The Christian Family: Children and Parents (Ephesians 6:1-4)

Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | 2013-08-25


1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),  3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”  4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4)


  • How many of you have been shopping in a grocery store when little Johnny cuts loose with a series of blood-curdling screams that seem to never end?
  • Johnny wants this and Johnny wants that, and his mother seems at loss as to how to quiet him down or make him stop.
  • She tries ignoring him, but notices that all the other customers are glaring at her. So she pleads with him adding her whines to his screams.
  • When that doesn’t work, she placates him by giving him what he wants.
  • But he is never satisfied. He wants more and more.

As his screams continue, you try to get as much distance between yourself and them as you can, get the items you need, and head for the check out as fast as you can go. What’s wrong here? Johnny has learned what his mother has taught him – scream till you get what you want. Unfortunately, as he grows up and tries that technique on his teachers, professors, bosses, co-workers, neighbors, or God, he will discover it doesn’t work with them. What should his mother have done? Taken Johnny to the restroom and quietly but firmly instructed him that he will not get everything he wants in life, and if necessary, administer some form of discipline so that the other customers could enjoy their shopping experience.

Instructions for children and their parents is yet another example of living wisely, being filled with the spirit by submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

As parents and children we imitate the relationship between the God the Father and God the Son Jesus.

You may not all fit neatly into this category as a typical child or parent, but as a church family, each of you has a role to play in helping one another carry out the responsibilities of children and parents. At our children’s baptisms, we remind you that the entire church serves to assist in the nurture and admonition of each child among us. As a covenant family, we all work together to accomplish what we are speaking of today. In our story above, both Johnny and his mother have God-given responsibilities, and Christ enables them each to do their job according to God’s word. Let’s look first at the responsibilities God has given children.

Instructions for Children.

Children of all ages, God’s goal for you, especially during your growing up years, is to learn to obey and honor God through obeying and honoring your parents. God commands you to obey and honor your parents and gives you three reasons to do so: because of your relationship to Christ, because it’s the right thing to do, and because it brings a reward. Jesus as a 12 year old boy is your example.

After he was born in Bethlehem, when he was 8 days old his parents took him to Jerusalem and presented him as their first born son in the temple, to offer him to God. When they returned home to Nazareth, Jesus continued to grow and become stronger and wiser and closer to God. During his childhood, every year his parents visited Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was 12, Jesus went with them and we see that he was given some freedom to go about by himself. He must have visited with his relatives and gone around the city like you might go around the fair by yourself when you are old enough. But there were so many people at the festival, when his parents headed back home they assumed Jesus was with their relatives also heading back to Nazareth. What his parents didn’t know was that Jesus had gone into the temple and sat with the temple leaders and began asking and answering questions. He must have seemed very grown up to those who were talking with him and listening to him. But when his parents found him there, he didn’t think he was too important or grown up to ignore them. See what did? It says, “…he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” (Luke 2:51) He didn’t argue with them or plead to stay longer. He simply went with them and was submissive to them.

By learning to obey his earthly parents as a child, he was being prepared to obey his heavenly Father as an adult. One day many years from now he would not go down to Nazareth submissive to his parents. Instead, He would go up alone to the cross in submission to his Father’s will.

There are three reasons children should follow young Jesus’ example of obeying and honoring your parents. One is because of your own relationship with Christ. Verse 1 says you are “in the Lord.” You are a member of God’s covenant family, and many of you have received Christ by faith, so you have a growing personal relationship with him. You should obey and honor your parents out of your love and duty to Christ because of what he has already done for you on the cross. He has set an example of obedience to his parents in his earthly life, and beyond that, has died in your place on the cross to set you free from the power of sin, so that you can freely and joyfully obey your parents out of love for Christ. You can obey because you are “in the Lord.”

