Happenings, News

Journeying with strangers to the Cross

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road … that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. — Acts 8:26ff.

IT HAPPENED again last month. I was on a plane heading for the United States minding my own business and before the flight ended, I found myself in conversa-tion and in prayer for the person seated next to me.

Now this doesn’t happen regularly. Indeed, when travelling alone, I would prefer to read a good book rather than talk to strangers.

Nonetheless, over the years, I have found that God often has other travel plans and that He will put in my path persons that He wishes to reach out to through me.

In this regard, I have found the story of Philip and the Ethio-pian informative and refreshing. Informative in that it provides some guidance as to how this sort of encounters can proceed smoothly and refreshing in that it reveals that these encounters are from beginning to end matters of God’s grace and love.

In terms of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, of first importance is that it was the angel that initiated Philip’s journey and this made their meeting far more relaxed and relevant.

Philip’s task was simply to travel down the road; it was the angel’s job to arrange what followed. His encounter with the Ethiopian required no manipulation of events on Philip’s part, no hidden agendas, and no coercive techniques.

Rather, secure in the knowledge that God was at work, Philip responded to the situation as it was, which allowed him to respond meaningfully to the concerns of the Ethiopian. This allowed the encounter to be relevant.

Philip didn’t force the agenda; it took shape in light of the needs and concerns of the Ethiopian. Philip had no need to con-descend, but simply to share good news with a fellow traveller in pursuit of the truth. The Ethiopian had no need to be cautious or defensive for what was offered satiated his own interest and desire.

Note that the angel moved Philip out of his “comfort zone” by his call for him to travel away from home.

Human beings are creatures of habit and familiarity can at times hinder our witness. We too become easily insulated from those who most need to hear the good news.

Travel is one of those rare opportuni-ties where we cross paths with persons we would normally never meet. We begin to impact peoples and cultures. In placing Philip alongside the chariot of the Ethio-pian, the Spirit had a strategic opportunity to alter human history. To this day, the church of Ethiopia traces its roots back to this divine encounter nearly 2,000 years ago.

Philip’s sharing of the good news with the Ethiopian was a case study in sensitive evangelism.

He noted what the eunuch was read-ing so as to initiate the conversation. Moreover, Philip was a good listener and responded to the questions raised by the Ethiopian.

It was the eunuch’s concerns that not only guided the conversation, but the relevance of the good news of Jesus Christ to the pursuit of the Ethiopian.

Philip’s presentation of the Gospel was neither irrelevant nor a forced detour in the conversation; it fulfilled the funda-mental questions and concerns of the person addressed.

This is a good guide when we find ourselves in similar conversations. Allow the situation or conversation to provide guidance as to how and what to share. Listen carefully not just to the outer concerns of the individual but the deeper issues they reveal.

The Ethiopian’s question sought the identity of the person referred to by Isaiah. Philip not only carefully addressed that question but took the matter to a deeper level in terms of the faith and life of the Ethiopian. More than information was conveyed and the result was the salvation of the Ethiopian signified in his baptism by Philip.

Indeed, his salvation had begun well before Philip shared the Gospel and was far from complete when Philip was whisked away.

Certainly, Philip’s sharing was instrumental in the Ethiopian coming to faith; nonetheless, it was clear that the Spirit had already been preparing him for this critical encounter.

Moreover, what Philip shared was hardly sufficient to establish and inform his faith in Christ over his lifetime. This brief encounter would need to be built upon for it to establish a firm foundation of faith. Thus, Philip’s sharing was but one link in a long chain of God’s interaction with the Ethiopian eunuch.

This is important to note, for as we travel and have brief encounters with strangers with whom we share, minister to, or pray with, we most often leave these encounters open ended.

Nonetheless, this passage should en-courage us in that even as Philip allowed God to lead in this situation trusting in his oversight and control so also the fate of the eunuch in God’s hand.

What God begins He will finish. This is not to suggest that following up on a person who has just made a commitment to Christ is not important.

Rather it is the reminder that in the end the salvation of another person is never solely up to us, but from beginning to end it is the work of God.

Keeping this in mind can lead to many happy and fulfilling journeys along the road life. Happy trails!

The Rev Dr Tom Harvey is a lecturer at Trinity Theological College and works with the Singapore Presbyterian Church as a Partner in Mission from the Presbyterian Church (USA).


‘What God begins He will finish. This is not to suggest that following up on a person who has just made a commitment to Christ is not important. Rather it is the reminder that in the end the salvation of another person is never solely up to us, but from beginning to end it is the work of God.’