Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:1 Introduction
After concentrating long on husbands and wives, Paul now turns his attention to parents and children. Family life can be a full blessing only when every member of the household, the youngest as well as the oldest, performs their God-ordained obligations. Each has a role to fulfill, divine duties to do.
Eph. 6:1a “Children,. . .”
Considering their lowly standing in society at the time, it is amazing to see this group addressed directly. Paul expected children to hear and heed his words. He obviously deemed them an important part of the church at Ephesus.
We previously discussed the advantages Christianity brought women. It provided children even more. Jesus broke sunshine into their dismal storm.
The ancients were by and large very callus toward the young. Fathers had absolute power over their children. If a father tired of caring for his children, he could set them loose to fend for themselves, sell them into slavery, or even execute them. If not pleasing to its father, a newborn was abandoned.
It was not uncommon for as many as thirty babies to be deserted in the Roman Forum on any given night. These children died of exposure or became the property of anyone who wanted to pick them up. Healthy babies were often collected by people who raised them in order to make them laborers, sell them as slaves, or stock the brothels of Rome. Unhealthy babies were forsaken. Seneca said with pride, “Children born weakly and deformed we drown.”
Christianity fought against this dehumanization of young human life. Children were not a burden to Jesus. He called them to Himself, “took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them” (MT 19:14). Jesus the Master loved children; Paul the Disciple followed His Lord’s example. By speaking directly to children, Paul dignified their place in the Christian home.
Eph. 6:1b “. . .obey. . .”
The word is “hupakouo.” The preposition “hup” meant “under.” The word “akouo,” root of “acoustics,” meant “to hear.” Thus, the combined word meant to “obey,” in the sense of “to hear under” authority. Children are to listen to parents, realizing they are under the authority of the speaker’s words.
The young are to recognize they look up to superiors, to ones who have a right to command. Youth are to hear with undivided attention, to deem a parent’s words weighty, of worth. Valued attention is a first element in obedience. To hear with submission and respect is the beginning of a good response.
When the parents at Ephesus realized Paul was about to address their children, they probably thought he would say something about Jesus, prayer, or nature. Instead, Paul spoke of duty. His words were not a sugared morsel. He did not tell a nice little story or quote a cute poem. Believing every stage of life should be taken seriously, Paul set before the youth a straightforward, practical duty. The laws of Christ are to rule childhood as well as adulthood.
Paul was in essence saying, “Children, you profess to be born again. You claim to have accepted Jesus as Lord. Now prove it. Let evidence shine forth from your life. Take as your first admonition of life, obey your parents.”
For youth, obedience to parents is a prime proof of salvation. It shows one is overcoming the devastating results of the Fall which plague every family member. Due to the old sin nature, men want to be dictatorial gods or to abdicate their leadership role altogether and be women, women want to be men, and children want to be adults. A root of self-will is inbred in every person. From this root grow two evil and misshapen stems–pride and disobedience.
Innate pride makes it hard for young people to obey parents. Moms and dads usually have more experience, know more, and are wiser than children, but youthful pride tends to think it knows it all. Age and experience help blunt the edge of inflated presumptuousness, but in the meantime, Christ’s regeneration can give humility enough to obey parents.
Disobedience flows from the mind’s natural recoiling from any idea of subjection. Rules set boundaries, and limitations often irk the young. Only with difficulty do we allow ourselves to be placed under the control of another.
When Jesus comes into our lives, He softens this resistance. He teaches us that discipline is God’s purpose in all of life. In youth we learn discipline from parents and then begin to discipline ourselves. The purpose of adulthood is not to be free, but rather to be responsible. Parents are God’s tools to prepare us for this self-discipline He requires of us when we become adults.
Youth, if born again, your responsibility in the home is to obey your parents. Resist your natural inclinations. Rise above your inbred rebellion. The pill is bitter to swallow, but true nonetheless. Children cannot guide themselves. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (PR 22:15 NASB).
