Spirit Filled Homes: Parents and Children
Ephesians 6:1-4

ephesiansHow are families to function? Most people never really give it a thought. We get married, eventually have children, and do our best to make things work. In Paul’s day there were well established “household codes” that served to provide structure, a chain of command, and guidance for the family unit.

When thinking about “household codes,” it might help us to think about the companies where many of us work. Within most every company there are a set of guiding principles, “policies and procedures,” that regulate employee actions and establish specific methods of carrying out those actions within the company. We can’t just do whatever we want and expect to maintain our position within the company. There are expectations and procedures for everything from what time we are to show up to work, to the way we address and deal with disgruntled customers, to how decisions are made within the company. What’s true in your company is also true here at Britton Christian Church. I can’t just make an arbitrary decision because I feel God is leading me to do something. There are policies and procedures to follow.
Policies and procedures help companies maintain order and stability as they go about their business. Policies and procedures are also set in place to help companies avoid the chaos that will inevitably happen when everyone does “what is right in their own eyes,” to borrow a phrase from the book of Judges.

Paul was a Roman citizen; he lived in the Roman Empire, and was subject to Roman law. In the Roman Empire in which Paul lived there were very clear guidelines about family life and everyone reported to the man of the house who had complete control over his wife, children, and household slaves.

Many of the followers of Jesus lived within the Roman Empire. They were familiar with the household codes of the Romans, but they were being taught that they were first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and not the Roman Empire. The Apostle Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, set forth the household code of God to lead and guide the followers of Jesus.

As we began this study of “Spirit Filled Homes” last week we learned that Ephesians 5:21 is the mission statement for all of the members of the household. Paul wrote, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21 NIV) I mentioned to you last week that this teaching is radical beyond anything that we can even begin to imagine. When you lay the household codes of the Romans next to what Paul teaches in Ephesians 5:21-6:9, only then will you come to truly understand the revolutionary nature of God’s truth.

We spent all of our time last week taking a look at the implications of Paul’s teaching for the relationship that we share as husbands as wives. We learned that marriage is not a “50/50” proposition, it’s not a “I’ll do my part if you do yours” kind of relationship, and neither is it a matter of the husband “loving” his wife and the wife “submitting” to her husband. The picture Paul paints for us of the relationship of the Christian husband and wife is that of Christ and the Church. It’s a picture of loving sacrifice and joyful service that flows from both. We learned that the husband is the “head” of the wife as Jesus is the Head of the Church, but He is the Head of the Church in a way far different than Steve Jobs was the head of Apple or Jerry Jones is the head of the Dallas Cowboys.

This week we are going to take a look at the next section of our Scripture describing the household code for parents and children. Let’s take a look at our Scripture found in Ephesians 6:1-4.

1 Children, 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 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” 4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4 NIV)

As we move into our study of the relationship of parents and children we have to be reminded of Ephesians 5:21 over and over again. Parents and children are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Remember, submitting ourselves to another means to place their welfare above that of our own. It doesn’t mean that one “rules” over the other like a king rules over his subjects. This is so important for us to remember and it was so different than what was customary in the Roman Empire in Paul’s day.

In Paul’s day the “patria potestas” was the title held by the man of the house. William Barclay writes about the authority of the man of the house during Paul’s day in the Roman Empire.

Under the patria potestas a Roman father had absolute power over his family. He could sell them as slaves, he could make them work in his fields even in chains, he could punish as he liked and could even inflict the death penalty. Further, the power of the Roman father extended over the child’s whole life, so long as the father lived. A Roman son never came of age. Even when he was a grown man, even if he were a magistrate of the city, even if the state had crowned him with well-deserved honours, he remained within his father’s absolute power…It is true that the father’s power was seldom carried to its limits, because public opinion would not have allowed it, but the fact remains that in the time of Paul the child was absolutely in his father’s power. (Barclay, W. The Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press)

We’ve all heard of the one child policy of the Chinese government, but what many don’t realize is that gender selective abortions have left China with 32 million more boys than girls under the age of 20. (Chinese Bias for Baby Boys Creates a Gap of 32 Million. New York Times, April 10, 2009) Long before the Chinese and other nations around the world showed a preference for baby boys, the Roman had a practice called “child exposure” to get rid of unwanted children. Here is how it worked.

When a child was born, it was placed before its father’s feet. If the father stooped and lifted the child up into his arms then the child was accepted into the family. If the father turned and walked away then the child was rejected and would be left outside in a public place either to die or to be picked up by someone else to be raised as their child, sold into slavery, or used at a later time to fill the brothels of Rome. Children that were born with handicaps or were undesirable, like females in many cases, were often rejected. This was a common practice among both Romans and Greeks.

We have a letter written in 1 B.C. from a man named Hilarion to his wife, Alis. Hilarion was away on business when he wrote the following letter to his wife. Hilarion writes,

Know that I am still in Alexandria. And do not worry if they all come back and I remain in Alexandria. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I receive payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered of a child [before I come home], if it is a boy, keep it, if a girl discard it. You have sent me word, “Don’t forget me.” How can I forget you. I beg you not to worry. (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, 97-98.)

