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Children Obey Your Parents

Books that will challenge your current Biblical perspective.
The Fire That Consumes
The Parousia
The Biblical Church
Clinging to a Counterfeit Cross

by Mark Dunagan

Mark Dunagan Commentaries -

Ephesians 6:1 "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right"

These verses (Eph. 6:1-9) continue the previously stated themes of walking in a manner worthy of your calling and the mutual submission that is to exist in the church. Again we find that the teachings delivered by the Apostles were at variance with the culture in which they lived. Barclay points out that the instruction given to fathers (6:4) and the high value that this section places upon children presents a much higher ethical standard than the standard then present in Roman society. "If the Christian faith did much for women, it did even more for children. In Roman civilization contemporary with Paul there existed certain features which made life perilous for the child. There was the Roman patria potestas the father’s absolute power over his family. He could sell them as slaves, he could make them work in his fields even in chains, he could punish as he liked and could even inflict the death penalty. Further, the power of the Roman father extended over the child’s whole life, so long as the father lived. A Roman son never came of age. There was the custom of child exposure. When a child was born, it was placed before its father’s feet, and, if the father stooped and lifted the child that meant that he acknowledged it and wished it to be kept. If he turned and walked away, it meant that he refused to acknowledge it and the child could quite literally be thrown out. Unwanted children were commonly left in the Roman forum. There they became the property of anyone who cared to pick them up. Ancient civilization was merciless to the sickly or deformed child. Seneca writes, ‘We slaughter a fierce ox; we strangle a mad dog; we plunge the knife into sickly cattle lest they taint the herd; children who are born weakly and deformed we drown. It was against this situation that Paul wrote. If ever we are asked what good Christianity has done to the world, we need but point to the change effected in the status of women and of children’" (pp. 175-177).

"It was a radical change from the callous cruelty which prevailed in the Roman Empire, in which unwanted babies were abandoned, weak and deformed ones killed, and even healthy children were regarded by many as a partial nuisance because they inhibited sexual promiscuity and complicated easy divorce" (Stott p. 238). A modern application needs to be made from the above quotations. Our society considers itself "enlightened" and educated. We hear people talking about the "rights of children" and the "year of the child". But many of these same people advocate abortion and place their own careers far ahead of their children. We cannot depend upon society to lead us in the right way when it comes to even the most basic of human relationships. People outside of Christ are blind (Acts 26:18). Mere human wisdom does fail, even in the most basic areas (Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 16:25; 1 Corinthians 1:21), and secular education can never be a substitute for the instruction that comes from the Word of God.

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right"

The word here children obviously refers to children who are old enough to understand the concept of obey. We should remind young people that they are accountable to God also. God in His word has spoken specifically to children (Ecclesiastes 12:1; Psalms 148:12). "The family is the nucleus of all society. You can have no prosperous state unless the family is healthy. You can have no effective church unless the family is sound. The family is the organic cell from which all human societies are constructed." In these first four verses we find the "cure" to many of the ills of society. Poverty, crime, certain diseases, and so on, can all be linked with a breakdown of the family unit.

"Obey": To listen attentively, to heed or conform. "Lit., the word means ‘to hear under authority’" (Caldwell pp. 286-287). It "describes a ‘readiness to hear’; the ‘listening ear of unhesitating attention’; not only obedience in action, but a willingness to heed counsel, to weigh words of advice, and then gladly to shape one's course under the accepted guidance of more mature minds."

Yet grudging obedience does not even count before God. We need to remind young people that they need to obey their parents in the right spirit and attitude, because God reads the heart and not merely outward actions (Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 Samuel 16:7). Of course, this command would also apply to children who have non-Christian parents. Because "disobedience to parents" is a sin committed among non-Christians as well (Romans 1:30). Disobedience to parents is not a mark of "enlightenment" or personal growth rather God considers such a mark of moral failure and selfish arrogance. Seriously consider the "sins" placed in the same company with this sin (Romans 1:28-31; And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 2 Timothy 3:2-4, For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal,not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. The argument offered by the feminists that the husband is no longer the "head" of his wife finds itself forced to conclude that children are no longer required to obey or honor their parents. The sad fact is, that in many families this has happened and is even accepted by the parents. When the husband is removed from his position of "headship", it is difficult for the wife to hold on to her "authority" over the children. Listen ladies, in undermining the authority of your husband, you are inherently undermining your own authority in the home.

