The following is a condensed version of a message I delivered at the recent GES national conference.
I think that the main application of most of Scripture is to believe what is being taught. If we believe what God’s Word says, then we gain what Paul calls “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). Renewal of our minds leads to transformation of our lives (Rom 12:1-2).
However, in some books, like Ephesians, there is an applicational section (cf. Eph 4:1-3 which introduces the second half). The entire second half of Ephesians is about application.
In Eph 6:1-4, Paul gives some very specific applications to Christian children and Christian parents. What is the responsibility of Christian children in the home? What responsibility do Christian parents have in parenting?
Before we look at Eph 6:1-4, I want to review Eph 5:21 because it introduces Eph 5:22–6:9.
Submitting to One Another in the Fear of God (Ephesians 5:21)
Ephesians 5:21 sets the stage for Eph 5:22-23, wives and husbands; 6:1-4, children and parents; and 6:5-9, slaves and masters. Since we are looking at 6:1-4, it is important that we review Eph 5:21.
Paul ends his general discussion about the wise walk (Eph 5:1-18) by saying, “subjecting yourselves to one another in the fear of God.”
Paul makes it clear that God has expectations not only for Christians who are under authority (wives, children, slaves/employees), but also for those in authority (husbands, parents, masters/employers). Those under authority are to submit and obey. Those in authority are to sacrificially love.
Ephesians 6:1-4 concerns how Christians can glorify God in their lives at home.
Glorifying God in the Parent-Child Relationship (Eph 6:1-4)
Paul begins with this charge: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph 6:1). While they are children (i.e., before they move out and start their own families), they are to obey their parents. And even when they leave father and mother and cling to their wives (Gen 2:24), they are still to honor their parents, which is a lifelong obligation (Eph 6:2-3).
The only “restriction” Paul puts on this obedience is the prepositional phrase, “in the Lord.” Children, obey your parents in the Lord.
Does Paul mean that believing children are only to obey their parents if the parents are Christians? Clearly not. Verses 2-3 show that is not true.
Verses 2-3 quote from the fifth of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:12. Clearly every Jewish child was to honor his father and mother their entire lives. The same is true for believers during the Church Age.
The phrase “in the Lord” probably means that Christian children were to obey their parents as though they were obeying Christ Himself. Compare Eph 6:6.
Foulkes says, “Its use here is not because the apostle contemplates ‘the situation where parental orders might be contrary to the law of Christ’ (F. F. Bruce, Epistle to the Ephesians), but it is the Christian home which is in mind…Even children…can know what it means to love in the Lord, and to obey for his sake” (Ephesians, p. 170).
Charles Hodge agrees, writing concerning the obedience of children in Christian homes, “It should be religious; arising out of the conviction that such obedience is the will of the Lord” (Ephesians, p. 357). Likewise, Abbott says, “‘In the Lord,’ not as defining the limits of the obedience…but rather showing the spirit in which obedience is to be yielded” (Ephesians, p. 176).
Part of the good works which God has prepared for the church to do (Eph 2:10) are good family relationships, with obedient children and loving parents who wisely train up their children to love and serve God.
As he did with the husband-wife relationship, Paul ends the parent-child discussion with a word about those in authority. Foulkes writes, “not all obligation is on one side” (p. 172). The parents have the obligation to train their children in a loving manner.
However, whereas in verse 1 Paul spoke of parents, plural, in verse 4 Paul speaks only of fathers.
Why only fathers? Most commentators say that Paul means parents when he writes fathers. I think it likely that Paul expects us to understand that verse 4 applies to both parents, but he is specifically addressing this to fathers for a reason.
In The Grace New Testament Commentary, J. B. Bond says, “The father is singled out since he is the head of the home…Much as a coach trains athletes, the father is to train his children in the truths and principles of God’s Word. This responsibility for the early training of children is given not to the local church but to fathers” (Vol. 2, p. 887).
J. B. is right. Too often parents think that the Christian instruction of their children is primarily given to the local church, when in fact, it is primarily their job to raise their children up in the faith. All Christian parents need to “home school” their children in terms of Christian instruction, at the very least.
There is another possible reason why Paul singles out fathers. Some have suggested that fathers are more likely than mothers to provoke their children to wrath.
Paul gives no explanation of how fathers might provoke their children to wrath. Some obvious ways include yelling at them, grabbing them, shaking them, shaming them, disrespecting them, and even mistreating their mother. Instead, love and encourage them and your spouse. Clearly instruction and discipline in the home are to be loving, not abusive.
However, the fact that a child becomes angry does not necessarily mean that he was provoked. Two-year-olds get angry a lot, and most often there is no provocation. Older children get angry too and often without provocation. That even includes some of us adults.