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The responsibilities of a head of household include spiritual commitment and prayer on behalf of the household. We can understand this based on interactions among Paul, Silas, the city jailer, and a lady Lydia; in Philippi during the Second Missionary Journey. Paul and Silas found themselves in jail, where an act of compassion by Paul touched the jailer spiritually and prepared him to receive the gospel. When he asked what he needed to do to be saved, Paul and Silas advised him to make a spiritual commitment to the Lord Jesus on behalf of himself and his household.
The concept of household spiritual commitment by the head goes back to God’s covenant with Abraham, reiterated to Jacob at Bethel, and renewed at Shechem by Joshua and representatives of all Israel. Furthermore, we learn about prayer by head of household, ministering by compassion, and other principles applicable to present-day human interactions and relationships.
Paul and Silas in Philippi
Paul and his team were on their way to a place of prayer when they were bothered by a slave girl that earned money for her owners as a fortune teller. She followed them and kept shouting: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Her behavior was so disruptive that Paul turned around and expelled the evil spirit that possessed her. As a result, she lost her ability to predict the future and her owners dragged Paul and Silas to the market-place magistrate [Acts 16:16–21]. The magistrate ordered them flogged and jailed without giving them opportunity to respond to the charges brought against them.
While in jail, Paul and Silas sang and prayed continuously during the night. At about midnight, the prison building was struck by a violent earthquake, the doors flew open, and the shackles of all the prisoners including Paul and Silas fell off; but they did not escape. When the jailer awakened and thought the prisoners escaped, he drew his sword with the intention to kill himself. But Paul persuaded him to call off the attempt [Acts 16:25–28]. This act of compassion by Paul touched the jailer spiritually. He asked what he must do to be saved, to which Paul and Silas replied: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” [Acts 16:31].
Paul and Silas counseled the jailer to make a spiritual commitment for himself and his household. In an earlier encounter, a lady named Lydia accepted Paul’s message and she and her household were baptized. Therefore, by accepting Paul’s message, Lydia made a spiritual commitment for herself and her household [Acts 16:13–15]. That is, Paul and Silas through these encounters provide us two examples of a head of household making spiritual commitment on behalf of the household. The concept of spiritual commitment by head of household actually is founded on God’s covenant with Abraham.
Covenant with Abraham
God made a covenant with Abraham and declared it as “an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” [Genesis 17:7]. He told Abraham that “you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come” [Genesis 17:9], thereby establishing the responsibility of head of household to make spiritual commitments on behalf of the household.
Renewal by Jacob
Jacob renewed the covenant at Bethel. God appeared to him in a vision and promised him inheritance of his promise to Abraham. As we discussed in a previous bible study HERE, Jacob made a vow that if God will provide for his basic needs, then “the Lord will be my God” [Genesis 28:21], thereby making a spiritual commitment for future generations including those of us that inherit the promise that “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” [Genesis 28:14].
Renewal by Joshua
Joshua and a group of representatives of all Israel renewed the covenant at Shechem [Joshua 24:1–26]. Each of the people with Joshua at the event represented a group of households, therefore, made commitments for the group that he represented. However, Joshua emphasized the role of head of household through his famous declaration: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” [Joshua 24:15].
Prayer by Head of Household
Another aspect of the responsibility of the head of household is prayer for the household. Abraham illustrated this responsibility when he sent his servant to travel several hundred miles to get a wife for his son Isaac. He prayed for his servant that God “will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there” [Genesis 24:7]. His servant believed in the prayer and started from it each time he prayed. It is somewhat like sending your son to a friend for a favor and he introduces himself by reminding the friend that you already talked to the friend about him. For example, “My father is Goodluck Ofoegbu and he talked to you about me.”
As we discussed in a previous bible study HERE, the servant’s prayer was granted exactly on the two occasions that he prayed, which makes two points. First, a household head needs to pray for members of his household: wife, children, and any other person that lives in the house. Note that the experience with Lydia implies a woman stands in as head of household if the husband is not there. Second, household members that believe and honor the authority of the head of household will believe in the prayer and it will be effective for them just like it was for Abraham’s servant.
Ministering by Deeds: Compassion
Paul first ministered to the jailer through compassion. He noticed the jailer was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. Paul shouted at him not to harm himself because “we are all here” [Acts 16:28]. His compassion touched the jailer deeply and made him hungry to learn more about Paul’s faith and how he could make it part of his life.
We can minister to people through both behavior and words. At times, ministering through behavior is at least as effective as ministering by words. Paul’s behavior toward the jailer was so effective because it conveyed the image of God.
Compassion always conveys the image of God because of its proximity to the core of God’s purpose for people. The online dictionary at Dictionary.com defines compassion as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” That is, compassion is recognizing a need and doing what you can to provide for it without expecting a profit or reward, which Christ described through the Parable of the Good Samaritan as what we have to do to “inherit eternal life” [Luke 10:25–37].
As we discussed in a previous bible study HERE, God created every person to be his provider assistant, such that recognizing a need and doing what you can to provide for it brings you closer to God’s purpose. Therefore, people feel the Spirit of God flowing from you when they feel compassion from you, which can explain the dramatic effect of Paul’s compassion on the jailer.