God knew obedience would be difficult for the young. As we have noted, He made a submissive spirit one of the things He gives us at conversion. To help us even more, He graciously ordained that the ones assigned to chastise and punish us are the same ones who, until our own marriages, love us most.
Parent, your wild child will eventually be tamed and corralled by someone–a school official, a policeman, a warden, a military officer. God, though, wants the disciplining done by those who love the children the most.
Some parents want others to do the tedious task of discipline, and want to retain for themselves the privilege of spoiling their child. This attitude is ironic. A parent does this to win the child’s love, but the exact opposite often happens. An undisciplined child begins to view a parent as nothing more than a gift-giver, a gravy-train, Santa Claus. If the parent does not continue to conform to this image, animosity builds in the child and the parent becomes an object of contempt. If your child runs loose and wild, you will lose him or her if you ever try to pull in the reins. Children do not reverence parents naturally. Respect must be earned by a well-balanced mix of love and discipline.
A child who is taught to obey parents learns self-control and obedience to law, both of which are essential for good character and stamina. I am glad my parents disciplined me. If spanked at school, I was spanked again at home. One day, in the second grade, I skipped school. A church member saw me walking the streets and called my parents. Dad came to find me. He laid me down on my stomach in the back seat of the car, knelt in the front seat, and spanked me. When we arrived at school, he told my teacher to spank me, too. Thank God for a merciful teacher who could tell I had suffered enough for one day. I once threw a book at a Sunday School teacher. Dad, a firm believer in swift justice, marched me to his office at church and spanked me with his belt.
Children and youth, if you claim to be followers of Jesus, you must act like Jesus. He is the role model for Christians of all ages, and the Bible clearly tells how He acted as a child. Christ lived with His parents in Nazareth, “and was subject unto them” (LK 2:51). The Creator of the Universe took the place of lowly subjection. He is the prototype. Let’s follow His example.
Eph. 6:1c “. . .your parents. . .”
Young people, obey “your parents.” Notice the plural. Obey mothers (PR 1:8; 6:20) as well as fathers. Children are to obey, to do what their moms and dads command. The parents’ words should be the children’s law.
This obligation to obey parents has been recognized by all stable cultures in all lands of all ages. A perceived lack of respect for parental authority has always been lamented by wise orators, writers, and social analysts.
The Bible presents obedience to parents as a vital duty. Rebellion against parents is no trifle. Scripture portrays it as a terrible evil (RM 1:30; 2 TM 3:2). If it were trivial, God would not have put it on His black list.
YHWH, once for all time, conveyed His feelings about this matter in His dealings with the priest Eli. God told the child Samuel, “I will judge his (Eli’s) house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not” (1 SM 3:13). Later–tragedy upon tragedies!!–Samuel committed the same parental sin, wasting his sons (1 SM 8:3).
Disobedience to parents is a grave matter, and gives evidence of a disintegrating society. When a nation does become characterized by children in rebellion, do not blame the younger generation. Disobedience to parents belies a parent problem. Our text conveys an obvious implication. Since the duty of children is to obey, the duty of parents is to rule. Parents must enforce obedience, for there can be no submission where there is no authority.
A society’s existence depends on children learning at home the habit of yielding deference to authorities above self. Young people must at home practice bending their will to a higher will.
Foundations of reverence and irreverence are laid early in life. Vice and crime can often be traced to the nursery. Harry Ironsides tells of an insightful judge in Gary, Indiana, who passed sentence on some young criminals, saying, “I wish it were possible to put the parents of these children in the penitentiary for allowing them to grow up like this.”
Christian parents, our responsibility is to teach our children to obey us. Young people must be taught respect for authority. This is the main purpose of discipline. Parents often punish the wrong things. They get upset if a child spills milk at the table, drops his books, turns over a lamp, etc. Mom and Dad, clumsiness is not a sin. Use discipline as a tool to teach respect for authority.
This training is, at first, mechanical. Children are to be made to obey long before they can understand why they are doing so. John and Becky each got one swing at their mother. I made sure neither ever took a second swipe.
