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Children & Parents – Ephesians 6:1-4


One of my favorite memories is riding with my granddaughter when she was about three years old. She was in a very talkative mood. Her mother became frustrated with her and asked her to give her voice a rest. She kept talking.

Then she called her by name and said, “Stop talking!” She kept talking.

Finally, I entered the conversation.I asked my granddaughter, “What does the Bible say about children and parents?”

After a fairly long pause, she said rather timidly, “Obey them.”

I next asked, “For you, right now, what does that mean?”

She said, “Be quiet.” Then she paused and blurted out, “But I’ve got to talk!”

Paul does not introduce any new principles in this brief text. The things he says were a part of the heritage of Jewish Christians. Perhaps the reason he brings this matter up at all, both here and in Colossians 3:20-21, is that these were predominantly Gentile churches without a firm foundation in the Jewish roots of the Church.

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:1-4

I’d like to make  four observations about this text.

First, Children need parents to guide them and teach them in their formative years. This is not a responsibility that be sloughed off onto the public school system or to the TV babysitter. Parents need to be involved in every aspect of a child’s rearing.

This was a major component of Judaism. Paul in this text quotes from the Ten Commandments and points out that honoring father and mother is the first commandment with a promise, “That it may live long and that it may be well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 5:16).

Consider what follows the Shema, or the basic credal statement of Israel from which Jesus took the Greatest Commandment:

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. – Deuteronomy 6:4-7

The implications for Christian parents is obvious. If I had my child-rearing days to do over, one thing I would change would be to talk more with my children as a routine part of our family life about the things of God. Like too many preachers, I was too busy trying to save others I sometimes forgot about my own children whom God had placed in my care.

Second, children need to be taught to respect and obey their parents. In our age of virtually universal resentment of any “authority” figure, this is definitely something that has to be taught in the home. Schools are more likely to teach children about their “rights” than about their “responsibilities.” The first responsibility of a child is to learn to obey the parent. At a later stage of development they will be able to discern when obedience to a parent is not appropriate. A pre-schooler cannot be expected to exercise that sort of discretion.

Third, fathers need to be involved in child-rearing. Our “American Way” has been to turn the training of the children over to the mother. The result is that, even in families where father and mother are both present, children still often grow up without the active influence of a father. This sad state of affairs is exacerbated by the high divorce rate and consequent “blending” of families. This creates extraordinary difficulties in child-rearing, some of which I discussed here.

Paul admonished fathers, “Do not exasperate your children.” A very natural inclination on the part of fathers is to expect more of the child than he or she can comprehend. We are tempted to take them by the scruff of the neck and try to pound it into them. This will not work. Rather than a direct, physical approach to all child-rearing issues it is better to approach them with gentleness and patience. There well may be times when physical punishment is needed – but it certainly is not when father is frustrated. The child imbibes his frustration which can quickly “provoke…to wrath” (KJV of this passage).

The positive side of this is that fathers are to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” This does not mean what one well-fare mother said to me as she complained about how the children responded to her teaching efforts: “I sit them down right there and read the Bible to them, but they won’t listen!” These children were pre-school boys.  No, I don’t expect they did listen to her read them the King James Bible! Too many of us, though, are as unimaginative as this poor mother was.

Fourth, It has often been said that stable homes make for stable communities and a stable society. It has often been said because it is true. Without stable homes where parents introduce their children to the basic principles of right and wrong, we will have a society such as we have today – where many children literally have no moral conscience.

Paul even alluded to this in this text as well. The promise of the fifth commandment was that you may live long and well in the land God gives to you. Throughout history, societies that have had deep respect for parents have been societies that tend to endure. When we destroy that relationship between parents and children, we destroy something that is vital to a healthy society.

NEXT: Labor Relations – Ephesians 6:5-9

PREVIOUS: Christ and the Church – Ephesians 5:22-33

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3 Responses

  1. And after she said, “But I’ve got to talk!”, what did you say?
    That sounds like it might have been a teaching and learning experience for all involved.
    I really don’t remember. I wish I could claim some great response that would have set the stage for the rest of her life, but I can’t. I think it struck all of us as funny – which was not a good response. It did defuse the developing tension between her and her mother at the time. – Jerry

  2. Yes, we all laughed at it – and she did quiet down some after that…it was still a ‘learning moment’ – for both of us…
    Thank you for refreshing my memory, oh mother of my granddaughter!

  3. Forty years ago, while teaching a Sunday School class for about a dozen children in a YMCA building, I discovered that we’re often teaching children and they’re learning unexpectantly. … The lesson was on the Good Samaritan and all but one, apparently-disinterested three year old child – who went to the back of the room to play on the stacked mates – seemed to be engaged in the lesson. … About mid-week the mother phoned asking what I had taught in the class. When I told her, she replied: “That explains what Melaine has been acting out all week! She has acting out the different roles – being injured, care-giver, inn keeper, teacher. “

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