Ephesians Meditations No.47
Eph 6:1-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
The context you may remember is of submission creating unity in the church, the body of Christ. Paul developed that concept through the picture of marriage and now extends it into the whole family. It is a subject – and through these verses especially – that often raises a number of questions. Paul starts off, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” He is looking at the parent-child relationship and so starts with the child who is the one who is most likely to have difficulty with the submission concept. This especially comes so in teenage years when the young person is seeking to find their own identity, and part of that process involves temporarily drawing away from the parent. It is also difficult when the child is a Christian and the parent is not and the parent makes demands that conflict with the faith of the young person. It may also be difficult when the parent is a Christian and the young person has not made a decision for Christ themselves.
In the call to children there are two things that deserve particular attention. The first is the word ‘obey’. The role of the parent in God’s design is to be there to provide for and protect the child and, if we follow Old Testament teaching, to train up the child (Prov 22:6). Part of those things will be to issue instructions which may vary from the mundane (e.g. please will you pick up that toy off the floor), to the more serious, (e.g. I really don’t want you mixing with those teenagers who are taking drugs). If we ever had a question of the reality of sin (rebellion), observe any child! The wilful refusal to do that which is asked (or required) leads us into discipline issues, which are beyond what we have space for here.
The second thing to consider is Paul’s use of the words, ‘in the Lord’. Now he obviously includes these for a reason and that, we suggest, is similar to our thinking when it comes to the requirements of the State. The Law, or the instructions of the parent, should never go contrary to God’s laws, instructions etc. Thus a non-Christian (although tragically this doesn’t exclude some Christian men), who brings instruction to a child that involves them submitting to abuse, is wrong and should not be heeded. Wisdom suggests that as the child gets older instructions give way to discussion, i.e. bald commands give way to explanation. It is always wise to put in some form of explanation with every instruction (e.g. …otherwise your toy might get broken if you leave it there) but in teenage years talking and discussing (in a family forum?) are much better and are an acceptance and recognition of the child’s growing responsibility.
Then Paul gives a reason for ‘obeying’ parents, and it is because it goes with the original Old Testament instruction as the fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Honouring is slightly different from ‘obeying’ in that obeying can be an expression of honouring. Honouring is more about having an attitude of respect, a recognition of the role that God has given to this older person. It isn’t about how well they have performed it! So important did God consider this that He made it a condition of blessing, originally in the Promised Land, but now in life generally. I wonder how many young people DON’T realise this (or older ‘children’ too!) that God’s blessing on their life can be curtailed because of a bad attitude towards their parent? Even when the parent has not been good, godly ‘honouring’ should produce a concern for (and prayer for?) that parent.
There is another side to this submitting which might be simply summarised as ‘don’t make it difficult to be submitted to’: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Why does Paul say this to fathers? First, because fathers, as the ones who have the responsibility before the Lord for the family, should be the ones taking the ultimate action to bring about the training in righteousness of the child and, second, fathers tend to be more heavy handed in these things than the mother. It is thus something that, for both reasons above, the father needs to give particular thought to.
A final comment: in all of these things pertaining to family relationships, legalistic demanding of them does no good. Whatever else is required of such parental leading, the primary thing is love and acceptance. Let those two things temper all you do with your child, and increasingly as they grow older. If there is a genuine loving relationship, there is more likely to be obedience that flows out in response to that love. You will also need to cry to the Lord for wisdom on more than a few occasions! May it be so!