Four Families in the Apostolic Church (I): The Jailer’s
Based on a sermon by Derren Liang—San Jose,
The gray and white-haired
seated with the ministers (easily identified by their ties); young (or younger)
men and women in tiered rows behind them; scores of children crouched,
squatting or sitting cross-legged in front; and occasionally a big banner at
the back proclaiming the “xx-th Spiritual and Evangelistic Meeting”. They gaze
straight into the camera, smiles, accidental frowns or grimaces frozen in time…
This is the typical photograph
found in many a TJC commemorative publication. Looking at such, we laugh at the
outdated modes of hair and dress or tease brethren we recognize as having
“grown in [sideways] stature through the years”. We may smile in reminiscence
and thank God for making us part of this one big family in Christ…but do we
invariably find ourselves wondering…
How many of those
cute-as-a-button children grew up to be strong youths?
How many of the strong youths
are still fervently serving the Lord?
How many have gone on to have
families in the Lord?
Indeed, how many remain in this
We often hear from the pulpit that
just as healthy societies are built on the foundation of strong families, so
too is the church, the body of Christ. And just as maintaining health takes
effort, so too does nurturing strong families.
Indeed this message runs through
the Old and New Testaments. In the Book of Nehemiah, a critical aspect of
Jerusalem’s physical restoration were people making repairs “by [their own]
house”, just as the priests did “each in front of his own house”.Similarly, Paul’s
epistle to the Ephesians to build a glorious church includes exhortations on
the importance of and ways to nurture a harmonious and God-fearing home.
Unfortunately, the unstoppable
societal wave of broken homes and single-parent families has not spared the
church. Although families in the church may remain physically complete, the
children have spiritually separated—growing up and away from the faith of
How do we arrest this trend? How
can we protect our families and ensure that God’s word, Spirit and blessing
come upon our households, and importantly, remain with us generation after
Four families in Acts have some
important lessons for us.
I. THE JAILER’S FAMILY—BELIEVED IN GOD
“He…ran in, and fell down
trembling...he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’”
Here was a man who, in a few short
moments, faced death twice: first from a great earthquake and second, by his
own hand. But exemplary behavior and fearless testimony from the Lord’s
witnesses saved him, first physically and second spiritually.
The jailer had asked what he had to do to be saved. When the answer came –
Believe on the Lord! – the promised deliverance was not just for him but
for his whole household. So when
he heard this, the jailer hastened to gather “all who were in his house” to
listen to Paul and Silas. The event ends on a joyous note—the jailer and
his whole household rejoiced, having all believed in the Lord and been
Therein lies the first step
towards building a blissful family of faith—we must bring our whole
family to believe in God.
The Best Gift
Most of us love our family and
seek to provide the best for them—education, leisure and all we can
afford of life’s little luxuries. But whatever “joy” we get out of these is
often short-lived; they are only useful while we are alive to enjoy them. One
day, inevitably, the string of qualifications, huge house, well-padded bank
account or luxurious holidays will cease to matter. It is ironic that such
things viewed by many as concrete goals worth toiling for are actually so
In contrast, salvation is not
“tangible”. Yet it has true and eternal value because it is about how a person
turns from darkness to light, from despair to hope and from eternal death to
… to open their eyes, in order
to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that
they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are
sanctified by faith in Me.
Consider the jailer and his family
post-baptism. They were sitting down to a simple meal in their own familiar
house with two strangers whom they barely knew. There weren’t any dramatic
changes in physical circumstances, but this whole family rejoiced because a
great spiritual transformation had taken place. God was in their midst. Their
hearts must have been filled with true contentment as they reflected on the
amazing turn of events which was evidence that God has His beautiful will in
We may or may not be able to leave
our families large monetary legacies, but what all of us can definitely give
them is an inheritance precious beyond compare—Jesus and the hope of
salvation. When we do so, we shall experience the jailer’s joy.
Sense of Urgency
As the jailer listened to Paul and
Silas, he might have recognized the great irony that he had really been the one
under bondage all this while. But through marvelous grace, he was now freed;
his utter despair was transformed to hope.
As responsible husband/father/son,
he was anxious and determined to share this tremendous experience with his
family. The Bible succinctly captures his sense of urgency:
Then they spoke the word of the
Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour
of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and his
family were baptized.
So often heard is the injunction
to share the gospel with our friends and relatives that some of us might have
become numb to its significance. The reality is that they are in bondage! Even
worse, they will not know that they are careening towards eternal condemnation
if we don’t say or do anything.