Another reason to obey your parents is because it’s the right thing to do. Verse 1 says, “for this is right.” God has made relationships among people in the world to work in a certain way by his common grace. People call it common sense because most everyone knows it’s true. Children should obey their parents for their own protection and for the protection of other people. Children should obey their parents because parents are wiser and smarter and bigger than their children. For example, Jimmy was running as fast as he could across the grass in the park. His dad was running behind him and yelled for Jimmy to stop. Jimmy yelled back, “Why?” Just then, he fell over into a concrete culvert that only his dad could see because he was taller, badly skinning his hands and knees and nose. He could have run into another person hurting them as well. Jimmy should have obeyed his dad because dads and moms generally know better. It’s the right thing to do.

Another reason you should obey and honor your parents is because you will receive a reward. God promises to protect your life as a consequence or reward for your obedience. Verse 2 and three say, 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”  This is the 5th commandment God gave Moses for Israel. But it’s still true today. This promise does not say that if you obey your parents you will never have any problems. It says if you trust in God’s words of wisdom through your parents, you too will become wise, and that wisdom will protect you from hurting yourself and others throughout your life. “He guards the way of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.” (Prov 2:8)

But what if your parents are not Christians or one or both of them don’t live very honorably? Some parents are angry, or irresponsible, or undisciplined, or worldly, or even immoral or alcoholic. I was an angry person when our boys were little, and it caused them to be afraid of me in a bad way. Later on, after I dealt with what was causing the anger, I had to ask their forgiveness. Parents have weaknesses and no one knows that more than their children.

However, in spite of your parents’ obvious weaknesses, as their child you owe them obedience in all areas except those that contradict the Word of God. I remember having this discussion with some of my fellow college students whose parents were giving them a hard time about expressing their faith. John Stott gives an example. If a non-Christian parent forbids a child to be baptized, the child should obey since though Jesus commands us to be baptized, he does not specify when. It’s possible to postpone it till a later time. However, if a parent forbids a child from worshiping and following the Lord in his heart, the child should not obey. Abandoning the Lord would be to abandon the one who died for you.

How long should you obey your parents? How long are you their “child” in the sense here? In our culture, normally it’s when you move out of their house and are financially independent from them. At that point, your relationship changes from strict obedience to general honor. You still give them honor but you are not required to obey everything they say. If they are the domineering type you may have to learn to say, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but this is what I’m going to do.” There are no perfect parents. Study your parents and choose ways you can honor them in spite of their weaknesses. Jesus, after he was grown continued to honor his mother, but sometimes he didn’t do things in the way she would have wanted or in a way should understood. He had to do his Father’s business whether she understood or not at the time.

Instructions for Parents

Parents, your chief goal is to raise children who personally know and honor God through learning to obey and honor you. And God our Father is your example.

See how God lovingly cared for and affirmed his Son Jesus, yet for our sake, subjected his son to discipline and chastisement that he might learn obedience and bring honor to God.

Paul begins in verse 4 by addressing “Fathers” as the heads of their households. But he includes mothers as well. Just as when he addresses “brothers” in the church he also includes “sisters.” Parents, unless one is a single parent, share the responsibility for their children. When our children were small, I was busy with my job and other things. But Beth reminded me of this one day when I was not fulfilling my responsibilities to the children. She said, “We didn’t adopt these boys for me to raise them by myself!” Ironically, fathers as the head of the household should feel the weight of this the most, yet are most likely to shirk or shift all the responsibility to our wives. God calls us out and gets our attention, “Fathers…”

Then we are told what not to do. 4 do not provoke your children to anger…Children are vulnerable, fragile beings and should be protected from abuse and neglect. Even from their own parents. What provokes children to anger? Harshness or cruelty to the child, favoritism and overindulgence of a child’s siblings, humiliation or suppression of a child’s personality or feelings, sarcasm or ridicule that cuts a child down, and exploitation or manipulation – using a child for the parent’s benefit. A child is provoked when parents don’t allow for inexperience or non-conformity in some area that is not necessarily rebellion. They should be treated as persons with a life and personality of their own, not merely as a punching bag for their parents’ frustrations or through which parents can re-live their own unfulfilled childhoods. Parents should not have children in order to BE LOVED by them, but in order to love them as God loves his Son Jesus.

