Four Families in the Apostolic Church (II): Cornelius’ Family
Derren Liang—San Jose, California, USA
II. CORNELIUS’ FAMILY—FEARED GOD
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.
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.
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
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!)?
Once we have set the right
priorities for ourselves, the next step is to build up the faith of the next
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.
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
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.
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
Eli and his two sons 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.
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.”
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
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.
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
the Cornelius Joy
Cornelius moved God by his sincere
reverence as well as his ability to inspire his family to the same level of
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
DO SET THE RIGHT PRIORITIES
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.
DO WALK THE TALK
Children see, children do. Set an
example in loving God and His word. Persistently teach our children God’s word.
DO SHARE THE GOODNESS
Make Jesus central to our family