sermon: A Heritage and a Reward
Parent and Child Responsibilites
Martin G. Collins
Given 26-Dec-15; Sermon #1301; 74 minutes
Our society has degraded horribly because of the abandonment of the fifth commandment. God intended children to be a heritage and a reward to those who obey His Law. American society is cursed because the family, its most important component, is dysfunctional. It is impossible to raise families without God. Gentile societies have historically demonstrated subhuman treatment to both women and children; Modern Israel apparently wants to follow suit by murdering 3,000 children per day, with 1.09 million unborn children annually. Children have two duties to their parents: to obey them (in the Lord) and to honor them. The parent (ideally) is to serve as a representative of God to the child. Cursing parents in the Old Covenant was a capital offense. Honor goes far beyond obedience. The parent is expected to teach children in a restrained and balanced way, not embittering, provoking, irritating, harassing, and not breaking the spirit of the child. Parents must remember that customs change, that trust trumps control, and that children need encouragement. Sons must be prepared for leadership, being encouraged to offer suggestions in family meetings. Aubrey Andelin offers fathers positive suggestions as to conducting family meetings and communicating. (1) Stop all activities and give full attention to the children. (2) Listen carefully, even if not in agreement. (3) Be understanding and express sympathy for their ideas. (4) Tell them you will think about their suggestion. (5) Praise their ideas as useful and important contributions even if you are not able to agree with, or implement, them.
Society promotes the false idea that Christmas is about love and family, but in reality it is soaked in violence, steeped in lies, and fermented in ungratefulness.
On December 26, 2014, Infowars.com ran an article by Paul Watson entitled: “Spoiled Brats Complain About Christmas Gifts, “Stupid Parents!” Here is how he expresses what his investigation uncovered:
The annual trend of spoiled, ungrateful brats taking to social media to complain about the Christmas gifts they did or did not receive from their parents has reared its ugly head once again.
The United States has one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world, with millions of families struggling just to put food on the table. With 32.2 percent of children living below the poverty line, America ranks 36th out of the 41 wealthy countries, according to UNICEF.
However, that sobering reality was not at the forefront of the minds of these individuals, who chose to publicly insult their parents and throw temper tantrums because they did not get an iPad or the correctly colored gadget.
Hundreds of thousands of children have been forced to flee Syria as a result of civil war ripping their home country apart, with many compelled to become slave laborers in Lebanon. Kids as young as five are beaten with sticks as they toil in potato and bean fields. Many of these children have lost their entire families and probably do not even know what an iPad is.
To compare their plight, in addition to that of Christians across the Middle East who have been forced to flee Iraq and Syria in the hundreds of thousands to escape persecution, torture and death, to that of bratty teenagers, and some adults, irate at their parents for not spending hundreds of dollars on the latest tablet is humbling.
While a few of these tweets may be trolls, searching for terms like “did not get iPad” on Twitter will yield hundreds of genuine results from people complaining about their Christmas gifts. Here is a representative selection of this year’s hall of shame: “Wow, I wanted a CD player not an iPod touch. Stupid parents!” “Stupid parents got me a black iPhone when I wanted a white one [expletive].” “My nephew is [expletive] he did not get an iPhone 6. He is 8 years old and has an iPhone 5, an iPad and an Xbox.”
These kind of statements downing and cursing their parents go on and on by the hundreds. The complaints by the ungrateful whiners are innumerable. It certainly “tis the season” for whining, complaining and ingratitude.
American children, barely, if at all, have to work for material things. Parents have spoiled most of them to the point that they are unable to face reality. The things they expect and think they are owed, while thanklessly freeloading off their parents from the earliest of age, are trivial, unnecessary, and foolish.
Ecclesiastes 10:13 The words of his mouth begin with foolishness, and the end of his talk is raving madness.
That certainly does picture what we are seeing on Twitter.
Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him.
Now this sermon is not on child discipline, it is a sermon on children and parent’s relationships. In light of this, are children really God’s blessing? Well, looking at the complaints of these children in the world complaining about their Christmas gifts, you really have doubts.
In contrast to this attitude of ingratitude in many children today, from which they curse their “stupid parents,” God’s intention is that children are a blessing and an encouragement.
The Bible abounds in pictures of blessing: blessing sought; blessing promised; blessing conferred; blessing received. The blessings God gives to the family are often quiet blessings.
Psalm 127:1-5 Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep. [These next 3 verses are key.] Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.
Now in contrast to the frantic, self-absorbed, and self-sufficient work ethic described in the first stanza, verses 1-2, the second stanza, verses 3-5, unfolds the quiet blessing of God on a family through the gift of children.
