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Four Families in the Apostolic Church (II): Cornelius' Family
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Four Families in the Apostolic Church (II): Cornelius’ Family

Derren Liang—San Jose, California, USA


There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.

(Acts 10:1–2)

Here was a career soldier serving the great Roman Empire—the world’s foremost empire in those times—in a key capital city inhabited by a colonized people who may rise in rebellion. Busy though he must have been, Cornelius was a devout man who feared God with his whole household and even had a servant who feared God.

How was Cornelius able to build and maintain such a God-fearing family? There were three salient factors: his priorities, his exemplary life, and his generosity in sharing.

The Right Priorities

In the Roman Legion (the Roman army), the centurion[i] was officer rank with excellent prospects for promotion and ultimately a wealthy retirement. But we can imagine that, with fifty nine to sixty centurions in each Roman legion, competition to make it into the top military ranks would be stiff.

The normal professional military man would thus have filled his waking hours with battle plans and his thoughts on how to strategize his rise up the Legion ladder. Instead Cornelius took time to pray constantly. While his counterpart would have carefully “invested” his fund to network with and entertain political and military contacts who may help his career, Cornelius generously gave alms to the poor.

In short, God and faith were integral to Cornelius’ life. Good or bad day, happy or frustrated… he prayed to God always. Religion was not just an accessory to ingratiate himself with the community or a crutch that he leaned on when troubles beset. He was so intent on building a relationship with God that he did not just pray but fasted as well!

Such a living sincere faith not only touched God, but was the inspirational benchmark for his family and friends. A necessary condition for a God-fearing family is a head of the family who, in daily word and deed, gives God priority.

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses speaks to a new generation of Israel preparing to enter the Promised Land. Their fathers and grandfathers had died in the wilderness because of unbelief. So Moses carefully and comprehensively sets out what they have to do in order for things to be well with them, and that they may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey. His first instruction was directed at each Israelite and remains relevant for us as spiritual descendants of Abraham:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. (Deut 6:4)

“Hear O Israel” was a call for the people to remember who they really were—God’s chosen people. Today, we must always be mindful of the unmatchable value of our special status as God’s people. Through Jesus Christ and our faith, we have been made part of a royal priesthood and holy nation. Therefore, we must take our faith seriously.

“The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” was the reminder that the Lord is our God and our most important inheritance. As Paul tells us, because this inheritance is incorruptible and eternal, everything else pales in comparison. Today, if we truly regard God as our most precious possession, setting the right priorities and making godly decisions will follow naturally.

Let us measure our priorities against that of Cornelius the Centurion—where do we place God and faith in our daily lives? Right in the centre of our work and family lives? Or do we tuck God neatly into the bookcase together with our Bible and hymn book—prominently displayed but only used once a week (or once a month!)?

Leading By Example

Once we have set the right priorities for ourselves, the next step is to build up the faith of the next generation.

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

(Deut 6:6–9)

These were Moses’ unequivocal instructions to every parent of the chosen nation. Education experts have developed many theories for enhanced learning. But when it comes to faith, the best way to teach our children is by walking the talk of faith and to set an example in loving God.

It was easy for Cornelius to gather his friends and family to listen to God’s words because he worshipped God not just with his lips but in deed and conduct. Many people are on their best behavior in public but when they are at home, it may be a completely different story.

Many people treat their superiors with great respect but are aloof to and dismissive of their subordinates. But Cornelius was not two-faced. His servants and subordinates attested to his uprightness among the whole community.[1] His friends saw how his love for God was complemented by his compassion for his fellow men. His children would have learned from him to generously share with others what God had provided for them.

Still, the history of Israel has many examples of parents who were the religious leaders of their time—people who ought to have known better—but had failed to pass the legacy of faith to their children.