"In the Lord": "Paul"s emphasis is that when children give obedience to their parents, they are acting in the will of the Lord" (Boles p. 324).

The person they are really obeying is the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is why God takes so seriously disobedience to parents. In essence, rebellious children are defying the God of heaven. As with all other human relationships, God does not expect obedience, if such obedience would result in sin (Acts 5:29). Young people often ask, "But what can I do for God?" "How can I help the church or the cause of Christ?" God says, "You can assist Me greatly by being obedient and respectful to your parents". Accountable children often fail to realize that their bad example can turn people off from the truth. I stand amazed that some young people will invite their friends to Bible study and yet they themselves are unprepared for class and even do things that undermine the success of the class and the efforts of the teacher. What are such young people thinking? "Let's invite our best friend to church, so we can show them how disrespectful we are?"

"For this is right": "The right thing for you to do" (Phi). Paul first appeals to what some might call that sense of "right" or "justice" that is common to all mankind. "It is not confined to Christian ethics; it is standard behavior in every society. Pagan moralists, both Greek and Roman, taught it. Stoic philosophers saw a son's obedience as self-evident, plainly required by reason. Much earlier, in oriental culture, one of the greatest emphases of Confucius was on filial respect, so that still today, though centuries later, Chinese, Korean and Japanese customs continue to reflect his influence. Indeed, virtually all civilizations have regarded the recognition of parental authority as indispensable to a stable society. We experience no sense of surprise, therefore, when Paul includes ‘disobedient to parents’ as a mark both of a decadent society which God has given up to its own godlessness" (Romans 1:28-31) (Stott p. 239).

"There will never be a time when it is right for children to disregard, dishonor, and disobey their parents" (Coffman p. 215). Yet such is only "right" because God exists. "Right" and "wrong" only have meaning in a universe that God created. Rebellion to parents is the violation of the obvious facts. Caldwell points out, "Nature should call for gratitude and attachment from children, not rebellion and impatience. Most parents have sacrificed so much for their children and given much. Even the instruction and restraint which are so often resented by children represent time, effort, and thoughtful concern. Most of the time, the easy way out would be to allow the children to do as they wish with parents going on their way without having to be bothered" (pp. 287-288). Thus, rebellion to parents is a huge manifestation of complete ingratitude on the part of the child, because for a child to turn on the two individuals who have sacrificed and selflessly tried to give that child everything they need to mature in all areas, is plain and simple arrogance and ingratitude. Yes, such a youth deserved to be killed (Exodus 20:15; Exodus 20:17), and such a sin is deserving of an eternal hell (Romans 1:30).

Verse 2

Ephesians 6:2 "Honor thy father and mother which is the first commandment with promise"

"Honor": To revere, value, and prize. In the New Testament God always informs Christians which moral and ethical laws found in the Old Testament remain unchanged, including this one (Romans 13:8-10). This quotation is from Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16. In the context, "honor" is demonstrated by obedience (6:1). "The way to honor parents is to obey them" (Barclay p. 177). "Obedience properly springs from reverence and respect. It is thus to be the honor, not of weak emotion, but of practical loyalty" (Erdman p. 126). "The Lord does not desire reluctant obedience or grudging submission" (Caldwell p. 288). Such honor includes taking care of the material needs of our parents (Matthew 15:3-9; Mark 7:1-13). The vast majority of children eventually leave the "nest" and cleave to another (5:31), but Jesus pointed out that the obligation to "honor" one"s parents never ends. While I am no longer under my parents "authority", I will never be released from the obligation to treat them with respect. Unfortunately, some young people try to convince us that while they are in rebellion to their parents, "they still do love them". Such is a lie. Rebellious children are manifesting disrespect and contempt for their parents. Rebellious children during times of rebellion do not really care how much their parents are being hurt by their own foolishness. In the end, the most important person to the rebellious child, is him or herself (2 Timothy 3:2 "For men will be lovers of self---disobedient to parents").

"Thy father and mother": Honor, respect and obedience are to be rendered to both parents. "Which is the first commandment with promise": "This is an important commandment with a promise" (Beck).

