Parents and their Children

Bible Book: Ephesians  6 : 1-4
Subject: Parenting; Child Rearing
Series: Marriage God's Way

It is appropriate that we would come to this text on this mother’s day. As a child I remember that this was this was my mother’s favorite passage to quote to my sister and me. “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” If we were honest this morning, we would have to admit that children obeying their parents is not in vogue these days and yet, irrespective of what our culture may say, God’s perfect plan for the family has not changed.

If you take the time to look at it properly, you’ll realize that the Bible tells us everything we need to know about the problems facing us in the year 2009. Genesis 3 tells us how Adam, as the leader of his family and the ruler of God’s earthly creation, rebelled against God and how, as a consequence of that sin, all of creation rebelled against Adam. We have seen how this played out in Adam and Eve’s marriage. The one whom God had given Adam to complement and complete him, as a result of the fall, began to compete with him. This led to domestic problems, not only with his spouse, but with his children as well, as one son would end up murdering the other.

Go through the scripture and you find, over and over again, this story of rebellion in the family. In the Old Testament there is probably no more tragic story that that of David and his son Absalom and in the New Testament Jesus tells us the story of the prodigal son. The rebellious child is not only a story we find in scripture but is also, at least in the New Testament, a metaphor for the wayward sinner running from a loving heavenly Father.

As we come to this text in Ephesians 6, to keep these four verses in context, we need to see them couched within the larger pericope or section of scripture. Beginning in 5:22, Paul begins to give some very practical advice with respect to authority and discipline. He begins by instructing wives to submit to their husbands, from there tells children to obey their parents and then will instruct servants to obey their masters. All of this is under the larger idea of walking in wisdom by being filled with the Holy Spirit of God.

Remember that this book is an epistle to the church at Ephesus and is directed specifically to believers. That’s not to say that it is not God’s will for unbelieving children to obey their parents, but this book was written to those who are in covenant relationship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Because of this personal and powerful relationship they have with God, because they have been adopted into His family and bear His name, they are held to a higher standard; they must live in such a way that others will see the difference between their lives and the lives of those lost people around them, and so marked and pronounced will that difference be that only God can get the glory for the way they live.

That’s the clear teaching when we understand what the larger section of scripture here is saying with respect to being filled with the Holy Spirit and how that indwelling and fullness of God’s Spirit will spill over into every relationship with we. Remember, this ability to submit and to obey the authorities over us is directly tied to our ability to submit to and obey the Holy Spirit of God living inside of us. That’s why, when we are not in right fellowship with God, it is so difficult to be in right relationship with others.

Now, to the passage at hand. There are two parties addressed here. The first address is to children and the second is to parents. Let’s look at each of them in sequence.

I. Children Obey Your Parents

The command here is not optional. It is not a suggestion or a merely a maxim which if one were to follow it might provide a better quality of life for them. It is not a topic thrown out by our Lord for discussion to see how people feel about it, a topic which if a consensus can be reached, might need to be obeyed. It is not an archaic family code which has somehow been replaced by newer and more enlightened modes of parent/child relational skills. And note well children that it does not say that you only have to obey your parents after they have explained their reason for asking you something to your satisfaction or after you have agreed to it.

No, this stands as a direct command from God to all children who live within the community of faith, all children who claim to call Jesus their Lord and hope to benefit from the blessings and provision our Lord promises to those who love Him. Obey your parents, it’s just that simple.

To obey simply means to be subject to or to do what your parents tell you to do. And this, says Paul, is to be done in the Lord. Again, this is a command to Christian children. You see, the phrase, “In the Lord,” means that when you obey your parents, you are obeying Jesus. It means that this is part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, which of course goes back to being filled with the Spirit.

