“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3).
God speaks these words and He speaks them to you, children, and to you, young people, who are under the care and authority of your parents. The awesomeness and seriousness of the call of obedience to parents is found exactly in this: God commands us to do this; it is right; it is well pleasing to Him (Colossians 3:20). Whether you are three, ten, thirteen, or twenty years old, God says to you that you must obey your parents by submitting to their rule and by showing honor and reverence in your conduct and speech. You must do this because you are children of the heavenly Father, standing opposed to the children of the Devil, who are disobedient to their parents.
As was mentioned last time, it is a clear teaching of Jesus Christ that children must obey their parents. We noted that disobedience to parents cannot be taken lightly, but is a basic sign of the development of the man of sin, Anti-Christ. Not only that, but problems in the Church, school, and home all stem from sins committed against this law of God. We wish now to look at some of the facets of the truth of obedience to parents as revealed to us in Ephesians 6:1-3.
The very fact that children are specifically addressed in the Word of God should not escape our notice. It has beautiful implications. It means that God considers children to be members of His church. Obvious you might say, but do not take that for granted. It is a wonderful truth!
That God addresses a specific word to children implies the whole truth of the covenant, “That the promise is unto you and to your children and to all that are afar off even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). This is a comfort for parents who are engaged in the daily work of child rearing. This reveals God’s attitude toward the children of believers. Out of them He gathers His Church, and He accounts them, to be members of His Church. Paul in this letter to the Ephesians addresses the Church. According to chapter one they are the faithful in Christ Jesus, chosen from before the foundation of the world. Still more, in Ephesians 5:26 Paul says that Christ has washed His Church in His blood so that it is a glorious Church which He takes to Himself. Now, children are included in that Church! They are not excluded; they are not on the periphery of the Church. But God accounts the children of His covenant as members of His Church who belong to the body of Jesus Christ and who are heirs of His promises. They are the lambs of His flock, and God in tenderness and compassion addresses them as well.
Very practically, this means that our children must be present with us when we go to Church. May God deliver us from the evil notion prevalent today that Church is for adults alone or that children are to be left home or shuttled off to their own special children’s service because the sermon and the worship of the Church are over their heads. The Apostle Paul, when he wrote this epistle to the Church at Ephesus, expected that when his letter was read in the Church, children would be present. He labored under the assumption that families would come up to God’s house and worship together! And this is a Biblical assumption! We repeatedly read in the Old Testament that the “little ones” were present when the law and the Prophets were read (Joshua 8:35). In those days entire families would travel together to come to the Passover Feast celebrated in Jerusalem, as for example when Jesus came with His parents to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41). One of the implications of the truth of God’s covenant with us and our children is that we worship as families worshiping together. That is when fathers and mothers lead their little ones, their pre-schoolers, to Church and teach them how to worship God! That is when fathers see to it that their older children pay close attention to the preaching and then speak with their children and question them concerning the Word of God which they heard. That is when sons and daughters sit at their parents’ side in the worship service as joint heirs of the promises of God. That is when fathers in a real sense may repeat the words of Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And that also means that children must pay attention in Church. They canunderstand the minister, and no one may tell them that they cannot. Do not hand them picture books and toys, but prayerfully teach them to listen to the Word of God. They can do that. God will see to it that by the Spirit they will hear and understand what they need to know.
The Word of God addresses to children is that they obey their parents. “Children obey your parents. . . . Honor thy father and thy mother.” To understand this command, we must keep in mind the entire context of the last part of the book of Ephesians. The instruction of the Apostle Paul in the last part of Ephesians five and the first part of Ephesians six hinges upon his exhortation found in verse 18 of Ephesians five: “Be not filled with wine wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit.” This command, positively and profoundly, is the Christian calling in all of its parts, “Be filled with the Spirit.” Paul goes on to teach us in verse 21 that being filled with the Spirit of Christ means for us this: “In love submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.” To be filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ means that in humbleness of mind we will submit to one another, or, as Jesus said, we shall be servants one to another and wash each other’s feet. This is the commandment that He left with us, and by our obedience shall all men know that we are His disciples. Being filled with His Spirit we submit ourselves one to another in His fear.
Now, the Apostle Paul applies this fundamental principle of being filled with the Spirit and thus submitting ourselves one to another, to every sphere of life. He begins with marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33). Therefore the wife who is filled with the Spirit of Christ will submit herself to the will of her husband in all things lawful according to the gospel, and the husband who is also filled with the Spirit of Christ will love his wife as he loves himself and will submit to Christ’s will for him in marriage. Then Paul naturally proceeds to the home in chapter six: to the relationship between parents and children. And again he simply sets forth the same great principle, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Children, are you filled with the Spirit of Christ? Young men and women, does the Spirit of Christ dwell within you? This is His word to you; submit yourself to your parents in the fear of Christ!
