1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV
Next, Peter turns his attention to the parent-child relationship, where the filling of the Spirit could help the believers in Ephesus to dispel the darkness engulfing their community. A home where godly parents and children lived in submission to the will of God would be a beacon of light and life to the lost. Their Spirit-empowered interactions with one another would bring glory and honor to God as they lived in keeping with His good and perfect will.
Paul begins by addressing the children within the Ephesian church. He calls on them to obey their parents “in the Lord” (en kyrios). In his earlier passage addressed to believing wives, he called on them to submit to their believing husbands “as unto the Lord” (hōs ho kyrios). The idea is the same here. Paul is calling on children to obey “in the Lord.” The obedience of the children was not to be dependent upon the belief of their parents, but they were to obey because it was the will of God. Paul was essentially telling young children who came to faith in Christ, “you need to understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17). Regardless of age, every member of the body of Christ was to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 ESV).
It would seem that Paul has believing children in mind because he calls them to obey “in the Lord.” He seems to assume that these children are old enough to understand their Christ-honoring commitment to submit to their parents in the same way they would submit to Christ Himself. And Paul quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures to drive home his point.
Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. – Deuteronomy 5:16 NLT
In this passage, Moses is reciting the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, and this verse, he shares God’s command that His people show proper honor and respect to their earthly parents. This commandment was applicable to children of all ages, including those who had reached adulthood. In a society that had no welfare system, it was the responsibility of adult children to take care of their elderly parents. God was ordering His covenant people to treat their loved ones with dignity and respect, and He tied future fruitfulness to present faithfulness. If they continued to treat their parents with honor all the days of their lives, then they would enjoy a long and fruitful stay in the land of promise. This is why Peter refers to this as a “commandment with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2 ESV). As long as the people obeyed it, they would enjoy the blessings of God. Faithfulness to do the will of God would be accompanied by fruitfulness.
It’s interesting to note that, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul included disoBelibedience to parents among the list of godless characteristics that will mark the end of the age.
…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT
It seems that Paul is describing people who are old enough to know what they are doing. Their behavior reflects the status of their hearts. Their outer actions are simply byproducts of their inner condition. Jesus made this point quite clear when He stated, “the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).
Paul doesn’t seem to be focusing his attention on small children. They were not the problem. It was those children who were old enough to come to faith in Christ but also old enough to be tempted by the inevitable allure of autonomy and freedom from their parents’ control over their lives. He is calling them to remember their commitment to do that which is pleasing to God. They were to emulate Christ, who willingly submitted Himself to do His Father’s will.
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38 ESV
“I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 5:30 ESV
Paul states that children who obey their parents are doing what is right. The Greek word is dikaios, and it means “that which is righteous, in keeping with the commands of God” (Outline of Biblical Usage). To obey earthly parents is righteous because it is in keeping with our Heavenly Father’s will. It is what He desires, therefore, it is right and good.
This command is intended to last a lifetime. It doesn’t end at the age of 18 or whenever the child moves out of the home. No, it lasts as long as the parents remain alive. And in a culture where the family unit tended to stay intact for much longer periods of time, this command carried special significance. It was not uncommon for young married couples to take up residence in the home of the husband’s parents. Multiple generations would end up residing under the same roof, making obedience to this command more essential than ever. A home where parents, children, and grandchildren lived together was the perfect environment for displaying the Spirit-filled lifestyle to which Paul was calling his audience.
And it was within this kind of familial context that Paul called on fathers to treat their children with love and respect, raising them in accordance with the will of God. And that included “the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NLT). Once again, Paul is emphasizing the need for all believers to do things according to God’s will, not their own. And they were not to use the prevailing cultural context as their model for godly behavior. Paul has already warned the Ephesian believers not to pattern their behavior after the world.
Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:7-9 NLT
Instead, they were to “carefully determine what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10 NLT). And for fathers, that meant leading their children in such a way that it produced godliness rather than bitterness. Paul demands that father’s not “provoke” or exasperate their children. Believing fathers were to submit themselves to the will of God and minister to their wives and children in a loving and self-sacrificing manner. Their God-ordained role as the heads of their households didn’t give them the right to lord over those under their care. They were to be servants and shepherds. They to were to model Christ-likeness as they provided instruction in godliness.
God holds Christian fathers responsible for the care of His flock. A godly father is to recognize that his children are gifts from God.
Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him. – Psalm 127:3 NLT
And because God has assigned believing fathers with the role of shepherding His young lambs, He will hold them responsible if they fail to care for them well. The warning that God applied to the spiritual shepherds of Israel can be applied to those Christian fathers who abdicate their God-given responsibility to shepherd their children as God has commanded.
“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT
And God went on to describe what He would do to those shepherds who failed to carry out their God-ordained role.
“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT
In a similar way, Paul is pleading with the fathers within the church at Ephesus to step up and do what they have been called to do. They were to model the self-sacrificing love of Christ. They were to teach their children to honor God by demonstrating it through their own lives. Their homes were to be lighthouses, illuminating the darkness of Ephesus with the glory of God’s grace and the life-changing power of His Spirit.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.