Eli and his two sons[2] come immediately to mind. We cannot help but wonder: how had Eli’s sons become so decadent without their father noticing? Had he been too caught up in his priestly duties to monitor their behavior? Or had he actually noticed but indulgently dismissed it as youthful exuberance? Finally, when their behavior had become so egregious that he had no choice but to speak up, Eli’s “rebuke” was extremely mild compared to how he had once told Hannah off.[3] Indeed, Eli has to take a fair share of the responsibility for his sons’ downward spiral in faith.

A sister, an experienced school and Religious Education teacher, once commented that, “there are no problem students; there are only problem parents.” Children unconsciously absorb their parents’ values, and learn from their words and actions.

In the context of the church, if we are constantly late for service, children get the message that being punctual for church is not important. If we consistently take our children away for holidays when their peers attend Bible camps in church, children learn that these training opportunities are less critical than our leisure. If children see us behaving very differently in and out of church, they too learn to put up a false front of piety for an hour every week.

Therefore, besides ensuring that God and faith are integral to our lives, we must also put in effort to nurture our children; and put in time to pray so that they can experience God for themselves and build a faith of their own. We need to rely on God to build up our children’s faith, for “unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”[4]

Sharing the Goodness

Cornelius was a man with a big heart. He shared the good things in his life with others. He did not just give alms, he gave alms generously. His faith was a good and important thing to him. So when he had an exciting vision carrying the promise of God’s reward[5] for his faith, he quickly called together his relatives and close friends.

His consistently exemplary conduct moved his entire family, relatives and close friends to respond to his sharing. With God’s marvelous work, an unprecedented miracle and blessing came upon them—as they just sat there listening to the invited preacher’s message about Jesus, the Holy Spirit fell upon them!

When we make Jesus an integral part of our family lives, great blessings can come upon our family. For instance, on one occasion Jesus had gone to Peter’s house only to be told Peter’s mother-in-law was sick. The Lord healed Peter’s mother-in-law, inspiring her in turn to rise and serve Him.[6]

Inevitably our children will find television, computer games, and increasingly, the social media, much more interesting than Bible study. They will much prefer the songs of the world to hymns in praise of God (unless these sound like secular and contemporary music). Yet we have to persist in teaching them God’s word, instead of giving up at the first sign of disinterest from them.

Once again, we also have to re-examine our lives to see how we may have accidentally sent conflicting signals to our children regarding the importance of God, church and faith in our lives.

Capturing the Cornelius Joy

Cornelius moved God by his sincere reverence as well as his ability to inspire his family to the same level of reverence.

In contrast to Cornelius, today we see many initially-fervent members who grow less so once they have established families. We also see individually-fervent members whose families, though baptized, do not share the same level of zeal in worshipping or serving God. Sadly, we see an increasingly common scenario, where the first generation deeply loves God, the second generation knows Him and loves Him less, while the third generation only knows of God and does not even have a personal relationship with Him.

We might have met truth-seekers with parents or grandparents who used to belong to the True Jesus Church but have not come for a long time. These truth-seekers finally find their way to the true church by God’s grace. But there are undoubtedly many families who have been lost.

Will your family be like that of Cornelius? Regularly gathering together to listen to the word of God and enjoying the gift of the Holy Spirit poured on them? Or will they become another sad statistic under the list entitled “Lost BUT Found… AND Lost Again”?




3 Lessons from Cornelius


Your heart is where your treasure is. Set your heart and mind on the imperishable things above. Pray for the next generation to be able to keep their faith.


Children see, children do. Set an example in loving God and His word. Persistently teach our children God’s word.


Make Jesus central to our family lives.


[1] Acts 10:22

[2] 1 Sam 2:12

[3] 1 Sam 2:23–25; 1 Sam 1:14

[4] Ps 127:1

[5] Acts 10:4

[6] Mt 8:14–15

[i] Centurion Facts

The ordinary centurion earned about 5,000 denarii a year and if he made it to chief centurion, 20,000 denarii a year. The common soldier received 200300 denarii a year.

The ultimate advancement was to the position of camp prefect, third in command of a whole legion, which would result in a wealthy retirement.





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Author: Derren Liang