Now that you’re grown up, what if your parents did some of these things to you during your childhood? You should repent of the anger or bitterness you have held against them and forgive them as God in Christ has forgiven you. It may not be easy, but Christ would rescue you from being a slave to that bitterness. It’s time for the forgiveness you have received from Christ to flow through you to them. It may never change them, but it will change you!

We’ve been told what not to do. Next we are told what we should do. We are commanded to “bring them up” in verse 4. This is the same word as “nourish” in 5.29, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it as Christ does the church.” Parents are to feed, nourish and care for their children as God cares for his Son and for us. It’s a command. It says “YOU bring them up.” Beware of over-delegating your parental responsibility to the church, the school, grandparents, baby sitters, or the nursery school. Take time, make time with your kids. Some of them may have a very different personality from you and have different likes and dislikes. Find SOMETHING you have in common and do that together.

Next we are told HOW we should we bring them up, 4 in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  Discipline refers to training by disciplining, warning, admonishing, punishing when necessary, with emphasis on moral correction, moral instruction of the heart. We are to nourish their hearts through consistent discipline. This is for their good and a demonstration of your love for them just as God disciplines those he loves. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  8 If you are left without discipline, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Heb.12:6-8)

If you let your children do whatever they want to do, go where they want to go, with never any correction from you, you are not giving them freedom. You are treating them as illegitimate children. While they are young they might feel free, but when they have grown, they will feel neglected and cast off. What if you only have kids part time? You will be tempted to indulge their defiant disobedience, but it will have the same effect as neglecting them. Stay balanced. Nourish their hearts with discipline. It’s not merely your discipline. It’s the discipline “of the Lord.” You are training them to obey God’s commands.

God even subjected his Son Jesus to discipline though he did not deserve it, for our welfare, “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isa.53:5)

The next word, “instruction” is more mental than moral. More oriented to the mind than the heart. We are to nourish their minds with the instruction “of the Lord.” What would the Lord teach them? Sure, they need to learn to read and write and do math and science and history. But more importantly, they need to learn the Word of God. If it’s in their mind, it will help direct their heart as well. Are you raising your children and grandchildren in the Word? Are you passing down the word of God to the next generation and the next? We should be like Timothy’s mother and grandmother who “from his childhood taught him the sacred writings, which are able to make him wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” ( 2Ti 3:15) Grandparents, instead of overindulging your grandkids with other kinds of gifts for birthdays and holidays, give them something that will stimulate their interest in God’s word. Parents, use every means available to you to help them internalize the Scriptures. Talk about them, read them out loud, memorize them together, sing Scripture based songs, memorize the shorter catechism questions and answers with younger ones, look up and read references, study larger catechism questions with the older ones. The EPC has Modern English versions of these. Also, keep in mind that others are here to help you. Don’t try to go it alone. Many children respond well to Sunday School teachers who invest time in them inside and outside the church. Many children benefit from getting to know other godly adult friends of their parents.

Parents, what if your children, whether still young or now grown, seem to be straying from the faith in some way? Understand that at a certain point, children make their own choices. Sometimes, in spite of all parents have done, they go astray. But it’s not necessarily your fault. Cain and Abel came from a very good home, yet Cain went his own way. Your duty is to continue to live as faithful Christians, appeal to them as you can and pray for your child regularly.

We live in a fallen world and there are powerful forces against our families. All the powers of hell were hurled at God and his Son at the cross. But because Christ submitted to his Father’s discipline and chastisement, he won the victory over those powers. He broke the power of sin in those who place their faith in him and enabled us to live in submission to one another by his grace, giving glory to God for the indescribable gift of his Son Jesus.

Categories: 2013, Ephesians, Ephesians: The Christian's Inheritance, Sermons

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