7. Relating To One Another In Harmony, Pt. 2: The Harmony Of Children And Parents (6:1-4)Related Media
Our subject in this series is “Living Together in Community,” one aspect of which is “Relating to One Another in Harmony.” Harmonious relationships are the natural result of mutual submission: submitting to one another in the fear of Christ (5:21).
The epistle of Ephesians that we are studying has as its central theme the “unity of the church” in our position (ch. 1-3) and practice (ch. 4-6). Relationships play a vital role in unity in any organization and my proposition to you is that “unity in the church depends on harmony in all our relationships.”
Having addressed “The Harmony of Wives and Husbands” (Eph. 5:22-33), the apostle Paul now addresses “The Harmony of Children and Parents.” We’ve seen that a harmonious relationship in marriage depends upon a Spirit-filled wife willingly submitting to the leadership of her husband and a Spirit-filled husband sacrificially loving his wife.
Now, the subject turns from the relationship of wives and husbands to children and parents. As in marriages, so in families, submission is central to harmony.
Who are the “children” Paul is addressing? Well, in one way it includes all of us since we are all someone’s child. But specifically, it refers to those who are:
1. Old enough to be admonished and appealed to, but young enough to be still in the process of being brought up.
2. Old enough to make a personal commitment to Christ, but young enough to still be under their parents jurisdiction and authority (i.e. living at home).
I. The Obligations Of Christian Children To Their Parents (1-3)
Christian children have two basic obligations:
1. Christian Children Are To Be “Obey” Their Parents (1)
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
Spirit-filled wives “submit” to their husband; Spirit-filled husbands “love” their wives; and Spirit-filled children obey their parents. To obey literally means to “hear under” - i.e. to put yourself under the words and authority of your parents; to listen up attentively ; to listen with the purpose of responding positively.
How should Christian children obey their parents? …in the Lord. The interpretive question here is: “Does in the Lord modify obey or parents? Since in the Lord is followed by for this is right, it would make most sense that in the Lord qualifies obey rather than parents. In other words, the children’s obedience is to be characterized as in the Lord (for such obedience is right), rather than their parents being in the Lord, about which it would hardly be said, for this is right.
So, the statement here is about the obedience of the children, not the Christianity of the parents. The obedience of Christian children is described as in the Lord because their attitude to their parents displays their relationship to the Lord. If their obedience is in the Lord they will obey their parents for the Lord’s sake.
Obedience to parents is part of Christian discipleship. Have you been raised in a Christian home? Are you in the Lord? Do you want to walk as Jesus walked? Do you want to demonstrate the reality of Christ in you? Then, show it by being obedient to your parents!
In their obedience to their parents, Christian children show their reverence for the Lord (21) by submitting to the authority and responsibility that God has given to their parents. Your Christian home is where you should first demonstrate your faith by being obedient to your parents. So, obey your parents because your are in the Lord. Be obedient to them because you are a Christian and because you want to be obedient to the Lord! To obey your parents is to obey the Lord, so obey them for the Lord’s sake.
The first motivation to obey your parents is to do so in the Lord - that’s “how” you should obey them. But…
Why should children obey their parents? …because this is right. This is the second motivation to obey your parents. Obedience to parents is right because the Lord commands and expects it, not because society or because psychologists say so. Human behaviour isn’t motivated by what is right before God but by what seems right to them in their own eyes. That’s why so many children are disobedient to their parents – they have no fear of God; they aren’t concerned with what is right before God. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12).
Obedience to your parents is right because God says so. It is right as before the Lord. It’s God’s standard of right and everything that God commands is right. “For the ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them” (Hos. 14:9). “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Ps. 19:8).
When you obey your parents you are doing what is right because (1) you are doing what God wants you to do; (2) you are obeying him; and (3) you are doing what pleases him. Conversely, when you disobey your parents you are doing what is wrong because you are disobeying God and displeasing him. Disobedience to parents is a sign of a depraved society (Rom. 1:30) and a sign of the evil of the last days (2 Tim. 3:2).
