As we continue our study in Ephesians, Paul has given a beautiful picture of our relationship to the Lord through the marriage of one man and one woman, and now goes on to address the parent-child relationship.
Children are commanded to obey and respect their parents. This is clearly seen in the Old Testament through various passages such as Deuteronomy 5:16: "Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the Lord your God gives you." To the New Testament believers, Paul now affirms this God-ordained child-parent relationship within the context of the empowering ability of the Spirit of Christ.
Contextually, the statements for children as well as fathers found in Ephesians 6:1-4 fall under the continued admonishment of the Apostle that began in 5:17-18. In these earlier verses, Paul states we are not to be foolish, but rather we are to understand what the will of the Lord is. He continues in v. 18 to command that we are not to be drunk with wine but rather we are to be filled with the Spirit.
Understanding the will of the Lord and being filled with His Spirit impacts our relationships with one another, especially within the home.
Paul makes a very clear command to children in verse 1: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord ." There is no ambiguity in this. This is not optional. Parents are empowered to be parents. Children are commanded to obey.
The word Paul uses here for obedience (hupakouete-present active imperative) is a compound word meaning to place oneself under what is heard. This present tense verb indicates that obedience is to be done at all times. The verb is in the active voice, meaning the child is to make the decision to place himself under the parents command. Lastly, this word is also in the imperative mood meaning this is not optional but rather a command.
Importantly, Paul adds the phrase, "in the Lord" to his command. Children are not to obey parents who are instructing them, commanding them to do things that are not in alignment with the Lord's ways. If parents are ungodly and demanding behavior from their children that is ungodly, this is not what Paul's command entails. Paul concludes his statement with the affirmation that for children to their parents in the Lord "is right." The obedience of a child to his or her parents is in alignment with the Lord's will.
Paul continues to set forth the idea of how important the parent-child relationship is by quoting from Deuteronomy 5:16. Children are to honor their father and mother. Honor means to revere, respect and or to put in the proper place of estimation. "Honor" is again a command just like "obey". This is not optional and should be what a child does. Paul follows this command by reminding believers that this command is the first to have a promise attached with it. If a child honors his father and mother, the promise is that there will be a long life and it will go well with you in the land.
Paul now speaks a specific word of instruction to fathers. They are not to provoke to anger their children. Husbands and fathers are the head of the home, and as such are the spiritual leaders. They are not to use their leadership role and or authority in such a way as to provoke their children to the point of anger. The word provoke has the idea of moving to a point of anger or bitterness. The picture is of a father who is overbearing, nitpicky, or tyrannical to the point that a child never is able to measure up to the standards being placed upon him. Fathers are not to irritate or move their children to anger or bitterness.
Paul creates a contrast for fathers by adding what fathers should be doing: bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. "Bring them up" (ektréphete) means to feed them, to nourish them through training them. Paul also uses the word "instruction", which entails encouraging right behavior.
What a beautiful picture this is of fathers who are yielded to the Lord, filled with the Spirit, and walking in the wisdom of the Lord. What a wonderful picture of godliness when fathers are training their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord by encouraging them and training them in the things of God. Clearly, in the midst of this is the role modeling of fathers to their children of what it looks like to walk in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If a father is telling his child one thing and then acting himself in contradictory ways, confusion will be the result.
A sister passage to this is Colossians 3:21 where Paul states: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children so that they will not lose heart." The word "exasperate" means to irritate to a point of bitterness or anger so much so that a child may lose motivation in doing what is required of them.
Paul has addressed the relationships of husbands and wives and now children and parents. Being filled with the Spirit and walking in wisdom is essential to these relationships. Without the love of God working in and through our lives, no believer will be able to walk in God's will regarding these relationships. Children are to be obedient to their parents, honoring them. Fathers, as the heads of the home, are to bring their children up in such a way as to teach their children what it means to walk with God. Following the Lord in all of these circumstances is essential.
Are we walking in the Lord's wisdom and His way? Are we following Him in every area of our lives?
Erik Christensen is senior pastor of Hoffmantown Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico.