What is an evangelist?

On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was [one] of the seven, and stayed with him. – Acts 21:8

There is only one record of a man being called an evangelist in the bible and that is found here in Acts 21:8. His name is Philip.

We use the terms apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher often in the church and many people put their own spin on what they think each one might mean, but the best policy is to look to the word of God and ask Him what these things mean.

The bible is very gracious by mentioning here in Acts 21 that Philip was an evangelist. This gives us the ability to look at Philip’s life and determine what the life on an evangelist should look like. Then, if we are called to be an evangelist, we ought to follow the example of Philip.

The word ‘evangelist’ literally means to be a herald of good news. The word ‘evangel’ means good news, and when you tack on ‘ist’ it attaches a person to the word. So it’s a person that is preoccupied with the business of bringing the good news of Jesus, just like a machinist would be preoccupied with working with machines, and a novelist with writing novels.

Philip wasn’t an evangelist at first. The first we hear of him is in Acts chapter 6 when he is appointed, along with 6 others, as a deacon in the early church. At that time we find him as a servant of the church food distribution ministry. He was a man full of wisdom and of the Holy Spirit that was called to see to the carnal matters of the church so that the apostles could focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer.

However, after Philip’s buddy, Stephen, was killed, there arose a great persecution against the believers. Most believers fled Jerusalem and went all over preaching Jesus. The bible only gives us one account of what those people did, and that is of the evangelist Philip.

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. – Acts 8:5

I LOVE Acts chapter 8. I love it because it’s a story of everything that I want to be: a fearless preacher of the gospel to a lost world.

The picture I have in my head is of Philip walking into the city streets of Samaria, raising his voice, and proclaiming the good news of Jesus to whoever happened to be near. His heart must have been so full from the events that had recently transpired. His close friend had just died, leaving a remarkable impression on his mind. Stephen had fearlessly stood up to the powers-that-be and preached boldly in the face of death. At the time of his death, he looked up to see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. I would suspect that Philip had observed this event, seeing Stephen’s face aglow, like the face of an angel. With all this in his heart, his resolve to preach the gospel was greater than ever, being emboldened by his fearless friend. With his heart so full, I bet there were no thoughts of what others may think of him. He raised his voice, with passionate pleas, preaching the love of a sacrificed Savior, and a risen Lord.

But this evangelist wasn’t just a preacher, he was a miracle worker.

And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city. – Acts 8:6-8

Once again, I would suspect that Philip was inspired by his friend Stephen. Stephen wasn’t an apostle, or a prophet, or an evangelist, or a pastor or teacher. The most we know about him was that he was a deacon. But the bible says that he was full of faith and power.

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. – Acts 6:8

Nobody told Stephen that miracles were just for the apostles. I guess he just took the words of Jesus literally, when He said, “He who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also” (Jn 14:12). The bible doesn’t say what kind of miracles Stephen did. Since he was in the food ministry, maybe he multiplied bread, maybe he turned water into wine, maybe he cast out demons and healed the sick. Who knows. The point is that here was an average guy that loved Jesus, and he was performing signs and wonders in the name of Jesus. And not just small signs and wonders, but, as the bible puts it: ‘GREAT’ signs and wonders.

This must have put Philip’s confidence level through the roof. “If he can do it, I can do it.” Philip’s gospel was not just words, but power (1 Co 4:20, 1 Th 1:5). The Lord was working with him, confirming the word with signs following (Mk 16:20).

The bible says that there was great joy in the city of Samaria. Why? Well, part of it was the most important fact that they had crossed over from darkness unto light, but part was also because they were seeing their friends and family, who were lame and crippled, paralyzed and demon-possessed, being healed and set free.

Imagine you had a brother or sister, friend or child, who was permanently crippled or paralyzed. If that person was totally healed, would you have great joy? Yes you would, not to mention the joy of the one healed.

But I want you to notice one other important aspect of the ministry of Philip here. The people listened to Philip because of the miracles he did.

And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. – Acts 8:6

You see, there was another fellow in town, as well. His name was Simon. He was also a miracle worker of some sort. He had ‘bewitched’ the people for a long time with his sorcery, and they had thought him to the be the great power of God. However, when Philip came in, bring with him the true power of God, even this man was blown away. Even he came to Philip to be baptized, following him, being amazed at the miracles which he did.

Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done. – Acts 8:13

I believe in miracles. I don’t believe they passed away after the apostles died. There is NO biblical evidence of this. Instead, I think somebody just conjured up that idea to explain the lack of miracles in our day and age.

Jesus gives the true reason we have so little miracles in our day:

“when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” – Lk 18:8

Stephen and Philip were men filled with faith and power. Jesus said that those with faith can move mountains (Mk 11:22-24). People try to over analyze this kind of stuff. The truth is that we don’t have miracles because we lack faith and power. Simple as that. And that’s nobody’s fault but our own.

Why am I bringing this up? Because the quintessential evangelist (besides Jesus) is demonstrated to us in Acts chapter 8. This man is Philip. He preached Jesus and worked miracles. This is the example of evangelist that God has given us to look at. Lets try to be like him.

The truth is that we think we are ok, but we are not. God is merciful and has used us the best He could, but we are falling far short of the example left for us by the early church.

The biblical evangelist is not the picture given by some people in the church today. He’s not necessarily the ‘cool’ guy that has lots of friends. On the contrary, Philip traveled alone. He’s not effective at reaching people because of his good personality, but because he has the power of God. He’s not preoccupied with carnal means to gather people together, he simply preaches Jesus.

Now, I say all this to my own shame, because I fall woefully short. But I comfort myself with the fact that at least I know I have a ways to go, and I know that God is still working on me.

Philip is one of my heroes. I’m excited to meet him one day, to talk with him about his adventures, to ask him what is was like to be teleported from one city to the next, to ask him what ever became of the Ethiopian. But most of all I desire to hear the words of Jesus saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Why, because I took heed of the ministry that I received from the Lord, and fulfilled it, that is, the ministry of an evangelist, to which I feel called.

Philip went on to get married, moved to Caesarea, and had four kids. Caesarea is on the water, a perfect location for a traveling evangelist.