Previous editorial in this series: November 15, 2010, p. 89.
The above title is a phrase found in Ephesians 6:4. This passage is one of the many in Scripture that speak of our calling as parents. It follows after the special admonition to children to obey their parents in the Lord. How thankful we are that the Lord gives us so much instruction in these important areas of Christian living.
The key words in the above quoted phrase are “in the Lord” or “of the Lord.” The idea is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the One who guides us entirely both as parents and as children. We are the Lord’s by His wonderful grace. He has chosen us to be His covenant people. He has redeemed us with His own precious blood by His sacrifice for us on the cross. No greater love can be conceived of than the love whereby Christ gave Himself for us. He has also given to us His Spirit. We are the Lord’s people. He has made us His own. He has redeemed us in order that we might serve Him and glorify His name as members of His church.
Children must obey their parents in the Lord. They must honor them and respect the authority that the Lord Himself has given to their parents, to rule over them, and to guide them in their lives. Honor for rulers and respect for authority is little known in our lawless and rebellious age. Our covenant children, who are the Lord’s, must from earliest childhood be taught honor and respect. Our children must be taught how tremendous is the truth of being the Lord’s children, and what this truth means for their daily lives. The kind of obedience required of them in their lives would be impossible if they were not in the Lord. The obedience and honor that children must show for their parents must flow out of an attitude of profound gratitude to the Lord for saving them.
The fact that our children were baptized as infants is the sign that “even as they are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again received unto grace in Christ.”¹ We baptize our children as infants because we believe that
they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church, and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers.²
What an excellent statement to guide us in instructing our children. All of this can be summarized in that we and our covenant children by the marvelous sovereign grace of the Lord belong to Him and to His church. How thankful we must always be for this!
Children are to obey their parents “in the Lord.” The obedience that is required of them is far greater than what might be taught even by worldly parents and by child psychologists. Indeed, there is natural advantage, a worldly advantage, for children who in a merely human way learn from their childhood to obey their parents. But our covenant children have to be taught in their homes to obey in the Lord. This is a much higher honor and obedience than any taught by the world. It is an obedience in the highest sense to the supreme Lord of all, the One who created us and loved us, who redeemed us for Himself, and who is sovereign over our whole life. The obedience that the Lord requires of His children must come from the heart and be spiritual in its character, for only such is true obedience to the Lord.
Parents must teach their children the truth of the Word of God. Children must be taught to know and to confess and to live by this doctrine of the Lord. They are to be warned against the vain philosophies of men. They are to be taught not to live according to the inclinations of their own sinful natures. Parents are also to demonstrate their faith in the Lord, their humility before Him, their life unto Him, their hope in Him, and their own comfort and joy in the Lord. They must show the reality of this in their own lives.
The great requirement of children is obedience to the Lord. The Bible makes it very plain that this is the great requirement of the children of God, obedience to God. Obedience is what the Lord requires of them. There can be no substitute for this. No man will experience the blessing of the Lord except in the way of faith and obedience to the Lord. Even the Son of God, according to Hebrews 5, had to learn obedience. He had to learn this through suffering for our sins under the wrath of God.
Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him,
What an amazing testimony concerning the suffering of Jesus and how great was the matter of obedience to His heavenly Father in this suffering.
For our covenant children who belong to the Lord, Jesus was also a great example in His childhood. The inspired writer Luke tells us that Jesus in His childhood was subject unto His parents (Luke 2:51). This is striking. The parents of Jesus, Mary the biological mother of Jesus, and Joseph the foster father of Jesus, were both sinful, even as all parents are who proceed from the fallen race of Adam. We wonder how they went about instructing and disciplining, Jesus knowing that He was the Son of God. Jesus, from infancy on, was the Holy Child, never having any sin, not even in His mind and heart, as He grew up to full manhood. And yet it was the will of God that Jesus be subject to His parents. Never did He disobey them.
