Now if you would please take your copy of God’s Word in your hands and turn with me to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, you’ll find that on page 979. Before we read together, let’s bow our heads as we pray. Let’s pray.
Our Father, like those Greeks who came to Jesus’ disciples saying, “Sir, we would see Jesus,” that’s our prayer now. Would You lead us to turn our gaze away from ourselves to our Savior and even as You deal with us and instruct us and challenge us about our behavior and obedience to You, we cry to You that our eyes would linger longest not on our self but on our Redeemer, by whose enabling power we are equipped for life and godliness. So wield Your Word with might and with force in our hearts and do it for Your glory, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Ephesians chapter 6. Our focus this morning will be on verses 1 to 4 but we’ll read through the ninth verse of the chapter. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.
If you look back at chapter 5 verse 18 you will remember the fundamental and foundational exhortation that the apostle Paul is working from here. We are to go on being filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s to be the normal, steady state of the Christian life - equipped and enabled to live for God as the Holy Spirit is at work within us. And then he tells us how to do that. We address one another “in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” we “sing and make melody to the Lord in our hearts giving thanks to God the Father through him,” and we “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And as we obey these things, Paul is saying God will equip us and strengthen us to live for His glory and fill us with His Spirit. Then he tells us a number of different categories within which we are to submit to one another. Husbands and wives - “Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.” Later, next week God willing, we’ll see slaves and masters and their relationship to one another. Here this morning we are looking at chapter 6 verses 1 to 4 and children and parents. This is part of what it means to live a life regulated under the lordship of King Jesus. His lordship extends to every facet and every sphere of our lives including our parenting and our relationship to our own parents.
I. Children of the Church
So let’s turn to look at verses 1 to 3 first of all and to the word of exhortation addressed to children. And the very first thing that I want you to see here is that Paul is not talking to grownups about children at all, is he? He’s talking to children about themselves. Children of believers are members of the visible church. They’re not addressed here as outsiders, as pagans needing to be brought into the church. They are addressed, rather, as members raised within the church according to the terms of the covenant of God’s grace. And so Paul expects them here to be present in the worship assembly and he addresses them directly. So boys and girls, children of First Church, God has something to say to you every single Sunday when the Scriptures are read and preached but He is particularly addressing you today from these verses. So I want you to take your Bibles and look very carefully with me at chapter 6, verses 1 to 3. Moms and dads I want you to help them. Put your finger on the text; make sure that you’re helping them follow along with us.
And let’s look at chapter 6 verse 1 first of all. Kids, what does God say a Christian child is supposed to do? What does the text say? Chapter 6 verse 1 - “Children, obey your parents.” That’s not hard to understand at all, is it? It’s hard to do sometimes, I know, but it’s not hard to understand. God wants Christian children to listen and do what He tells them, what they’re told rather by mom and dad. And look at verse 1 again. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” Do you see that little phrase, “in the Lord”? Very important. It means that obeying your parents is part of what it means for you to love and follow Jesus, Jesus the Lord. If you’re a Christian child you trust Jesus; He’s your Lord. Paul actually says that if you’re a Christian you are “in the Lord.” You are profoundly, wonderfully connected to Jesus by the Holy Spirit and if you’re in the Lord, if you love and trust in Jesus, then you will want to do what He says and honor Him and serve Him and love Him. And one of the things He says is that you should obey your parents.
That’s the example Jesus Himself set for us in Luke chapter 2 verse, I think it’s verse 51, where we are told that Jesus went with His parents, came to Nazareth, “and was submissive to them.” The Lord Jesus obeying His father and His mother, and if you follow Jesus you should do the same too. Jesus is the one who said to His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” One of the ways you know that you love Jesus, that you’re a Christian child, is that your heart has changed and you find that although sometimes it’s hard, sometimes you rebel still, nevertheless more and more you want to please Jesus and that means you want to honor your mom and your dad. You want to listen with respect and love and do what they tell you.