The second stanza seems so different from the first, both in its subject matter and its tone, that quite a few scholars believe that it must have been an entirely different psalm originally. But they are far from thinking like an ancient Israelite for whom the well-being of his family was never far removed from every other concern and effort.
Most of us think of work and our families in nearly separate categories. We live highly compartmentalized lives. But the Israelite would ask: “Why is the house being built if it is not for the family?” and “Why are the watchmen protecting the city if not for the families that live in it?” There is a totally different viewpoint that was intended here and that the Israelites had that is not seen in our society today.
Then, as now, the family was the basic unit and most important element of society. The only difference is that the ancient Israelite knew it, and we generally do not. There are a number of truths from these verses and from their position that we need to recognize and apply personally.
The first is that the growth of a family is God’s work. The second stanza begins by confessing that children are a gift of God, a heritage, and a reward. Verse 3 tells us:
Psalm 127:3 Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.
God builds the house and the family to live in it, He guards the city and raises up the families protected by its walls. The psalmist makes this connection by writing as he does. Families are God’s idea. It was God who gave the first woman to the first man in Eden and told them to, “Be fruitful, multiply; fill the earth, and subdue it,” using all its vast resources in the service of God and man.
It follows from this that we must thank God for our families and look to Him for wisdom to raise them properly. Something that the vast majority of people on earth do not do.
Second, is that God’s blessing on the city begins with His blessing on the family. Since the family is the basic unit of society, if the family prospers the nation will prosper also. If families are neglected and decline, the entire society will decline with them.
In the United States of America, at the present time, families are disintegrating, children are neglected, and the frequency and magnitude of violent crimes are soaring. The psalmist’s theme is so important to him that he carries it over into the next psalm and with the same relationships. Psalm 127 begins with the city and moves to a consideration of the family. Psalm 128 begins with the family but moves to the city.
Psalm 127:5 speaks of many children, saying that a large number of children, especially sons, are a blessing since they will be able to stand by their father and verbally defend him and God’s way of life when they speak with their enemies in the gate.
The sanctified children of a Christian family should be able, at least in a basic way, to give a defense of why they try to live God’s way of life. And it is every parents’ responsibility to make sure that children can do that.
We may perceive the numbers a bit differently today when large numbers of children are not necessarily an asset to a family. On a farm perhaps they would be where they could work the fields, but not necessarily in an urban environment, and not when the cost of a college education for just one child is far more than the mortgage on a house. But those are contemporary physical matters.
Details aside, the point of Psalm 127 stands: Children are a blessing from God, and they, with their parents, are among the vital foundation blocks of a healthy and thriving society. God’s blessing on the city begins with His blessing on the family, and where our families stand, our cities will stand also.
All one needs to do is look at the major cities of the United States and see the poor condition they are in, to see that the families have disintegrated beyond belief.
The third principle here is that the growth of families is slow and humble. Friends may take notice and celebrate the birth of a baby, the new addition of a family. They may help celebrate a special event in the child’s life, like a high school graduation, but mostly the growth of a family goes unnoticed by other people, sometimes even by the father and mother, because it is slow and unspectacular. It is a blessing that builds over time.
Sometimes when you are struggling with a large family and trying to make ends meet, it seems like a long, slow, plotting process and can be agonizing at times, but God always blesses the Christian family with what it needs.
That is the way God usually works, is it not? God works slowly but surely. Yet this slow and unspectacular blessing is a true blessing and a biblical pattern. There is an excellent example in God’s gift of children to Abraham, the father of the faithful.
God told Abraham that he would have descendants “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” and that he would be the “father of many nations.” But it was many years before Abraham and Sarah had Isaac, the son of God’s promise. In fact, they were both past the age of having children, Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was 90, when they had Isaac. Obviously, it required a miracle.
Even after Isaac, the growth of the family was slow. Isaac had only two children, Esau and Jacob. In Jacob’s generation, there were twelve sons, the patriarchs of the Israelite tribes. Very slow growth over three generations.
Even then it was not until after 400 years of terrible slavery in Egypt, and under the most oppressive circumstances that the nation of Israel grew to the million or more persons who eventually came out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses.
The same is true of the people of the New Covenant, the church. Jesus called twelve disciples, they carried the gospel to others, but it was only after several generations and as a result of great deal of humble effort that the church took firm root and spread throughout the Roman world and the throughout the rest of the world.
The fourth principle we can pull from Psalm 127 is that we cannot properly raise our families without God. If it is a vain act to build a house without God or watch over a city without depending on God to preserve it, then it is even greater folly to try to raise a family without God.
