The Sabbath School Bible Study Guide is published by Pacific Press Publishing Association, which is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The current quarter's edition is shown above.
Official Adventist Resources for week 10:
Support this project
If you would like to support this website, please click on the following link to donate online or you may mail your check to: Life Assurance Ministries, PO Box 905, Redlands, CA 92373. Mark your check "Bible Studies."
Third Quarter 2015 July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF LUKE
Week 10: August 29–September 4
COMMENTARY ON PHILIP AS MISSIONARY
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson uses the evangelist Philip as an example of a cross-cultural missionary. The underlying problem with this lesson, as with the entire quarter’s lessons, is the assumption that the Seventh-Day Adventist world “church” is the church that can learn from the “example” of the biblical witnesses God chose to plant the church in its formative years. The Teacher’s Comments, for example, attempt to apply principles from the brief stories of Philip to the Adventist experience. This attempt to juxtapose Adventism with Philip’s witness as the church began to grow beyond its Jewish borderers is illegitimate, however.
Adventism, first of all, is not part of the biblical church, the body of Christ composed of those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit and which witnesses in the world of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus as the ONLY means by which anyone can be saved. The true body of Christ does not add to the gospel as Adventism adds the seventh-day Sabbath, the food laws, an extra-biblical prophet, and a false nature of man. For Adventism to teach these additions to the gospel as Truth that believers must embrace places it outside the body of Christ. Moreover, Adventist doctrines obscure and do not even understand the new birth, a phenomenon based on the Holy Spirit indwelling those who believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (plus nothing).
In other words, the attempt to assume similarity of method and meaning between the planting of the church in the book of Acts with the proselytizing work of Adventism is like assuming dandelions and tulips share the same purposes, beauty, and value. Adventist “missionary work” and Philip’s evangelism of gentiles and Samaritans are at cross-purposes. One—Philip—was bringing life to those who formerly were without hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12). The other—Adventism—brings deception and confusion so those hungering for words of life are blinded to the true freedom and liberty of the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
This lesson opens with this sentence: “World mission was the main concern of the risen Christ during the 40 days between His crucifixion and ascension.”
This sentence warps what we know Jesus did and said following His resurrection. From an Adventist perspective, the idea that they must preach the Adventist “gospel” to the whole world so Jesus can come drives their entire reason for existence. This foundational belief twists the words of Jesus from His revelation of Himself as the fulfillment of the Old Testament and of the introduction of the New Covenant which opened direct access to God for ALL men and women. Instead of reading Jesus’ words as the announcement of Jesus’ finished work as the hope of all the world, Adventists read His words as a command to get busy, be faithful, get out of their “comfort zone”, and spread Adventism.
“World mission” is not a biblical term, and the meaning “missions” has for Adventists is not what Jesus had in mind for His disciples.
World mission was not the main concern of the risen Lord Jesus. Rather, preparing his apostles and disciples for the new work of planting the church was His concern. He spent the afternoon and evening of his resurrection day teaching them how He had fulfilled everything written in the law, the prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44). He told them they would establish the means of people knowing they were saved or not (Jn. 20:23). He gave them the commission to be His witnesses, and He appeared to them, to 500 at one time, to James, and to Paul (1 Cor. 15:1-9). He established the veracity of His resurrection and told them they would be given the job of witnessing of His life to the world.
Jesus’ resurrection appearances were not about “world mission”. They were about establishing the foundation of the new covenant reality, about preparing His disciples for KNOWING what was real and true, for understanding how to explain Him from Scripture. He told them about the coming Holy Spirit, and He told them to wait.
Jesus prepared His disciples to preach Him to the world, the fulfilled law, the forgiveness of sins, and the new and living way opened to the Father. This was not a method to convince people to believe something; this was a shift in absolute REALITY. Jesus was preparing His Jewish disciples to leave behind their Jewish requirements….not for the sake of “fitting in” but because He Himself was the reality those requirements had prefigured. They had to go to the uttermost parts of the world with the message of Jesus.
World mission within Adventism supposes that the world needs the Adventist message. This idea was not Jesus’ primary focus. His primary focus was to convince His disciples that He was alive, that His life was the means of the life of the world, and that the disciples were to be eyewitnesses who would testify and write of Him so that even those who did not see yet believed would be blessed (Jn. 20: 29).
Today’s lesson uses 2 Corinthians 4:18 to support the idea that even if a person is little-known and his work largely unremembered in human history, he may still have done great things for God. The author urges the reader to remember this principles when it seems one’s work isn’t much noticed.
Here is 2 Corinthians 4:13-18:
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
In context this verse is referring to living in this world where our bodies waste away. Paul is not telling people to “buck up” because their unclaimed work will be acclaimed one day. Rather, he is telling them that what they can actually see—the suffering, the illness and aging they endure—these are temporary. What is eternal is unseen, but it can be known because of the risen Lord Jesus who will also raise us. This life of suffering is temporary. Our life with the Lord is unseen now, but IT is eternal.
