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 (Manna 68: Succession: Generation Next)
Four Families in the Apostolic Church (III): Philip's Family
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Four Families in the Apostolic Church (III): Philip’s Family

Derren Liang—Irvine, California, USA


On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

(Acts 21:8–9)

Philip was one of the first seven workers in the apostolic church who were appointed to take care of the daily necessities of the church (Acts 6:1–6), a man of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. He had four daughters who prophesied. Prophecy is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to edify the church (cf. 1 Cor 12:7–11). In this context we can infer that Philip’s daughters spoke sermons. So we can see that Philip and his family were not believers who were content with merely fulfilling the minimum requirements of gathering for Sabbath once a week. Instead, they were faithful believers filled with the Holy Spirit who diligently served God together as a family.

Today, we have many God-fearing families in church who never fail to attend Sabbath services, but not all of these families have every member actively serving God. This occasionally becomes a source of family conflict. The less active members feel neglected while the active party, in turn, feels aggrieved at the lack of support from those closest to him/her. Or one may feel lonely that there is no one to share the occasional frustration that arises in the process of our divine work.

In contrast, when everyone in the family serves the Lord together, there is “a quiet understanding.” There is mutual support and intercession for each other and ample opportunities for sharing of ideas when family members serve together in different ministries. Hence, we should not be content merely being faithful servants of the Lord on our own. Instead, we ought to encourage our whole family to serve Him and guide our children to serve from young—in a sense, we are offering “family service” to the Lord!

Inculcating the virtue of serving the Lord as a family is just the first step. Eli and his sons are an oft-cited warning of the tragic consequences of service without spiritual nurture. On reflection, the egregious transgressions of Hophni and Phinehas were almost inevitable given that the faith and service of their father had hit rock bottom (1 Sam 3:1–2). However, the prophet Samuel seemed to have fared no better. Though he had been exemplary from young and faithful throughout his life, and he also “encouraged” his children to walk in the footsteps of his ministry, the outcome was disastrous.

Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice.

(1 Sam 8:1–3)

This is a reminder that in addition to encouraging our families to serve, we must encourage them to serve with the right heart. In this aspect, much can be learned from Philip who had a true servant’s heart.

Diligent Servant: Take the Name of Jesus with You

When intense persecution by the Jews scattered the church at Jerusalem, Philip and his family landed up in Samaria. To some, the turn of events provided many reasons to “rest” from divine work. One possibility is to keep a low profile just in case the fanatical Saul had contacts in Samaria. It must have been difficult for a newly-arrived Jewish fugitive to evangelize to his neighbors, given the traditional Jewish-Samaritan hostilities, and perhaps the dispersed believers had to wait for the apostles to give further instructions.

But Philip did differently. Though originally appointed by the apostles to local administrative duties such as food distribution (Acts 6:1–3), evangelism was never far from his mind. In Samaria, he plunged right in and promptly started preaching Christ to the locals. God worked with him and through him. The “multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip” (Acts 8:6), convinced of the truth of Philip’s message on hearing and seeing the miracles he had performed.

This then is the test of the true servant: unflagging diligence regardless of locale, circumstance or stage of life (Rom 12:1,11).

It is disappointing when we see the reverse happening: faithful servants who drop off the radar screen of service and even church attendance once they move overseas for studies or work. Fervent workers may take a temporary leave of absence when marriage or kids come along. Sometimes, temporary leave turns into permanent retirement. When this happens, it is not just the person but the entire family that is affected. In contrast, Philip’s lifelong and proactive diligence must have been a sterling example for his young daughters. Persecution did not stop their family from their prayer, praise or preaching.

Therefore, wherever we go with our families, let us take the name of Jesus along (2 Tim 4:2). By planting the seed of the gospel in new fields with unflagging zeal, not only are we carrying out the Lord’s commission, we also maintain our family’s faith as well as ensure that there will be new brethren to support us in our own faith.

Humble Servant: A Quiet Understanding

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

(Acts 8:14–15)

The amazing progress of God’s word continued. After having received the word of God, the Samaritan believers received the Holy Spirit.

But on a more personal basis, how do we think Philip felt?

Philip had a true servant’s heart. He was not territorial about the evangelistic inroads that he had made in Samaria because he had not set out to build an empire for himself. He was always clear he was making disciples of all nations unto the Lord, not to himself. He had no qualms in working with these co-workers because he knew that all of them were striving towards the same objective—not personal but the Lord’s glory. Thus, there was no quarrel over who got the more glamorous or “spiritual” portfolios because there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; differences of ministries, but the same Lord; diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all (1 Cor 12:4–6).

Philip thoroughly understood that though he had planted, and Peter and John had come to water, it was God who gave and would give the growth (1 Cor 3:6–7). And this would have been a particularly important attitude for him to teach his daughters if the four of them were to work together harmoniously and effectively for the sake of the church at Caesarea (Acts 21:8–9).

Similarly today, though we speak in church about “my project” or “your project” for administrative ease, we must never forget that all credit and glory belong only to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are but unworthy servants blessed with the opportunity of doing the tiniest bit for the One who gave His life for us (Lk 17:10).