As our family members are always
around us, we may think that there will always be time. We excuse our
procrastination—e.g., we did not want to ruin the dinner atmosphere by
bringing up the topic of religion, etc. We comfort ourselves with the Bible’s
words that there is a time for everything. Days into weeks into years, and
suddenly when our family member falls seriously ill but has yet to believe, we
Hence, we must constantly place
this thought before ourselves: Our family members can only look forward to
receiving eternal life along with us if they believe in God and receive
forgiveness of their sins. If they remain in the dark dungeons of sin and die
in their iniquity, we will have to be accountable.
Perseverance and Wisdom
Sometimes we may feel that leading
our family members to believe in Christ is easier said than done. We have tried
but have been rejected many times. We have prayed but nothing has changed over
all the years. The jailer’s behavior is not just a lesson on honing our sense
of urgency but also reminds us to persevere.
While the other prisoners were
listening to Paul and Silas singing hymns to praise God, the jailer had fallen
asleep. But the crisis in his life literally
shook him up; it brought him trembling before the disciples, and subsequently
opened the way for God’s word to be preached to him and his family. Another
critical factor was Paul and Silas’ response to the earthquake. They chose to
stay. Paul chose to speak up when the jailer was about to kill himself.
Analogously, our family members
may be more open to Christ in times of sickness, career setbacks or other
personal difficulties. But we need to know how to use these opportunities to
bring the gospel to them. Think of ways to share our personal faith with them.
Be ready in season and out of season to preach to them, be it through word or
our exemplary behavior.
Things went quite smoothly for the
jailer as his family willingly accepted the gospel and their midnight baptism.
However, some believers may continue to face objection from their families
after conversion. Their dilemma is whether to lie in order to come to church in
peace, or to tell the truth and be rebuked or even abused. The Lord Himself has
warned us that His gospel would divide families. He also instructs us
to take up the cross by manifesting Christian virtues;
this includes telling the truth about all aspects of our faith. By choosing to
lie, we seem to have solved our problem temporarily; but we are in fact taking
matters into our hand, and acting according to our own will. In
contrast, if we choose to be honest, we are entrusting our difficulty and
suffering to Him and providing Him with the opportunity to work even more
wonders in our life.
Our Lord is merciful and faithful,
and knows exactly what we are going through, especially in this respect, since
His own earthly family was also initially non-believing. He
won them over by His truth, love and ultimate sacrifice.
So entreat God to give us the
wisdom to seize each opportunity to save our families’ souls; ask the Lord to
help us to persevere and to meet every rebuke with patience and forgiveness. We
cannot afford to give up in this worthy quest for it is a matter of spiritual
life and death.
For those “born into the TJC”, our
baptism in infancy makes us freed men. It would be utter tragedy if we
voluntarily renounced this status, put our families and ourselves into prison
and fastened our feet in stocks!
When it is time to set up our own
families, we should not ignore the constant exhortation to marry in the Lord.
Once we follow our heart instead of our faith and marry a non-believer, we do
not want to jeopardize marital bliss by bringing up the sensitive topic of
religion. So we make little or no further attempt to convert our spouse.
We should never think, “I can
always bring him/her to church after marriage. He/she will love me so much,
he/she won’t refuse.” For the many cases of successful
“marry-first-convert-later”, there are just as many, if not more, “marry-first-lost-later”.
We should never think, “You
worship at your church, I’ll worship at mine” (or “You worship your God and I
worship mine”). It may morph into “We worship together at TJC on Saturday, and
at your church on Sunday” and eventually, if we are not careful, we will give
in and say, “Let’s just worship at your church”!
We should never think that “whole
family in the Lord” means we can marry Christians from any other denomination.
If we do, we are just deluding ourselves; we are placing not only ourselves,
but also our children in danger of losing salvation.
For true family bliss, we must
learn from Moses’ insistence on having the whole family worship together. When
Pharaoh attempted time and again to get Moses to compromise on who could leave
Egypt, Moses was adamant:
“We will go with our young and
with our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we
will go, for we must hold a feast to the Lord.”
This will not be an easy
resolution to make and maintain. But for salvation’s sake, we must. The jailer
freed his family. Let us not imprison ours.
Lessons from the Jailer
DO FREE OUR
Knowing Jesus and His salvation is the best gift
we can bring to our family. Have a sense of urgency about preaching to them.
Preaching Jesus and His salvation may be
difficult. Pray for wisdom to seize opportunities. Move them by your exemplary
DO NOT LOSE YOUR
Rely on God in matters of marriage. Resolve to
marry in the Lord so as to keep our family in Christ.