“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
As we move into our last chapter in Ephesians, Paul continues with the practical application of how believers should walk. He started with husbands and wives, and now he moves on to parents and children.
Paul starts with a command for children to obey their parents in the Lord, because this is right. Notice that he gives two reasons. First, he says that it pleases the Lord and second, he simply says that it is right. Let’s look at each of these.
First, Paul tells children to obey their parents in the Lord. Children have a stronger command than the wives. The wives are told to submit to their husbands, but the children are to obey. Notice that he is directly addressing the children in his letter. They are a part of the body of Christ. Depending on which version you use, the phrase “in Christ” or its equivalent is used 27 times in Paul’s letter. Here, he uses the phrase “in the Lord.” Because Christ is the head of the church, and he has ordered this, this is reason enough. Then Paul goes on to say, “because this is right.” God has ordered our world in a way that a healthy society is one in which children obey their parents. This is seen in societies all through history, not just in the Bible. We will explore this further as we move through the passage.
He goes on to say, “Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land.” When God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, he told the Israelites to “honor your father and mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Now Paul is telling the church at Ephesus, and by extension, all the future church, that we are to honor our father and mother so that it may go well with us. The church no longer lives in the Promised Land, but this is still a commandment with a promise. It does not guarantee that everyone who honors their father and mother is going to live a long life, but it is a general principle for a healthy society.
Let’s look at that in relation to today. We have had a breakdown in the family structure. According to a Pew Research study in 2015, “Family life is changing. Two parent households are on the decline in the United States as divorce, remarriage and cohabitation are on the rise.” Today, only 46% of families are two parents in a first marriage with children, in contrast to 73% of families in 1960. I looked up crime rates from 1960 to 2019. The population has doubled during that time (and the murder rates have kept pace with that) but violent crimes are up 231%, rape 122%, and assault 187%. I got these numbers off disastercenter.com. When society begins to decline, we see a lack of respect toward parents and authority in general. I didn’t really need to look up any numbers. We can just turn on the news to see it. I saw it in my classroom and in the schools. Of course this is nothing new and we will see this continue to increase. Paul wrote about it in Romans 1:28-31. “And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.” He also wrote about it in 2 Timothy 3:1-2. “But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy…”
How long are we called to obey our parents? As long as we are under the authority of our parents, living in their house, we need to obey them. Again, Paul uses the phrase “in the Lord” here so our ultimate duty is always to him. If a child lives with parents who are not Jesus followers, they still need to obey them, unless they are asked to do something against God’s moral code. Once we are out of our parents’ house and on our own, we are still called to honor them. This may be difficult for some, but it is a command. I am thankful for my parents and for the example they set for me.
Next, Paul moves on to the duty of the father. William Barclay in his commentary on Ephesians describes the culture of that time. He writes, “A Roman father had absolute power over his family. He could sell them as slaves, he could make them work in his fields- even in chains, he could take the law into his own hands, for the law was in his own hands, and punish as he liked, he could even inflict the death penalty on his child.” Paul contrasts this attitude by telling fathers not to stir up anger in their children. In Colossians 3:21, Paul writes “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t get discouraged.” This is such a different attitude than the one of the culture they were living in! He then goes on to say that they need to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Some versions use the word ‘admonition’ for instruction. David Guzik writes in his commentary, “Significantly, both training and admonition are used to describe the purpose of the scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 10:11). Parents are to raise their children on the Word of the Lord.”
There is a fine line when we raise our children. The two things which cause rebellion are indulgence and harshness. Proverbs has verses for both. Proverbs 29:15 and 17 both show how important discipline is. “A rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a youth left to himself is a disgrace to his mother” (vs. 15) and “Discipline your child, and it will bring you peace of mind and give you delight” (vs. 17). We may have to use careful physical discipline when a child is very young, and then move to exhortation and verbal correction as the child begins to reason and gain understanding. But when we fail to teach our children obedience to us, we are failing to teach them obedience to God. But we must be careful not to use harsh or angry words as Paul warns in this verse. Again, Proverbs has some words of wisdom here. “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).
I’ll end with this. Our job as parents is to bring our children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start a youth out on his way; even when he grows old he will not depart from it.” This is not a promise. Proverbs are not promises, they are general principles for life. I think that we sometimes grab onto a scripture, take it as a “promise”, and then when it doesn’t happen, we think God has failed us. But we need to understand the genre of scripture that Proverbs is. This is a good source for that. Proverbs Are Not Promises (str.org) Because we all have free will, our children need to make that decision for themselves. Proverbs has something to say about that also! “A fool despises his father’s discipline, but a person who accepts correction is sensible (Proverbs 15:5).
Grace be with you!