A house is at least an inanimate object that will benefit from sound workmanship, and threats to an ancient city were mostly only from enemies outside the city. But what about ourselves and our children? How important are they compared to those physical things?
We carry the seeds of our destruction within us. We are sinful people, speaking of us generally as mankind, with rebellious spirits and an inborn tendency to turn our backs on God. Like ourselves, our children also have a tendency to be rebellious, stubborn, and self-centered.
So, we must seek God’s help and do everything we are told to do in order to raise our children well. We need to pray for our children, teach them God’s Word, bring them to church to worship God, and especially set an example by living God’s way of life ourselves. God gives quiet blessings, both physical and spiritual, to the family.
The teaching of Jesus Christ and the apostles did a great deal to advance honor and respect for woman, and it did an even greater service for the improved condition of children. In Roman civilization, contemporary with the apostle Paul, there existed certain situations which made life very dangerous for the child.
The marriage bond had collapsed in society, and men and women changed their partners with bewildering rapidity. Under such circumstances a child was considered very bad luck and nothing but a hindrance. Wow, does that sound a little like today’s society? There were so few children born and raised, that the Roman government actually passed legislation to encourage successful births. The amount of any inheritance that a childless couple could receive was very limited.
At the time Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, about AD 60-61, the Roman law of patria potestas, translated as “the father’s power,” gave a Roman father absolute dictatorial power over his family. He could sell them as slaves; he could make them work long hours in his fields, even in chains.
He could take the law into his own hands, because the law itself was in his own hands, and he could punish as he liked, he could even inflict the death penalty on his child! Additionally, 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 until his father died.
There was also the matter of child repudiation, leading to exposure of the newborn. When a baby was born it was placed before its father. If the father stooped and lifted the child, the child was accepted and was raised as his. If he turned away, the child was rejected and was literally discarded.
Such rejected children were either left to die, or they were picked up by those who trafficked in infants. These evil people raised children to be slaves or to stock the brothels. One Roman father named Hilarion wrote from Alexandria in 1 BC about domestic affairs to his wife Alis back home: “If good luck to you, you have a child! If it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out.”
Ancient civilization was merciless to the sickly or deformed child. Seneca writes: “We slaughter a fierce ox; we strangle a mad dog; we plunge the knife into sickly cattle lest they taint the herd; children who are born weakly and deformed we drown.”
We should be glad that our society has not gotten that bad yet, however in some areas around the world it is almost that bad. The child who was a weakling or imperfectly formed had little hope of survival.
Against such pagan cruelty the new relations of parents to children and children to parents, brought by the Christian gospel, stood out like a beacon in the night; like a symbol of hope in a miserable society of death.
It was against this situation that Paul wrote his advice to children and parents. One of the great good things the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles have done for the world is to change the sub-human status of women and of children. But even still, many nations, especially Gentiles, do not protect and care for their children even to this day.
In 2013 the U.N. Global Survey recorded that, every year, between 500 million and 1.5 billion children worldwide endure some form of violence. Nothing in all of history has done so much for the development of children as Christianity. Similarly, Christianity greatly advanced women by the principles found in Ephesians 5:22-33. But that elevation, great as it was, is overshadowed by the improvement in the status of children.
But despite the influence of Christian teachings and the Christian effort to protect children, not only are the Gentile nations, especially the U.N., guilty of child abuse and murder of infants, but the U.S., which is hypocritically promoting itself as caring about the rights of children, murders an average of more than 3,000 children each day by abortion. As of yesterday, Christmas Day, there have been 1,073,090 abortions in the U.S. in 2015 alone! Is this nation a nation of death just like Rome was?
So what did the U.S. Congress do about it? Last week they voted to continue funding Planned Parenthood, the baby-murdering factory for infant body parts. American citizens have barely made a peep to complain about it. May Jesus Christ return soon with a rod of iron!
Let us shift into a more positive mode and look at what the apostle Paul was inspired to say about the proper relationship between children and their parents. This is the pivotal scripture for this sermon.
Ephesians 6:1-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
It is interesting that parents can cope with two children because they are matched in numbers, generally speaking, but when you have three there always seems to be one who is able to wander away from you. In a sense, that is what is happening in a broader way today. We can handle one or two problems, but the home is plagued by so many problems today that success at being good parents seems to be wandering away from us.
Paul introduces the subject with the duty of children toward their parents. It is another example of submission by Christians to Christians, going back to his thematic statement in Ephesians 5:21. In the KJV & NKJV it reads, “Submit to one another in the fear of God.” Or, as it is stated in the ESV & NIV, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Paul began with wives submitting to husbands and then here he deals with children submitting to parents, and later he addresses slaves and masters. In writing to families, Paul begins with children because of his purpose in providing examples of submission. As he develops this issue, he stresses two duties for children. The first one is: obedience is the fundamental relationship of children to parents.
