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A Recipe for Making Effective Disciples

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Acts 8:26–40

Even in our hectic, unpredictable world, it is possible to be a humble, flexible, and available witness for Jesus Christ. A man from the first century, Philip, provides a wonderful example to follow for being just that kind of witness.


In the book America on Six Rubles a Day, the author writes of his first visit to the United States back in the mid-1900s. He was amazed by the incredible variety of products available in American grocery stores. He writes this:

While on my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk—you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice—you just add water, and you get orange juice. I saw powdered eggs—you just add water, and you get eggs. And then I saw baby powder—what a country![1]

Well, we know it takes more than powder and a little water to create a living, breathing human being. But I think the average Christian has the misconception that the creation of an effective disciple is easy—it can happen overnight. The conversion of a soul is immediate upon faith in Christ, but the making of an effective disciple takes a lifetime.

So, what are the ingredients we need to be mixing into our lives so we can grow and effectively serve the Lord? Well, some of the best lessons in Scripture are living illustrations.

We are about to watch these ingredients, lived out in Philip the evangelist. We will call the first ingredient humility.

Here in Acts chapter 8, we watched Philip, one of the seven original deacons, if we can call them that, leave Jerusalem and head north to preach in the region of Samaria. And he received a tremendous response. Verse 6 tells us “the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip.” As a result, “there was much joy in that city” (verse 8).

This is a citywide spiritual awakening. And Philip is leading the charge.

Now we might expect Philip to become the Bishop of Samaria—the leading church planter in that region. But instead, we read something rather surprising:

An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. (verses 26-27)

Philip leaves a successful city campaign for the desert. Beloved, this is what you call humility. Big city or lonely desert? Large crowds or no crowds? It makes no difference to Philip, because he is not building up his glory, but the glory of God. The church today—and church leaders—need to add a little humility to their resume.

Frankly, if David had killed Goliath yesterday, he would have never made it back home, past the Christian media frenzy, the speaking tour, the photo shoots, and the media interviews. He would never have had the time to write his psalms!

The world is impressed with celebrities. God is impressed with servants.

Now we need to add another quality to the recipe for making effective disciples—we will call it flexibility. Philip is willing to give up what he knows to go someplace he does not know. He ends up in the desert:

And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. (verses 27-28)

We learn several things about this man from this text. First, he is an Ethiopian statesman, serving the court of Queen Candace. During this period of history, Ethiopia designated an area south of Egypt.

We’re also told the man is the Secretary of the Treasury—he oversees the banking industry of this nation. In addition, He is also identified as a eunuch. In ancient times, castrated males were placed in charge of the king’s harem or served on the palace grounds in some high, official capacity. Over time, the term eunuch was applied more widely simply to a man who was an officer of the court.

We also learn here that this Ethiopian is returning from Jerusalem. He had traveled some 200 miles to worship the Lord, and he is on his way home. And let me tell you, he has not found the answers he is looking for, but he has purchased a copy of the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. In a moment he will point out a passage from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint—specifically, Isaiah chapter 53.

This statesman knows the Greek language, and he is reading as he rides along in his chariot. He is seeking the truth about the Messiah, and the Messiah has just sent His messenger, Philip, to answer his questions!

Keep in mind that Philip was never told why he was to go to that desert road; he was never told how long he would be there or what to expect. He was simply told to go, and he went. He is flexible, nimble, willing to change his plans in order to obey the Lord’s direction.

In Samaria the crowds were coming to hear him, but now, the Lord tells him to chase after this chariot. In verse 29, the Lord says to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” Philip not only runs to meet the Ethiopian official but starts the conversation, saying to him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (verse 30).

Philip is responding to this opportunity. This is spontaneous, and Philip seizes the moment. This is what you’re looking for with that car mechanic or neighbor—an opening to begin a gospel conversation.

This statesman has been reading from Isaiah 53, which describes the Messiah being led in silence like a sheep to the slaughter. He admits to Philip that he is confused and says to him, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (verse 34).

We read in verse 35, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.” We don’t know everything Philip says, but we know he begins with this Scripture in Isaiah and tells him “the good news about Jesus.” Certainly, he explains that Jesus was the final sacrifice for sin—the Lamb of God.

Philip obviously explains not only the plan of salvation but also the identification of the believer with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, as pictured through baptism by immersion. We know this because of what happens next as they are riding along, evidently following this man’s conversion to Christ:

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. (verses 36-38)

Now you would expect Philip to keep going in the chariot of this statesman. After all, he can open the doors of the palace of Candace, queen of Ethiopia—this is going to be exciting. But instead, verse 39 says, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more.”

Before Philip can wipe from his face the water that splashed from the robes of this joyful, Ethiopian believer, he is supernaturally transported away. Verse 40 tells us, “Philip found himself at Azotus.” I wonder if he is still dripping wet.

Here is another ingredient to add to the recipe: availability.

Does Philip complain of whiplash to the Lord? Does he argue that he has been able to start some wonderful things, and now the Lord should let him stay in one place and finish something?

No. Philip just does the same thing in Azotus that he did in Samaria and then in the desert. We read in verse 40, “As he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.”

Humility. Flexibility. Availability. Let’s begin mixing these ingredients into our lives today.

[1] Yakov Smirnoff, America on Six Rubles a Day (Vintage Books, 1987), 51.

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