Matthew, Mark, and Luke give no details at all about Philip.  From John’s Gospel, we discover that Philip was a completely different kind of person from Peter, Andrew, James, or John. Philip is often paired with Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew), so we can assume they were close comrades. But Philip is different from even his closest companion. He is unique among all the disciples.

Philip was a facts-and-figures guy — a practical-minded, non-forward-thining type of individual. He was the kind who tends to be pessimistic, narrowly focused, sometimes missing the big picture, and often obsessed with identifying reasons things can’t be done rather than finding ways to do them.  

John 6:5 says, “Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?’” Why did Jesus single Philip out and ask him? John says, “This He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do” (v.6). We know that Judas was in charge of keeping the money (John 13:29), so it makes sense that someone was also charged with coordinating the acquisition and distribution of meals and supplies. It was a task that certainly suited Philip’s personality.  Whether officially or unofficially, he seems to have been the one who was always concerned with organization and protocol. So Jesus was testing him. He wasn’t asking for a plan. He was testing Philip so that Philip would reveal to himself what he was like. That is why Jesus turned to Philip and asked, “How do you propose to feed all these people?” By the time Jesus asked the question, Philip already had his calculations prepared: “Philip answered Him, two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little” (John 6:7). He had apparently been thinking through the difficulties of the food supply from the moment he first saw the crowd. 

Philip had been there when the Lord created wine out of the water (John 2:2). He had already seen numerous times when Jesus had healed people, including several creative and regenerative miracles  But when he saw that great crowd, he began to feel overwhelmed by the impossible.  He lapsed into materialistic thinking. And when Jesus tested his faith, he responded with open unbelief. It can’t be done. Philip needed to learn that lesson. Everything seemed impossible to him.  He needed to set aside his materialistic, pragmatic, common-sense concerns and learn to lay hold of the supernatural potential of faith.

John 12:20-21 says, “Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, ‘sir, we wish to see Jesus.’” These Greeks were very interested in Jesus. They approached him to arrange a meeting with Jesus. But there was no protocol in the manual for introducing Greeks to Jesus. So he took the Greeks to Andrew. So “Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn, Andrew and Philip told Jesus” (John 12:22). Obviously, Philip was not a decisive man. There was no precedent for introducing Gentiles to Jesus, so he enlisted Andrew’s help before doing anything.

Our final glimpse of Philip comes just a short time later, in the Upper Room with the disciples on the occasion of the Last Supper. That night Jesus’ heart was heavy. He knew what lay ahead for Him on the following day. He knew His time with the disciples was at an end. He urged them not to be troubled in their hearts and promised that He would prepare a place for them (John 14:1-2). Then Jesus added an explicit claim about His own deity: “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him” (John 14:7). It was at this point that Philip spoke up: “Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us’” (v.8). “Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, “Show us the Father”?’” (v.9).

For three years, Philip had gazed into the very face of God, and it still was not clear to him. His earthbound thinking, obsession with mundane details, and small-mindedness had shut him off from a full apprehension of whose presence he had enjoyed.  

Philip, like the other disciples, was a man of limited ability. He was a man of weak faith. He was a man of imperfect understanding. He wanted to go by the book all the time. Facts and figures filled his thoughts.  So he could not grasp the big picture of Christ’s divine power, person, and grace. He was slow to understand, slow to trust, and slow to see beyond the immediate circumstances. He still wanted more proof. But Jesus said, “He’s exactly what I’m looking for. My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Thankfully, the Lord uses people like Philip–lots of them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s