It seems that Paul is affirming strongly that the command to honor father and mother is ‘a’ first, foremost, or primary commandment with promise attached. Children need to be impressed with the strong feelings of God related to this instruction" (Caldwell p. 290). God has no tolerance for youthful rebellion (Proverbs 30:17; Exodus 21:15-17; Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Romans 1:30). God does not view rebellion as, "They are just going through a stage". "They cannot help themselves". Or, "they are obviously not accountable for their actions and words because they are at the mercy of their hormones".

"With promise": The promise is mentioned in 6:3. God is more than fair. Not only does He forgive sin, but He also blesses the former sinner who then chooses to obey. Every command of God has the same general type of promises attached to it such as obeying this command is in your best spiritual interest. This command is an expression of God's goodness and concern for your well being. God's true concern for our ultimate well being is found behind every command that He has ever given (Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 6:24; 1 Peter 3:9-12). "If God's commands should be obeyed simply because God is sovereign, how much more should they be obeyed when there is personal reward to be realized?" (Boles p. 325).

Verse 3

Ephesians 6:3 "that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth"

"May": The promise is generally the rule, yet some godly young men and women do die early in life (like Jesus and John the Baptist) and some very wicked people end up living long and prosperous lives (Psalms 73:1-14). Although God is not mocked, every unrepentant sinner will be punished (Galatians 6:7-8).

"Be well with thee": God is not insensitive or cruel. He is really concerned for our well being. God desires that His people live long and enjoy all the wholesome pleasures that this earth can provide. "Respectful, obedient children will normally become productive, successful adults".

"That it may be well with thee", is the intended purpose and aim of all our parenting efforts. We desire to see our children in heaven and enjoying the favor of God. The desire of all godly parents is to see their children grow up to be well adjusted, mature, responsible and happy adults. We want them to have happy marriages and good families. Years ago I read the following:

"An inevitable struggle between the individual and the several powers that go to make his individuality, begins in every child at his very birth, and continues so long as his life in the flesh continues. On the outcome of this struggle depends the ultimate character of him who struggles, it is to him bondage or mastery, defeat or triumph, failure or success, as a result of battling that cannot be evaded. A man who was not trained, in childhood, to self-control, is hopelessly a child in his combat with himself, hence it is that it rests with the parent to decide, while the child is still a child, whether the child shall be a slave to himself, or a master of himself. To leave a child to himself in these earliest struggles with himself, is to put him at a sad disadvantage in all the future combats of his life's warfare; while to give him wise help in these earliest struggles, is to give him help for all the following struggles". [Note: _ "Hints on Child Training". H. Clay Trumbull. Great Expectations Book Company, Eugene, Oregon 97402. pp. 53-54.]

Therefore I must teach my child self-control, because the lack of it will make him miserable. I must teach my child to share, to be grateful and thankful, to forgive, to consider the feelings and needs of others, because the selfish, self-centered, bitter and resentful adult is an unhappy camper. I must teach my child the value of hard work, of work before play, of commitment and responsibility, because adults that lack these qualities end up frustrated. Learning such things in youth is hard, but I have found that the adult who must learn them for the first time has even a harder task.

"Mayest live long on the earth": In the passage cited, God had said "that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you" (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). God has Paul change the last part of the quotation, from "in the land", to "on the earth". Living long on the earth is vain, if it is not "well with thee". First century Christians did face persecution (1 Peter 4:12; Revelation 2:10). Thus we realize that this promise was not just confined to that day and age. Short-lives for Christians is the exception, not the rule, and long-lives for the rebellious is the exception, not the rule. This promise still holds true and we see it demonstrated on a daily basis.

Verse 4

Ephesians 6:4 "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord"

"And": "On the other hand, parents must show themselves worthy to be obeyed. ‘Children, obey your parents’ was not designed as a weapon to be placed in the hands of godless tyrants. The duty of children toward parents is not more real than that of parents toward children. Submission on the one side is no more necessary than gentleness and sympathetic guidance on the other" (Erdman p. 127).

"Fathers": "All this is for the father's sake as well as for the children. He needs to be involved with his children. Some abandon their children through divorce and others through neglect. Both are damning" (Caldwell p. 293).

