Sons and Daughters
10/04/2011 at 9.30am / 11.15am
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Jonathan Redfearn
We’re in a new series on Christ centred family life. Last week we looked at the duty of parents and especially of dads, and this week we’re looking at the duty of children, of sons and daughters from Ephesians 6:1-3.
After watching a TV programme about rebellious youth, a husband said to his wife, “What a mess! Where did our generation go wrong?” The wife calmly answered, “We had children!”
Children are a gift from God. God’s will is that they are procreated, in other words, created on behalf of God within marriage. Indeed that’s the context here in Ephesians 5. And then, v4, they’re to be brought up in the Christian faith. They, like us, are sinners in need of a Saviour. Parents, with fathers taking a lead, v4, have a major role to play in this, both at home and by involving them in the church, such as in the children’s and youth ministry. Christian grandparents can also play a part as Timothy’s grandmother did (2 Timothy 1:5), perhaps especially when one parent isn’t a believer as apparently was the case with Timothy. And we as a church also have a major responsibility. Yes parents with the support of others are to consistently and lovingly teach, train, instruct, and model the faith to their children and pray that by God’s grace they grow up trusting in and following the Lord Jesus Christ for themselves.
This is all so important. You may not know that one reason why the early church grew so rapidly was because the members ‘outbirthed’ the pagan population.
Bringing our children to Jesus is our duty as it is to also care for the fatherless as we see throughout the Bible. Did you know that there are 163 million orphans in the world today who are in desperate need of Christian love and care, of a Christian upbringing and, of course, of Christ himself?
But what about the duty of children? Christopher, my eldest son, used to say, when he was younger, that he would obey me and his mum - if I didn’t exasperate him! Now I don’t think his obedience should always be as conditional as that. But, v4, I am instructed as his father not to exasperate him (or provoke him to anger), which in turn makes it easier for him to obey me, and instead to bring him up in the training and instruction of the Lord. And part of that is to clearly and lovingly teach our children to be obedient, not only to their parents but also to God. To allow children to take lightly or disobey what we as parents rightly and lovingly command, is to prepare them to do the same toward their heavenly Father. Well let’s now look more closely at ‘the duty of children’.
1. THE DUTY OF CHILDREN
It’s often said “There are three ways to get something done: do it yourself, hire someone to do it, or forbid your children to do it”. But look at Ephesians 6:1. It’s addressed directly to children from Christian homes.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.Who does Paul mean by children here? He means those who are regarded in their culture as children or minors. In western culture that typically means those who are under 18. So perhaps we should now get all the children back in from their groups as this is addressed to them! That might be impractical at this stage but it is important that these verses are understood by our children, explained by their parents, led by dads and discussed as a family. So instead of getting the Scramblers, Climbers and Explorers back in I asked Andy Gawn if he could produce a brief discussion starter from this passage that families can use when they get home and that will be available for you when you pick up your children from those groups at the end of the service. So make sure you get hold of that and don’t forget those of Pathfinder and CYFA age. So we need to hear this passage too.
Children are to obey their parents unless they’re asked to do something which is contrary to God's will.
In Colossians 3:20 Paul again addresses children directly in laying down rules for Christian households. He writes:
Children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.Taken with Ephesians 6:1 this must mean that children are to obey their parents in everything that is compatible with their primary loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. For children to obey their parents over the Lord Jesus would not be pleasing to him. Jesus says in Matthew 10:37:
Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…Those conflicts between obeying your parents and obeying Christ are most likely to happen between Christian children and non-Christian parents. For example, parents who forbid you from worshipping and following Christ in your heart cannot be obeyed in that. Let’s be praying for students and internationals at home this Easter who maybe facing such tensions.
It should also be said that tragically in some homes children are abused by their parents. So neither are we here talking about a blind obedience to parents.
But the norm, says Paul, is for children to obey their parents.
Why should children obey their parents? Paul gives three reasons. First, it’s the right thing to do.
OBEDIENCE TO PARENTS IS RIGHT
It is right, says Paul. Verse 1 again:
Children, obey your parents…, for this is right.It’s not only right in Christian households but also in all households. It’s part of the natural law which God has written on all human hearts. Romans 2:14-15 says:
When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts…So it’s a matter of right and wrong that’s written on our hearts, whether we’re believers or not. It’s in our nature to disobey. But it’s also in our nature to know that disobeying our parents is wrong.
Most civilizations and cultures have regarded the recognition of parental authority as indispensable to a stable society. Today there are signs of this recognition being weakened and of increasing disobedience to parents. Paul in 2 Timothy 3 says this is a mark of a decadent society, which God has given up to its own godlessness.
So some today might rework verse 1 to say this:
“Parents, obey your children, for this will keep them happy and bring peace to the home.”
But this is contrary to God’s order in nature and will lead to neither happiness nor peace but to the opposite. Someone once said of Ephesians 5-6:
Here is harmony in the home: the wife submits to the husband “as to the Lord”; the husband loves his wife “even as Christ loved the church”; and the children obey “in the Lord”.
Secondly, children should obey their parents because God says so. He has revealed this direct command to us here in the Bible.
