Philip and the Ethiopian: 14 lessons in cross-cultural evangelism

Philip and the Ethiopian: 14 lessons in cross-cultural evangelism

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Photo Credit: mariusz kluzniak via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mariusz kluzniak via Compfight cc

1. Supernatural leading

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  – Acts 8:26

Angels and the Spirit’s voice play a key role in this story. God is intensely involved in reaching the unreached. “Unreached-ness” amplifies (the good stories are gooder and the bad stories are badder).  We can expect miraculous involvement when we evangelise cross-culturally because it’s so far outside our box!

2. Obedience even when it doesn’t make sense

27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.

Philip obeyed, going towards the desert road. Verse 27 says “he started out, and on his way he met…” Cross-culturally you will very rarely have the whole plan beforehand: you obey and start out!

3. You’ve got to work hard to get to where people are

29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet…

Philip ran alongside the chariot for some time before he was invited up. Often cross-culturally you have to work hard to get alongside people (learning language, culture, making friends, suffering setbacks). You also really need to wait to be invited up: it would have been unthinkably rude for Philip to invite himself onto the Ethiopian’s chariot. So why do we think it’s OK to force ourselves onto people with the gospel?

4. You can’t give answers until you know the questions

 “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

Philip asked a great question, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Jesus was a master at asking questions in his approach to people, even at painfully obvious times (he asked a blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?”). Sharing the gospel is a dialogue not a monologue. People from different cultures will have different questions and your pre-packaged answers may not meet their need. For example, most Western evangelism training is about guilt and forgiveness; many Easterners are asking about cleanness and uncleanness.

5. Be confident to get to Jesus from anywhere – the OT is more useful in evangelism than you might think

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: [Isaiah 53]

Lex Loizides used to ask us to give him any verse of the Bible and he could preach the gospel from it. This is an essential skill, and comes from a basic assumption that the whole scripture points to Christ. Any sermon or story that does not lead to Christ as the solution is not Christian. Can you answer, “Who is the prophet talking about?” (v34) from any place in the Old Testament?

Amongst local believers in our church the most popular book to give to non-believing friends is a translation of All That the Prophets Have Spoken by John Cross, which goes through the Old Testament to Jesus. We have seen several come to Christ through reading this book, which focuses on the Old Testament!

6. Religion does not bring people into Gods presence

The Ethiopian had been to Jerusalem, but for two reasons had not been able to enter the main section of the temple; a) he was a non-Jew (foreigner) and b) he was a eunuch (Deut 23.1). So having spent money and been on pilgrimage and offered a sacrifice he was still unable to encounter God because of two things in his body that he could not change – he can’t change his race and he can’t change his eunuch-ness.

People who are genuinely seeking God will be disappointed by religion – it cannot satisfy. Philip meets the Eunuch “on the rebound” from Jerusalem, and he goes on his way rejoicing. The joy he couldn’t find in the temple he finds in the desert when he meets Jesus.

7. People’s understanding of the problem needs re-defining (sin is in our flesh and we can’t escape it)

The Ethiopian has realised that the problem is in him. The word for “sin” in many languages is a small word, things we do or say. The biblical word is a huge, monstrous word; we are slaves of sin. The Ethiopian realised he was lost when he carried the thing separating him from God all the way to Jerusalem and still could not enter. Only when he was asking, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7.24) could he be saved. He needed saving from himself!

8. Sacrifice makes sense

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.”

The Ethiopian had just been to Jerusalem and seen sheep being sacrificed, so verse 32 resonated, but who would willingly be a sacrifice? Many cultures to whom you go will have some sense of sacrifice to appease the gods or to atone for sin; use this to show them the Lamb of God!

9. “Jesus knows your pain” is part of the gospel

It’s extraordinary that the Ethiopian was reading Isaiah 53 in the Septuagint translation!

“In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was cut off from the earth.”

The Ethiopian sees his own pain mirrored in the scripture: he suffered humiliation because he could not enter the temple; he feels deprived of justice. He will have no descendants – he will die without having children. This would have been his greatest sadness:  “When I die my name will die out. I will leave no children behind me.”

So he reads of Another who suffered the same things and asks the question; “Who is the prophet talking about? Who is this who identifies with my suffering?” And the answer is Jesus, who dies childless and whose genetic line was cut off unjustly and with great shame. And Philip could say, “Isaiah had a wife and kids so it must be about someone else.”

The thing that attracted the Ethiopian was that someone understood his pain.

 10. The gospel takes your weakness and makes it your strength

Jesus died without physical descendants but had millions of spiritual descendants. The Ethiopian eunuch died without physical descendants but there is a tradition as old at least as Irenaeus that says he fathered the birth of Christianity in his nation. His greatest problem and his deepest fear (to die without a legacy) in Christ was flipped on its head (he left a huge legacy – a church that continues today, 2000 years later!).

11. One convert can be a people movement

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

You never know if the person you are leading to faith is going to father a movement in their own nation! That keeps you excited!

12. Previous disappointment did not poison Philip’s faith in the gospel – don’t put obstacles that are not there

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

Earlier in chapter 8 Philip had baptised Simon Magus who turned out to be a massive headache and to cause many problems. He could have decided to be more rigorous in his screening process pre-baptism; to put in a few more hurdles. But when the Ethiopian, who is freshly saved, asks for baptism, Philip does not make him wait. We will suffer disappointments and setbacks but we still baptise people on their faith in Christ, not on any extra conditions! Don’t let disappointment make you more cautious than scripture.

13. Removal of the gospel agent for indigenization

39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

Philip is then removed and the Ethiopian carries on home.  Roland Allen’s writings always challenge us to make removal of the gospel agent part of the church planting process: in Acts they would preach, teach, and then leave. We entrust new believers to the gospel implanted in them and the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus the church in Ethiopia could be genuinely Ethiopian!

14. God knows the right time for people

The Ethiopian could have met a Christian in Jerusalem. But God judged it best that he visit the temple, set out for home, and then meet Philip. There is also a lot of Philip’s personal obedience in “going” in this story. God’s sovereign plan and our personal responsibility combine to his glory – to win some!


Profile - AMAM has been in a city in the ME since 2009, leading a team, leading his family, planting a church. “We are still very new at this, so don’t take anything I say too seriously!” Click here to connect on Twitter.

Andy M

Andy M

Andy is involved with cross-cultural church planting in the Middle East. Connect on Twitter.
Andy M

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