests the man was educated, wealthy enough to own a handwritten copy of a biblical scroll, and concerned enough about his spiritual condition that he traveled hundreds of miles to and from Jerusalem by chariot to find answers. A person truly thirsty for God will go to great lengths to satisfy that need. Once again Philip received a divine direction. The Holy Spirit instructed him to “go and join that chariot” (Acts 8:29).
Philip followed the Spirit’s direction and ran to the chariot. Philip’s example encourages us to trust and obey the Holy Spirit, for He’s at work around those who need to hear the gospel, in the witnessing situations to which He has guided us, and in our own fearful hearts.
Philip initiated the encounter by watching and listening. He noticed the man was reading a passage aloud, and he recognized that the text was from Isaiah 53. Paying close attention to what captures another person’s interest can often open a door of opportunity to talk about spiritual matters. Respect and flexibility are key qualities in effective evangelism. Philip also asked a probing question: “Do you understand what you’re reading?” (Acts 8:30). A good question can break down barriers and open the flow of communication about the gospel.
The Bible can be understood by an ordinary reader. It isn’t written in a secret code that only a select few can decipher. Yet neither is it a text of which each person’s private interpretations are necessarily true and correct. Thus, the Ethiopian official invited Philip to come up and sit with him in the chariot. The official humbly welcomed an opportunity to learn from Philip what the Bible passage meant.
Acts 8:32-33 reveals that the Ethiopian official was reading Isaiah 53:7-8, which speaks of the Messiah’s unjust suffering and death. The sticking point for the Ethiopian seems to have hinged on the identification of the Suffering Messiah (see Acts 8:34). Philip used this opening to tell the man the good news about Jesus. A consistent Christian lifestyle and a respectful witnessing approach speak volumes about the Lord Jesus. Yet at some point a verbal presentation of the gospel is necessary so that unbelievers can hear and respond in faith to Jesus (see Rom. 10:14-17).
The Ethiopian believed in Jesus, and when he saw a body of water, Philip baptized him. The Holy Spirit then carried Philip away to another place of service, and the Ethiopian man went on his way rejoicing. Joy is a characteristic associated with faith in Jesus; it’s a sign of new life.
Like Philip, believers today must recognize opportunities to share Jesus with others as directed by the Holy Spirit. We gain confidence to share our testimonies as we grow in our understanding of the Scriptures and are obedient to the prompting of the Spirit.
Excerpted from Explore the Bible: Adults, Vance H. Pitman, general editor © 2015 Lifeway Press®. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.