Pray: Humbly ask God for wisdom. Ask Him to teach you as you read the following section of the Bible.
Read: Ephesians 6:1-4
As a parent of a 4 and 6 year-old, Ephesians 6:1-3 is one of my favorite passages. I quote it to them often when the glint of disobedience flashes in their eyes, or more often, the language of rebellion spews from their lips. But I can also tell you as a parent of two little ones that it has zero impact on their precious little reprobate hearts. The Greek word here is commonly used as a colloquialism to address adults (Matthew 9:2, Mark 2:5, 10:25, and throughout 1 John). So we should probably understand these commands in reference to believing adults and teenagers, individuals who are old enough to understand their relationship with the Lord and the duties that flow out of that.
To back track a bit…this Chapter 6 continues what commentators call the “house codes” that were started with instruction to husbands and wives at the end of chapter 5. Paul gives instruction for husband and wives (5:22-33), children and parents (6:1-4), and finally for slaves and masters (6:5-9). These “house codes” give instruction for how these different household relationships should interact in this new Christian dynamic where we, as believers, are all equal before God and there is “no favoritism” (6:9).
Who leads the home if we are all equal? Do my parents still have say over me if we are both believers on equal footing with God? How do I relate to my believing slave/master if we are equal before God? Questions like these naturally cropped up from the tension our new relationship with God brings to both the ancient and present cultures today.
Why obey parents? The apostle Paul tells us to obey our parents because it is right. His basis for making this statement goes back to the 10 Commandments where we are told to “honor our father and mother”. Our equal footing with our parents before God does not nullify the Law God has already given us. Paul writes this to a culture where the father’s patriarchal authority often existed even until death. As children grew up and got married, rooms would be added to the home to accommodate the growth of the family. In such a culture this probably wasn’t a real shocker and seemed pretty natural. The problem for us today is that Paul doesn’t frame the commandment in the context of a cultural command, but he says we should do it because it is right and because it is Scriptural. That leaves a huge cultural tension for the modern church that I will leave you to think through.
The command is not without purpose, however. Paul says it’s the first command “with a promise.” We are to obey so that “it will go well with you and that you may have a long life.” Going back to my tiny heathens I see the wisdom written here far more clearly than I did as a child or a self-absorbed adolescent. The rules we set in our house really are for our kids good. I don’t let my children run around with knives because I love them and don’t want them to hurt themselves. I don’t let Jack drill Emma in the face without consequence because I love them both, and want my boy to respect and care for women and my little girl to have a healthy relationship with men… and not be punched in the face.
By virtue of obeying the rules we set out, my kids should live longer more prosperous lives by not getting run over by cars when crossing the street, having stronger marriages, and good work ethics. Should we somehow not expect the same good will and wisdom from our parents even reaching into our adulthood? What if my parents try to run my life well into adulthood? What if they lay unreasonable demands on my shoulders?
That leads us to the final verse in this paragraph, “Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” This verse serves as a counter the weight, much like the previous section on marriage relationships where wives are called to submit to their husbands, and husbands are called to self-sacrificing leadership toward their wives. As parents of children, adolescents, and adults, we need to make sure our instruction is designed to point them toward God and what is right. Unreasonable or pointless controlling commands bring wrath. I see it even in my 6 year-old when the rules we set are sometimes based on what is convenient for me and not on what is just or right.
1. What does it mean for us as adults to obey and honor our parents? (Remember, these are not contradictory commands or statements. Think through how these passages work together to bring clarity to the discussion.)
Consider Mark 7:10-13 in conjunction with our Ephesians passage where Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for breaking God’s command to honor their father and mother with a tradition that had developed where if they made a vow to serve God they were free from obligation to obey or support their parents in their old age. (See also Genesis 2:24)
2. Do we obey our parents when they ask us to do things that are sinful or wrong? Why or why not?
3. What are some instances where you have given and/or received instruction that provoked wrath? What do you think the heart motivation was behind that in both yourself and your parent/child in each situation?
Memorize: Ephesians 6:1-3
6 “Children, obey your parents as you would the Lord, because this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, 3 so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. “