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.” (Ephesians 6:1-3, ESV)
Paul had a vision of the church as a body. Individual members, marriages, and households comprised this living, breathing organism. He envisioned and exalted and enthroned Christ as the head of that organism, that body, that church. He saw Jesus as the authoritative head of the church, but also as the mind and heart of the church. Paul envisioned Christ's thoughts would become our thoughts. He wanted, ever increasingly, for the mind of Christ to become the mind of the church. How Jesus feels and thinks is to become, in a growing sense, the way the church feels and thinks. Every generation of the church, every new believer, is to be on a mission to connect to the head, Jesus Christ.
Jesus' Example to Children and Parents
Jesus is the most excellent example of an obedient child the world has ever known. He came to earth in obedience to His Father and endured the cross in submission to His Father’s will. He always did that which pleased the Father (John 4:34, 6:38). So it is this part of the mind of Christ which should effect Christian children, not to mention Christian parents who are in need of direction.
But Jesus is also the most excellent example of parental love for children in the way he raised his disciples. He gave them training and instruction, but in a patient and gentle way which yielded the strongest results. From his mouth flowed torrents of training, but grace flowed with it, making it palatable for the disciples. They grew up in his love and, though given an enormous task, were not overwhelmed and exasperated. Christian parents, particularly Christian fathers, should allow Christ’s gentle method of child-raising to become theirs, for his mind is to be their mind.
Who Paul Addressed
When Paul wrote here to the children, who was he addressing? It is difficult to ascertain the exact audience Paul had in mind, for the title is wide ranging. It seems the Holy Spirit has allowed each successive and varied culture to discern for themselves who is — and isn’t — a child. In some societies, sixteen-year-olds are required to operate as full-fledged adults, while in others the average age is much higher. Christians can look to the obvious markers of their society — voting age, college graduation age, etc. — as guides. Paul will exhort children to obey and honor their parents. His exhortation indicates a shift, for even adult children must honor their parents but are no longer called to obey them. So the child Paul is thinking of here is one who must honor and, still, obey.
The Bible on Parenting
So Paul gives his word to children: obey your parents. It is a fascinating rule, for many a Christian parent has discovered, perhaps in frustration, how little the Bible says explicitly to parents and family. Wisdom for parenting is one of the most sought-after subjects, yet there is no entire book of the Bible dedicated to it. Christians might wish for more specifics — at what age should a child get a cell phone, perhaps — but the Bible does not address parenting in this way. It is good to remember that the Bible penetrates every culture and society, so it is not meant to become a parenting manual from which only one type of society can glean. No, it is meant to help Christian parents of every generation, nation, and culture.
However, it is also good to remember the Bible says much to Christian parents because it says much to Christians. Christians are to pray, so parents are to pray for their children. Christians are to trust God with everything, so Christian parents are to trust God with their children. Christians are to extend grace, so Christian parents are to extend grace to their children. Taken in this way, the Christian parent can discover troves of information on parenting in their Bibles.
Because the Bible says relatively little regarding the specifics of parenting, when it does speak we look to it with great anticipation. Here, in Ephesians, it speaks. It gives one primary word to the children: obey your parents. Of all children must learn in a believing home, it is obedience. This is not meant to be seen as harsh, but as advantageous, for the child, for those who learn early in life how to bend their will to the will of another will prosper in life.
What Children Must Learn
Paul said it, in quoting from the commandments, in this way: “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Those who learn how to bend their will are at a significant advantage in life. Friendships require the bending of the will, lest a person find themselves alone because they could never adjust to another. Navigation of the educational system requires the bending of the will, lest a person find themselves unable to advance because they could never submit to instruction. A successful career requires the bending of the will, for work is a constant practice of doing that which you do not immediately desire to do. Marriage, the raising of a family, and church life all require learning how to bend the will, so when a child learns it early in life, they are at a distinct advantage over those who have not.
Perhaps modern parents could stand to be a little more fearful of what a lack of discipline will do to their children over the long haul. God, through His word, has attempted to give believing parents of every generation a vision. He has declared to them how a great life is unleashed upon children who learn to obey and honor their parents.