Grow in the Word of God, part 2

The integrity of a society begins with the integrity in the home and the home is the first & best place for children to learn faith and obedience. The collapse of a nation (any nation) is directly related to the home. When the family is decayed, the nation rots. The only remedy is a wholesale return to the godly principles contained in the Bible. Parents must 1st themselves be given over to the way of God and then in turn they instruct their children in obedience. Therefore, Paul continues his exhortation to the family, and in this section (6.1-4) focuses on the children’s responsibility toward their parents.

 God’s Word to Children (6.1-4)

As children grow they are to be obedient to their parents, especially their fathers.

1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Children: This epistle is addressed to “saints” (1.1), not exactly preschoolers and young children. Obedience and honor certainly begins in childhood, but it continues into adulthood.

Obey…the Lord: Obey is stronger than submit (v.21, 22). Submission is voluntary; obedience is mandatory. In the Lord (key phrase in Ephesians) “means to obey as part of one’s relation to the Lord” (Snodgrass 321).

The Scriptures paint a bleak picture of those who are disobedient to parents (Prov 30.11, 17). Disobedience to parents is characteristic of those who are depraved and reprobate whom God has given over to a debased mind (Rom 1.29, 30). It is also a signal that we are indeed living in the last days (2 Tim 3.1-2). At its heart, disobedience is spiritual rebellion since obedience to parents is part of our relationship with the Lord.

For this is right: Even the law of nature teaches we obey those who gave us life; the Romans understood the power of the father (patria potestas) in his home. Common sense dictates that parental obedience is right. The Law of God sanctioned & sanctified obedience (5th commandment). Now Paul, inspired of the Holy Spirit, baptizes the command and so enjoins it upon the church of Christ.

2“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),

“Honor…mother”: Honor means to revere, respect, and value upon the parents. Parents (v.1) is here defined as a father and mother, which would exclude other unlawful arrangements (i.e. Heather has Two Mommies).

Obedience may look different for a 20 year old than a 5 year old, but honor remains relatively unchanged. We should always respect our parents, regardless of what age we be. But a 5 yr olds obedience (maybe – eat your vegetables) looks different than a 20 yr olds obedience (say – stay away from alcohol). Honoring God is the theological principle undergirding the principle to honor and obey parents.

This is…a promise: Some have noted that the 2nd commandment (no idols) has a promise in it (Exodus 20.4-6). However, a close reading of the text shows that the Lord is describing His nature in the 2nd commandment, whereas the 5th commandment has a specific, personal promise (“you”).

3“that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

“That it may go well with you”: The promise is that things will go better for you if you obey your parents. You’ll be more useful, healthy, happy than if you did not obey mom & dad.

“That you…in the land”: or “on the earth.”  Though originally “the land” is the Promised Land, here it is meant generally for the earth. The second aspect of the promise is longevity. Those who listen to their parents, doing what they say will live a long time.

Some point out the problem with the promise – some children, even those who are very obedient, die. Granted, there are the cases where lives are cut short due to willful rebellion and refusal to heed the voice of parental wisdom. But some kids’ lives are short without that willful rebellion. They don’t “live long on the earth” even though they may have been very obedient. What then? The problem is further compounded when we consider that some little hellion grows up into adulthood, perhaps to continue his profligate lifestyle. “Why do the wicked prosper, Lord?”

  • Reminder: when a child dies, we believe that they go to be with the Lord. Sin does not come alive until they come to know the Law and disobey it. So when a young child does die, we have the blessed assurance that they are “safe in the arms of Jesus.” Do not doubt in the dark what you knew in the light.
  • Though we can point to specific cases, this promise, when applied generally, tends towards the results specified. Where you find parental obedience, you will typically find longevity and habits which promote that.
  • Another reminder: God is sovereign. In the end, He owes us no explanation for the whys and wherefores of life (and death). Though we only have partial answers in this life, the promise still stands.

4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Fathers: Some point out that the word used here (Gk pateres) is used of both parents (see Hebrews 11.23). However, Paul has just used the word for “parents” in v.1. It seems like the shift is intentional: primary responsibility to lead the home and primary accountability unto the Lord for the home is placed squarely upon men.

Do not…anger: Paul tells Christian fathers not to make their children mad or irritated. Coupled with Colossians 3.21 this comes into sharp focus: don’t lead your children down a path of frustration which culminates in their being discouraged in the faith.

But bring…the Lord: Provide for their physical & psychological needs, yes. But most important, give them what they need spiritually. Discipline relates to cultivating the mind and morals complete with commands and correction when necessary. Instruction could be either correction (for misdeeds) or confirmation (for good works).

First the wives, then the husbands. First the children, then the fathers. The dependent first followed by those upon whom they are dependent. Here Paul states the negative before giving the positive. This is Paul’s typical style.  First, don’t provoke them to anger: That is, although there is a proper and necessary place for discipline, that discipline must nevertheless “never be arbitrary (for children have a built-in sense of justice) or unkind. Otherwise, they will ‘become discouraged.’ Conversely, almost nothing causes a child’s personality to blossom and gifts to develop like the positive encouragement of loving, understanding parents.”[1] Second, bring them up in God’s instruction: How are fathers to do this unless they know what the Word of God teaches? How are they to teach with wisdom unless they have themselves learned in Christ’s school? Obviously fathers will fail at this great task unless they are themselves growing with God. They must be studying the Bible. They must be seeking to live by it and practice it in their own daily lives. Parents (and especially fathers) must be models. [2]

[1] James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988). 214.

[2] Ibid 215.

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