A child who is raised thinking everyone is subservient to his or her own dictatorship will have little respect for anyone in authority. Parents need to teach their children to obey all representatives of authority, including policemen, schoolteachers, and other adults. If an authority figure becomes a problem, parents should not tear down their children’s respect for authority, but rather should go talk privately with the authority figure face to face.
Children must learn there is an end, a limit, to their self-will. They must know they can go only so far and no farther. Many marriages are doomed before they begin because spouses never learned discipline and restraint. They always had a silver spoon in their mouth at home and never intended to sacrifice in their marriage. “He has learned that if he will stomp his foot hard enough, scream loud enough, quarrel long enough, he can always have his way” (Chappel). This attitude destroys a marriage.
Children’s bottoms will survive spankings, but their minds will not survive the yushy-mushy, self-centered, spoiled life-style a lack of discipline instills in them. Such children’s lives are ruined. They are always miserable, never content, everyone views them as a holy terror, and their marriage is jeopardized before it starts. Parents, give children a wonderful marriage and life gift. Teach them to obey.
Eph. 6:1d “. . .in the Lord:. . .”
“In the Lord” is the sphere of parental rule and childhood obedience. Both are done under God’s scrutiny as part and parcel of the life we live in fellowship with Jesus. Parents must discipline well, and children must obey well, because “the Lord” to whom we belong is vitally interested in both.
Because they are done “in the Lord,” parental rule and childhood submission are spiritual matters. Since they are performed in the spiritual realm, the consequences for a Christian family member are significant.
First, this means God’s power is available to empower us to do right. Parents, never despair. No situation can befall you but which God can provide you wisdom to handle aright. Youth, never give up trying to obey. Our perverse nature makes it difficult to do right, but God’s power can enable us.
Second, parents ruling, and children obeying, “in the Lord” means we must command and obey only those things which are consistent with Christ and His Word. Never command or obey lying, cheating, stealing, or anything else in absolute contradiction to God’s Word. Never go contrary to the Bible.
Third, parental authority and youthful submission done “in the Lord” means God is the unseen authority behind the visible parents. Young people, obedience to parents is obedience unto God, and makes Jesus happy. Disobeying parents means one is disobeying God, and grieving Jesus.
Parents, God is looking over your shoulder. Here is your stronghold. You have every right to say lovingly to your child, “I must have you obedient, because I am responsible to God for your being so.”
Parents, take your parenting seriously. Your role is performed “in the Lord.” In the parent-child relationship, the parent stands as God to the child until the child matures spiritually. When parents conceive, they enter the secrecy of God’s creative council. Children exist due to God’s creation through parents. They are His agents. At conception they take on the role, and at birth take on the responsibility, of standing in the position of God for the child.
A parent’s highest honor is not to be a good provider, educator, and moral policeman, but rather to stand before his or her own children as a representative of God. By requiring our children to obey us we teach them to obey God. The habit of submission transfers from us to Him. Making light of parental authority makes it easier to make light of God’s authority. Do not expect a youth who has gone on for years in self-will and pride to easily break the habit as an adult and walk in humble obedience before God.
Parents, as representatives of God, we are to be revelations of God. Children should see God in their parents’ demeanor and deportment. Unreality in parents is eventually detected by children. Youth have very sensitive natures. They may not “see through” the sham, but do eventually “feel” it.
Young people begin to notice inconsistencies like going to a church that advocates tithing, but the family never tithes. The church teaches prayer, but the family never prays. The church speaks of soulwinning and bringing neighbors to Christ, but the family never does these things. The church speaks of the God of Elijah, but at home no one sees any Elijahs of God.
Children inevitably detect this subtle hypocrisy. They eventually gauge the true level of their parents’ commitment to God. To this level, young people tend to rise or sink. Often, when teens or young adults begin to take church less seriously, the problem is not church, but what they saw in their parents.
Parents, what qualities do you hold dear about your own parents? Beauty, intelligence, material wealth, or goodness, unselfishness, character, sincerity, discipline? What qualities about your parents disappointed you? The answer may be painful, but can help define for us what our own role should be.