That seems so absurd to us today, but the truth of the matter is that the abuse, abandonment, and cruelty to children in times past is still going on in our nation and around the world. Just this past week I read where two people in our city were charged with “human trafficking.” Their “product” was a young 17 year old girl they were forcing into prostitution. Mothers and fathers continue to abandon their children in more ways than one. Children are being used as objects of gratification by perverted adults all across our country. Let us not forget that over 1 million abortions are performed each year in our “highly advanced,” prosperous nation.

If ever there was a day when Paul’s teaching about God’s household code was needed, it is our day. The sovereign authority of the father in the Roman household has morphed into the absent father in the American household. Set against this dismal backdrop is the household code of God. Listen once again to God’s counsel to parents and children.

1 Children, 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 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” 4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4 NIV)

As we dive into the discussion of parents and children we have to remember that Paul urges everyone in the household to submit to one another, to place the welfare of the other above their own. The way that parents and children are to submit to one another are different, Paul doesn’t tell parents to obey their children, but the guidance he gives to both helps them seek the best for the other.

Paul writes to the children and gives them two directives: First of all, obey your parents in the Lord. Secondly, honor your father and your mother. It is important to recognize that Paul urges children to obey their parents based on both natural law and God’s law. You may be wondering how I’ve come to this conclusion. Well, in the first instance Paul says that kids are to obey their parents “for this is right.” It is a universal truth, not a requirement reserved for Christian kids and Christian parents, but for all kids and all parents. It doesn’t matter what country of the world you go to there will be the expectation that the kids obey their parents.

It is the responsibility of every parent to teach their children, to provide counsel, direction, and discipline for their children, but all of this is useless if the child doesn’t follow their parent’s advice. I’ve been teaching the book of Proverbs on Tuesday mornings for the past year. The book of Proverbs is Solomon’s wisdom about life shared with his son to help him navigate the twists and turns of life, to help avoid certain kinds of people who will bring about his ruin, and to teach him how to live with integrity, reverence, and purity in his relationships. What Solomon did for his son we are to do for all of our children. If a child doesn’t listen and follow his or her parent’s insights into all of these important topics then the child is going to go through some unnecessary hardships as long as they aren’t paying attention.

As Moses was preparing the people to move into the Promised Land he spoke to the parents who were with him. Moses said,

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 NIV)

Kids, I’ve got news for you. The task God has given to your parents, when it is really understood and undertaken with the utmost care and commitment, is not easy. It is demanding and oftentimes thankless, but they aren’t looking for “thanks” they are just trying to do what God has called them to do…to teach you about your need for Christ and prepare you for life.

Secondly, God has called kids to “honor their mother and father…” Where the first commandment to kids, to obey their parents, is a natural, universal law, the second command to kids is based on divine revelation. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to give to the people, He included, “Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12 NIV) Some of you who are growing up in tough homes or had a mother or father who didn’t love you or care for you in the ways the Lord commanded them to are wondering, “Why should I honor my mom or dad when they’ve done what they’ve done? Why should I honor my mom or dad when they abandoned me?” Or, you may be hung up on the command to “obey” because your mom or dad are doing things that are not honoring to God.

I know many adults, as well as kids, who are in this very situation. My heart goes out to you. I’ve prayed with, and for, many of you. Others of you, I don’t know your story, but God does and He has promised that He is “close to the brokenhearted.” (Psalm 34:18) At the same time I want to encourage you to obey your parents as long as they aren’t doing something to you that is harmful or dishonoring to God. Let me give you an example. Many years ago there was a teenager here at Britton Christian Church who was growing up in a tough home with his mom. He gave his life to Christ and she wasn’t for it. He had many positive influences in his life here at church, but his home was tough. There were times that she was “ok” with him going to church and there were times that she wasn’t. He didn’t know what to do? I encouraged him to keep loving his mom, honoring his mom, and not to cause trouble. On those days that she wouldn’t let him come to church he could still read his Bible and pray.

Most of the time she allowed him to come to church, but there were some times that she didn’t want him to come so he didn’t. Some of you may disagree with me and say that I was wrong, but I believe that if he would have put his foot down and said, “I’m going anyway! You can’t tell me I can’t go to church!” it would have made things much more difficult and she would have seen him as dishonoring her.