Mothers do not have a right to provoke their children to wrath any more than fathers, yet fathers are specifically mentioned because God views them as the head of the household and the spiritual leader of the home (Genesis 18:19; Joshua 24:15) This demands that the father must spend time with the children. Too many fathers simply want to provide the entertainment or recreation for their children. The father must also provide spiritual leadership and wise counsel. Mothers must be included in the following process of encouragement and godly instruction. God is letting all fathers know, that they are responsible for making sure that their child is properly disciplined, instructed, and encouraged. This means that the husband is divinely commanded to intervene when his wife is breaking the spirit of their children or becoming cruel in the discipline given. "The picture he paints of fathers as self-controlled, gentle, patient educators of their children is in stark contrast to the norm of his own day" (Stott p. 245). "Even though Roman law and social custom might give them virtually unlimited authority over their children, God sets limits" (Boles p. 326). The very same section of Scripture that places children in subjection to their parents equally protects children from ungodly parents.

"Provoke not": To enrage and provoke to wrath. "Don't overcorrect" (Phi). "Stop exasperating your children" (Wms). "Do not rouse your children to resentment" (Knox). "To anger with irritation because of injustice or needless severity. Unjust, improper, or unreasonable treatment breaks down the respect of children for their parents" (Caldwell p. 293). "The word implies being so heavy-handed and unreasonable with children that they are driven to a helpless state of frustration and anger. Paul's similar command in Colossians 3:21 warns that in such a situation the children will ‘become discouraged’" (Boles p. 326). We can break the spirit of our children by offering them a continual stream of criticism. "Luther used to say: ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child--that is true; but beside the rod keep an apple to give him when he has done well’" (Erdman p. 178). "Parents can easily misuse their authority either by making irritating or unreasonable demands or by harshness and cruelty at one extreme or by favoritism and over-indulgence at the other, or by humiliating or suppressing them. How many ‘angry young men’, hostile to society at large, have learned their hostility as children in an unsympathetic home? There is a place for discipline but it must never be arbitrary or unkind (for children have a built-in sense of justice)" (Stott p. 246).

Parents, especially fathers, must be very careful that the "rules" they enforce are fair, are important to God, and are the result of sound reasoning and application based on clear Scriptures. Because to enforce some "rule" upon my child that is unreasonable and the result of unsound biblical application, is to destroy my credibility as a parent. The Father should be seen as someone who "knows" Scripture, who "wisely" applies it, and who can be depended upon for sound interpretation (Proverbs 2:1-4; Proverbs 3:1-4;Proverbs 4:1-2). As a parent I don't want my child to grow into an adult who is in bondage to human religious traditions, misinterpretation and who is proclaiming perverted and twisted texts of Scripture that I gave them, because I was not careful in my own study. It is hard enough to live the Christian life, without having a mind filled with improper applications of Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). So before you make a "rule", put yourself in the shoes of your child. Listen to the arguments that you are going to offer in defense of this rule. Do they make sense? Are they weak? Can you see holes or inconsistencies in your own reasoning? Remember, children can "see" through weak arguments as well.

"Wrath": "Modern parents, however, often go to the other extreme. They discipline with timidity and reluctantly, fearful of incurring the wrath of their spoiled children. They are constantly seeking the approval of their children and avoid any discipline that might displease them" (Boles p. 326). "But": For every wrong action, God has a good, useful and productive alternative. "Nurture them": To cherish or train and to rear up to maturity. "But raise them" (Beck). "Children are a blessing and should not be viewed as a burden" (Caldwell p. 292). See Psalms 127:3-5. As in all other areas, God has provided helpful instruction for parents. We are told to rear our children up to maturity, but God also tells us how. The Christian parent must be convinced that God has given them every essential "tool" for this good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Too many parents are intimidated by their children or they feel helpless against the evils and temptations that their children are facing in the world. It should not be that way.

"Chastening": Education or training, and disciplinary correction. "In classical usage, that which is applied to train and educate a child. The term here covers all the agencies which contribute to moral and spiritual training" (Vincent p. 404). "Signifying education by means of discipline, and instruction by means of correction" (Erdman p. 128). "All that makes the education of children" (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 377). "This includes the inter-related ideas of education and discipline (see Hebrews 12:5-11), and ‘punishment for the purpose of improved behavior’" (Boles p. 326). "The whole training and education of children (Thayer p. 473). "Christian parents should jealously guard their responsibility, delegating some of it indeed to both church and school, but never entirely surrendering it. It is their own God-given task; nobody can adequately or completely replace them" (Stott p. 248).