Ephesians 6, and also the parallel passage inColossians 3, make plain that children are to be taught to honor and to obey both their father and mother. They must do this realizing that God Himself has given to their parents an office of authority unto which they must be subject for the Lord’s sake. This is right in the sight of God. This is the way the Lord Himself ordained that it should be. The words used in the admonition to children are the same ones used for the honor and obedience that man owes to God. The meaning is not, of course, that parents stand on the same plain as the Lord, but that parents are worthy of honor for the Lord’s sake. So serious is the command for children to obey their parents that in Old Testament times, if a child was continuously disobedient and rebellious, he was to be brought to the elders of Israel and stoned to death (Deut. 21:18-21).
According to the words of Colossians 3, children are to obey their parents in all things. The only exception to this absolute rule is when obedience to parents would clearly violate one of the commandments of the Lord God. Children are to obey their parents even though this may at times be difficult, when such obedience goes contrary to their sinful nature, and when this obedience requires of them to live in a way that will make them the object of shame and ridicule by the world.
Children are to have the same honor for both father and mother in the Lord. Children are not to despise their mother because they do not have the same fear of her. Mother is worthy of the same honor, and when children despise her or disregard her instruction, they bring upon themselves great shame and the judgment of God. It is significant, however, that when the passages in Ephesians and Colossians speak of the nurture and admonition of the children, only the father is mentioned. The idea is not that the mother does not also have an important role and calling in the nurture and admonition of children in the home. The emphasis in Scripture is, rather, on the fact that nurturing and admonishing children is especially the responsibility of fathers. The father must take the lead.
Sometimes a father might imagine that the task of rearing the children can be left wholly to his godly wife, the mother of his children. But this is wrong. According to Scripture, the chief responsibility for doing this great work in the covenant home belongs to the father. He must be concerned about this. He must take personal interest in his children. He must take the time and put for forth the effort that is necessary to nurture his children. Some fathers are grievously negligent in this area, to the great detriment of their Christian families. They may not excuse themselves by saying that they are so very busy earning enough financial resources to provide for all the needs of the family.
It is true that our children need food and a home and clothing and many other things in this life. When our children become school age there must be money to pay Christian school tuition. Great sacrifices have to be made, because maintaining Christian schools, especially in our modern day, is expensive. But in the midst of all this we as fathers must be sure to maintain the right biblical perspective. Most often the greatest danger in our times, especially in America, is that fathers are so concerned about all kinds of material luxuries, sports and recreation equipment, cars, electronic gadgetry, and other things that they make themselves too busy to have the loving, patient concern for their children to instruct them in the far more important things in their lives as they are growing up. We imagine that a father’s love is measured by all the gifts he showers on his children. This is quite easy to do, and we get pleasure ourselves from this. But sometimes it would be better if the children had fewer material things. Remember the warnings of the Word of God of dangers of materialism and worldliness and covetousness. We can easily teach our children these sins by the abundance of material things we imagine they must have.
Fathers are to bring up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. In order to do this they must show their children that they themselves are “in the Lord.” They must show themselves to be truly god-fearing men. An important part of the instruction of our children is our instructing them in sound doctrine. This is almost unheard of in our day, even in some Reformed churches. (We will return to this in our next article.) We want to conclude this article by emphasizing the great and urgent calling of fathers to watch their own personal relationship to the Lord. Take heed unto yourselves for the sake also of your children. Fathers must nurture their children, not only by daily instruction, but by a life of godliness, demonstrating by the example of their own lives what it means to fear and love the Lord and to be devoted to Him and His Word.
The instruction that covenant fathers must give to their children is the truth and law of the Lord. It is a thing most grievous when a father himself is ungodly in his lifestyle and behavior, if he is himself an immoral man or a drunkard, and then he tries to instruct his children in the fear and love of the Lord. It is horrendous when a father, rather than teaching his children the fear of the Lord, teaches them wickedness and ungodliness by his own behavior in his marriage and in the home where his children are growing up watching him. He will not be able to hide from his children a life of immorality and corruption in the world. And the Lord will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children. His children will know, probably more than anyone else, the true character of their father.
We as men need to pray earnestly every day that God will give us the grace to live a life of obedience in the fear of God before our children in order to be an example for them to follow.
We plan to continue this subject in our next article the Lord willing.
¹ The form for baptism found in the back of the Psalter on page 55.
² The teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism on infant baptism in Lord’s Day 27.