Main Idea: Paul provides instructions for the Christian household, covering matters of honor and discipleship.
- Value and Care for Children.
- Set a Christ-Centered Example for Your Children.
- III. Children, Honor and Obey Your Parents in the Lord (6:1-3).
- Honor your parents.
- Obey your parents.
- Make Disciples of Your Children (6:4).
- Two challenges
- Do not provoke them to anger.
- Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
- Give them Jesus.
- A word of hope
- Two challenges
I will never forget a story my friend Dr. Chuck Quarles shared at a pastors' conference a few years ago while expounding Colossians 3:18-21. A well-known biblical scholar invited Dr. Quarles to lunch one time. Dr. Quarles told this scholar he was extremely inspired by his productivity as a thinker and writer, and he went on to ask, "I'm amazed by your work. How did you manage to be so prolific?"
This theological heavyweight mumbled under his breath, "I sacrificed my son."
"I was stunned by his words," Dr. Quarles said. He thought he misunderstood him, so he asked again, "What did you say?"
The scholar replied (almost angrily), "You heard me! I said I sacrificed my son!"
Dr. Quarles said this scholar added that he had been so driven to research, write, publish, and make a name for himself in the academic world that he neglected his family. His son essentially grew up as a stranger to his father. Now, as an adult, his son was a homeless man, sleeping on the streets.
146Dr. Quarles tried to comfort him: "I'm sure that's not your fault."
Even more angrily the scholar replied, "Don't you try to console me ... Yes, I did that! Even though people seem to be amazed by my productivity as a scholar, the fact is, I would give up every one of those books and far, far more just to have my son back!" Then this prolific writer looked across the table, straight into the eyes of Dr. Quarles, and said, "Just in case you want to walk in my footsteps, know that I pray to God you won't."
This conversation echoed in Dr. Quarles's mind for the next few weeks. He was so haunted by it that he began to take a close look at his own life as a husband and father. Dr. Quarles said, "I was blowing it." That conversation led him to consider his own priorities and adjust his lifestyle. It ultimately led him to make a change in ministry roles and a change in a place of ministry. Dr. Quarles said, "I have never once regretted that radical change."
That story had a powerful effect on my life as well. It still does. Now, obviously, kids can grow up in great homes and turn out rebellious. I understand that. The point is, parents must seek to love, nurture, and disciple their children.
Paul continues with what scholars call "Household Codes"—that is, the duties between husbands and wives (5:22-33), parents and children (6:1-4), and masters and slaves (6:5-9). The structure may reflect a similar style as other groups of codes in Paul's day. Paul, however, infuses his instruction with theology. This is more than "Be a better parent and a better child!" Paul is bringing down to earth the rich gospel instructions he has already given in the previous chapters.
For those of you who are not yet parents, remember that the whole body of Christ helps train children. Paul seems to assume children are in attendance as this letter is read, along with others who may not be parents. This instruction is for everyone. If you are single, married with no kids, or married with moved-out kids, the kids at your church are, on one level, your kids. The church is a family (see 1 Tim 5:1-2). What this means is you should love them, pray for them, teach them, and serve them—while recognizing the parents have a unique, special calling to do this.
I want to point out four truths about the discipleship of our children. The first two are general observations; the last two are direct imperatives in the text.
Value and Care for Children147
Value and Care for Children
The fact that Paul mentions children in such an important letter demonstrates the value the early church placed on children. Leon Morris points out that it is significant that Paul wrote "children" not just "boys" (Expository Reflections, 192). Snodgrass says, "Girls were valued less in ancient society, but Paul did not accept such a limitation" (Ephesians, 322).
The early church had high regard for children. They carried on the legacy of Jesus who said, "Leave the children alone, and don't try to keep them from coming to Me, because the kingdom of heaven is made up of people like this" (Matt 19:14; cf. Matt 18:1-6). They also reflected the values of the Old Testament, which teaches the blessing of children and the need to instruct children (Ps 127; Deut 6:4-7).
Such values were countercultural. Many in the Greco-Roman world would put kids on the trash heap for people to pick up and often turn into gladiators, slaves, or prostitutes. But the church welcomed the children. Stott notes,
It was a radical change from the callous cruelty which prevailed in the Roman Empire, in which unwanted babies were abandoned, weak and deformed ones were killed, and even healthy children were regarded by many as a partial nuisance because they inhibited sexual promiscuity and complicated easy divorce. (Ephesians, 238)
We too must value everyone made in God's image—regardless of ethnicity, background, gender, or age.