The apostle follows this up by saying, “For this is right.” In other words, Paul gives the reason children should obey their parents, namely it is the right thing to do. Colossians 3:20 says that when children obey their parents, “this is well pleasing to the Lord.” Remember that contrary to what our culture says, right and wrong are not to be determined by our ever changing feelings, which invariably will deceive us. Right and wrong are determined by God who has given us His unchanging word. The Bible says that children should obey their parents because this is what God says is the right thing to do.

Obedience is not only a willful act but with God obedience is always a heart attitude which is followed by a willful act. So, when the scripture says that children are to obey their parents it not only means that they are to do what their parents tell them to do, it means that they are to do it with the right attitude.

One of the things many children and parents alike tend to forget is that all parents used to be children. Children need to remember that their mom and dad know what it is like to have to be obedient to their parents and parents need to remember what it is like to be a child. And parents need to remember that they were once just as prone to disobedience and rebellion as their children are today.

Now, some of you may take issue with that statement and say, “Pastor, I never talked to my father the way my children talk to me,” or, “I never sassed my mother the way my children talk back to me. Why my father would have taken me to the woodshed and given me an attitude adjustment with his belt.” Of course your comment could be a lot more revealing than you realize.

You see, all of us are natural born sinners. From birth we are born with a natural, inherent tendency to rebel, not only against God but against any authority God places over us. If your children are rebellious it is because they were born that way. But if they continue to be rebellious it is because nothing has been done to correct that behavior.

To correct that behavior God has instructed parents to discipline their children. The reason you may never have talked to your father or mother like your children talk to you is because you knew you couldn’t get away with it. You knew there would be consequences if you were to treat your parents like that. And the truth of the matter is, it is because of that discipline, because you knew there would be consequences to your actions that you began to act differently and to show respect where respect was due. But we’ll talk more about discipline when we get to verse four.

Children are to obey their parents; they are to do this because God commands it and because it is impossible for them to be right with God unless they do so. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for it is right. It is also a commandment that holds promise, something we will get to in just a moment.

But first notice the second piece of advice here, it is addressed to the parents. Look at verse 4.

II. Father’s do not provoke your Children to Anger

Note with me that God always addresses those who are in positions of authority. He holds them responsible and to a higher degree of accountability. Parents are God’s representatives to their children and as such must demonstrate to them what God is like, in His love and character.

The admonition here is against exasperating or frustrating your children, not against simply making them angry. It is similar to the command found in Colossians 3:21 which adds, “lest they become discouraged.” When properly understood this simply means that fathers are not to treat their children in such a way so as to cause them to despair or to grow frustrated because they can never please their fathers. The idea here is not to exasperate your children.

Let me give you seven ways to exasperate your children, seven things, by the way, you should not do if you are going to be the parent God wants you to be.

A. The Mold Issue

You exasperate your child when you insist on forcing them into your mold instead of allowing them become what God wants them to be.

How many frustrated young people have I met who were torn between what God was telling them to do or to be and what their parents wanted them to do? I know of young men who went through life filled with frustration because their father wanted them to follow in his footsteps or their mother wanted them to be something more than she esteemed their father to be.

Folks, your children belong to God. He has a perfect plan for them. While we are commanded to give them guidance and direction, we need to be careful not to try and do God’s job for Him. They will come of age when they can hear His voice and follow His leadership. We have a responsibility to keep them from walking away from Him but let us be careful not to try and determine how they spend their life. Their life belongs to Him and He can tell them how they are to use it better than we can. Don’t force your child into a mold of your own making. Let God shape them into being what He made them to be.

B. The Expectations Issue

You exasperate your child when you place unrealistic expectations on them.

This one comes back to pride on the part of some parents who are absolutely sure that their children are going to be perfect. There is no perfect child just like there is no perfect child and there are no perfect parents. We are all stained with sin. Don’t be unrealistic in what you expect of your child. They are going to make mistakes, they are going to do dumb things, it’s just part of what it means to grow up.

Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is god medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

I’ve seen many a person, young and old, whose spirit was broken by unrealistic expectations their parents put upon them. And I can assure you, it breaks their very spirit.

