Last week I read a story about a seminary professor, Dr. Charles Quarles, who teaches at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The story was about a time when Dr. Quarles went to lunch with a well-known Bible scholar, one that he greatly admired. Dr. Quarles, wanting to ask questions about the massive amount of material this Bible scholar had produced, asked, “How did you manage to be so prolific?” To his surprise, the Bible scholar answered, “I sacrificed my son.” This man went on to tell Dr. Quarles how he had been so focused on his work (albeit, the important work of researching, writing, and producing great Christian literature) that he sacrificed his family. His son grew up without ever really knowing his father. He grew up to be a homeless man living on the streets of a large city. Dr. Quarles, in trying to comfort this man, said, “I’m sure that’s not your fault.” The man replied, “Don’t you try to console me…Yes, I did that! Even though people seem to be amazed by my productivity as a scholar, the fact is, I would give up every one of those books and far, far more just to have my son back! Just in case you want to walk in my footsteps, know that I pray to God you won’t.”
Those last two sentences hit me in the chest like a ton of bricks as I read them. It was yet another reminder of the importance of the relationships between parents (especially fathers) and their children. The Lord greatly values the family, as is evident throughout Scripture, and especially so here in the letter to the Ephesians.
In this section of Ephesians, Paul is directly addressing Christian households within the Ephesian churches. He has shown what the gospel is, who Christ is, how that affects our unity and life within the church, and then how that shapes Christian marriages. Back in Ephesians 5:21, Paul calls believers to "submit to one another," and then expounds on what that submission means in practical, everyday life, including children submitting to their parents. After addressing husbands and wives, Paul moves directly to addressing the children.
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (verse 1). Paul is straightforward. And he would need to be. Children don't necessarily have the largest attention span! You might imagine, as this letter was being read within the Ephesians churches, how the reader might have called to the children in the crowd directly. "Listen up kids, Paul is speaking directly to you guys in this part of the letter!"
This command is, of course, rooted in what God has done for us in Christ. According to Ephesians 1:5, God has adopted us (those who are in Christ) into His family. We now have a relationship with our heavenly Father. And like obedient children, we are to walk in obedience to our Father. The obedience of children to their parents is meant to model one of the results of the gospel (spiritual adoption) for Christian families.
This means that parents must teach their children the concept of "right vs. wrong." Our world wants to make gray matters that are black and white. Now, I know some matters are indeed gray. And that is where Biblical wisdom comes into play. But there are many matters that the Bible makes very clear, matters which our world would have us believe are up for interpretation. Truth no longer dictates the thoughts of the day, but feelings in the name of "tolerance." If children are to effectively obey, they must be taught right vs. wrong, with the gospel as the primary foundation. How will they have any concept of their need for grace, or the need for repentance, or the fact that they are a sinner in need of justification, without grasping the concept of "right vs. wrong''?
This leads to verse 4: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Now, this in no way means that mothers are to be quiet in the home or are somehow not involved in the discipleship of their children. Throughout the Bible, mothers are directed to bring up their children in the way they should go. For example, Proverbs 31:26-28 gives us a picture of a godly mother who "opens her mouth with wisdom" and that has "the teaching of kindness...on her tongue." Mothers are essential to the discipleship of their children.
Yet, it is fathers called upon here to lead their children. This goes back to the idea of “headship” that was introduced in the last chapter, regarding marriage. God has designed the family in the way He desires, which includes fathers leading their homes. Is it any wonder then that one of the primary ways we have seen the household break down in our society is in the disappearance of fathers?
Fathers, your task of bringing up your kids is every bit as essential as your wife’s. You are not just a “babysitter,” you are a Dad. Help your wife out with the kids. Hang out with your kids. Laugh with your kids. Pray with your kids. Cry with your kids. Be there for their ball games and school plays. Involve your kids in your hobbies. And don't place work above your children. Work is important (as the very next passage speaks to), but don't forget that your first calling is to your family. Don't sacrifice your children on the altar of money or status or comfort or hobbies.
Fathers can often be abusive. This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, many fathers were extremely abusive (even to the point of killing their own children) in the 1st-century Greco-Roman world. Paul says that believing fathers are to be different. We should not provoke our children to anger. Rather, we are to lovingly lead them and teach them and discipline them out of love!
This means we regularly teach them the word of God. This means we regularly pray with them. This means we regularly remind them of the gospel! Deuteronomy 6:4-9 makes it clear that the primary task of teaching children about the Lord is the responsibility of parents (and even grandparents!) Are you doing that? How often do we preach rules to our kids (and we should) but leave out grace? The first concept of the truth of the gospel that children will have is from their parents.
There are many great ways to go about that. I would recommend using resources, such as children's books from https://www.wtsbooks.com/, reading The Jesus Storybook Bible, or using a tool like the New City Catechism. Maybe start by sitting around the dinner table once per week, reading the passage of Scripture from the sermon the previous week, and then praying together. It may seem simple, but the Lord often uses the simple seeds of the gospel that we sow to sprout a great amount of faith!
Above all, look to our heavenly Father as the ultimate model. He adopts us into His family through Christ (Ephesians 1:5). He gives us His Spirit to "guide us into all truth" (John 16:13). And He even disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12:7-11). When we inevitably fail (either as a child or as a parent) to live up to these standards that Ephesians 6 lays out for us, the Father is lovingly waiting for us to run back to Him in repentance. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), He is willing to receive us, lavish His grace upon us, and call us into joyful obedience to Him as we honor our parents and lead our children.
Sermon Series: Ephesians: Church Alive In Christ