Let’s turn our attention to Paul’s instructions for parents. Remember, in the Roman household the father held absolute power over his children. There was no need to give direction to fathers since they had absolute power. But, for the citizens of the Kingdom of God, fathers are given instruction. We don’t have absolute power, we are servants of those that God has entrusted into our care. Paul writes,

4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4 NIV)

The Greek word Paul uses for “father,” is “?????” (pater). It is the word for “father,” but there is no question that Paul also has mothers in mind. Parents are not to “exasperate” their children. Another translation says that parents are “not to provoke their children to anger.” I’ve got news for you younger parents. If you hear this message today and you take it to heart, pray for the Lord to lead you to be a parent as He parents you, love your child, teach your child, and train up your child in the way he or she should go…they are going to be angry with you at some point. Our aim as parents is not to do everything in our power to avoid conflict with our kids. To do that all you will need to do is give them the keys and turn them loose. Your kids are going to be angry when you say, “No.” When Paul says that we are not to “exasperate” our children, he is saying that we are not to intentionally provoke our children by our actions and words. John Stott writes,

…Parents can easily misuse their authority either by making irritating or unreasonable demands which make no allowances for the inexperience and immaturity of children, or by harshness and cruelty at one extreme or by favouritism and over-indulgence at the other, or by humiliating or suppressing them, or by those two vindictive weapons, sarcasm and ridicule. (Stott, John. The Message of Ephesians. pg. 246)

Our children are going to encounter difficulties in growing up, they are going to make mistakes, sometimes big mistakes, but it is our responsibility as parents to not add to their difficulties or set them up to make mistakes. I mention this because there are many parents today who have made their highest aim to be their kid’s best friend. By being so lenient they are really setting their kids up for failure. Instead of being lenient, or exasperating our kids by our words or actions, we are called to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

I want to point out something that has made a deep impression on me this past week. When Paul says, “Parents, don’t exasperate your children; Instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” we oftentimes skip over the most important part of the instruction. What is the most important part of the verse? Is it “training” or “instruction of the Lord?” In the studies I’ve read this past week, these are the two parts of the verse that are given the most attention, but I think we miss the most important lesson for us when we skip over, “bring them up…” The Greek word, “???????” (ektrepho) means, “to nourish up to maturity” or “to nurture.” It is the same word that Paul used in Ephesians 5:29 when he said,

29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church– 30 for we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:29-30 NIV)

Just as Jesus nurtures, feeds, nourishes, and cares for His Body, all of us, we are to do the same for our children. John Calvin’s translation goes like this: “Let them be fondly cherished…, deal with them.” Child psychologists say that the first five years of a child’s life are the “formative years,” a critically important time for little ones in every aspect of who they are physically, emotionally, intellectually, etc. I would say that the entire time our children are living under our roof are formative years that require parents to nurture them.

So, for Paul, the seedbed of the home is a tender, caring, nurturing atmosphere where training and instruction in the Lord takes place. These two words that are used by Paul, “???????” (paideia), for “training,” and “????????” (nouthesia), for “instruction” encompass both training as in discipline, and instruction, as in lessons to be taught. Both of these are modeled after our relationship with God. God gives us His Word, He teaches us wise lessons that are to be followed, and He disciplines us, through the experiences we have in life. “Discipline” means both training, like that of an athlete, as well as punishment. Remember what we learned in James 1:2-4? Let’s read it together.

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV)

The “trials” are not punishment, they are simply life happening. As life happens we need the counsel of God to be able to understand that they are working their purpose in our lives. As our kids experience the hardships of life they need our voice to give them the same godly counsel so that they will be able to learn from the hardships. There are lots and lots of voices out there that are seeking to influence our kids. It is imperative, crucial, for our voice to be a constant in our kid’s lives. They won’t always like what we have to say, they may reject what we have to say, but we must continue to be the voice of godly counsel in the lives of our children.

At the same time, God’s discipline can be correction, or punishment, but it is never punishment to harm us, it is punishment to correct us, to teach us about the things that will destroy us, and to cause us to turn back to God. When we discipline our children, as punishment, it should never be to harm them; it should be to keep them from harm. That is a powerful truth that must guide us as we discipline our kids.

As I’ve been studying this section of Scripture I’ve thought about all of us who are children and those of us who are parents. Relationships are tough, but let me tell you something very important to know, relationships attempted outside of God’s design for our lives are impossible. Most parents today don’t have a clue about what we’ve been studying this morning and they are making some decisions that are detrimental for their children, even inflicting great harm on their kids. Some parents know the lesson we’ve been studying, but it just takes too much of an effort so they’ve given in to whatever their kids want. This too is detrimental to the well-being of their children. Most kids don’t have a clue about what we’ve been studying and they have caused their parents incredible heartache because they don’t listen to their parents. They don’t honor their mother and father, they despise them. Other kids who know that God is calling them to listen and follow the advice of their parents, to honor their mom and dad, simply decide that they want something different. They manipulate, lie, and maneuver to get their way only to find out one day that they have brought about their own destruction.

Parents and children, what we need more than anything is to listen to our Heavenly Father, put what He says into practice, even when it is not convenient, even when it is tough, and watch Him work. I will promise you that He can transform your relationship with your parents, I promise that He can transform your relationship with your child, if you will just surrender to Him. Won’t you do that today?

Mike Hays
January 20, 2013