Children and Parents

“Children, obey your parents… Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…” (Ephesians 6:1, 4)

Bible Reading: Ephesians 6:1-4

 The “Household Code” for Christian conduct (as this section of Paul’s letter is sometimes called) also embraces children and their parents. The marriage relationship comes first, but after that, the parental/filial one.

Children are addressed first. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right,” Paul writes (Ephesians 6:1). Obedience to parents is a basic requirement for children. They are to do so “in the Lord,” that is, out of reverence for Christ, as consistent with living under his rule. And they are to do so because “it is right.”

Obedience to parents is something deeply embedded in the structure of human life as God has arranged it. It is “right” not simply because “nature” tells us that it is, but because God has established it as the order of things. “Honour your father and mother” Paul adds, citing the fifth of the Ten Commandments that underlay Israel’s life (Exodus 20:12). It was not only meant to be foundational for Israel, but fundamental for all people.

“This is the first commandment with a promise” Paul adds to give authority and urgency to his instruction. For Israel, obedience to this command was central to preserving faithfulness to God in successive generations and so secure a future in the land God had given them (v. 3). Failure at this point was bound to result in generations with no fear of God and in constant danger of his judgment.

It is in this connection that Paul turns to fathers and enjoins them to keep from “provoking” their children to anger and to devote themselves to bringing them up in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (v. 4). Negatively, they are to keep from creating a rebellious and resentful spirit in their children through unwise dealings with them; positively, they are to be diligent in their spiritual nurture.

That Paul doesn’t include “mothers” in this instruction is not to suggest they have no place (or responsibility) in the raising of children. Rather, it simply reflects a continuation of the old covenant instructions given to Israel. There, in a patriarchal society, the responsibility for passing on the knowledge of God and imparting a godly reverence for his commandments rested especially on fathers, though it in no way excluded mothers. Part of headship within the family meant that it fell to fathers to ensure that the faith of their ancestors was transmitted to the children.

Paul is here simply applying that same principle in the new covenant setting. It remains the duty of fathers, as the head of the family, to make sure that children are raised in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord,” whether or not they do all the instructing.

Once again, as our society departs further from God, we see tragic evidence of its “lostness” in the breakdown of relationships between parents and children – particularly between fathers and their children. Recovering (and preserving) the biblical pattern is the only hope for holy, happy and stable homes and nations.

Closing Thoughts:

  • What social factors have contributed to a breakdown in parent-children relationships today?
  • Do fathers still have a critical role in “transmitting the faith” to their offspring?

– Andrew Young