The first obligation of Christian children is to obey their parents. The second is…
2. Christian Children Are To “Honour” Their Parents (2-3)
If obedience is a right act, honour is a right attitude, the attitude of valuing your parents highly, holding them in high regard. Notice two important things about this obligation and commandment…
The key to all human relationships is the relationship with your parents. Honour your father and mother (2a). Children are to honour their father and mother. Notice it does not say “honour your parents” as a couple, but honour your father and mother as individuals (i.e. you are to honour them equally individually and for who they are - representatives of God’s love and authority).
This principle is so important that Moses said that physical or verbal abuse of a parent is a capital offence punishable by death (cf. Ex. 21:15; Lev. 20:9; Matt. 15:3). What if that standard were applied today?
All human relationships grow out of the relationship of children to their parents. Hence, children who are undisciplined and disobedient will contribute to a society that is chaotic and destructive. But children who obey and respect their parents will contribute to the ordering of a harmonious and productive society. Children who honour their father and mother will also honour other authority figures. If you want to know why young offenders are the way they are, take a look at their attitude and relationship to their parents. Obedience and honour are learned at home.
This is the first commandment with a promise (2b), namely, “that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth” (3). Under Jewish law there were rewards for keeping certain laws. Keeping this law brought with it the rewards of prosperity and long life. Perhaps there is a connection between long life for obeying and honouring your parents vs. death by capital punishment for those who abused their parents under the O.T. law.
But Christians aren’t under the law in the same sense that the O.T. Jews were and we certainly have no promises concerning material prosperity or length of life. Why then is the promise quoted here? – probably two reasons…
1) Because the promise reinforces the significance and importance of the commandment.
2) Because honour for your parents does bring with it certain rewards. They may not be material prosperity or long life, but you’ll enjoy a lasting, rich, healthy, happy, satisfying, harmonious relationship with your parents and family; you’ll prosper in your relationships with others; you’ll develop a good attitude to life; you’ll live in peace and with respect others. That’s a great reward for honouring your father and mother! Many people would give anything to have that kind of relationship with their parents.
Such, then, are the obligations of Christian, Spirit-filled children to their father and mother. Now notice…
II. The Obligations Of Fathers To Their Children (4)
There are two commands to fathers - one negative and one positive. First the negative:
1. Fathers Are Not To Anger Their Children
And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath (4a).
In Greco-Roman culture, fathers were power figures. They had virtual life and death power over the household. They could sell their children as slaves (even kill them) and certainly didn’t show much love to their children. A newborn baby was placed at its father’s feet to determine its fate. If he picked it up, it stayed but if he walked away, it was disposed of by being taken to the town forum where it would be picked up and raised as a slave or a prostitute. Children born weak and deformed were drowned. Baby girls were left outside, exposed to the weather so that they died.
Is that so different than today? No! Today we have live-birth abortions and so many children abandoned, neglected and mistreated. Fathers are the most likely to provoke their children to anger. To provoke to anger suggests a pattern of treatment that generates a deep-seated exasperation, anger, resentment that erupts into outward hostility.
What treatment can generate this kind of response?
- Showing favouritism (e.g. Isaac re: Esau; Sarah re: Jacob).
- Pressuring them to excel, to achieve in schoolwork, sports etc.
- Discouraging them by criticizing them, never complimenting or encouraging them.
- Not letting children be children. Structuring their lives so tightly that they have no time to play, or to use their imagination, or to relax.
- Physical and verbal harshness, improper discipline, sarcasm, put downs, bitter words.
Do you know the three things that fathers say most to their children?
