Thursday, January 01, 2009

Ephesians 6:1-4

We looked at verses 21-33 of chapter 5, last time, but they go along with verses 1-9 of chapter 6, in which Paul lays out “household rules,” what Christian behavior looks like within specific relationships people have within the family and/or home. Paul continues to teach us about the filling of the Holy Spirit, resulting especially in worship through witness and servant-hood between husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves (especially consider the Greco-Roman culture).

1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2"Honor your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise-- 3"that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth" [Deuteronomy 5:16]. 4Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

In v1-3, Paul gives children – and every one of us qualifies as a child (Matthew 15:3-7) – three reasons for obeying their parents. First, children must obey their parents (in the Lord – that is, Christian parents; remember Paul is writing to Christians!) because it is right to do so. Throughout the world, people just know that children ought to obey their parents. It’s part of the created order, part of the natural order, and even pagans know right from wrong on certain things (Romans 1:32). Gentile culture displayed disobedience to parents as a sign of being under the judgment of the gods (Romans 1:30; 2 Timothy 3:2). Second, children must obey their parents because it is commanded. The command is to honor, but Paul says obey. Calvin notes that obedience is the outward sign, the evidence, of ongoing, inward honoring. God expressly commands children to obey their parents; and Paul quotes Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16 to prove it. Remember the first four commandments of God dealt with our relationship to Him directly. Those were the first-table laws. The second-table laws include the final six of the Ten Commandments, and this charge to obey parents is the first of them. Paul adds that this is, in fact, “the first commandment with a promise,” and that points him to a third reason that children ought to obey their parents – because obedience is rewarded. That this is the first commandment with a promise points to certain laws being more important than others (Matthew 23:23).

Isn’t it interesting that God says we must do something, but that when we do it, we receive rewards? We ought to do our duty simply because it is our duty (Luke 17:10). We who do our duty are still merely unworthy servants. But God is gracious. It is right to obey, but it is also good for us to obey. When you obey God, and specifically “your parents in the Lord,” “it may go well with you and you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Think about typical parental commands. “Chew up and swallow your food before going out to play… Walk along the side of the pool and don’t run… Get to bed on time… Do not talk back when I give you a command…etc.” Consider reading through the Proverbs with your children and explaining them. These commands are for the children’s good. They are intended to aid the children in leading long and healthy lives. They are timelessly and culturally appropriate, and they’re not burdensome. Finally, the principle of honoring one’s parents never changes, though the method of honoring does change with age. How great is it that Christian parents can enjoy friendships with their grown Christian children! Consider that children’s obedience to their parents serves to unify generations in Christ. It’s therefore no surprise that John’s greatest joy was to hear that his children were walking in the truth!

In v4, fathers have authority over their children as expected and as was common in the culture, but the purpose of this God-given authority was to serve the children responsibly, nurturing and helping them to flourish. Parents exist for children, not vice versa as many believe, though it is true that children certainly benefit husbands and wives. The child’s mind, body, and emotions are entrusted to the parents, and the parents are to help the young divine image bearers to develop their own personhood before God. Paul gives a negative command first, and then he follows with a two-sided positive command. He’s addressing the fathers specifically, for they will give an account before God as to the spiritual health of their family. (It is for this reason that wives/mothers ought to aid their husbands through submission and loving obedience.)

Beginning with the negative command, Paul uses the word “exasperate.” It means “provoke to anger.” Paul says, “Don’t provoke your children to anger.” Colossians 3:21 elaborates, saying that embittered children will become discouraged, that exasperated children will lose heart. What father wants their child to lose heart and be discouraged? Fathers – and mothers too – struggle with impatience and selfishness, “unreasonable severity,” as Calvin says. Paul says not to let that happen – by expecting too much too soon (or too little when they’re capable) out of one’s children, or by exacting disproportionate measures or intensities of discipline (let the punishment fit the crime (avoid parental hypocrisy and unexplained double standards)) – and then he gives a double-edged positive command. “Instead, bring them up,” as opposed to tearing them down. It’s typical of Paul’s teaching: Do not do that, but instead do this. Encourage rather than discourage; enlighten rather than embitter; instruct or construct rather than destruct.

The Greek word translated “bring up,” according to Calvin, “unquestionably conveys the idea of gentleness and forbearance,” and so he translates the text, “Instead, let them be fondly cherished.” The words “training” and “instruction” refer to discipline, nurturing or shaping the human will through training, and admonition, nurturing or shaping the human mind through teaching. And so parents are to fondly cherish their children, not by failing to discipline, but by properly shaping their minds and wills to conform to the standards of God’s Word. Calvin says, “It is not the will of God that parents, in the exercise of kindness, shall spare and corrupt their children. Let their conduct towards their children be at once mild and considerate, so as to guide them in the fear of the Lord, and correct them also when they go astray. That age is so apt to become wanton, that it requires frequent admonition and restraint.”

That’s quite a task, so prayer, personal example, and precept are crucial in parenting. We dedicate our children to the Lord, rely on His grace through prayer (with and for our children), set godly examples before them in our lifestyle, and teach them sound doctrine. We must make consistent and constant efforts to convey loving affection toward our children, and children spell the word “love,” T-I-M-E. We must allow them to make mistakes and issue gentle correction. We need to establish limited and reasonable rules to follow and enforce them consistently. We ought to admit our own failures and ask for forgiveness from our children, making it easy and desirable for them to approach us in any and every circumstance. It’s that simple…and that hard.

Vincent Cheung says, “Just as the man is the head of the woman, he is also the head of his entire family; therefore, the responsibility finally rests upon him to bring up his children…He must bring them up in “the training (nurture) and instruction (admonition) of the Lord.” In other words, he must make sure that they learn and follow biblical doctrines. This has been the duty of parents, and especially the fathers, throughout the history of humanity (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). It also necessarily follows that, if you have not been teaching your children Christian theology, then you are a bad parent. This is the measuring stick of parenthood, and until it is first discussed and settled, all other considerations are trivial.”

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