Psalm 103:13-14 says, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows what we are made of; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

Don’t expect your children to be perfect, you’ll only be setting yourself and them up disappointment. Just like God has mercy on you when you stumble and fall, you too need to have mercy on them.

C. The Hypocrite Issue

You exasperate your child when you are a hypocrite

When you paint yourself as on thing in public and then your children see that you are something else in private, you exasperate your children, you frustrate them because you lead them to believe that everyone is a hypocrite and that there is no one they can take at face value.

If you come to church and act all spiritual and pious and then go home and run people down around the dinner table, your children begin to believe this is the norm and that everyone lives like this. No wonder so many children grow up and when they leave home they leave the church as well, never to return. They are convinced that everyone is a hypocrite, your life has made a believer out of them, you’ve successfully raised a cynic.

D. The Discipline Issue

You exasperate your child when you fail to discipline them.

Back in verses 2-3 Paul quotes the fifth commandment here which says, to honor your father and your mother. It is the first commandment with promise.

This is an interesting passage here, because you see, the promise is that if you honor your father and your mother, your days will be long upon the earth.

There was a great deal of literal truth to this in ancient Israel. The Law of Moses set forth very tough penalties for children who disobeyed their parents.

Growing up in a very conservative Christian home my parents often acquainted me with Deuteronomy 21:18-21 which says, “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of the city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, this son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice, he is a glutton and a drunkard. Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones, so you shall put away the evil from among you and all Israel shall hear and fear.”

Talk about quiet time. That’s permanent quite time. But seriously, the scripture says that children are to discipline their children, for their own well being. Listen to the counsel of scripture.

Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

Proverbs 19:18, “Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death.”

Proverbs 22:15, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.”

Proverbs 23:13, “Do not hold back discipline form the child, although you beat him with the rod, he will not die.”

In fact, Hebrews tells us that whom the Lord loves He disciplines, like a father disciplines a child.

The scripture is clear that discipline, when properly enforced and when implemented correctively, is a loving and a lifesaving act. Rear your child without discipline and you raise a rebel. Not only will that child rebel against you but he or she will rebel against every authority along life’s journey. When you fail to discipline your child you are nurturing the wild seeds of rebellion that bear awful fruit.

Children will most often obey when they know they have to, not merely when they know they should. That’s why loving discipline is necessary. I am not suggesting that you abuse your child in anyway, that would not only be unlawful but would violate scripture as our children are a gift from God and are never to be abused.

But friends, spanking a child, when done properly, is not abusive. To the contrary it is corrective and demonstrates love much more than ignoring a child who refuses to obey. What is abusive is never spanking a child and allowing them to grow up without any discipline or respect for authority. You are certain to reap the fruit of sorrow if you fail to discipline your child. If you listen to the politically correct parenting gurus of our day they will tell you that spanking your child is cruel and unusual, of course these are the same nuts that are supporting abortion on demand. But God’s been around longer than them and is a much more trustworthy source on rearing children.

Parents these days spend too much time worrying about whether or not they’re going to warp their child’s psyche. Funny thing, my parents were never concerned about my psyche. When they told me to do something and I willfully chose not to do it, they were quick to address the problem in the old fashioned way. They spanked me. Looking back, I realize now that the discipline my parents gave me was one of the ways they showed how much they loved me.

Remember that Paul has couched this within the context of Christian love and being filled with the Holy Spirit. The parent who is filled with the Holy Spirit will love their children and want God’s best for them and will always see discipline as being corrective not merely punitive.

And lest you think this is rather harsh, consider that in the ancient Roman world a child had no rights whatsoever. The Father had absolute power of life and death over all of his children, a power known as “Patria Postestas.” Under Roman law a father could punish his child, sell them into slavery, have him whipped or have him killed. In ancient Rome, the world into which this epistle was first written, a slave had more rights than a child.

So don’t you find it interesting that Paul would encourage parents not to provoke their children to anger?