OBEDIENCE TO PARENTS IS COMMANDED
Obedience of children to parents is also part of the revealed law God gave to Moses. So Paul goes on in Ephesians 6: 2-3:
Honour your father and mother – which is the first commandment with a promise – that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.This is the fifth of the Ten Commandments. So the honouring of our parents is part of our duty to God. Commenting on this John Stott says:
This is right. For at least during our childhood they represent God to us and mediate to us both his authority and his love. We are to honour them, that is, acknowledge their God-given authority, and so give them not only our obedience, but our love and respect as well.Reverence for parents was an integral part of God's people's reverence for God (Leviticus 19:1-3). So in Leviticus and Deuteronomy the death penalty was laid down for anyone who cursed his parents and for the stubborn and rebellious son who refused to obey his parents and defied their discipline (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
Thirdly, children should obey because there’s great benefit to be had from doing so.
OBEDIENCE TO PARENTS BRINGS BLESSING
And it’s a benefit to be enjoyed not only in eternity, but here and now. That’s God’s promise. And it’s a bold one. If we obey our parents, we live longer, and we have a better life than we would if we were disobedient. Look again at Ephesians 6: 2-3:
‘Honour your father and mother’ – which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘that it might go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’.But you might be asking how are we to understand this promise? Is that promised to each child who obeys his parents? It's quite an incentive, isn’t it! Well, as in Ephesians 1, God's blessings are largely spiritual in Christ but yes there are here two promised blessings 'on earth'.
Now someone has suggested that we should interpret this in general rather than individual terms. Then what is promised, they say, is not so much long life to each child who obeys his parents, as social stability to any community in which children honour their parents. Well certainly a healthy society is inconceivable without a strong family life but we shouldn't forget the promise to the individual child. And the promise is this: if we obey our parents, we live longer, and we have a better life than we would if we were disobedient. And research backs this up. Research shows, for example, that the child who obeys his or her parents often has less trouble at school and beyond.
Now this doesn’t mean that everyone who died young dishonoured his parents. It doesn’t mean, for example, that all the missionaries who were sent out from this church in the 19th and 20th centuries, who died young on the mission field, dishonoured their parents. No, Paul was stating a principle. When children obey their parents in the Lord, they will escape a good deal of sin and danger and therefore avoid some of the things that could threaten or shorten their lives. But life isn’t measured only by quantity of time. It’s also measured by quality of experience. God enriches the life of the obedient child no matter how long he may live on the earth. Sin always robs us, obedience always enriches us.
So a child must learn early to obey his parents, not only because they’re his parents, but also because God has commended it to be so. Disobedience to parents is rebellion against God. The sad situation in many homes today is the result of rejecting God’s Word. By nature a child is selfish, but in the power of the Holy Spirit, a child can obey his parents and glorify God. Yes there are powerful reasons to follow this commandment.
Now before I move on to the next heading we need to go back to Ephesians 6:1:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord Jesus…Children's obedience of their parents is a Christian duty. But note children are to obey in the Lord. Children are to obey their parents also because of their own personal relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Lord our relationships are transformed. Even obedience to parents is changed. It should no longer be a grudging acquiescence to parental authority. Christian children learn to obey with gladness, for this pleases the Lord. Christian children are to remember the loving submission that Jesus himself gave as a boy to his parents. Luke 2:51:
Then Jesus went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.But what about those of us who adults? Well we’re to honour our parents even when we’re over 18. Honouring them at that stage of life means we should never forget or neglect them, which brings me to my next and final heading:
2. THE DUTY OF OLDER ‘CHILDREN’
So how does this command to honour our parents work out in the different phases of our lives?
Clearly when we’re fifty we don’t owe the same kind of obedience to our parents that we do when we are five or fifteen. In broad terms there are three main phases of the application of this command. When we’re young, we fulfil this command by obeying our parents. When we’re adult, we fulfil it by respecting our parents. And when our parents are old, we fulfil it by caring for our parents.
Jesus was harsh in his criticism of adult children who found ways round their obligation to care for their aging parents (Matthew 15). And in 1 Timothy 5:4 Paul says:
… if a widow [in real need] has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.As children we owe our parents. And what is more, as believers our motivation is to please God. So when we’re young, we’ll do what they say – right up to the point where they require us to disobey God. What they require of us is not absolute, but only because we first owe obedience to our heavenly Father. And when our parents are old, we’ll care for them. And always, we’ll honour them. That is to say, this obedience and respect and care isn’t merely a dutiful response when inside we resent or despise our parents. No, the command to honour goes right to the heart of our attitude. Not just what we do but the attitude of our hearts is of concern to God. Children should love their parents by honouring them.
Now all this is very challenging. It is for me. We need to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit as Paul says back in Ephesians 5:18 as we seek to live under the Lordship of Christ. And we maybe very aware of our rebellion, our sinfulness, our weakness and our failings in these areas, whether we’re under or over 18. Perhaps our relationship with our parents or indeed with our children isn’t right. Well the good news is that there is forgiveness at the cross of Christ. Because of Jesus’ obedience to his Father – he humbled himself even to death on a cross, where he paid for your sins and mine, so that through faith in him we can be forgiven and have freedom from guilt, freedom to live for him – part of which means honouring, obeying and caring for our parents, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 5:21; and bringing our children up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Who needs to ask God for forgiveness today? Who needs to go and say sorry to those you’ve hurt? Back in Ephesians 4:32 Paul writes:
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.Conclusion
Let me conclude briefly. Christian believers belong to the family of God. What does it mean for parents to love their children by training them? Keep your eyes fixed on how God our Father loves us. What does it mean for children to love their parents by honouring them? Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the Son.
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