The church should joyfully celebrate the birth of children. We understand that the creation of life is the work of God. We understand that parents have a holy calling to be the primary disciple-makers of their kids. Bonhoeffer said it well: "It is from God that parents receive their children, and it is to God that they in turn ought to lead them" (Letters, 78).
Surely there is no greater joy and responsibility than to be entrusted with these little munchkins. It is like they come with a stamp: "Yours for a limited time only." They are like wet cement. We have a short time to teach and mold them.
The church should also value children by supporting foster care and adoption. The physical act of adoption reflects the spirit of adoption that we enjoy as children of our Abba Father. He pursued us when148 we were abandoned in the trash heap and has now made us to sit in the heavens. Once we were sons of disobedience, but now we are sons and daughters of God.
Let us also welcome the functionally fatherless into our lives and our homes. Recent reports note that 80 percent of African-American children in the U.S. are being raised apart from biological fathers; 60 percent of Hispanic and 50 percent of white children are in the same situation (Chapell, Ephesians, 316). Many kids have fathers or mothers living, but they are nowhere to be found. Help a disadvantaged kid get through school. Care for those in need in your neighborhood. Welcome that cousin or nephew who is in need of love and support.
Let us be the church, imitating God by caring for children. Hold out the hope of the gospel and practice gospel-centered hospitality, welcoming children as Jesus welcomed us.
Set a Christ-Centered Example for Your Children
Set a Christ-Centered Example for Your Children
Though Paul does not say, "Set an example for your children," in 6:1-4, this point is implied based on the previous chapters of Ephesians and by the focus on "teaching children." What are children learning? They are learning basic Christian living by watching their parents.
Paul has been addressing all Christians in the church in Ephesus. Many of those Christians were parents. One of the primary places they were to live out these instructions in the previous chapters was in the home. Children are observing their parents' own relationships to the Lord. They are watching them pray, study the Bible, and worship. They know if their parents are dazzled by God's grace or not.
Children are observing how their parents value the church. They are watching how their parents are speaking truth lovingly, working honestly, giving generously, encouraging others properly, putting away bitterness and anger repentantly, and forgiving one another Christianly (4:25-32).
The first picture of God children receive is from their parents. They will get a sense of authority, love, and protection from their parents. As they see and treasure this example, it will inevitably point them away from the parents to the ultimate Father. Even when you fail to reflect God before your children, you should teach them how to repent and receive grace from God.
Your example is influential. What are they seeing? Are they learning to value mission more than money? Faithfulness to God over career success? Are they learning humility and repentance, or hypocrisy?
149They are also forming their view of marriage based on their parents' marriage. Give them a compelling vision. Remember you are giving your children a picture of the gospel as well as demonstrating how husbands and wives love each other. One of the best things you can do as a parent is love your spouse and stay together.
Finally, children are learning obedience, respect, and submission as they watch their parents submit to and obey God. This point is drawn from the immediate context also. A theme of submission and obedience and respect runs through 5:21-6:9. Parents are under God's authority, both in their roles to one another and in their roles as parents. Children are watching how we obey God.
Again, we all fail as parents. This does not make us bad parents; it simply means we need grace. Do not hide your need for grace, for that is part of the teaching experience too. Kids need to know that people fail in obedience, but there is One who did not fail. He stood in our place and gives us forgiveness and empowerment. They need to know Ephesians 1-3: in Christ, we are accepted, forgiven, redeemed, and made alive.
Children, Honor and Obey Your Parents in the Lord
Children, Honor and Obey Your Parents in the Lord
Children were made by God to glorify God. This great purpose is partly lived out by honoring and obeying their parents in the Lord. When parents are instructing children in the ways of the Lord, then the child must honor and obey them.
Honor Your Parents
How should children honor their parents? One way is through a proper attitude. Children do not honor their parents when they huff and puff, pout, or talk back to them. When children dishonor their parents like this, they dishonor God Himself. We need to teach them that.
When God introduced His written law, the first horizontal relationship was mentioned in commandment five, "Honor your father and your mother" (Exod 20:12). Physically or verbally abusing your parents was a capital offense (Exod 21:15, 17).
The command to honor father and mother appears in five other places in the New Testament (Matt 15:4; 19:19; Mark 7:10; 10:19; Luke 18:20). This further highlights the importance of this command. 150A child that does not grow up with honor and respect of parents will likely not honor and respect others in general.
Those of us with older parents should also honor our parents. We should show proper respect to them and give special care to them when they get older (see 1 Tim 5:4).
