I cannot begin to count the number of times I have heard or said, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise)” (Eph. 6:1-2). Growing up, I heard my sweet grandmother say these very words on many occasions as she helped to guide and shape my understanding of what it means to be Christ-like. At an early age, I knew these words and could finish the quote with her. But I did not fully understand their meaning until I began to mature and develop as an adolescent and even into young adulthood. These words of the great Apostle Paul challenge us to demonstrate a submissive obedience as young children. Albert Barnes notes five reasons why this passage is particularly important: 1) Because the good order of a family, and hence of the community, depends on it. 2) Because the welfare of the child depends on it. 3) Because the child is not competent as yet to reason on what is right, or qualified to direct himself. 4) Because the parent, by his age and experience, is to be presumed to be qualified to direct and guide a child. 5) Because the family government is designed to be an imitation of the government of God.
As we note the structure of the family as designed by God, these reasons given by Barnes are certainly valid. It is vitally important to our society, and world for that matter, that children obey their parents in the Lord. Paul, no doubt, has Christian families in mind as his primary focus. While this passage has been very familiar to me for many years, the main thrust of Paul’s instruction here was rarely mentioned, or even overlooked altogether. I suppose there were a small handful of “Father’s Day” sermons that included a brief quote of Ephesians 6:4, but I struggle to recall any whatsoever. Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). There is a reality that becomes clear when one looks at the larger context of this section in Paul’s writing.
In Ephesians 5:22, Paul gives instructions to wives and quickly changes to the instruction for husbands. In Ephesians 6:5, Paul gives instructions to servants and quickly changes to the instruction for masters. In both of these instances the main thrust appears to be the respect that is generated by a husband and a master that demonstrates a Godly love and Christ-like spirit to the wife and servant respectively. With these two passages serving as bookends, Paul instructs fathers (parents) to demonstrate a Godly love and Christ-like spirit toward their children. Parents are to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. We, as parents, must understand that if we exemplify a Christ-like spirit before our children they will more readily return that love and respect. Sitting at the heart of this thought is the instruction parents are to give to their children. Paul addresses parents as he instructs them to bring up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But I believe this is also meant for the church. He is writing to the Church in Ephesus, and we, as the Church today, must take note of this important admonition.
The admonition to teach the next generation the truths of God and his will for his people is not something new to the first century Christian world. From the giving of the Law, and especially the retelling of the Law in Deuteronomy, God’s people have been instructed to pass along his desire for his people to their children. In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, we find what may be the most central element within the teachings of Judaism…the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” There was no question of the importance of this statement in the life of God’s people. Historically, the Shema has been, and continues to be the most basic and foundational teaching of the Jewish people. Jesus identifies it as the greatest command. And indeed it is.
Interestingly enough, the words immediately following the Shema serve as a foundation truth for not only the Jews, but also for those living under the new covenant. “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:6-9). “You shall” is not a suggestion. It is not as though Moses were telling the Israelites that teaching the truths of God would be a good thing if they chose to do so. He isn’t saying, “This might be a good idea.” Moses is giving instruction himself. He is giving a command which the people of God were to follow. He was demonstrating, through this admonition, the importance and necessity of teaching the next generation of God’s people.
So, as God’s people today, how are we doing? Are we teaching the next generation the truths of God. Are we allowing God’s word to infiltrate every aspect of our lives? Is his will our will? Or better yet, have we allowed for our will to be transformed into his will? We have an important responsibility to train our young people to know, not just facts about God…but to actually know God. This takes more than simply having them memorize scriptures. We must live out our faith before them, setting for them an example of a Christ-like spirit and attitude. God wants to use us as his instruments through which the next generation will learn of his love and care. It’s up to us to allow him to do so. May we as individuals…may we as a church…rise up and stand firm in our faith as we pass along God’s word to the next generation.