1) “I’m too tired”
2) “We don’t have enough money”
3) “Keep quiet” 1
Did you know that 66% of teenagers spend less than 30 minutes a week talking to their father about things that really matter to them? 2
How do you avoid provoking your children to anger? By avoiding attitudes, words, and actions which would drive a child to such exasperation or resentment. This rules out excessively severe discipline, unreasonably harsh demands, abuse of authority, unfairness, nagging, condemnation, humiliation, insensitivity to a child’s needs and sensibilities. Fathers hold great power but there are bounds to the use of that power. Children are not chattels that you own but human beings.
After the negative command comes the positive:
2. Fathers Are To Train Their Children
…but bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (4b)
It’s a father’s responsibility to discipline his children. Discipline means correction. It has the sense of what is done to and for the child. Nobody finds discipline (in the sense of chastisement pleasant), neither the father nor the child. In fact it can be downright painful but it yields long term benefits – namely, the “peaceable fruits of righteousness” (Heb. 12:6-11).
Fathers, bring up your children in the discipline of the Lord! Chasten them as the Lord chastens us but without generating bitterness. Train them. Instruct them from the Word (2 Tim 3:16) so that they learn righteousness. But don’t exasperate them in the process.
Teach them rules and regulations, rewards and punishments, but not so that they resent it and become angry (Prov. 13:24; 22:6). Punish them if necessary but not so that they hate you for it. Correct them but don’t harm their attitudes and emotions. Nurture them in Christian character and conduct so that they love what you love.
Susannah Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley, raised seventeen children and had these words to say about raising children: “The parent who studies to subdue (self-will) in the child works together with God in renewing and saving the soul. The parent who indulges it does the devil’s work, makes religion impracticable, salvation unattainable, and does all that in him lies to damn his child, soul and body forever.” 3 These are strong words from someone who knows the importance of discipline.
So, it’s a father’s responsibility to train, discipline your children. And...
It’s a father’s responsibility to “admonish” his children. To admonition (lit. “put them in mind”), means to instruct them in what they need to know. It has more the sense of what is said to the child. Admonition is more verbal correction and instruction – warning, encouraging. It has to do with right attitudes and principles of behaviour.
Fathers, raise your children in the admonition of the Lord! Warn them of things that are wrong without breaking their spirits. Counsel them from your experience without lording it over them. Instruct them but don’t be burdensome. Encourage them, reprove them, remonstrate with them but don’t breathe down their necks all the time; don’t turn them aside.
Notice that discipline and admonition are both of the Lord. The Lord is the reference point in all of this. This is the key. It is specifically Christian training - training by instruction and example, training according to God’s Word under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “The very heart of Christian nurture is…to bring the heart of the child to the heart of his Saviour.” 4
Young people, what’s your response to this message? Do you need to change your attitude to your parents? How’s your behaviour been lately? If I talked to your parents, would they say you’re obedient or disobedient? If you want to please God, obey your parents, not begrudgingly but joyfully in the Lord, out of honour for who they are.
Fathers, how’s your relationship with your children? Do you have time for them? Are you patient, loving, and kind to them? When they need help, comfort, and advice, do they come to you? Are you their best friend and hero? Are you the one they want to be like when they grow up?
In Ramsey County, Minnesota, ninth and tenth graders were interviewed about their dads. They were asked this question: “What comes to mind when you think of dad’? Answers came immediately from both ends of the spectrum. One end of the spectrum said, “I think of the word ‘jerk.’” Others thought of words like angry, mad, and absent. On the other hand, some of the young people said, “I think of wholeness, kindness, security, safety.” Dad is an immensely powerful word. 5
Fathers, you’ve got a big obligation to your children. Make the most of these formative years when their young minds and hearts can be moulded by Christian values. None of us knows how our children will turn out so what a motivation to raise them for God in the training and instruction of the Lord!
1 Cited in Christianity Today, August 27, 1976.
2 Barna Research Group (2/94). “To Verify,” Leadership.
3 From the Journal of John Wesley
4 Hendriksen, Ephesians, 263.
5 Roger Thompson, Becoming a Man, “Preaching Today,” Tape no. 140.