Exodus 21:15, 17 and Leviticus 20:9 state that the law prescribed death for the child who struck or cursed a parent. So those tweeting bad stuff about their parents, in another time would have been stoned to death for such disrespect.
Exodus 21:15 “And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.”
Exodus 21:17 “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.”
Leviticus 20:9 “For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him.”
And in the New Testament Paul lists such disobedience as one of many serious sins.
Romans 1:30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents.
II Timothy 3:2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy.
However, Paul urges in Ephesians 6 the positive duty of children to obey their parents.
Ephesians 6:1-3 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
Obedience is due to both parents; the mother’s submission to her husband does not remove her parental dignity but rather increases it.
“In the Lord” qualifies the verb “obey.” Therefore, it is not an absolute obedience, as for example, if a parent should command a child to do a wicked or un-Christian thing. It should always be obedience rendered in the context of a loving parent-child relationship. Nevertheless, it is a true obedience, guided, but not abolished, by love.
The world thinks that “I love my children,” so they give them everything the want, spoil them, and then they eventually turn into criminals. That is not the right kind of love that God is talking about.
What Paul has in mind as he speaks of the obligation of a child to obey his or her parents is natural law, that is, the law of relationships written upon the human conscience by God apart from special revelation.
Children are to obey, “for this is right.” This is not confined to Christian ethics, it is recognized and taught by all the world’s cultures, both ancient and contemporary. Whether they abide by it or not is another question, but they do know that it is there.
Children owe obedience to parents. It is true that this duty has often been greatly distorted and abused, in Christian as well as in non-Christian circles, but it is an abiding obligation nonetheless.
Sadly, today we see the U.N. hypocritically forcing “the rights of the child” agenda upon the nations of the world, which advocates that parents have no authority over their own children. That is what is coming to every nation because they have agreed to it.
Biblically, the obligation is not merely on the side of the child, who must obey, but also on the side of the parent, who must enforce the obedience. This is because the parent stands as a representative God in relationship to the child.
To teach the child to obey the parent is to teach the child to obey God. To allow the child to defy and disobey the parent is to teach the child to defy and disobey God with all the obvious consequences.
In the traditional Christian handling of the Ten Commandments, the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” found in Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16, is placed in the second table of the law which deals with human relationships.
In the Jewish handling of the Ten Commandments it is placed in the first table which deals with our relationship to God. The Jews’ reason for this is because obedience to parents is part of our relationship to God and because disobedience to parents is, at heart, a spiritual rebellion.
This is why under the Old Covenant the most extreme penalty, death, was prescribed for anyone who cursed his or her parents or was incorrigible in relationship to them.
Leviticus 20:9 “For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him.”
So the child takes personal responsibility for cursing his parents.
Deuteronomy 21:18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, . . .
So parents have a responsibility to chasten their children for this disrespect. Otherwise the parents hold some of the responsibility for the child cursing. Continuing on here in verse 19:
Deuteronomy 21:19-21 . . . then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.”
So we see here that an extreme violation of the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” was to be punished by death. This was not just for an occasional lapse into disobedience but rather a persistent rebellion against one's father and mother even after the parents had warned their son of the consequences of his rebellious actions.
The son was ultimately rebelling against God’s authority and therefore attacked the foundations of the covenant people. The legislation here was not cruel nor did it give parents a right to abuse their children.
Notice that the parents take the initiative in this penalty to purge the evil from society. The son was to be taken to the elders at the gate, that is the place where the law was administered. The elders were required to make an impartial judgment and in this case the son was not judged for being a glutton and a drunkard, but rather for being rebellious. His self-indulgent living and drunkenness were simply manifestations of his rebellion against parental authority.
All of the men, rather than the parents, were required to stone the son if the charges were proved correct. Now mention is made of the deterrent effects of capital punishment: “All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.”
Deuteronomy 13:11 “So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you.”
The fear of death would be a great deterrent to stop rebellious sons from being stubborn rebels. Now how many times this stoning of rebellious children actually occurred we do not know, but I would think that it would be very rare. The child would be warned first and given an opportunity to show signs of changing at least.
Now the second duty God imposes through the apostle Paul on children in relationship to parents is honor. Children’s obeying their parents is, in great part, how they honor them. In Proverbs 31it describes children rising to honor a wise and godly mother.
