Children are a blessing from God and the responsibility of parenting is a privilege that should not be taken lightly. I love my children so much and as their father I pray for, love, discipline and instruct them in the ways of the Lord. As a father these are the joyous responsibilities I have. Is it easy? Not always. Am I always faithful in parenting the proper way? Unfortunately, I am not. I am human and flawed but I do rely the power and the grace of the Holy Spirit in my life to help me to be the best parent God intends for me.
I remember back in 2000 when my daughter Micaiah was born, and I experienced a special kind of love and connection with another human that I had never experienced before. The idea of being a parent scared the daylight out of me and I had no clue what to expect in raising a daughter better yet with all four of my children. I did and do know, however that I along side my wife have the joyful responsibility to raise our children to be respectful, kind and followers of Jesus Christ. We as parents also have the privilege of being our children’s provider, protector, instructor and examples. Ultimately I (nor can any person) force my children to love God and become followers of Christ. The only thing I can do is instruct, pray and show them by example Jesus in my life.
Parenting can be one of the most difficult and rewarding jobs in life. If any of you are parents, you know exactly what I am talking about. Unfortunately, Children do not come with instruction manuals. There are certainly numbers of books, workshops and programs that can help a person to parent, but we ultimately know there is no one specific way to parent a child because each child is unique.
Today we are continuing our series on “The 10 Commandments”. Today I will talk about commandment 5 and I am certain all parents have quoted this one to their children thousands of times.
“Honor your father and mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
Parents and Children
Now, before I talk about children and being obedient to parents, I would like to talk a few minutes about parenting. Parenting has changed over the years, decades, and centuries. The way you and I parent is most likely very different than the ways our parents parented us, and our children will most likely parent differently than we parented them. Here are two examples, one taken from ancient Jewish culture and the other from the Greco-Roman world. In both the Jewish and Greco-Roman world honoring parents was second only to honoring God. In fact, some writers said parents were like gods to their children. Honoring parents was expected as an ethical starting point, an expectation New Testament writers shared.
The power of fathers was almost unlimited in the Greco-Roman world. They determined whether a newborn baby had the right to live or die, and many baby girls in particular were abandoned to die. Fathers could and did sell their children, especially girls, into slavery. They could punish them as harshly as they wished, work them hard, or even put them to death. Ecclesiastes 30:1 – 30 is representative of attitudes in the ancient world: A father who loves his child will whip him and beat him often while he is still a child. A father should not pamper his son, play with him or share in his laughter.
Fortunately, this type of parenting is not tolerated today (but unfortunately this kind of abuse still exists in some families).
Read Ephesians 6:1 – 4
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, 3 so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land 4 Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
I would be interested to know how many of you have ever quoted the first part of this passage to your children? I know I have. I usually say it when my children are being naughty, disrespectful or disobedient. This is probably one of the most quoted passages in the Bible concerning the relationship between a parent and a child. It is a challenging passage to teach because it says so little about parenting but we like to use it as the foundation of our parenting; but beneath the surface we can see (with a little digging) that it also has a lot to say about the parent child relationship as well. What I have found is that it can point us in the right direction of what parenting can and should look like.
Verse 1 - 3: In the previous passage Paul has established the order of the marriage relationship. He spoke to both husbands and wives and gave them instructions on the roles each plays in the marriage relationship. In the passage we are looking at today he continues his instruction as he continues to talk about the family unit and speaks directly to children and parents.
He begins by addressing children and commanding them to obey and honor their fathers and mothers. Why is child to be obedient to his parents? Obedience is necessary because “it is right”. From a Christian perspective God commands children to be obedient because it is a sign of their relationship with Jesus. At ground level a child must be obedient simply because as the anonymous ancient author who goes by the name Ambrosiaster writes, “(children) must obey their parents because they derive their existence from them. It is therefore just that they should show respect to the people from whom they originate.” However we can see at a deeper level Paul is speaking to children but also to parents as well. It is important to point out that before our children can be obedient they need to be instructed. As fathers and mothers we have the responsibility to bring children up in the Lord and it is equally important that both father and mother be united in effort to bringing up our children. In Proverbs 6:20 – 21 children are exhorted “keep their father’s commandments” and “not forsake their mother’s teaching.” This ultimately leads to the parent leading a child in the ways of God; to teach and instruct in the ways of the Lord (the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom). As parents our role is not to be a slave driver imposing our will on our children. We are called to love, instruct, pray and lead our children in the ways of the Lord. As we lovingly lead as parents the response of a child is obedience because as the parents are allowing Christ to lead as the head of them they trust that the parents are leading them in truth in love.
