Home   e-Library       中文 
e-Library Home |  Browse By Category |  Study the Bible    
 (Manna 66: Family Focus)
Four Families in the Apostolic Church (I): The Jailer’s Family
TOC | Previous | Next

Four Families in the Apostolic Church (I): The Jailer’s Family

Based on a sermon by Derren Liang—San Jose, California, USA

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 Looking at such, we laugh at the outdated modes of hair and dress or tease brethren we recognize as having “grown in [sideways] stature through the years”.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 big family?

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”[1].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[2].

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 their fathers.

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 generation?

Four families in Acts have some important lessons for us.


“He…ran in, and fell down trembling...he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” (Acts 16:29–30)

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 immediately baptized[3].

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 ephemeral.

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 everlasting life.

… 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.

(Acts 26:18)

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 all things.

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.

(Acts 16:32–34)

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 panic!

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[4], we will have to be accountable[5].

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[6]. 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[7].

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[8]. He also instructs us to take up the cross[9] 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[10]. 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[11], and knows exactly what we are going through, especially in this respect, since His own earthly family was also initially non-believing[12]. 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.” (Ex 10:9)

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.



3 Lessons from the Jailer


·          Knowing Jesus and His salvation is the best gift we can bring to our family. Have a sense of urgency about preaching to them.

·          DO PERSEVERE

·          Preaching Jesus and His salvation may be difficult. Pray for wisdom to seize opportunities. Move them by your exemplary conduct.


·          Rely on God in matters of marriage. Resolve to marry in the Lord so as to keep our family in Christ.

[1] Neh 3:23, 28, 30

[2] Eph 5:22–6:4

[3] Acts 16:33–34.

[4] Ezek 3:17–18

[5] 1 Cor 9:16–17

[6] Acts 16:25,27

[7] 2 Tim 4:2,5

[8] Mt 10:34–36

[9] Mt 10:37–38

[10] cf. 1 Sam 13:11–14

[11] Heb 2:17–18

[12] Jn 7: 5; Mk 3:21

PDF Download

Author: Derren Liang