This passage was not normalizing ordinary people whose work seems unimportant. It was saying something MUCH bigger. It is saying that we all, if we are alive in Christ, are eternally alive and connected to eternal reality. We can’t see that reality yet; we only catch glimpses and shadows of it. But that is the truth!
The events of Acts 6 are fascinating. The Hellenistic Jews, those raised outside of Judea in Greek territories where they learned to speak Greek and culturally resembled Greeks more than Jerusalem Jews, were upset that their widows were getting shortchanged in the daily distribution of food. The Hebrew (Judean, Hebrew-Aramaic speaking) Jews apparently were getting preferential treatment.
The solution was to appoint six men whose Greek names suggested that they were Hellenistic Jews themselves to be in charge of daily food distribution. The fact that they were Greek no doubt was intended to reassure the Hellenistic Jews that their interests would be attended to.
Philip was one of the six “deacons” appointed to manage the food. The apostles, it was clear, were not supposed to spend their time administering the daily nuts and bolts of church life. They were supposed to spend their time devoted to the study of Scripture and to prayer. The apostles were, after all, the ones appointed to write the Scriptures and to teach the people the truth about Jesus and the new covenant.
The lesson authors ask the “thought question” about potentially divisive issues in church that God can use people to ease the issues. In fact, the Scripture is clear that there are offices and jobs in the church. Ephesians 4:11-16 names the central offices that God gifts to the church in each generation for the building up of the body:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
These offices of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (pastors), and teachers are spiritual gifts God gives to particular people to serve the members. These are not individual “gifts”; these are gifts God gives to the church at large. These are not self-appointed roles; God raises them up. Moreover, the gift of apostles was specific to the foundation of the church. Ephesians 2:19-22 says,
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
While Monday’s lesson isn’t giving any specific falsehoods, it nevertheless frames the story of the deacons in a way that makes the whole issue an example for church organization and personal effort to resolve conflict.
Conflict resolution was not the issue. The issue was division of labor so that those God had appointed to teach could spend their time studying and teaching. Caring for the needy had to be done by no less godly men, but men whose gifting was not teaching primarily. The deacons had to be full of the Holy Spirit and able to teach; they just weren’t called to be teachers. Philip was chosen by God for his job as a deacon in the very earliest days of the Church.
Today’s lesson covers Philip preaching in Samaria, and the lesson makes the point Philip’s “success” there. The day’s study ends with this question, “What animosities, grudges, and prejudices that have poisoned your should need to become ‘things of the past’? Isn’t it time to let it all go?”
Philip’s preaching in Samaria, however, was planned by God and was not about letting go of past animosities. Perhaps Philip did have to let go of some things, but Scripture doesn’t tell us that.
Philip preached in the second phase of the planting of the church. Jesus said they would preach in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. The outward movement of preaching locations was not a strategy. It was a promise.
In fact, John 4 records Jesus going to Samaria and conversing with a Samaritan woman at the well before spending three days there with His disciples. That visit prepared the Samaritans for the gospel that came to them in Acts 8. Philip, the evangelist God appointed to preach in Samaria, brought the gospel to the first people group outside Judea: the half-breed Samaritans who were a syncretistic blend of Assyrians and Jews descended from the scattered northern kingdom that apostatized and was taken away by the Assyrians.
Philip didn’t complete the bringing of the Samaritans into the body of Christ, however. Peter and John went to Samaria when they heard the Samaritans were believing in Jesus, but they hadn’t yet received the Holy Spirit. Peter, the apostle who had presided over the Pentecost experience in Jerusalem and who had been preaching subsequently in the temple while the thousands joined the initial core of believers, now prayed for the Samaritans, and they received the Holy Spirit exactly as the Jews had—without becoming Jews first!
Peter’s apostolic oversight was necessary to give the apostles in Jerusalem the confidence that the Samaritans were fully embraced as Christian believers. If Peter, the same one who had preached and had been present and in charge of the evangelism on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, hadn’t been there, there would always have been questions about whether or not the Samaritans could be fully embraced as equal members of the church with the believing Jews. Peter’s authority settled the question.
When Jesus told Peter that to him He was giving the keys of the kingdom, this apostolic oversight was what He meant. Peter was present when the Pentecost power came to the Jews, to the Samaritans, and to the gentiles in the home of Cornelius in Acts 10.
Philip’s preaching was not successful in Samaria because he gave up his cultural biases. It was successful because the Holy Spirit gave him power to speak, and the Holy Spirit opened the hearts of the Samaritans who believed. There was no strategy involved. Philip is not an example here of great intercultural contextualization. He simply preached Christ to people who didn’t know Him. The Holy Spirit did the rest.