Proverbs 31:28-29 Her children rise up and call her blessed [every mother wants to hear that from her children]; her husband also, and he praises her: “many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.”
So the mother (and father) is to set an example for the children and then the children will reflect that and will therefore be a blessing to their parents.
In Hebrew, the word usually translated as honor is kabbed. Pronounced differently, the word also means, to be heavy. It indicates “heavy” in a bad sense, as in burdensome; severe; or dull, or in a good sense, as in numerous; rich; honorable; expressing cause; or to make weighty.
We have the same concept in English where we might say that we “give weight to an idea” as a way of saying that we are treating it with extra attention. Children must listen to their parents with extra attention. They must not take what their parents say lightly since it carries great weight. This is what is meant in the term “honor” your father and mother.
God has put mankind in a strange category of glory which is due honor. Notice what the psalmist says to our Creator in Psalm 8.
Psalm 8:4-5 What is man [mankind] that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor.
God has created each one of us with an intrinsic status, requiring that we treat one another with the honor that every single last human being on earth has been given by our Creator. This requires that we have a respect for human life that goes above and beyond all other creatures.
Even the worldly signers of the United States of America’s Declaration of Independence recognized this specially ordained status: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The Bible promotes the decent treatment of all human beings regardless of age.
Proverbs 21:21 He who follows righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness, and honor.
Proverbs 22:4 By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life.
True Christians, above all others, must hold this idea of treating one another decently, which also include the children. And there is a greater honor human beings deserve which children owe to their parents. The fifth commandment demands a specific form of respect for parents.
While there are times that bad parents need to be disobeyed or distanced from one’s life, there are boundaries that cannot be crossed. For example, calling a friend by his or her first name is not disrespectful, but a child using a parent’s first name is. Ideas like that are completely disassociated from anything the parent is or does.
Respect is given automatically for being the source of the child’s life. There is a difference between the type of respect due every human being and the type of respect due parents. Respect is earned, however honor of one’s parents is commanded.
By virtue of mankind being created in the image of God, each individual must be accorded basic decency. God-fearing Israelitish nations have mostly understood this responsibility. Even if someone’s behavior was so extreme that he was legally sentenced to death, his corpse was still buried and prior to execution he needed to be fed and clothed decently.
This duty is based on divine revelation and not merely on natural law. It is so important that God emphasizes it in the fifth of the Ten Commandments. Again: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
That is a difficult area, of course, because not all parents live in such a way that their children can properly honor them, especially if the child has become a Christian and the parents are not Christians. What is a child to do, for example, if his or her father is an irresponsible alcoholic or decadent; or, if the mother is immoral, undisciplined, and excessively worldly? Can a child properly honor such a parent? Should he? To link this duty to the preceding duty: should a child obey the commands of such non-Christian parents?
The answer is that a child, while he is a child, owes obedience to a parent in all areas except those that contradict the revealed law of God. In this, the child’s position is the same as that of a Christian wife in relationship to a non-Christian husband, or a Christian citizen who finds himself in conflict with an anti-Christian government. The principle is found here in Romans 13.
Romans 13:7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
All owe obedience and respect to those over them, but not at the expense of the obedience we owe to God. If a non-Christian parent forbids his believing child to worship and follow Jesus Christ, the child should not obey because to abandon following after Christ would be to abandon God. If a child is faced with this dilemma, he should observe his parents and pick out those areas in which he can properly honor and admire them.
A non-Christian parent may be hard-working and conscientious in his or her job, and/or extremely generous and helpful. So a child of a non-converted parent should look for the good in their parent and honor and admire those qualities in that way.
Looking at the positive traits of an unconverted parent will help dissipate some of the resentments there may be in other areas of the child-parent relationship. Paul encourages children in Ephesians 6:1-4 with three encouragements: First, obedience and honor are right relationships, they are grounded in natural and divine law.
Second, they are a Christian duty; they are to be exercised “in the Lord” since they are part of the Ten Commandments. Parents play a crucial, God-ordained role in the discipleship of their children “in the Lord.” Parental discipleship in the discipline and instruction of the Lord should center on the kinds of practices already outlined in Ephesians 4-5.
Third, they are enforced by a promise, namely that it will go well with those who practice them, and they will enjoy long life on the earth. This last promise is not a blanket assurance that every individual who honors his or her parents will live longer than every individual who does not. But it is a promise that God’s material and physical blessings rests on those who work hard at being Christians in these relationships.
There were earlier commands of God with promises, such as Genesis 17:1-2, but Exodus 20:12 is the first and only of the Ten Commandments to contain such a promise as this. The promise in the fifth commandment is not general but specifically tied to meeting a specific responsibility, honoring parents. The commandment does not say, “Obey your father and your mother.” Obedience is included in honoring, but to honor goes beyond just mere obedience.