Obedient Servant: Have Thine Own Way, Lord

Philip was doing very well in his Samaritan divine work. The whole city was stirred and masses of people were turning to Christ. He was performing amazing miracles. Joy was palpable and pervasive (Acts 8:6–8). Then out of the blue, in the midst of these thrilling developments, the Lord sends him to a desert road!

In Philip’s shoes, we might have been bewildered… I’m doing so much good in Samaria. Why can’t someone else go? How many people could possibly be there in the desert for me to evangelize to?!

If Philip was discouraged or annoyed by the disruption, he showed no sign. We are reminded of Abram who, when told to leave his homeland, obeyed promptly without protest or demand for answers. As a result of Philip’s obedience, a soul was saved and the seed of the gospel carried even farther, all the way to the African continent.

Obedience is related to humility. This is another critical aspect that Philip would have conveyed to his daughters—that they should always submit to each other and that each should not think more highly of herself than she ought to think, but to “think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Rom 12:3). Without mutual submissiveness, the church at Caesarea might well have broken into four branches, each led by a talented “prophetess.”

Obedience is an indispensable attribute for God’s workers. Specifically, it is complete obedience to God’s will. In order to obey, we must first know God’s will. There is no replacement for persistent and constant prayerful communion with God. This must then be complemented with a thorough grounding in God’s word because it is therein that God’s will is revealed. Divine work and spiritual cultivation are inseparable. Therefore, even as we serve with our families, we must undertake spiritual nurture with them.

Beware of Pitfalls

It is a great joy and source of comfort when we are able to serve the Lord alongside our family members. However, examples from the Bible provide warnings of some potential dangers when family members serve together: rivalry, misplaced ambition and partiality.

(1) Intra-Family Rivalry

There is no record in the Bible of any envy or disharmony among Philip’s daughters. But in the Old Testament, Miriam and Aaron’s unhappiness with Moses led them to reckless remarks against his leadership. This was so displeasing to God that He suddenly summoned the three of them into His presence, furiously rebuked the two elder siblings and punished Miriam with leprosy (Num 12:2–10).

Siblings are inclined to compare. And as the family grows larger over time, there is often some unconscious (or conscious) rivalry between different branches of the family. At family gatherings, we often hear conversations that revolve around whose house/car is bigger; whose daughter or son is smarter/more talented/more influential.

A measurement mindset is not wrong for knowing where we currently are, and it helps us know how much more we need to improve. But we must measure the right things. For instance, it should not be about which family member has done more for the Lord, or which sibling has been “promoted” to deaconship or elderhood! If there is anything worth measuring, it should be about how concerned family members have been about each other’s walk of faith (cf. 2 Tim 1:5).

(2) “Jewish Mother” Syndrome1          

Samuel’s appointment of his sons as his successors did a great disservice to both his family as well as the people of Israel (1 Sam 8:1–3). The blatant attempt made by James and John’s mother to secure a higher position for the two brothers in Jesus’ kingdom was knocked back by the Lord and infuriated the other disciples (Mt 20:20–24).

It is important and good that we enthusiastically encourage our family members or train our children to serve. But we must be very clear about motivation. We (and they) serve solely to repay the Lord for His grace and to obey His commandments. Service is not a platform to give them a “public profile” or to keep up with the Joneses. And divine service should certainly not be seen as a means to “reform” a less-than-exemplary child!

With the right motivation, we will not be troubled if the church deems that we or our family members are not yet ready for a particular ministry. Instead, we will willingly and joyfully take up whichever portfolio the church assigns to us, just like Philip on the desert road.

(3) Partiality

There are many wonderful benefits of serving together as a family. One important aspect is having someone to “tell us the truth in love,” who provides a good check to ensure we are doing the right thing or doing things in the right way, for example, Jethro’s advice to Moses (Ex 18:14–22) and Mordecai’s counseling of Esther (Est 4:10–17).

In contrast, Hophni and Phinehas died because Eli did not rebuke quickly or sternly enough. In the apostolic era, Ananias and Sapphira died because both colluded to “lie to the Holy Spirit,” a strong and clear indication of the Lord’s displeasure with dishonesty and hypocrisy (Acts 5:1–2).

These examples remind us that we must be impartial in church matters which involve our family members, whether these are elections, distribution of church work or in other areas. For the good of our family members, we should honestly and openly assess their suitability for various areas of divine work. If we receive less-than-positive feedback on their conduct, let us not be defensive (cf. Lev 10:3–6). Take this as God-given opportunities for them to grow to complete maturity in Christ.


We work and live in a world that encourages the amplification of individual achievement and the celebration of personal quirks. Paul had long predicted the downward spiral of humanity—men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control— and urged Timothy to reject such behavior and values. Similarly, if our “family service” is to be acceptable to the Lord, we must do no less.

Why was Philip able to cultivate his four daughters into fruitful trees in the garden for the Lord? Because he was not just a servant in name; he had the true heart of a servant.

Serving the Lord together can strengthen the bond of families and help keep our family in the Lord generation after generation. So let us set an example as faithful servants of the Lord. Let us bring our families to serve Him with the most beautiful offering—our pure and clean hearts.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

(Rom 12:1–2)


1 In 20th century American culture, Jewish comedians and authors often stereotyped the Jewish mother or wife as nagging, overprotective, manipulative, controlling, smothering, and overbearing. She would persistently interfere in her children's lives long after they had become adults.

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Author: Derren Liang