Wednesday’s lesson betrays the author’s Adventist bias. Three comments reveal a complete misunderstanding of witnessing and evangelism. They are:
It is a departure from the biblical account even to suggest that the Ethiopian’s reading Isaiah gave Philip an opportunity to evangelize him. Acts 8: 26-33 says,
Now 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. 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. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
Philip didn’t grab an opportunity to evangelize. The Holy Spirit told him to go join the chariot! The passage was not an opportunity; the Ethiopian’s reading was not an opportunity. This episode was a direct command orchestrated by God. It was God’s plan that the eunuch would be reading Isaiah 53, the passage about the suffering servant. It was God’s plan that Philip would teaching him the gospel, the reality that Jesus had fulfilled the passage he was reading.
Philip baptized the eunuch, and the Ethiopian servant of the queen returned home rejoicing. He took the gospel into the queen’s palace as a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus who had fulfilled the passages Isaiah had written about hundreds of years before.
Second, there is no “point” to remember about Philip’s preaching the word to the Ethiopian. Miracles are NOT the gospel. The fact that Philip did miracles in Samaria was not Philip’s idea; they were acts of God that God knew the Samaritans needed in order to believe. The actual essence of ministry is the word of God. Period. The only way we come to know the Lord Jesus is through the living and eternal word of God (1 Peter 1:23).
Third, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are not central to the message a Christian gives. They are the entire message. The author of this lesson betrays that Adventism is another gospel by asking, “What is our message without Him?”
Christians preach Christ. Anything else is another gospel, and even Christ plus whatever a group deems important—Sabbath, food, “soul sleep”—if anything is added to Jesus and His finished work, the power of the gospel is lost, and those hearing the message are not hearing words of life. They are hearing a deception.
Today’s lesson makes the point that Philip was a man surrendered to the Holy Spirit; and thus, god was able to use him to do a great work for Him.”
In fact, Philip was not “surrendered to the Holy Spirit”; He was surrendered to the Lord Jesus and believed in His completed atonement. Philip was filled with the Holy Spirit permanently, a seal and guarantee of His glorious eternal future (Eph. 1:13-14).
Adventism cannot understand the new birth because it denies the reality of the immaterial human spirit which is born dead in sin, alienated from God (Eph. 2:1-3) and which, through the kindness of God, is made alive when we believe in Jesus, and we are transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of the Beloved Son (Eph. 2:4-10; Col 1:13).
Philip was born again. He has a new identity and power, a new parentage. He was not a son of God, not a son of Adam. His being filled with the Holy Spirit was God’s provision and gift to Him, the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that He would send Him to believers after Jesus left.
Philip was not surrendered to the Holy Spirit as to an external, come-and-go force that gave him special powers if he was surrendered.
No. Philip was ALIVE because of the Holy Spirit in him. The Spirit does not leave when believers falter or their faith wavers. God did great work through Philip because Philip submitted to the Father. God chose and used Philip; He did not respond to Philip’s good intentions and decisions and thus use him. The lesson has this “equation” exactly backwards.
Moreover, while it is inarguable that a parent’s belief affects his or her children, we cannot conclude that, because Philip’s daughters were prophetesses, then Philip must have been a good father. The daughter’s gifting was God sovereign decision. He didn’t give them the gift of prophecy because they were good girls and “suitable to receive the gift of prophecy”. God doesn’t gift suitable people. On the contrary, He chooses sinners and gives them faith to trust Him. God gives gifts to people for whom He chooses them. He doesn’t look for suitable people and then pour out blessings. God gives gifts to people regardless of the people. He makes them “suitable”. He doesn’t look for those who are suitable.
Friday’s lesson again ends the week with quotes from Ellen White. Moreover, it makes the point that barriers between people must be broken down for evangelization to happen.
The lesson has this wrong. God Himself broke down the barrier between people in the body of Jesus on the cross. Ephesians 2:11-16 explains:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
It is Jesus’ own broken body and shed blood that has broken down the barriers between people. It is only at the foot of the cross that barriers come down. It is not our job to contextualize the gospel so we can convince people to believe the gospel.
Moreover, it is mandatory that we examine what we are calling “the gospel”. If we preach ANYTHING besides the crucified, buried, and risen Christ who paid the price for our sin, if we preach anything other than repenting and believing that Jesus paid the price for us personally—we are preaching death.
Only Jesus brings life. Only the pure gospel—Jesus plus nothing—brings us life.
Philip was a great man, an example of someone who trusted Jesus and allowed Him to bring His work to him. Philip didn’t strategize and create a ministry schematic. He obeyed God.
It is hard to give up one’s intellectual analysis, rationalizing facts, feelings, and fears. Yet only when we trust Jesus and believe that He is all we need, and the lost need Him, do we have anything to say to anyone.
We have lay down our good ideas and sociological evaluations. We have to trust Jesus, and He will do the work through us as we submit to His word.