Philip as Missionary

Stephen Terry


Commentary for the September 5, 2015 Sabbath School Lesson


“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8, NIV

Over the past twenty-four hours, we have had a wind storm that has swept over Washington State. While sitting in Sabbath School class all our cell phones went off with an emergency alert warning that the winds were on their way, accompanied by large amounts of blowing dust. As a natural reflex, we looked out the windows to see that the warning had not preceded the storm by much as trees and bushes were already whipping about in the wind. Later, as tens of thousands of homes sat darkened by massive power outages, the electric company crews struggled to keep up with the emergency. The media were soon filled with pictures of hundreds of downed trees. Tragically, one small child even lost her life to a fallen tree limb. What heartache for her parents.

Through much of history, mankind has understood the tremendous power inherent in a gust of wind. Not only does it float a kite aloft. It sends ships over vast oceans. It blows into the vanes of giant windmills to rotate huge stones that our flour and meal might be ground exceedingly fine. It holds airplanes and jets aloft, seemingly suspended on threads of nothingness. Lately, it has been driving thousands of wind turbines strewn across the landscape to generate power for our towns and cities. The wind appears infinitely renewable for when it drives the propellers of these turbines and produces such abundant energy in the form of electricity, its own energy never seems to abate. The thermal differences over the planet’s surface continually swirl the currents of air round and round. The wind seems no weaker for having pushed a ship across an entire ocean, or for having propelled that heavy millstone. We cannot say because we have survived the windstorm today that it cannot return with even more force tomorrow, for it has lost nothing by blowing with its fury upon us and our homes.

Such endless power may have seemed godlike to primitive man. Even today, we are at a loss to explain the wind’s power. Thanks to technology, we have improved in our ability to predict hurricanes, tornados and various catastrophic, wind-driven events, but our failure to fully understand is apparent when a major storm is predicted, evacuations take place from cities in its path, and then it produces far less devastation than expected. Unfortunately, these failed expectations too often encourage people to remain in their homes and “ride it out.” Then when the expectations are realized and the storm is as bad as it was expected to be, lives are lost. We are reminded that the friendly breeze that can lift a kite can become an unpredictable, unyielding force that brings calamity in its wake.

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of the Spirit and the wind, as recorded in the verse above, perhaps He had all of this in mind. We only understand the wind through its effects on other things. When a tree limb moves a certain way, we acknowledge that the wind did it. However, we cannot point to the wind itself and say, “There it is!” We cannot capture it in a jar. The air in the jar is inert and does nothing. If we drop a twig into the jar, we will not be able to watch it blow around. In the end, we question whether we have really trapped anything in the jar at all. Wind is all around us, yet nowhere we can point to. But the evidence for its existence is too overwhelming to deny. Is all of this a metaphor for the Holy Spirit? If so, how far can we take it?

With the Holy Spirit, we cannot point to the Spirit and say there it is. We cannot hold it in a jar. But we can see the evidence for its existence in the changes it makes in the world around us. However, it is not trees it moves, but people. The thief stops stealing. The one with foul language, no longer curses. The adulterer returns to their spouse and leads a changed life.  These things of themselves would be evidence that something is causing these changes. Some might claim that this is simply enlightened self-interest. But even if that were an argument worth considering, we might ask, “What would bring about such enlightenment?” Perhaps in the absence of any other motivating factor, it may be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction into our lives over what we had been doing before. Such an “about face” can be dramatic, but the possible evidence of the Holy Spirit’s moving does not end there.

We also see those who cared for nothing but their own “self-interest” begin to show compassion toward others. They reach out with grace and mercy, often to those who are less fortunate than themselves, but also to those who maybe just as well off socially, financially, and even spiritually, yet are hurting. They may even be doing this in spite of their own pain and suffering. Ultimately, they may feel that Jesus is the answer for all pain, all suffering, and they seek to introduce others to that saving grace that has healed their own lives. In this they become a powerful force to introduce Jesus and his kingdom to others in this world. The power of that commitment to advance God’s kingdom may demonstrate the strength of the Holy Spirit, just as a falling tree demonstrates the power of the wind. We do not measure the Holy Spirit in miles per hour as we do the wind. Instead it may be measured in terms of lives changed. If such measurements of the Spirit are valid, perhaps we should be concerned regarding how little that spiritual wind is blowing in some of our churches. The Great Awakening[i] of the 18th century followed by the Second Great Awakening[ii] of the early 19th century were waves of spiritual fervor that swept through western society and resulted in numerous foreign mission projects that sought to carry the Gospel to other cultures.

Interestingly, many of these missionaries were lay workers who were motivated by the promptings of their hearts as the Holy Spirit moved upon them. They did not need an ordination or an ecclesiastical imprimatur to Move forward with ministry. They traveled to the far corners of the world, often at great personal sacrifice and sometimes with little support from church organizations back home. John Williams, featured in last week’s commentary is one example. Hudson Taylor[iii] is another example. He failed to finish medical school, feeling the call of China’s spiritual need to be of more importance. Sent by a mission board, he severed ties with the board when their oversight became more of a hindrance than a help to reaching the lost. Immersing himself totally in Chinese culture to the extent of shaving the front of his head and growing the pigtail que of the Chinese men, he traveled far and wide in China to share the Gospel message. The famous Inland China Mission was the result of his missionary work. These and many others are examples of the importance of lay evangelism in cross cultural ministry. As these lay workers are moved by the Holy Spirit, some who feel the privilege of ordination or of administrative power within the organized churches may wish to control or channel the Holy Spirit’s influence on such lives. However, the moment they try to bottle such energy, they may instead find they have only something inert which is no longer influencing anyone or anything. The churches have too many such bottles of inertness occupying pews each week and doing little else. Frustrated pastors struggle to find ways to motivate these individuals into action, not realizing that they may have become inert because the pastor was pushing his or her vision rather than enabling the one the Holy Spirit had given to that member in the pew.

In the story of Philip, featured in this week’s Sabbath School Lesson, we see that a different approach was taken. The Apostolic church enabled Philip, Stephen, and several others by recognizing their spiritual gifts. They then took that endorsement and ran with it. Stephen preached the Gospel in Jerusalem, and was martyred for it, but in that martyrdom was sown the seeds that would bring about the conversion of Paul. Paul then took the baton of faith that the Holy Spirit had passed to him and carried it over much of the Roman Empire, winning thousands for Jesus. Philip found the wind of the Holy Spirit carried him beyond the borders of his culture. Eager to follow the Spirit’s lead, he brought the Gospel to Samaria and even to Ethiopia by baptizing a servant of Queen Candace of that country.[iv]

Perhaps, in view of these examples, we might ask whether or not we are seeking he Holy Spirit’s influence in our lives? Are we sitting in a pew each week just to check in and see if Jesus is about to return? Are we considering our obligation to others and to Jesus met if we do what we can to keep the church structure intact so we have those pews to sit on and do that check in each week? Do we think that outreach is the pastor’s job because his vision is more important, and he or she enjoys being in control of what goes on anyway? What if those ordained as “shepherds” were actually enabling the sheep by endorsing their visions for ministry and doing whatever was necessary to enable that vision instead of rounds of lay training classes on how to advance the institution’s vision? Do we dare set the Holy Spirit free in the hearts, minds, and lives of the laity? Are we afraid of the wind storm we might unleash?

[i] "First Great Awakening,"

[ii] "Second Great Awakening,"

[iii] "Hudson Taylor,"

[iv] Acts 8:26-38




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