Ephesians 6_ 1- 4      Children and Parents

Rev. David Holwick

First Baptist Church

West Lafayette, Ohio

January 9, 1983

Children and Parents

Ephesians 6:1-4, KJV

This morning I am returning to my series of sermons from Paul's letter to the Ephesians.  The final chapter begins with the subject of the relationship of children and parents.  As we turn to this chapter it is very important for us to bear in mind that these four verses are only a further illustration of the great principle Paul has laid down in chapter 5 and which he works out in terms of our various human relationships.  This principle is stated in the 18th verse of the fifth chapter:

"And he not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit."

This is the key for how Christians should live and manage their relationships.  A related principle is found in the 21st verse:

"Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God."

In other words, Paul is saying that the Christian life is an entirely new life, totally different from the way they lived before.  It is the difference between a person who is drunk and a person who is filled with the Spirit.

Having applied this principle to husbands and wives, Paul now applies it to children and parents.  Everyone will agree that this is a tremendously important subject right now.  The cover story of this week's Newsweek magazine was called "Splitting up the Family".  There seems to be a breakdown in discipline in all these fundamental units in life - in marriage and in home relationships.  A spirit of lawlessness is everywhere and things which were once more or less taken for granted are not only being questioned but are being ridiculed and dismissed.  There is no area where this is more obvious than in the matter of the relationship of parents and children.  According to the latest United States census, one out of three children in this country live in homes without at least one of their biological parents.  Child beating has become an epidemic.  Runaways are said to number in the millions.  The Bible in its teaching and in its history tells us that this is something which has always happened at a time of godlessness.

A good example is what Paul says in Romans 1:18-32.  There he gives an appalling description of conditions in society at the time when our Lord came into it.  It was a society of sheer lawlessness and among the many sins he lists we find the issue we are talking about.  First he says in verse 28:

"God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient."  That is, things which should not be done.

Then follows the description in verse 29:

"Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful...."

In this terrible list Paul includes being disobedient to parents.  Again, in 2 Timothy 3:1 Paul says, "In the last days perilous times shall come."  Then he gives the characteristics of such times:

"For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God."

In both passages the Apostle Paul reminds us that at a time of apostasy and turning against God, when the very foundations are shaking, one of the clearest sings of lawlessness is disobedience to parents.  The only hope of getting back any measure of righteousness into life is to have a revival of godliness.

The best and most moral periods in the history of this country have always been those periods which have followed mighty religious awakenings.  It has been a long time since America has had a significant revival.  Present conditions, therefore, demand that we should carefully study Paul's statement in Ephesians.  I believe that Christian parents and children, Christian families, have a unique opportunity of witnessing to the world at this time by just being different.  We can be true evangelists by showing this discipline, this law and order, this true relationship between parents and children.  Our families can be a means of bringing many to the knowledge of the truth that is in Jesus and it is not just non-believers we can witness to because many Christian families are in desperate trouble as well.  Paul begins by addressing children.  He says:

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

Paul begins at the natural level.  Children should obey because it is something which is essentially right and good in and of itself.  It is part of the basic rule of life which we find not only among humans but also among animals.  The young animals in their weakness and ignorance need the protection and the guidance and the help and the instruction which is given by the parent.  There are people around us who are not Christians at all but they are firm believers in discipline and order.  Why?  Because the whole of life and the whole of nature indicates this.  For an offspring to be rebellious against the parents and to refuse to listen and obey is something foolish.

Now Paul goes to a second point.  Obedience by children is not only right; it is also "the first commandment" with a promise.  "Honor thy father and thy mother" is the fifth of the Ten Commandments.  In the Ten Commandments it is addressed not so much to younger children still in the care of their parents as it is to older children who have the responsibility for the welfare of their parents who are growing old.  This seems to be the significance here in Ephesians as well.  Notice the commands Paul gives.  First he says, children must obey.  "Obey" means not only to listen to but to listen as one who is under the authority of someone else.  The parent-child relationship is not one of equals but it is most important that this should be controlled by the accompanying idea, that of "honoring."  "Honor your father and mother."  That means respect, reverence.  Children are not supposed to give a mechanical and grudging obedience.  That is wrong, that's to observe the letter but not the spirit of the law, just like the Pharisees.  God wants children to obey with an attitude of respect, consideration and care.  Obedience is "in the Lord".  Must be compatible with the Lordship of Christ.  He comes first.

When this command is followed, God provides a promise which is found in verse 3:

"That things may go well with you and that you may enjoy a long life on the earth."

The Hebrews believed that God rewarded those who obeyed his will with prosperity and long life.  This is a command, which, if obeyed, brings happiness here on earth.  You don't have to wait till you get to heaven to enjoy it.  People today are probably inclined to understand this promise not so much in an individual as in a community sense.  A community in which families are stable and the aged are respected and card for by their own children is a healthy society in which people live happily together.  Whether we like it or not, a breakdown in home life will eventually lead to a breakdown everywhere.  This is the most menacing and dangerous aspect of the condition of our society at this time.  Once the family unit is broken up - once that goes, soon you will have no other allegiance.  It is the most serious thing of all and that is perhaps the reason why God attached this promise to it.

If children should obey and honor parents, fathers also have their Christian obligations toward their children.  It's a two-way street.  They are urged in verse 4:

"Do not provoke your children to wrath."

The fault that is most to be avoided by parents in their treatment of children is that of irritating and exasperating them.  Paul does not get specific about what kind of behavior by parents causes this.  Perhaps it is an unbending demand for obedience in matters in which the child can see no purpose at all.  Or it could be treating on older child as if he were still an infant.  Or perhaps, it may be inconsistency, so that the same action by a child may one day be greeted with amusement and another day by angry condemnation.

A Christian father will have a real concern for his child's happiness and welfare and as a result will try to see the child's point of view.  He will also try to understand and avoid those attitudes and actions which the child finds exasperating.  In Colossians 3:21 Paul adds the words, "lest they become discouraged."  The positive alternative is to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."  This is the opposite of just letting them do what they want because you can't be bothered by them.  It requires discipline by the parent.  Some commentators try to make a sharp distinction between nurture and admonition, with one meaning "obedience reinforced by punishment" and the other referring to "oral teaching."  This is probably reading too much into them but the words taken together suggest both the encouraging of behavior worthy of a Christian and also verbal instruction about the contents of the Christian faith.

This is where Christian parents are in an entirely different category from all other parents.  Paul is not just encouraging us to bring up our children in terms of general morality or good manners.  This, of course, is included - everyone should be doing it, even non-Christian parents.  This is but common morality and Christianity has not started at this point.  But Paul is referring to more, to the "admonition of the Lord."  In the forefront of the minds of Christian parents should always be the thought that our children are to be brought up in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and as Lord.  This is the task to which Christian parents alone are called.

Is that our main ambition for our children?  Bringing children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is a great responsibility.  It means taking them to Sunday school, reading the Bible to them, answering their questions.  But it also involves far more than this.  To really bring up your children in the Lord they should be able to see in you what Christ himself stands for in the conduct of life.  You must live like a Christian if you want them to become Christians.


Typed on January 5, 2006, by Sharon Lesko of Ledgewood Baptist Church, New Jersey

Copyright 2017 by Rev. David Holwick

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