1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. 2 Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) 3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. 4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1–4)
Beginning with Ephesians 5:18, Paul has been discussing what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit means that you are controlled by him. m
Christians filled with the Spirit do not get drunk with wine (or let themselves be controlled by anything other than the Spirit), they sing praises to the Lord, they give thanks to the Lord.
Spirit-filled wives submit to their husbands, and husbands lovingly nourish and cherish their wives. Now we turn to the children.
I. SPIRIT-FILLED CHILDREN…
A. Obey Their Parents
Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
“obey” (ὑπακούετε [ὑπακούω, VPAM2P]) is built on the Greek word for listening. It has the sense of paying attention to instructions and obeying those instructions (Louw-Nida).
8 My son, hear the instruction of thy father, And forsake not the law of thy mother: (Proverbs 1:8)
What does it mean to obey “in the Lord”? It means several things:
1) Obeying “in the Lord” means that parents should not tell their children to do something evil or un-Christian.
2) Obeying “in the Lord” means children obey their parents because they know and love Jesus. So it’s like they were obeying Jesus first and their parents second.
For example, Johnny is told to take out the trash, but he doesn’t want to because his mother didn’t let him have a cookie before lunch. But Johnny is a Christian, so he obeys the command anyway because he is obeying Jesus first.
3) Obeying “in the Lord” is possible because of what the Lord Jesus did for us on the cross.
In other words, obeying the Lord is not what saves a person, we are saved only by trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. But when he saved you, he changed you. He made you a new creature and gave you new desires:
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
A saved person will start to want to obey the Lord because they have been made new, and the closer they grow in the Lord, the more they will want to obey the Lord.
2. For This Is Right
You should obey your parents “for this is right.” Why is it right?
1) Obeying your parents is right because it just makes natural sense.
Children are supported by their parents, free of charge, so obedience is a proper response.
Children, despite what they may think, are not mature enough to make informed decisions about their lives. This, of course, changes as time goes by, but children should understand that their parents will know what is best for them for much of their first two decades of life, so it’s best to obey them because of their wisdom.
2) The text here has another reason why children obeying their parents is right—because it is God’s command that children…
B. Honor Their Parents
Ephesians 6:2a Honour thy father and mother;
This is a command lifted right from the Ten Commandments:
12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. (Exodus 20:12)
“Honour” (Τίμα [τιμάω, VPAM2P]) means to “show high regard for” someone (BDAG). Honor is the attitude in which children are to obey their parents. You are to obey them, even when you don’t feel like it, because you respect them.
Of course, sometimes there are parents who are hard to honor. What then? One thing that I would suggest is to examine their lives for areas that are worthy of honor.
For example, you might see your father as too busy and distant to give honor to. But when you examine his life, you see that, despite those weaknesses, he is also a hardworking and diligent man. As a matter of fact, we can do this with anyone in our lives, it’s called “looking for the best in someone.”
Obedience to the Lord’s commands is not without benefit to us, and the command to honor our parents is no exception.
Ephesians 6:2b (which is the first commandment with promise;)
Ephesians 6:3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
Is this really true? If you obey your parents, will you have a long life? We understand that “bad things happen to good people,” as was the case with Job. So we are tempted to spiritualize this verse and make it refer to eternal life instead of earthly life. There are at least two problems with that:
1) It clearly is talking about life “on the earth.”
2) We cannot gain eternal life by honoring or obeying our parents. How are we saved? Not by good works, but by believing in the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Once a young lady died. She met St. Peter at Heaven’ gate’s who told her that she would need to earn 1000 points get into heaven. She said to him, “I’ve been good, I’ve obeyed my parents, I’ve gone to church, I’ve read my Bible, I’ve prayed a lot, I’ve done my chores without complaining, I’ve been kind to my brothers and sisters, and I even want to become a missionary one day.”
“Oh, that’s excellent!” St. Peter said, “much better than most people! That will be one point. What else?”