Two Reasons to Obey
Paul even tells us, look at the passage again, he even tells us why you should obey your parents. Two reasons in verses 1 to 3; I wonder if you can see them. Mom and dad, help your children look at verses 1 to 3 please. Two reasons you should obey your parents, kids. What’s the first reason? “Obey your parents,” Paul says, “for this is right.” Obey because it’s the right thing to do and everyone knows that. You know it’s the right thing to do and people all over the world - it doesn’t matter your culture or language or background - everyone recognizes that parents are to be obeyed by their children. But there’s another reason, isn’t there? Look at verse 2 and 3 again. “Honor your father and mother (for this is the first commandment with a promise),” and then here’s the promise, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Paul’s quoting number five of the Ten Commandments that says Christian children are to honor mom and dad and the reason we should obey this time is that when we do, things tend to go better for us. Even here and now in this life they tend to go better for us. That’s a general Bible principle. When you live God’s way, that is, generally speaking, the path to a happy, full life. A Christian life under the lordship and reign of King Jesus is a happy life and a full life. And that’s the life Paul wants for you. He doesn’t mean that you won’t ever suffer, it doesn’t mean that tragedy does not sometimes strike or that you will never be sad, but generally speaking you will live a long, full, and happy life if you live God’s way.
Proverbs chapter 10, Proverbs chapter 4 rather, verse 10, there’s a dad speaking to his son and he says exactly the same thing Paul says here. “Hear, my son, and accept my words that the years of your life may be many.” Proverbs chapter 10 and verse 27 we are told “The fear of the Lord prolongs life but the years of the wicked will be short.” Generally speaking, ordinarily, living God’s way is the path to a happy and full life. When we trust in Jesus and grow in our obedience to His commandments, we will begin to know contentment and joy and peace. We will start to be a blessing to other people round about us. We begin to learn how to trust the Lord Jesus even in our hard times and to cling hard to His promises when we are struck by anxiety and worry and fear. We are brought into the fellowship of the local church and surrounded by other Christians who encourage us and nurture us and nourish us and bring us on in our own understanding. We grow in wisdom and compassion and patience and courage. We start to care for the lost and serve the poor and rejoice in God and impact the world. That’s what happens when you become a Christian, when you begin to live God’s way. And when that starts to happen it’s the very definition of life going well for us and living long.
So what does God want for you, children of First Church? He wants you to obey your parents in the Lord because Jesus is pleased with you when you do what He says. He wants you to live His way in your home. And He wants you to obey your parents because it’s the right thing to do, and you know that already, don’t you? And He wants you to obey your parents that you may live a full and happy life because that’s what life that is full and happy looks like. It is characterized by obedience to King Jesus. So God’s talking to you, children of First Presbyterian Church. He’s calling you to show that you trust Jesus by obeying your parents.
II. The Parents of the Church
But God also has a word for your parents, doesn’t He? Look at the passage again. Paul isn’t just getting on your case; now you get to watch as Paul gets on mom and dad’s case! Let’s look at verse 4. “Father, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” A number of things to notice there in verse 4. First of all, did you see that Paul addresses dads in the first instance? Now of course he’s not saying that moms are exempt, you know as though he were saying, “Dads, don’t wind your kids up, but moms, you’re exempt. Have at it! Knock yourselves out!” That’s not what he’s saying at all. This is a word for parents, moms and dads, but I do want to suggest that one of the reasons he starts with fathers, he addresses dads, is because fathers are supposed to lead in the home. And if ever there was a time when the men of our church need to hear that exhortation it’s today. A call to be spiritual leaders in our homes. He wants Christian husbands and fathers to step up to the plate and take the lead in the nurture and discipline of their children. Men, you are to set the tone and the temperature of your home. Harry Reeder, known to many of us, Senior Minister of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama likes to say that ministers are not supposed to be thermometers but thermostats. That is, ministers do not merely reflect the temperature of the church, spiritual temperature of the church; they set the spiritual temperature of the church. And the same could be said of Christian fathers. Men, you’re not to be thermometers merely reflecting the temperature around you. You’re to be spiritual thermostats; you are to set the spiritual temperature in your home. That is your calling. That means that it’s your task to ensure there is a family altar around which you gather, that the Word of God is opened, that you’re leading your household to the throne of grace.