What a wonderful observation. As a father I can delegate certain aspects of my child's education to their bible class teacher, a public or private school, their mother, a tutor, a university, a music teacher, and so on. But I never surrender the fact that I am still the one who is responsible for raising them. We may need to remind any education institution that our children belong to us and not to them, and that we are simply contracting with them to provide us with a service. If the service is bad, we have the divine right to find someone else who can do a better job.

Stott is right. Nothing on the face of this earth can adequately replace a mom and a dad. No human institution can give your children what you can give them. Parents, with the father as the head of the parenting-team, are responsible for the "whole" training and education of their child. It is their divine task to see that their child matures physically, socially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The word "chastening" includes the idea of physical discipline. The New Testament authorizes parents to exercise physical punishment when such is needed. The Bible clearly teaches that the parents have the divine right and obligation to exercise corporeal punishment (Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 22:15; Proverbs 23:13-14;Proverbs 29:15).

Yet discipline does not mean that the parent has the right to abuse their child. Stott makes the following comment, "Parents must be clear about their motives. It is always dangerous for them to discipline their children when they are annoyed, when their pride has been injured, or when they have lost their temper. When you are disciplining a child, you should have first controlled yourself. What right have you to say to your child that he needs discipline when you obviously need it yourself? Self-control, the control of temper, is an essential prerequisite in the control of others" (pp. 248-249). "The opposite of wrong discipline is not the absence of discipline, but right discipline, true discipline. To the other extreme we need to say: ‘The opposite of no discipline at all is not cruelty, it is balanced discipline, it is controlled discipline’" (Stott p. 248).

Years ago I ran across the following hints for effective discipline: Listen to explanations before making final conclusions. Punish on the basis of motive. A lie is different from a spilled bowl of cereal. Do not threaten the child. Keep rules to a minimum but enforce consistently those that are most important. Do not punish children by making them do things they should enjoy, like reading. Avoid ridicule, sarcasm, and irony. Mother and Father must stand united behind their decisions. Never discipline when angry (or when you lack self-control).

"Admonition": "Instruction or warning, seems to refer primarily to verbal education" (Stott p. 248). "Putting in mind of right. It involves encouragement to good conduct" (Caldwell p. 295). "Whatever is needed to cause the monition to be laid to heart" (Vincent p. 404). Admonition includes all verbal instruction that is intended to put the child in the proper frame of mind. Parents must warn, they must rebuke and they must encourage and exhort. God does not forget about the "older children". One may be "too big" for a spanking, but children never outgrow the need for encouragement and stern words if necessary. God has provided many "admonitions" in the Scriptures to share with our children (Deuteronomy 6:1-9; 2 Timothy 3:15).

"One popular contemporary fashion is to urge parents to be totally ‘non-directive’ and to leave their children to find their own way. Paul is of a different mind" (Stott p. 249). The idea that we should not instruct our children with what we believe is naive and foolish. As if nobody else will? The atheist does not raise his children by such a naive standard! He makes sure that his children know exactly what he believes and why. The local school does not treat our children in this manner and neither does the media. Listen, if our children should not hold to the same convictions that we have, then our convictions are worthless.

"Of the Lord": "In such training and correction as befits the servants of the Lord" (Con). "With the sort of education and counsel the Lord approves" (Wms). "Such discipline as is prescribed by the Lord" (Vincent p. 404). This last phrase modifies everything just said. The Bible does not teach nor does it endorse child abuse. Everything that the parent does for the child, is to be done in a way that the Lord approves. This means that as parents we only have a right to teach our children those concepts and truths that are scriptural. Remember, a parent can be guilty of being a false teacher. We are responsible for sharing the gospel with our children, and we need to make sure that what we teach them is not tarnished with our own human opinions and prejudices, but is the pure word of God. "Certainly the overriding concern of Christian parents is not just that their children will submit to their authority, but that through this they will come to know and obey the Lord. There is always much rejoicing and thanksgiving whenever the teaching and discipline of a Christian home leads, not artificially but naturally, to a child's acceptance of the teaching and discipline of the Lord Jesus Himself" (Stott p. 250).

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