The teaching of the Apostle Paul is therefore plain and consistent. We must take hold of the principle of Christian life to be filled with the Spirit and thus “submit ourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.” We must begin here, whether this is in marriage or in the home, in the Church or in the school. Be dominated by and be under the control of the Spirit in all of life and thus submit yourself one to another. And to children this means, “obey your parents.”
Before we go on to look at the obedience to which Christ calls us, notice that all of this brings out another fundamental principle of the law of Jesus Christ, namely, the principle that we show our love for Christ and show submission to Him in the Spirit, first of all within our own families. Paul applies to us a great truth! You are filled with the Spirit, now submit yourselves one to another! But to whom are you to submit yourself? To whom are you to show the love of Christ? And the answer is, first of all to the person closest to you. Husbands, you do not have to go around looking for someone to show the love of Christ to. You begin with your wives. And, wives, you begin with your husbands. Children and young people, how do you display the love of Christ within you? Must you first go out into the world, or should you begin with your closest friends? No, not first of all. But you begin with the people closest to you, your father and mother who bore you! The Christian life begins in the home. Christian homes must by grace fall under the dominance of the Spirit of Christ, and you are first of all to submit yourselves to one another in the love of Christ there. Before you can go on and live in obedience to Christ in the Church, school, or in all of society, first of all you must submit yourselves to Him in the home.
Children who are filled with the Spirit are called to obey their parents. That word “obey” which Paul uses is a very descriptive one in the original Greek language. It means literally “to listen intently and then to hearken to do as you have heard.” The word obey means two things: first, to listen attentively to what your parents say, and secondly, to hearken to do as they tell you. To obey is to listen and then to do as you are told. And Paul in Colossians 3:20 says that you must do this “in all things.” The idea is that as children we are under our parents’ authority and must submit ourselves to that authority in all things. You are not left to decide when you will obey and when you will not, but you are called to listen and then to do. (We must understand that these words, “in all things,” do not mean we may do that which God forbids. Parents may not command their children to sin, and children may not do sinful things when wrongly told to do so by their parents. Parents must remember they have a Master in heaven and that they must do His will in the home.)
This obedience must especially be seen by submitting to the correction and reproof of our parents. It brings shame to the gospel of Christ when as children we respond in anger to the correction of our fathers. Many children and young people today think it is wise to go against the word of their parents and become resentful when corrected. Solomon, in the book of Proverbs, has much to say about such children. The son who resents his father’s word and who disobeys his parents has no love, but is self-centered. He brings shame and bitterness to his parents, and he himself shows himself to be a fool. Wisdom’s way is seen when a son hears instruction and correction and when a son sees in the correction of his earthly father the correction of his perfect heavenly Father. It is a foolish son who mocks his father and who despises obeying his mother. The eagles of the air shall pluck out his eyes, and he inhabits the place of darkness reserved for fools.
As children of the heavenly Father you are called to obey by honoring father and mother. Paul quotes the fifth commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” And the point is this: you can outwardly obey your parents and still be guilty of violating God’s law. Mechanical obedience is not enough, but the obedience you are to render must proceed out of a heart that reverences your parents and respects them. Obey from your heart, and thus honor your parents very highly in love! That too is flagrantly violated by the children of the Devil. The world today ridicules fathers and mothers in their television programs and sadly, these programs do rub off on our children and upon us. A father is presented as a silly, incompetent ninny who is the laughing stock of his children. And mothers are painted as naive and light-headed, who are amusingly endured by their children. All respect is gone, all honor vanishes, and scorn and ridicule takes honor’s place. The parents who allow their child to watch this corruption on television should not be overly surprised when they begin to see the same attitude in their child toward themselves.
God calls us to honor our parents and submit to them in the love of Christ! As Christ honors His heavenly Father, so we must honor our human father. Obedience to parents is not the farce rendered by the Pharisees who obeyed their parents outwardly, all the while grumbling within and having contempt in their heart. Pharisees are hypocrites, and those who obey in anger or scorn are hypocrites. The obedience to which we are called must proceed out of a born-again heart, willing, joyful, whole-hearted obedience as to the Lord and not to men. Children, God says to you, “I call you to obey your parents, to listen and to do. And you must do this as filled with the Spirit of Christ, showing honor to them.”
Next time, the Lord willing, we wish to examine the reason for our obedience, as Paul states it in Ephesians 6:1-3.