“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. (Ephesians 6:1–3, NASB95)
Again returning to the general instruction of Ephesians 5:21, to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ,” we find another specific application of how submission to Christ is to be applied to human relationships. We looked at the relationship between Christ and His church, the husband and the wife, and now parents and their children. In each of these there is the added aspect of headship ordained by God. Here we read that children are to obey their parents in the Lord. It is God who created the relationship, and it is God who established the order. God created man, and He sent His Son to bring man into a new relationship with Him through being born again. It is God who created man first and then woman, and who gave them to each other to become one with man having a headship role under the Lord. And it is God who created man and woman to bear children, and who gave the couple the role as parents to raise those children under the authority entrusted to them by God and in the knowledge of the Him.
God created these relationships and He determined how they are to operate. It is His right and proper way. Parents are the parents, and children are the children. This is God’s order. Parents are to give themselves for their children to love, nurture and train them to live lives fully submitted to Him. Children, on the other hand, are to submit to their parents in this role given them by God and according to God’s order of things even recognized in nature by those who do not know Him. The parents are to be the parents and the children and the children. This is the right and proper way, and when this breaks down relationships are hurt, God is not honored, and things go greatly awry.
We read that children are to “obey” their parents. I like this word. I think when it comes to people responding to us with obedience we all like this word. But, when the table is turned and we don’t like what we are called upon to do, we frequently find that we don’t care for it as much. The Greek word translated obey is ‘hupakouo’ which is made up of two other words. The first part (hupo) meaning ‘of’ or ‘under.’ This is the first indication of where tensions might surface. When we want our own way it is not our first response to come under or submit to someone else. This is where we again need to be reminded and even to remind others that God has ordained an order to things. We are all under Christ and are to submit to Him, and according to God’s plan children are under the parents and are similarly to submit to them. In the best of circumstances this happens when all are looking to the Lord and seeking Him and His ways, full of His grace and truth. The second part of the word is ‘akouo’ which means to ‘hear’ or ‘listen.’ It has the meaning of listening to understand or to comprehend. Putting them together, obedience is more than just doing what someone asks. It is the process of submitting to the instruction of one with an attitude and approach of comprehending what they are saying or asking such that it can be properly understood and acted upon. It is a full act of the heart, the mind, and subsequent actions. This means that attitudes are to be adjusted when they are wrong such that the acts are completed with the joy that one would have in responding directly to the Lord.
“Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them.” (Hosea 14:9, NASB95)
Of course, over time we expect that as parents we are going to be forced to go through the difficult process of holding them more and more loosely as they mature and assume growing levels of responsibility. This also, is exactly how God has ordered it. It may not be easy on the heart, but it is His right and proper way. And, when this happens as He intends the results can be amazing. But sadly, we see way too many examples of when parents fail greatly to step into their role and/or when children rebel and alienate themselves from both their parents and what they learned as right and proper. Because there is sin in the world there is also going to be breakdowns in these most important relationships. It is for this reason that the role of the parent and the submission of the child are both to be centered in a relationship with God, with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, His Spirit indwelling each and growing them, and the Word guiding their steps and shining a light on their path.
Verses 2 and 3 continue, “Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” Going back to Exodus 20:12 we find Paul restating the fifth of the Ten Commandments and the first of those pertaining to human relationships, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” (Exodus 20:12, NASB95) This commandment is the only one specifically directed at the family, and it is one that established a proper progression for the home which leads to an ongoing stability for society. When the children grow up under godly training, and then marry and go and train their children to do likewise, things go well in the land. This was a specific promise to the Jews pertaining to the land that God had set aside for them, but it is also a general one that Paul reaffirms here that is right for all of mankind.
But when children do not follow after their parents and they seek after their own ways, then a course for destruction is establishedn and, as we see from history, families and nations are destroyed. Years ago, when I was given the opportunity to return to school, I chose to study Biblical Counseling. The reason for this was not to become a counselor, but to enhance my understanding of God’s Word and its power to change lives. I chose this because I looked at society around me and the multiple generations of dysfunctional homes. I was seeing more and more people coming to Christ who were not raised in Christian homes. Their foundation for biblical living and order was non-existent, and people were struggling to set a course that works. But God has an answer to this, and it is my great joy as a pastor to guide people into both a relationship with Christ and in their understanding of His power to change lives and restore homes.
As I look around me at the current election cycle, I see masses who have run to support candidates with limited attachment to the truth and whose words speak of shaking things up or of giving their constituents more of their extreme desires and increased license. Politics have always played to this to some degree, but this is by far the most extreme example I can remember. I look at the masses who gather in the streets to protest and to destroy the property of others. I look at how people are shouted down in meetings. I look at how people of faith are ostracized and even punished for taking “unpopular” stands. I look at the callousness of people encouraging the taking of unborn lives and the parents who are deceived by the lies of the abortion industry and their own desires. I look at the growth of the “if I feel it I should be able to do it” movement and all of its ramifications on those who do not agree. And, I look at how this has reached into families whose hearts desire has been to do things God’s way. As I do this I think of the parents who did not follow the path of their parents in the Lord, and now those parents are raising children who are raising children who are doing likewise. We are in a long downward societal spiral, and the only answer is to get right with the Lord and then to get right in our relationships. Not doing this, it is easy to see how it continues to not go well in the land.
This last paragraph was a hard one to write, but it is a present reality. This present reality is not a surprise to Christ, and neither are straying children or misdirected parents. God is powerful to change lives. What He calls us to do is to turn our hearts to Him and follow after Him in obedience. We see this in the example of the Prodigal Son who returned home expecting little and being given everything because of the great love of the father and his power to bless. God's way really works, and He is powerful to complete it.
“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” ’ “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:17–24, NASB95)
Children we will always be, regardless of our age. Being able to honor our parents we can always do, regardless of their presence. We are a living legacy and testimony to the nurture they gave and the path that they set. And in the cases where maybe our parents have failed, we are a testimony to the power of our God to bring to us what we otherwise did not have. My parents are both now in the presence of the Lord, but as I choose daily how to live I do so with the influence that they had on my life and even the name that they gave me such that I bring honor to them in both. I also live carrying the name of Christ and as a living testimony of Him. I may have white hair, but I am never too old to honor and obey. This is how we need to raise our children, and it our hope that this is how they will walk for all of the years to come.