One can obey resentfully, but honoring requires admiration, respect, and commitment. This must come from one's heart, and it is attained and developed through careful consideration of the sacrifices and gifts that parents give to the child.
The obedience of children is evidence that they know God, and it results in receiving blessings from God. The honoring of parents by their children adds an abundance of spiritual blessings, most of which come later in life, but still God blesses children with spiritual blessings as well.
God can open children’s eyes and even though they are not converted yet they are still able to learn and understand God’s truth at a young age. Jeremiah’s example in Scripture shows that it can happen if God so chooses.
Now it is significant that Paul gives instructions to fathers specifically. This does not exclude mothers, of course, it includes them in the same way the word “brothers” or “brethren” is used to include all Christians in other passages. Because Paul is speaking of parents, both the fathers and mothers, in the first three verses.
For this reason, the paraphrased Living Bible and Good News Bible actually translates “fathers” as “parents” in Ephesians 6:4. Nevertheless, it is significant that Paul addresses fathers specifically for the simple reason that the responsibility for managing a home and raising children is primarily theirs. I mean that in the role of overall authority, because the mother is, on a day to day basis, involved with the children more.
Parents are not responsible entirely for what their children become, which we will see. A part of what children become is their own responsibility. But fathers are responsible for treating them in a non-exasperating way and for bringing them up in the instruction of the Lord.
Paul begins his admonition in Ephesians 6 with a negative action to avoid, followed by a positive action to develop. He addresses the responsibility of fathers in particular, though this does not diminish the contribution of mothers in these areas.
The negative part involves restraint. Fathers are not to exasperate their children but are rather to exercise their authority as fathers in a balanced way. In the parallel passage in Colossians 3 Paul tells fathers:
Colossians 3:21 (NIV) Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Colossians 3:21 (NKJV) Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
Colossians 3:21 (AMP) Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or exasperate your children with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by favoritism or indifference; treat them tenderly with loving kindness, so they will not lose heart and become discouraged or unmotivated with their spirits broken.
Colossians 3:21 (TLB) Fathers, do not scold your children so much that they become discouraged and quit trying.
Although there is a proper and necessary place for discipline, that discipline must, nevertheless, never be arbitrary, because children have a built-in sense of justice or kindness. Otherwise, they will become disheartened. There are also different personalities, and some methods work with some children and others it does not. Each child is different, and they learn differently.
Conversely, almost nothing causes a child’s personality to blossom and gifts to develop like the positive encouragement of loving, understanding parents. Continuous criticism and rebuke and too strict discipline, more often than not, produces discouragement and a “broken spirit” in a child.
It may be that Paul wrote out of bitter personal experience, I do not know. There is a slight indication here of a quivering note of personal emotion, and it seems as though in his maturity he reverted to thoughts of the past and recalled, possibly the loveless years of his own childhood. He was nurtured in the austere atmosphere of traditional orthodoxy, which often brought scant tenderness and overbearing harshness.
Now there are three ways in which we can do injustice to our children. First, we can forget that things do change and that the customs of one generation are not necessarily the customs of another. It is really hard to find a balance in that, because most of the customs that are changing seem to be for the worst, so we need to be careful what customs we do allow our children to pick up.
Second, we can exercise such a control that it is an insult to our upbringing of our children. To keep a child too long in leading strings is simply to say that we do not trust him; a way of saying that we have no confidence in the way in which we have trained him. It is better to make the mistake of too much trust than of too much control as they mature. Is that not how God works with us, His children?
Third, is that we can forget the duty of encouragement, thereby being unbalanced in our parenting and having a negative atmosphere within the family. As Paul sees it, children must honor their parents; and parents must never discourage their children.
So how can we do justice to our children? There are fundamental principles which will aid immeasurably in leading and training children. As any parent knows this can be frequently difficult and exasperating in the extreme. In this area of life, parents are tested as in no other because relationships are far more intimate and often fraught with emotion.
It is important for parents to teach their sons and daughters about the God-ordained order of the family at an early age so they might understand these principles as a guide to establish their own homes later on.
First, the sons would learn that they must prepare themselves for leadership, and the daughters would learn to yield to and to encourage their future husband’s leadership. If these principles are clearly understood before marriage, it is likely that more thought would be given to mate selection than seems to exist in most cases today.
In every way the father must seek to clearly and unwaveringly establish himself as the undisputed compassionate leader—not dictator—and not deviate from this position.