Eph. 6:1e “. . .for this is right.”
Obeying parents is part of the moral structure of the Universe. Obedience is the law of creation. Each heavenly body stays in its place due to adherence to God’s command. Without obedience everything would crash into chaos.
Obeying parents always “is right” because it, too, rests on the very nature of things. This edict is established for all ages, and cannot change with the spirit of the times. It is not merely beautiful, or a concession to old customs and traditions. It is not only becoming, befitting, or merely a cultural nicety. Obeying parents is not a convenience to make life easier for parents.
Childhood obedience to parents “is right” because it is God’s will. It matters not what psychological surveys and sociological studies theorize, or what Dr. Spock or anyone else thinks. Obeying parents is “right” because it has been declared “right” by the only One who has the right to determine what is right and what is wrong. Family, State, and Church are divine institutions. Thus, the rules governing them are rooted in the will of God, not man.
God is so wise and so good that whatever He commands in the Bible should be obeyed without question or hesitation. Young people, obey your parents, not merely to please them or your pastor, but because “this is right” in
God’s sight. Repeat often to yourself, “I must obey because God wants me to.”
The Christian family member must ever place priority on responsibilities, not rights. Both are important, but each must be kept in proper perspective. Responsibilities come first. They please God, develop good character, and enrich relationships. Rights are secondary. When the clamor for one’s own rights predominates, relationships are damaged, disrespect abounds, and rude selfishness becomes the miserable order of the day.
Young people, God’s command is plain, and He expects us, however young, to obey. Samuel was a child when God called him (1 SM 3:1-4). King Josiah was 16 when “he began to seek after the God of David” (2 CH 34:1-3). Jeremiah sought to escape God’s will, saying, “I am a child.” YHWH replied, “Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (JR 1:6-7). Solomon challenged, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth” (EC 12:1). Paul told Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 TM 4:12).
Eph. 6:2a “Honor thy father and mother;. . .”
Obeying parents is so “right” that at Sinai (EX 20:1; 31:18) God spoke it with His own voice, and wrote it with His own finger on tablets of stone. God spoke and wrote the fifth commandment, “Honor thy father and mother.” “Honor” is “timao,” which denotes preciousness, as in the name Timothy, which means precious to God. To “honor” parents means to treat them as precious.
Obedience is the outward duty, “honor” the inward disposition. The outward act must reflect an inner attitude. We must not be like the boy described by Kent Hughes. Made to sit in the corner by a schoolteacher, the lad said to himself, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!”
To honor our parents means to count them as dear, of great value. “Honor” includes obedience, “for mere ceremony is of no value in the sight of God” (Calvin), but also entails much, much more. Obedience must flow from a reservoir brimming with love, gratitude, respect, and high regard. “Honor” perfumes obedience, and makes our submission beautiful through and through.
Obedience is not to be rendered reluctantly or solely to escape punishment. “The obedience paid for fear of stripes is the obedience of a mule, not of a son” (Hare, Homiletic Comm.). God wants us to obey readily, willingly, rejoicing that we have the privilege to contribute to a parent’s ease and comfort.
By turning his focus from obedience to honor, Paul has expanded his audience. The fifth commandment was given not only to children, but to every Israelite. We grow too old to obey, but never too old to honor, parents. If our parents are dead, honor them. Cherish their memory, though they are gone.
Young people, “honor thy father and mother.” Adults, “honor thy father and mother.” Every person can in very practical ways show “honor” for their parents by giving them at least three things: provision, pride, and praise.
First, “honor thy father and mother” by giving them provision. Christians are under the mandate of Scripture to care for their parents as long as they live. In the context of caring for widows, the Bible says, “If any provide not for his own,. . .he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 TM 5:8). We are obligated to care for our own parents and, after we marry, our spouse’s parents. Never leave them in need or in loneliness. Be good to them always, and provide for them when they can no longer care for themselves.
Young storks bring meat to old storks which are no longer able to fly. Eneas is remembered for leaving all else behind in order to carry his aged father out of Troy when it was on fire. David Livingstone learned Gaelic that he might be able to read the Bible to his mother in the language she knew and loved best. Jesus, on the cross, took time to care for His mother (JN 19:25-27).
We are responsible for our birth-parents and parents-in-law until they die. We dishonor our fathers and mothers if we forget and neglect them. They spent twenty or so years caring for us at the beginning of our lives. We must return the favor, if needed, by caring for them at the end of their lives.
Second, “honor thy father and mother” by giving them pride. Make them proud. Never cause them pain or embarrassment. Epaminondas the Theban, after winning a battle, said, “My chief pleasure is that my parents will hear of my victory.” Most parents deem their children the pride of their life. Successful children make parents proud. We owe our parents the best we have to give.
Years ago I watched a couple take their son to juvenile court. The three entered together, only the parents returned. The youth was taken into custody. The parents left arm in arm, literally propping each other up, and had to walk directly by me. What was that look on their face? Pain? Shock? Courage? Ultimate tragedy? I still cannot describe it, but I know it was not pride.
I grieve over youth and adults who stubbornly wallow in sin, thereby breaking a parent’s heart. This message is being delivered to some who are at this very moment dishonoring their parents. Father and Mother weep for you, but you do not care. Is there no compassion left in your heart? Live for God and make your parents proud. “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her rejoice who gave birth to you” (PR 23:24-25 NASB).
Do not torment your mom and dad. To hurt parents leaves them scars, and haunts our memory. Dr. Samuel Johnson, as a lad, was often asked by his father to help him sell books in the marketplace. Samuel was too proud, and would not lower his dignity. Fifty years later, Dr. Johnson’s conscience haunted him. Unable to forget what he had done to his dad, he one day put on common clothes, and went to the very spot his dad used to stand on to sell books. Boys laughed, adults made fun, but Samuel did not care. He was doing an act of penance to soothe his conscience. “Honor thy father and mother.” Now!
Eph. 6:2a (cont.) “Honor thy father and mother;. . .”
Third, “honor thy father and mother” by giving them, in addition to provision and pride, praise. I more and more find myself burying people who are near the ages of my own mom and dad. Someday the funeral will be planned by me. We all need to say or at least write in a letter many things to our parents. Flowers and tears never compensate for words left unspoken.
At age 28 I lost my first grandparent, Grandpa Marshall. My sense of loss was indescribable. Soon after he died I developed an insatiable desire to do genealogical work. For months Ruth and I spent my weekly day off at the St. Louis Library researching family history. In retrospect, I know what I was doing. I was seeking information I should have discussed with Grandpa. I was trying to make up for things left unsaid between us, for questions about him I never asked. I was trying to say, “Grandpa, you were extremely important to me.” Some of us cannot say these kinds of praises because overwhelming emotion causes the words to stick in our throats, but we all can write them.
As part of our praise for parents, find outward, tangible ways to show we appreciate them. Develop good habits–regular hugs, cards, letters, phone calls, visits in each other’s homes. Create ways to show how much we value our parents. Hearing that his father was coming, Joseph, who sat next to Pharaoh, humbly left the throne, made ready his chariot, and respectfully went to meet Jacob. The son fell on his father’s neck and wept a good while (GN 46:29). He was saying, “Dad, I love you. You matter to me. I appreciate you.”
As part of our praise for parents, find ways to show gratitude. Most of us had parents who worked hard for us, tried to raise us right, fed and clothed us. Humans enter this world the most helpless of creatures. A lamb can stand by itself, a chick can pick up its own food. Unable to do anything for ourselves at birth, we owe our lives to parents, and should often tell them, “Thank you.”
Most people are able to “honor” their parents through praise, including appreciation and gratitude, but some find this an extremely difficult thing to do. Several are hard pressed to find good things to praise about their parents.