We are only saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by good works. That is the only way we can have eternal life.
How do we understand this verse then? In the Bible some promises are more like what we would call general principles. The book of Proverbs is full of these. For example, a famous parenting proverb is:
6 Train up a child in the way he should go: And when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
That’s not a sure and fast promise, it’s a general principle. Generally speaking, God blesses parents who are diligent to train their children well with children who, in their adult years, are faithful believers. But not necessarily, because those children have wills of their own.
The words “live long on the earth” indicate a general principle that, if you honor and respect your parents, you’ll usually have a long life. But sometimes this fallen world interrupts lives with tragedies that God, thankfully, uses for good.
It’s like this: If you ride your bike carefully—by not doing wild stunts and by looking both ways before crossing a street—you will most likely not have an accident. But what if another kid is riding their bike too fast and they aren’t looking, and they plow right into you? It wasn’t that you were being a bad bicyclist, it was that we live in a world full of sin.
Honor your parents (and ride your bicycles carefully) and, generally speaking, you will have a long life on this earth.
Spirit-filled children—children who let themselves be controlled by the Holy Spirit will be children that obey and honor their parents. But what about the parents? That’s where we turn next in verse 4.
II. SPIRIT-FILLED PARENTS…
A. Do Not Anger Their Children
Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Why is this addressed only to “fathers”? Some argue that because “fathers” is plural, the Greek means that it refers to both parents. However, there is good reason to take this as referring first to fathers.
Fathers tend to struggle the most with the issues brought up in this verse. They tend to be more likely to anger their children; they tend to be less likely to be involved in instructing their children in the ways of the Lord.
So mothers, don’t feel left out—you tend to be better at doing these things than fathers are! However, the principles here do apply to mothers as well, it’s just that many mothers might be better at implementing them.
Fathers are not to “provoke” (παροργίζετε [παροργίζω, VPAM2P]) their children to anger. The word for “provoke” here is in the present tense, which suggests that this is something done continually over a period of time. It’s not that one incident of making your child angry is going to ruin them, but a pattern of provoking behavior over a period of time.
How do we provoke our children to anger? Here are a few ways (not that we need lessons on how to do so!):
1. Improper Or Too-Frequent Discipline
This can be a little tricky, because when you discipline a child or tell them that they can’t do something, they may be angry about that. Have we violated this command? Not necessarily.
Unless it is an extreme case of over-discipline, we will need to look at an overall pattern, not just one or two incidents.
We also need to listen to our wives when they caution us about being too strict or overbearing. And, in the case of a mother that is too strict, she needs to let her husband hold her accountable.
2. Showing Favoritism
When you show favoritism to one child, it can cause anger in the other children. Jacob did this with Joseph:
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. 4 And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him. (Genesis 37:3–4)
Another way of showing favoritism is to constantly compare your children to some other child in a different family.
It’s alright to occasionally challenge your children to be better, or to try new things—try sitting as still as Johnny does or try that new game that Sally just learned.
It’s when that becomes a constant refrain that children start to become frustrated and angry.
3. Expecting Too Much From Them
It’s right and proper to have expectations of our children. It’s necessary for them to grow. From the time that they are babies, parents are gently pushing their children to walk, to talk, to learn the alphabet, to learn to read, and so forth.
But when the expectations are beyond their abilities, it becomes a source of anger within the child.
An athletic father might push their son or daughter to play sports when they simply aren’t interested. A mom might want her daughter to be a beauty queen so badly that it drives a wedge in their relationship.
In the end, the children say, “No matter what I do, I just can’t please my Dad.” That leads us to the fourth way we can provoke our children.
4. Discouraging Words
Children need correction, it is true. But they also need compliments when they do right. The old saying is that we’re supposed to compliment someone ten times to each time we criticize.
Well, it’s impossible to keep count in something like that, but if you can’t remember the last time you complimented your children, chances are they can’t either.