Do Not Provoke
Secondly notice that having called Christian fathers to lead, Paul immediately presses a duty upon them. You see it’s a negative duty first of all; he’ll come to positive duties in a moment. Look at the negative duty, something fathers must not do. “Do not provoke your children to anger,” he says. Here’s Paul’s marvelous pastoral wisdom. He knows that some dads need to be encouraged to lead and so he starts there and addresses them first. “Fathers,” he says, “this is your calling.” He wants to encourage the men to lead. But he knows others are prone to misunderstanding that that leadership looks like. They can be overbearing, controlling, dictatorial, and so they’re prone to provoking their children to anger. Boys and girls, by the way, you have my permission absolutely to underline verse 4 in your parents’ Bibles. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” Sometimes we provoke our children by being overbearing, by being controlling. You don’t need, dads, you don’t need to remark upon every issue. You don’t need to dictate every facet of your child’s behavior.
Other times we can provoke our children by our unrealistic expectations of them. We tell them that we want them to be smart and cute and funny and clever and popular and religious and sporty and, and, and, and, and we put a crushing burden upon them to be perfect. And if we’re not careful and we do not crush our children under the intolerable weight of unrealistic expectations or produce well-practiced little Pharisees who, instead of attempting to do what they know they cannot, they become well-schooled at lying to you instead, you will certainly produce angry children who are forever bucking and kicking against the pressures we place upon them in the name of Christian parenting. Fathers, you do need to lead but do not lead so as to provoke your children to anger. Lead rather with tenderheartedness and with godly patience. After all, is that not how your Father in heaven leads you, with tenderheartedness and patience, not treating us as our sins deserve but “as far as the east is removed from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us?” “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” That’s the kind of dad you are to be in your home - a father who puts your own children in mind of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.”
Bring Them Up
If that’s how not to lead, how should we lead, dads? What does it say? The third thing Paul says to fathers; look at the text again fathers. Do not provoke your children “but bring them up” - notice these two verbs - “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The discipline and instruction of the Lord. That’s our calling, men. Christ’s message delivered in our home in a Christ-like manner. Gospel words delivered in a Gospel way. That’s how we are to lead. Now look carefully at those two words. First of all, the word translated “discipline.” “Bring them up in the discipline of the Lord.” The Greek word is “paideuo.” It really refers less to what we might call corrective discipline and much more to formative discipline. It’s really translated better, “nurture.” It’s the word Paul uses in 2 Timothy 3:16 when he’s talking to Timothy, his young protégé. He’s been reminding Timothy of his own upbringing in the home of his mother, the godly home of his mother Eunice and his grandmother, Lois. They taught him the Scriptures from childhood “which are able to make him wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” He’s reminding him of his own upbringing in the Scriptures.
And then he goes on to say, “And Timothy, the same Scriptures that had such a mighty effect in your heart are to be your main tool, your primary instrument in ministry to others as you preach and teach in the church at Ephesus.” And he says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture, Timothy, is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction,” and here’s our word, same word as Ephesians 6:4, “training in righteousness.” The primary tool, dads, you’re to use in the nurture and training of your children is the Word of God. That’s what happened in Timothy’s life, in his home. That’s what Lois and Eunice did as they raised young Timothy, presumably without a father; his father was a Greek and his name just drops out of Scripture after its initial mention in the book of Acts. We don’t know anything about him but we know that Eunice and Lois nurtured Timothy in the faith by pouring the Word of God into his life. And that is precisely your calling, heads of household, especially fathers. Train your children, nurture and nourish them with the Word of God.
This word is also used in Titus 2:11-12 in a helpful way where Paul says, “The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” The Word of God is a means of grace. The grace of God trains us. You see, it’s possible to fill your home with Bible, to have a Scripture-saturated household, and still to have a Christ-less, cold, and grace-less home. It is possible so to wield the Word of God that you use it as a stick with which to enforce outward behavioral conformity to your rules. That is not the calling of God to you in Holy Scripture. No, the call of God to you in Holy Scripture is to deploy the Word of God as a means of grace, to take your children to Christ and to the Gospel, to pursue not merely outward behavior modification. That is the high road to breeding Pharisees who think that their Christian life is all about outward behavioral conformity and nothing more. No, Paul says pursue their hearts with Gospel grace. Train your children in the Lord. Train them with the Word. Train them with the Word that takes them to Jesus. Show them sin, show them their danger, but show them God’s provision for sin and death and hell at Calvary. Pray with your children. Pray for your children. Open the Scriptures for your children.