Obey Your Parents
How should children obey their parents? Children obey their parents by hearing and doing what their parents say. Listen to what Paul says to the Colossians: "Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord" (Col 3:20). If children want to please the Lord, then they must obey their parents. Obeying their parents is one way they can obey the Lord.
Children will have a difficult time obeying their parents. When they fail, they need to be reminded that Jesus died for sinners who disobey God. Make their disobedience an occasion to teach the gospel. Parents know that children do not have to be taught disobedience. They need to be taught the gospel. Remind them of Ephesians 5:18, which casts light on the previous verses and 6:1-4. Tell them the Spirit enables them to obey.
Why should children obey their parents? Paul provides some reasons. First, he says, "Because this is right" (v. 1). That seems unnecessary to state. However, I think it is worth saying because one might be tempted to think, "Should I really require obedience? Look how cute she is!" Maybe she is, but requiring obedience is still the right thing to do. Stott comments,
Child obedience belongs to the realm which came in medieval theology to be called "natural justice." It does not depend on special revelation; it is part of the natural law which God has written on human hearts. It is not confined to Christian ethics; it is a standard of behavior in every society. Pagan moralists, both Greek and Roman, taught it. Stoic philosophers saw a son's obedience as self-evident, plainly required by reason and part of the "nature of things." (Ephesians, 238-39)
Second, Paul gives a motivating promise (v. 2). God promises both blessing: "That it may go well with you," and safekeeping: "That you may have long life in the land" (Chapell, Ephesians, 313). Paul combines Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16. The original promise to Israel 151involved a long and good life in the land of Israel. Paul omits the focus on Israel and makes the statement more general and proverbial.
Of course, this does not mean that by obedience to one's parents the child may never get sick or even tragically die. Paul is basically saying that the child is endangering himself by dishonoring his parents. Great spiritual blessings always come by obeying God's Word. Children, obey and honor your parents in the Lord.
Make Disciples of Your Children
Make Disciples of Your Children
Notice how the parents are identified throughout these verses: "Obey your parents" (6:1, emphasis added); "Honor your father and mother" (6:2, emphasis added); "Fathers ... bring them up" (6:4, emphasis added). The word translated "fathers" is a word used in Hebrews 11:23 to refer to both parents. Paul could have both parents in mind, but more likely he is turning attention to fathers (Snodgrass, Ephesians, 322). Nevertheless, we can apply verse 4 to both parents in general, giving special attention to fathers in particular.
It is certainly best for both parents to be present in the lives of their kids. It is not the job of a day care, nannies, an institution, or grandparents to raise children. It is the parents' job. Big homes, nice cars, and long vacations are not worth neglecting your kids. This requires spiritual discipline on the part of the parents, maybe especially on the part of dads. It may call for an adjustment of one's lifestyle.
Are you conscious of your time and attention with your children? I have learned a lot from pastors because that is what I am. I read where John Piper took one of his children out to lunch every Saturday and asked the child questions. Before I had children, I noted how Pastor Mark Driscoll described having daddy-daughter dates. I try to keep these on a regular basis now. These dates normally involve good food and good conversation followed by something fun.
Both parents need to teach the kids. While the father bears primary responsibility for training and instruction, both share in the task of making children disciples of Jesus. In Proverbs, the writer says,
My son, keep your father's command,
and don't reject your mother's teaching.
Always bind them to your heart;
152tie them around your neck.
When you walk here and there, they will guide you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
when you wake up, they will talk to you. (Prov 6:20-22; cf. Prov 1:8)
Paul told Timothy to hold fast to the instruction he received from his mother and grandmother (2 Tim 1:5; 3:14). Timothy seems to have had an unbelieving dad; fortunately, his mother and grandmother taught him.
Both parents should be united in raising the children, disciplining them, and teaching them. We should work toward sending consistent messages.
Parents in general, and dads especially, have two particular challenges in raising children.
Do not provoke them to anger. In the ancient world fathers had absolute control and were sometimes harsh (Snodgrass, Ephesians, 32). Reports show that fathers sold their kids and could even kill them without being charged with a crime. As mentioned, many abandoned their children in the city.
Obviously, a mother can provoke a child to anger as well. But given the dominant nature of the father, it seems he has a particular tendency to do this. The father must be fair, loving, and consistent in attitude toward his child. Here are some possible causes of angering our children:
- Failing to take into account the fact that they are kids
- Comparing them to others
- Disciplining them inconsistently
- Failing to express approval, even at small accomplishments
- Failing to express our love to them
- Disciplining them for reasons other than willful disobedience and defiance
- Pressuring them to pursue our goals, not their own
- Withdrawing love from them or overprotecting them
What is the result of such actions? Children grow angry or, in the words of Colossians, discouraged. Paul says, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won't become discouraged" (Col 3:21). We should be aiming at encouragement, not discouragement!
153Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Paul goes from a negative command to a positive command. Notice the three actions to which parents are called: bring up, discipline, and instruct.
The phrase "bring them up" does not really do justice to the notion expressed by the verb. Paul used this verb in Ephesians 5:29 in the sense of "provid[ing]," "nourish[ing]" (ESV), or "feed[ing]" (NIV). Paul basically says that dads should care for their children lovingly. Calvin said, "Let them be fondly cherished" (Commentaries, Eph 6:4).
Next, fathers are to "train" or "discipline" and "instruct" their children. "Instruction" carries the idea of teaching, counsel, admonition, or warning, and perhaps verbal instruction (Stott, Ephesians, 248). "Discipline" involves training, including punishment. Discipline is the word used in Hebrews 12 to refer to our Heavenly Father's discipline of us, which is "for our benefit" (Heb 12:5-11).
In light of what Paul has written about anger (Eph 4:26, 31), such discipline must be under control. The type of instruction and discipline we are to give is "of the Lord." We are to teach Christian instruction and discipline in a way that honors the Lord.
Give Them Jesus
Earlier Paul said that "the truth is in Jesus" (4:21). Give your children Christ-centered instruction. As you walk with them, drive them places, play with them, and have meals with them, talk about Jesus! Talk about His incarnation, His death, His resurrection, and His lordship. Danny Akin advises parents well: "Have fun and talk about Jesus a lot." We are to lead our children to the truth that is in Jesus, ultimately so they may submit to the Lord Jesus. He is their highest good.
Speak to the hearts of your children as you teach them about Christ. Behavior flows from the heart (Prov 4:23; 23:26; Matt 12:34). Talk about values, beliefs, feelings, and motives. Talk about sin, repentance, grace, and the cross. Talk about becoming a new creation in Christ Jesus. Talk about the end for which they were created: to glorify God.
You will need to have dialogue, not just monologue, to do this. Ask them questions! Know what they believe or doubt. Know their fears. Discern matters of the heart (Prov 20:5). Speak to their hearts affectionately with lots of encouragement. Celebrate successes and small victories. Warn about the dangers of pride, laziness, and folly. And pray with them regularly.
154When you speak to your children's hearts about the Savior, remember to teach them the biblical story line, not just biblical stories. Show them the hero of the Bible. In her amazing book The Jesus Story Book Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones writes,
Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn't do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn't mainly about you and what you should be doing. It's about God and what he has done.
Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you will soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren't heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times, they are downright mean.
No, the Bible isn't a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It's like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!
You see, the best thing about this Story is—it's true.
There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture. (Lloyd-Jones, Jesus, 14-17)
A Word of Hope
Finally, in your communication and education you may feel insufficient. You are right. Parenting makes you desperate for God's help. Some days I think success equals keeping my children out of prison; on other days I think success is keeping myself out of prison!
But we take great comfort in Titus 2. Paul says the grace of God instructs us for godliness (Titus 2:12). While parents have this 155responsibility to train their children, God in His grace is working in their lives. Look to God for grace and strength. The psalmist reminds us of our desperate need:
Unless the Lord builds a house,
its builders labor over it in vain;
unless the Lord watches over a city,
the watchman stays alert in vain. (Ps 127:1)
Elyse Fitzpatrick quips, "The obvious difference between Paul and us is that Paul bragged about his weakness, and we try to hide it" (Give Them Grace, 150). Do not hide your weaknesses. Admit them. Go to God for help; His strength will be sufficient. Weak parents have a mighty Savior!
Reflect and Discuss
Reflect and Discuss
- What motivation, goals, and hope do believers have when we care for children? How are they different from those of non-Christians?
- Why is it important to set a Christlike example for your children? Pause and pray for God's help to live an exemplary life before them.
- What does this passage teach about honoring parents? Taking into account the personalities of your children, what would be the best way to teach this principle to them?
- How do the promises "it may go well with you" and "you may have a long life in the land" pertain to your children today?
- Why would it be difficult to honor and obey one's parents in some situations? Describe a hypothetical or actual situation to illustrate your point.
- What are some ways a parent might provoke his or her children to anger? How could those same situations be handled better?
- Whose responsibility is it to disciple children? What can parents do to avoid having their authority undermined?
- How might you teach your children the basic doctrines of the faith? Are you doing this?
- Are you speaking the gospel to the hearts of your children? How might you do this more regularly?
- As parents we have great hope. Explain our hope.