Fathers—and mothers—do not provoke your children to anger. Don’t be paralyzed by thinking that you can’t discipline or correct or have expectations of your children. But make sure that the negative is balanced with the positive.
Godly fathers and mothers will use the Bible as their guide in training their children in the way that they should go. Above all, Spirit-filled fathers and mothers will aim to…
B. Bring Their Children Up In The Lord
1. Train and Correct
“bring them up” (ἐκτρέφετε [ἐκτρέφω, VPAM2P]) is the same word translated as “nourisheth” in Ephesians 5:29. In fact, that’s the only other place this word is used. It means to care for another’s needs.
In this case, it refers first of all to caring for a child’s spiritual needs—“bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
“nurture” (παιδείᾳ [παιδεία, NDSF]) means to teach or instruct or correct. The same word is translated “chastening” in Hebrews 12:5,7,11. Sometimes nurturing is a painful task for the student!
Nurturing is a task with positive and negative aspects; there is discipline, as the Bible instructs:
24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: But he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. (Proverbs 13:24)
There is also training, as we see in the often quoted verse:
6 Train up a child in the way he should go: And when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
A good parent will see to it that the devil’s ways are subdued in their children and that the Lord’s ways are planted and watered well in their children.
“admonition” (νουθεσίᾳ [νουθεσία, NDSF]) has to do with warning or instructing. It is used three times in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 10:11; Titus 3:10).
Again, it’s word with positive and negative aspects. Sometimes there is correction; sometimes there is training, but in either case, the goal is to bring the children up…
2. In The Lord
“of the Lord” means that our training of children must be Christ-centered, with the goal being that they know Christ, that is, that they know all they can about Christ in hopes that they will one day repent and believe.
Godly training of children is encouraged throughout the Bible. One of the earliest passages is:
6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6–9)
The world does not agree with training children up in the Lord. Today there is a movement that says that children belong to the community, not to the parents. That’s the liberal idea behind the slogan, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
The notion is that the State should have the final say in what children learn and know—which, of course, does not include religion.
Bill Nye the Science Guy, a popular science teacher on PBS, is very hostile against Christianity. He has said that parents can believe whatever they want, but they shouldn’t force their religion on their children. They should let their children accept evolution and secularism so that they can succeed in life and cause our nation to succeed in science (see the debate between Nye and Ken Ham).
Many Christians have unwittingly bought into this philosophy. If you throw a frog in a kettle of boiling water, it will do all it can to get out. But if you put a frog in a kettle and gradually turn up the temperature, the frog will adjust to the rising temperature until it boils to death.
Folks, that is what is happening to many Christians in our culture. The changes have been so gradual that most people adjust to to them. What was once something that was shocking to us and only happened in communist nations, now happens here without people so much as blinking an eye.
Parents, you cannot depend on anyone else to train your children in the Lord. Once, you might have been able to know that a school teacher would teach moral values from the Bible to their children, but not usually anymore. Even if they wanted to do so, they aren’t allowed.
Parents, and especially you fathers, the Bible commands that we do the instructing in the Lord. It’s our responsibility. The church and Sunday school are only to be supplements to the great task laid at your feet the day that your child was delivered into the world. It’s yours: train your children in the Lord.
What does a Spirit-filled Christian family look like? The Spirt-filled family has children that obey and honor their parents in sweet submission to the Lord.
It has parents whose main concern is not that Jimmy and Jane have the best education or are at the top of their game in sports—it’s that they know the Lord Jesus. And those parents diligently train their children in the Lord with both words and their loving example.
Of course, being Spirit-filled, or controlled by the Spirit, is impossible unless you have the Spirit dwelling in you. How does that happen? Only by turning in faith to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When you repent of your sins and turn to Christ, the Spirit of God comes to live in you.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (Romans 8:16)
And when the Spirit comes to live in you, he begins to transform your life, to mold you into the father or mother or child that God has always intended you to be.
Is the Spirit living in you? Is he transforming you? Are you a believer in Jesus Christ?