E. The Example Issue

You exasperate your children when you set a negative example for them

If you want to see how your children are going to act when they grow up, just take a long hard look in the mirror. While it may sound very academic, I call this the “monkey see, monkey do,” principle.

If you treat your wife well, your sons will treat their wives well and your daughters will look for men who will treat them well. If you treat your wife with disrespect, your sons will disrespect their wives and your daughters will come to believe that is what they should expect from a man.

If you rebel against the authorities in your life, against your boss, against your spiritual leaders and are constantly complaining about having to do this or to do that, you are raising a rebel by example. Your children will, in turn, rebel against you and you will be the one to blame for it. Children are people and people seldom ever rise above the level of their leader.

If you want your children to be men and women of integrity, if you want them to speak kindly to others and to display a Christ-like attitude in all they do, you are the one who they will be watching, you are their prime example.

Again, monkey see, monkey do. By your actions you will either set into motion generational blessings or generational curses.

F. The Spiritual Issue

You exasperate your children when you fail to give them adequate spiritual guidance

There is an absolutely ridiculous notion these days that we must allow our children to “find their own way,” with regard to spiritual things. What naiveté to think that the world is spiritually neutral. This kind of thinking does not come from scripture but from a secular world which continually refuses to see the deep seated spiritual nature of life.

If you fail to give your children adequate spiritual guidance you have failed to prepare them for the realities of life and they will be exasperated as they try to face life ill equipped.

G. The Love Issue

You exasperate your children when you give them false love

What is false love? It is anything that takes the place of authentic love. And love, folks, is a four letter word, it is spelled, T-I-M-E, it means you have to invest your life and your time with your child.

Your credit card may pacify them for a while. The things you give them may distract them for a season but in the end, they will know that you did not give them the kind of love they long for. True love is given when you give of yourself, sacrificially and selflessly.

That’s the model we have isn’t it? God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us. He gave of Himself. He did not sent us things, for they could not fill them empty place in our hearts. He did not send us entertainment because it is fleeting and cannot meet our deepest needs. Instead He gave of Himself when Jesus died on the cross for you and for me.

III. Conclusion

So what are you to do? You are to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Allow me to suggest three things here which you might find helpful in putting this teaching into practice.

A. Love Them

Love them with the kind of love God has shown us. His love provides for us, it protects us, it guides us and directs us. God’s love is soft enough to bind our wounds and strong enough to correct and discipline us when we need it. If we want to know how to love our children, all we have to do is to take a look at the love God has for us. It is the perfect example, in every way.

B. Teach Them

In elementary school we used to have show and tell and there’s really not any better way to learn something than by show and tell. We need to tell them what God’s word says, teaching them His truth, inculcating His word into their hearts. Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee. But not only do we teach by telling, we teach by showing. The strongest form of education you can give your child is a good example. Show them what it means to be a man of God, to be a woman of prayer, demonstrate what it is like to love others when it is tough. They will ultimately become what you show and tell them to be.

C. Leave Them

To leave them has two applications – Leave them means to allow them to grow up and become adults. While it is often difficult to do, we have to allow our children to become the men and women God calls them to be. Pity the person whose parents never let them grow up, how weak and ill equipped for life they are. It is only by struggle that the caterpillar becomes butterfly and only by allowing your children to struggle will they gain the necessary strength to one day spread their wings and fly.

But leaving them also means leaving them with a strong legacy. My father died in 1996. He was not a rich man, in fact, he left nothing of any monetary value to speak of. But what he did leave me was a godly heritage. He left me with a strong sense of what it means to walk with God, to live a life filled with eternal purpose. He left me with a strong appreciation for God’s word and a love for Christian music, from which I have learned much.

Children, obey your parents…do it in the Lord for it is the right thing to do and God will bless you for it.

Parents, don’t exasperate your children but demonstrate the love and the character of Christ to them. Raise them in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it.