Good fatherly leadership should consider the viewpoints of the rest of the family members. And children should be consulted, at times, because they have interesting and valuable viewpoints and should never be underestimated. They will appreciate being a part of family planning and will be more cooperative and willing to sacrifice for family goals. It will help bring father and children closer together if he invites their ideas.
Also, fathers must be willing to listen to their children when they come to you with ideas and suggestions that have not been requested. A father may have a tendency to resist listening to his children’s suggestions. He may consider it as questioning his authority or that they are a bother. Or, if he is kind enough to listen, he may do it impatiently giving the impression that he is in a hurry or feels imposed upon.
A wise father will listen and carefully consider other viewpoints. Valuable ideas come from many different sources. It is not only wise to listen, but a father has an obligation to listen. Although he is in a superior position as the father, they who are led have a right to be heard. However, children do not have the right to decision, but they do have a right to a voice in matters which concern them, but it better be in a good attitude.
A leader has an obligation to consider other viewpoints, even if they are in opposition to his own. When a family member comes to the father with a suggestion, the father can deal wisely with him/her.
Here is five simple suggestions to help fathers wisely handle their children’s concerns, taken from the book, Man of Steel and Velvet by Aubrey Andelin.
1) Stop all activities and give your full attention. If this is not possible, set a time free of interruptions, then give your undivided attention.
2) Listen carefully. If you are not in agreement, withhold your opposition. Do not present negative thoughts at this time. To do so shows great inconsideration for his or her right to speak and your responsibility to consider his thinking.
3) Be understanding. Express sympathy for his ideas. More than anything else a person wants to be heard and considered. This is more important than to have his ideas materialize.
4) Tell him you will think about it and will give it careful consideration. Do this although the answer may be so evident to you immediately that you have no doubt about it. This shows courtesy and kind consideration of feelings. He will feel that he has a voice and that his ideas will be considered.
I am not advocating lying to the child, but I am saying, whatever it is, even if you know the answer, just think about it anyway. There is always the possibility that that which seemed so clear to you immediately will be altered as you consider more facts.
On the other hand, if you give a fast answer or quickly toss the suggestions aside, it displays thoughtlessness, perhaps even arrogance. If the matter is of vital importance, tell him that you will seek the answer by asking God in prayer for guidance.
5) After you have carefully weighed the suggestion, if the idea is sound, be humble enough to admit it. Express appreciation. If the idea is unsound, point out why in a manner that is kind and firm. In doing this, be very sympathetic with the opposing viewpoint. Do not belittle ideas or regard them as unimportant.
Show respect for others thinking but explain that you must follow your own convictions even if they are in opposition. Sometimes your reasons may be difficult to analyze or for others to understand. In such cases, explain that you do not have a good feeling about it and feel responsible to follow your deep convictions.
Now there are sometimes when a child will nag you for something and you have to put your foot down and say no, but we have to, in a general way, approach these things in a loving way, because children are due the general honor that all people are entitled to.
Fathers must be willing to listen to requests and special desires, problems, objections, complaints, and dissention, but in the face of all this, fathers must hold their convictions. These steps may seem elementary, but if they are, then why do we fathers not practice them? Because we get so busy with life.
On the positive side Paul speaks to fathers about training, saying that they should instead, “bring them [the children] up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” If a man is to be the guide for his family, it is essential that he teach them principles to live by, standards and ideals which will serve as guides throughout their lives. He can sit at the bedside of his little children and teach them concerning the origin of man; how he was created in the image of God; the purpose of life on earth; and man’s potential for eternal life.
They can be taught their responsibilities as children of God and principles to follow in becoming better persons. One very fine means of instruction for family members is the holding of a family home-evening once a week. During this evening the father instructs his family, giving them guiding principles by which to conduct their lives.
The children will have an opportunity to ask questions and make comments. The mother also contributes valuable principles and ideas. This brings the family close together. You can even add some sort of activity and fun to make the evening more interesting.
How are fathers to do this unless they know what the Word of God teaches? How are they to teach with wisdom unless they have themselves learned from God’s written Word? Obviously, fathers will fail at this unless they are themselves growing in the grace and knowledge of God.
Parents must be studying the Bible and seeking to live by it and practice it in their own daily lives. Parents, and especially fathers, must be proper role models. Through experience we find that children are not looking for perfect parents, but they are looking for honest parents. A consistently honest and truthful parent is a very contagious person.
And, what about the matter of the child’s own responsibility? Children are their own people, and they have their own set of responsibilities both before God and others. Consequently, although they may be taught wisely and raised morally and that instruction is supported by parental example, they nevertheless sometimes do go astray, and that is not necessarily the parents’ fault.
