The Christian solution to the antagonisms in the home and
in society is not to water down the 5th Commandment but reinforce it. "Children,
obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honour your father and
mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise-- "that it
may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."
In the first five chapters of Ephesians Paul shows that this spiritual harmony begins when we are in submission to the lordship of Christ, and to one another. In chapter 6 Paul admonishes four groups of Christians about how they could have harmony in Christ. Husbands, wives, children, workers. I want us to concentrate on the third since it relates to the fifth commandment. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honour your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise." Before we examine it in more detail lets clear up one question. Who is this commandment directed to?
To infants, to children, teenagers, the unmarried still living with their parents? What about those who are grandparents but whose parents are still around. Does it still apply even then? No single answer can be given because it depends on the culture. Lets assume Paul is speaking primarily to young people who still live with their parents, but in a secondary sense to all of us whose parents are still alive. Paul gives four reasons why children should obey their parents.
1. Obedience is 'in the Lord' (6:1a)
This argument is an application of the theme of the entire section, which is "submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21). When a person becomes a Christian, he is not released from normal obligations of life. If anything, his faith in Christ ought to make him a better child in the home. To the Colossians Paul enforced his admonition with "for this is well pleasing to the Lord" (Col. 3:20). Here is harmony in the home: the wife submits to the husband "as unto Christ"; the husband submits to his wife "even as Christ also loved the church"; and the children obey "in the Lord." Harmony comes from relating to one another as if we were doing so to the Lord - for you know what? We are.
2. Obedience is Right (6:1b)
There is an order in nature, ordained of God, that argues for the rightness of an action. Since the parents brought the child into the world, and since they have more knowledge and wisdom than the child, it is right that the child obey his parents. The "modern version" of Ephesians 6:1 would be, "Parents, obey your children, for this will keep them happy and bring peace to the home." But this is contrary to God's order in nature and experience shows it doesn't work. Mark Twain once said, "When I was sixteen my father didn't know anything. When I was twenty-two I was amazed at how much he had discovered in six years." The plain fact is, it is not until we have children that we have any idea what it must have been like for our parents to struggle at bringing us up. Can you imagine how your mother felt probably giving up her career and possibly her figure to have you? When you are a home maker, the question you fear the most at parties is "what kind of work do you do?" This is how one mother of three replied..... I remember as a teenager discovering that I knew more about certain subjects than my father. That I could win arguments with him. He had left school at 14 with few formal qualifications and became a carpenter's apprentice. Where he outstripped me was not in knowledge but in wisdom.
With the pace of information technology exploding, my children know far more than I in many subjects, far earlier than I did with my father, but that is not the basis for our relationship. It is right to honour our parents because it shows respect for the wisdom experience our parents have gained. God gives us parents to give us direction, instruction and where necessary correction. Every time I take Michael to school we talk about crossing the road, the dangers, the risks. One day he will do it without me. I want to make sure he looks after himself before the time comes when he does not want me to hold his hand any more.
So, we should also acknowledge the sacrifice that our parents have made to have us. If you want to know what its like to have children, and whether you're ready to, then check out these three simple tests from Rob Parson's "Sixty Minute Marriage". He warns, if you fail these, skip the next chapter on sex... Obedience is as to the Lord, and because of that, obedience, is right and necessary.
3. Obedience is Commanded (6:2a)
Here Paul cites the fifth commandment (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16) and applies it to the New Testament believer. Note that, this command was given to believers, just as the original command was given to parents and children within the believing faith community. In a secular world that is largely amoralistic, this command does not mean we must obey our parents in all circumstances. If parents demand behaviour that contradicts the plain teaching of the Bible, we must obey God. You may remember the story of the family of Jesus in Mark 3:21, 31-35. (read)
The Gospels tell us very little about the boyhood of Jesus. What they do teach is very significant. Luke 2:51, "Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them... And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men." As a child Jesus obeyed his parents.
To "honour" our parents means much more than simply to obey them though. It means to show them respect and love. To care for them as long as they need us, and to seek to bring honour to them by the way we live. Obedience is as to the Lord, it is right and it is commanded.
4. Obedience brings Blessing (6:2b-3)
The fifth commandment has a promise attached to it: "That your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you" (Ex. 20:12). This promise originally applied to the Jews as they entered Palestine, but Paul applied it to believers today. He substituted "earth" for "land" and tells us that the Christian child who honours his parents can expect two blessings. It will be well with him, and he will live long on the earth. This does not mean that everyone who dies young dishonoured their parents. Paul was stating a principle: when children obey their parents in the Lord, they will escape a good deal of sin and danger and thus avoid the things that could threaten or shorten their lives.
But life is not measured only by quantity of time. It is also measured by quality of experience. God enriches the life of the obedient child no matter how long he may live on the earth. Sin always robs us; obedience always enriches us. There is no substitute for a godly Christian home.
If it was not your privilege to share in one, aspire to create one for others. So, the child must learn early to respect, to honour and obey their father and mother, not only because they are his parents, but also because God has commanded it to be so and with it will bring great blessing. Disobedience to parents is ultimately rebellion against God.
And that is the challenge to you and I. Lets take these commands seriously, lets understand why they were given and lets change our society for good. Lets pray.
I am grateful to Warren Wersbie (Ephesians Be Rich), John Stott (The Message of Ephesians), J. John (Ten Steps to the Good Life) and Joy Davidman (Smoke on the Mountain) for material used in this sermon.