Knowing What You Don’t Know: Philip the Apostle

Andrew and John sought Jesus out and then brought their brothers, Peter and James, to meet the Master. On the other hand, Philip was the first disciple that Jesus called to be His disciple:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” (John 1:43).

What was it about Philip that caught Jesus’ eye? I believe it was his honesty and his self-awareness. Philip knew what he didn’t know. After Jesus invited Philip to follow him, Philip sought out his friend. “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45). Nathanael and Philip had discussed the Messiah before. Nathanael challenges Philip: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Philip doesn’t argue. He simply invited Nathanael to come see for himself.

Knowing your limitations is an essential quality. It’s important to know what you don’t know. Philip is an excellent example of that virtue. He won’t argue with Nathanael but invites his friend to see for himself.

Three years later, during the last week in the life of Jesus, a group of Greeks approached Philip asking for an introduction to see Jesus (John 12:20 – 21). Philip wasn’t sure if that was appropriate, but rather than put them off; he took them in search of answers. They all went to Andrew, and Andrew brought them to Jesus. When you know what you don’t know, ask for help!

There is one more incident to focus on today. Later, during the Last Supper, Jesus declared, “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6 – 7). It would have been natural to stay silent and nod your head as if you understood, but Philip can’t do that. Philip isn’t afraid to appear ignorant because he knows what he doesn’t know. “Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’” (John 14:8 – 9).

Philip may not have been a scholar or a leader, but he was confident of two things: his limits and how to find answers. 

Note: There are several apocryphal books concerning Philip. They may contain a kernel of history, but the truth is so buried in legends so as to be unusable. The best that we can say is Philip and Nathanael probably worked together in Phrygia, where Philip was martyred for his faith either by crucifixion or beheading. In 2011, Italian archaeologists claimed to find Philip’s tomb in Hierapolis (the neighboring town to Laodicea) in the Lycus River valley. See https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/38/1/21 

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