Many have extreme difficulty honoring their dad and mom. Parents are not always honorable. Some were absent, others drank heavily, some abused the spouse or children verbally, physically, or sexually. For many, finding the honorable in their parents is a challenge. I readily confess, distance is often the best thing for the relationship between parents and adult children, but even in cases where personality conflicts preempt frequent, intimate contact, one must still find ways to express “honor” for parents. Even those who experienced, and still have to endure, the worst parents imaginable must “honor” them. We are not afforded the luxury of obeying God only when easy to do so.
Parents do not have to be perfect to be honored. The terrible sin of David and Bathsheba was a blight upon the family, but Solomon honored his parents anyway. One day the King was seated on his throne, but when his mother Bathsheba entered the room, he “rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her” (1 K 2:19), thereby showing honor to her in the presence of others. He did not hold the past against her.
Let me give loving, pastoral counsel to those who have trouble honoring parents. Forgive your parents’ sins and mistakes. Our Master said, “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (MT 6:14-15). God forgives us as we forgive others, including our parents.
You with non-Christian parents especially need to practice forgiveness. When unbelieving parents lash out at your Christian beliefs or actions, respond with love. Prove to them that your life is really changed. Lost parents have trouble understanding what has happened to you. Never argue, scream, or retaliate. Doing otherwise only makes things worse. Christian teens, do better in school, volunteer more at home, be extra kind to dad, mom, and siblings. Adults, live a circumspect life, in every situation show Christian dignity and grace. Maybe your lost parents will see the difference Jesus makes. Forgive them, overlook all you can. This may be your only way to win them to Christ.
Saved parents also make mistakes. It is amazing how children often expect their Christian parents to be perfect. Anything less than perfection on the part of parents is considered a hideous and grievous sin. Many teenagers rebel against parents and turn against them, calling them hypocrites or ignoramuses. Grown adults often keep nursing an old grudge over past incidents. Are our parents the only people in our lives not entitled to make mistakes?
If an abusive alcoholic father, previously unknown to us, walked this aisle today and asked God and us to forgive him, we would do so in an instant. However, some of you have never forgiven your alcoholic mom or dad. You say, “Preacher, my dad beat Mom and us kids, and spent food money on alcohol.” So did this one who walked the aisle. Are you of more worth than his children? Was your dad hitting you a worse crime than this man’s hitting his children? You need to forgive the beatings, slappings, cursings, abuses, etc. We forgive the faults of total strangers. Our parents deserve at least the same treatment.
Eph. 6:2b “. . .which is the first commandment with promise;”
Of the ten commandments, the fifth is the first (and only) to have a promise attached. “All God’s commandments carry blessings in their bosoms” (Edgar, in Pulpit Comm.), but the reward in this command is explicitly stated.
God wanted us to know we should “honor” our parents not only for His sake or our parents’ sake, but also for our own sake. We honor parents because it is our duty, but God in infinite mercy condescends to motivate us by offering a special reward and blessing. A promise is added to excite us, to stimulate us, to make our obedience more joyous, pleasant, and agreeable.
If we disobey the fifth commandment, we are the losers. At some point, each of us must come to grips with our relationship to our parents. Once we become adults, we are responsible for our inner feelings toward them. Resentment, anger, and hostility must be expelled. Otherwise, it destroys us by eating away at our inner vitals. Offspring are the ones who stand to lose the most. By God’s grace and power, loving reverence can and must fill our hearts.
It is serious to lack respect for parents. We degrade ourselves when this happens. Parent is a sacred position. In it God made wonderful provision for children. Though your parents may have failed, be grateful for the gift and institution of parenthood. The role is the highest revelation whereby the First Person of the Trinity presents Himself to us. He is a parent, “Abba, Father.”
Even if your parents acted dishonorably, you can honor them, if for no other reason, because God chose them to conceive you. Respect them as the ones to whose government God Himself committed you. You can put your arms around your parents, even if they were dishonorable, and honestly say, “I honor you,” because God chose them to be your parents.
Youth and adults, obey God. “Honor thy father and mother.” For the sake of God, parents, and ourselves, we must formulate at least one honorable thought about our parents and focus on it.