The first example of child-rearing in the Bible should teach us that. We know that Adam and Eve were a sinful man and woman after their failure to resist Satan and obey God, as we all are. But they were, for the most part, model parents because they were highly intelligent, which was not enough, and knew God intimately. They were personally trained by God.
Furthermore, they are included in the godly line of the age before the Flood, the line which contained such outstanding spiritual giants as Enoch, Methuselah, and Noah. They surely tried to raise their children to know and honor God. Yet in spite of this their first child, Cain, turned out to be a murderer. Why? The Bible says it was the result of the out-workings of his own sinful heart.
I John 3:10-16 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
This principle begins in the family and carries over into our relationship with our brethren, the church. Love one another! So we cannot be good examples if we are holding grudges against other people; if we are not loving each other in a deep personal love that we should have.
No doubt, the apostle John is thinking of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which we find in Matthew 5. Jesus said that the old law forbade murder, but the new law declared that anger and bitterness and contempt were just as serious sins.
Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
Whenever there is hatred in the heart, a person becomes a potential murderer. To allow hatred to settle in the heart is to break the spirit of God’s law. “You shall not murder,” therefore, the person who loves is a follower of Christ and the person who hates is not a follower of His.
John answered the question “What does love involve?” in verse 16. In other words, John says: “If you want to see what this love is, look at Jesus Christ because love is fully displayed in His death for mankind.” The Christian life is the imitation of Christ. The apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2, where he says:
Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.
And, Peter wrote in I Peter 2,
I Peter 2:21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.
No one can look at Christ’s example and then say that he does not know how a Christian should think and act. If for some reason your child has abandoned God’s way of life and is living a worldly life, it is not necessarily your fault. Do not abandon hope. God has called many such children. Your duty is to continue to live as Christians and pray for your child regularly.
James 5:16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
What about children who have not had godly parents? The fact that their parents did not teach them about God’s plan of salvation for mankind or lead a consistently godly life is sad for them and a challenge for their children, but it is not an excuse for their failing to look to God and be what God would have them be, as His followers.
Our past and how our parents raised us is not an excuse for not obeying God. Even if one is raised in a family of ungodly siblings, it still remains a personal responsibility to do the right thing. When Christ begins to call a person, even when he is in his teenage years, there will be a separation. Notice Christ’s own words in Luke 12.
Luke 12:51-53 [Christ is speaking here] “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
So if you obey God, there will be conflicts and divisions in the family as well as in society. We have to figure out, as converted individuals, how to look to those individuals and honor them as human beings in a general way and then honor our parents in a very specific and purposeful way.
Isaac’s son Joseph was a great contrast to Cain. Joseph was raised in a family environment that was not conducive to high standards of behavior. His brothers were spiteful, reckless, and violent. Joseph was carried away to Egypt. He had no outward spiritual support, yet he had determined in his youth to follow God, and he did it, even through adversity. He was never turned aside by outward circumstances.
Now sometimes those who are properly raised go astray, and sometimes those who are poorly raised and disadvantaged are models of Christian life and character. But these are exceptions, and the normal pattern is the communication of faith from generation to generation within the context of a genuinely Christian home. God works through and by families more than not.
It is hard for children to learn to obey their parents. It is hard for parents to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. But difficult is not impossible. And by the grace of God Christian parents and children have been managing just those difficulties for centuries. We can manage it in our own time too. God’s purpose for us is to build His spiritual family and home, and He is on our side if we are truly trying to obey Him and follow His directions.
The world is against us. The world wants absolute autonomy and at every turn attempts to destroy any established positive structure to get it. It tries to destroy our families and tries to get us on its side, but it does not have to succeed. We can live as Christ tells us to live, and God can and does bless our homes.
It takes faith in God and a close relationship with Him, as parents, to be truly successful at being parents. There are always numerous uncertainties facing us. Indecision and unrest exist, plans fluctuate, problems are often unresolved, these situations are not too difficult if the father always provides a right sense of direction. This means presenting a positive side to the family, giving them something to hold on to.
During times of uncertainty, a father must reassure his family that he is giving careful thought to the future, that plans are being considered and the problems will eventually be resolved. The father must display confidence based on his faith in God’s guidance. This confidence has to be balanced with humility.
The right relationship between parent and child is God-centered. We read these in Scripture here. It is “of the Lord,” “from the Lord,” and “in the Lord!” “Fathers, bring them up humbly in the training and admonition of the Lord.” “Children are a heritage from the Lord.” “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
If the Lord God is present in your family, your children are sure to be a wonderful blessing!