Dads, do you lead your home in family worship? Dads, what about those countless teachable moments where there’s an opportunity to drop a Scripture word into your children’s lives? If you’re going to be ready in season and out of season to speak the Word of God, you yourself need to be in the Word of God. If it is grace that will train your children to renounce sin and live for God’s glory clinging to Jesus, you yourself need to be drinking deeply from the fountain head of grace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in the Word of God. Are you men of the Book? It is your primary parenting tool! Be men of the Book! Fathers, raise your children in the discipline, the training, the nurture of the Lord.
Admonition = Warning
Notice the other word that he uses - the word translated here, “instruction.” Raise them “in the instruction of the Lord” means “warning.” Some older translations very helpfully translate it “admonition.” The admonition of the Lord. There is a warning component. It’s used by Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 10 verse 11 where he is reminding the Corinthians about the wrath of God that fell on the Israelites in the Old Testament Scriptures for their idolatry and disobedience. And then he says, “These things happened to them as an example but they were written down for our instruction.” It’s the same word used in verse 4 of Ephesians 6. “They were written for our instruction on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands, beware, lest he fall.” It’s a word of warning. We need to say to our children more than simply, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” We need to warn them to flee the wrath to come. We need to warn them of the consequences both for this life and for the next of disobedience and worldliness and waywardness. Do not hide the peril of rejecting Christ. It is not loving to fail to proclaim the bad news as well as the good news. In fact, it is the only fully loving thing to do.
And I hope you’re already getting the sense that Paul’s big concern here is not good parenting. That’s not what he’s after. He’s after Gospel parenting. He wants every dad to be an evangelist in his home, to be a shepherd in his home, caring for his flock, proclaiming the Word. To be a pastor in his home; to be a prophet in his home, preaching the truth. Go after their minds and their hearts and their souls with Gospel truth. Donald Grey Barnhouse, one time minister of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia, speculated in a sermon what it would look like if Satan took over. He said, “If Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography would be banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing, the children would all say, ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, ma’am,’ and the churches would be full every Sunday where Christ is not preached.”
So my point is this. Polite, good mannered, socially well-adjusted, thoroughly religious children are not our target. That’s not what we’re after. Superficial, formal, behavioral change is not enough. Satan is perfectly happy with nice, moral, religious children. No, what Paul wants is for Christian children to know Jesus Christ and to obey their parents in the Lord because they love the Lord Jesus more than anything and they want to honor Him. What Paul wants is for Christian fathers to be leaders in their home, spiritual thermostats, setting the temperature high and leading their household to the throne of grace, training with the Word, training with Gospel grace, and admonishing, disciplining, warnings and always aiming at the heart and pressing Christ on the consciences and souls of their sons and daughters. May God give to our families grace that children, clinging to Jesus with hearts changed by grace, may begin to obey their parents in the Lord and where fathers, loving the Lord for themselves, steeped for themselves in holy Scripture, are ministering to their charges with patience and forbearance and compassion and tenderness the unsearchable riches of Christ. May the Lord do it all for His great glory. Let us pray.
Father, we thank You that Jesus is enough. He is enough for our, He is sufficient for our parenting. He is enough to help us obey our parents even when it’s hard sometimes. He’s sufficient for our sin to forgive us when we fail. He’s sufficient for the fathers of our church when we fail to be the patient, godly men we’re called to be. He’s sufficient for the children of our church when they fail to love their parents and honor them and respect them but rather rebel. And He’s sufficient to revolutionize our homes and change us forever for Your glory. So Lord, would You do that please? Would You give us Jesus to make us new that in our parenting, as we relate to our own parents, as we love and serve one another, we might be transformed into His image from glory to glory to the praise of His name. Amen.
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