Not only should this result in obedience but also honor. Honor basically means that you are ascribing to your parents respect and worth. Just so you know the extent of how important God views the command of honoring parents we read in Deut. 21:18 – 21 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” This is some serious stuff. Now, I do not believe this was a regular practice of the Jews, but it certainly set the guidelines for establishing what it means to dishonor your parents.
Thankfully this civil commandment is no longer practices since today obedience and honor are not something that kids readily show to their parents. In fact, it seems the opposite is the case. I have heard how some children speak to or treat their parents and honestly I am appalled the children speak and treat their parents the way they do AND that the parent allows this disrespect to exist. If you don’t believe me, I would invite you to come to the school some day and observe. I work at a Christian school and I hear kids talking back, slandering, yelling at and even swearing at their parents. I have also seen children hit their parents, speak disrespectfully to them and basically walking all over them and the parent does little to nothing in response (I have also witnessed parents doing the same to their children and it is no wonder they act the way they do). Maybe I am old fashioned but this is not how God established the parent/child relationship.
Kids, God has established your parents over you, and He has entrusted you to them to bring you up in the ways of the Lord. I know there are times when you may think your mom or dad is just trying to make your life miserable (and that they actually enjoy this) but God has clearly given them the responsibility to train and instruct you in the ways of God. We may be fallible (or sinners) but God has given us the mandate to be the ones to help you to grow into young men and women who know Jesus and walk according to his ways. Like I said, we can’t impose this relationship with Jesus on you, this is your decision to make. We can only point you in the direction you need to go.
Verse 4: No Paul turns to the parents (he speaks mainly to fathers but it is implied that mothers are included as well). Do not provoke your children to wrath. What does this mean? H.A. Ironside writes in his commentary on Ephesians, “As Christian parents, have in mind your children’s well-being. Do not be needlessly demanding of them, do not lay upon them burdens that are too hard for them to bear, for remember, as children have the Lord Jesus as their example, you have God himself as your.” It calls for the parent (more specifically fathers) to be even tempered with their children. We are to never discipline out of anger and rage. We are not to be so overly critical of our children that we tear them down and crush their spirit. We are to lovingly discipline and instruct as to encourage and build up our children. As frustrated as I can get with my children at times I will never physically harm my children but this is not to say that I won’t correct them lovingly. Ambrosiater gives a great reminder to parents, “Parents ought to teach their children by showing them an example of moderation, so children will choose what is best for them. Parents ought to remember that they were once children themselves and did not want to be provoked by their own parents… so each of them should treat the other in the way they want to be treated themselves.” 
So, what is the point and purpose of commandment five and how can we practice it well today? First, and foremost I do not believe that this commandment is intended to give permission for or accept abuse in any shape way or form, nor is it for parents to dominate and treat their children harshly. I do believe it is a commandment that promotes honor and obedience to our parents which in turn glorifies our God in heaven.
Now, I know that being a “good kid” may not be the norm in our society today, but it certainly should be the “norm” in the church today. God has given clear instructions to children (honor your father and mother) and for parents (do not provoke to wrath) and when we follow these instructions we can live our lives honoring and glorifying our true Father who is in Heaven, this my friends is a great place for us to start.
 Snodgrass, Klyne. (1996). The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians, p.325. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Books.
 Bray, Gerald L., (2009) Ancient Christian Texts: Commentaries on Galatians – Philemon (Ambrosiaster), p. 59. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press Academic.
 Ironside, H.A. (1981). Galatians & Ephesians (In The Heavenlies), p. 294. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers
 Bray, Gerald L., (2009) Ancient Christian Texts: Commentaries on Galatians – Philemon (Ambrosiaster), p. 60. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press Academic.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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