Previously, we explored the mutuality of marriage as God intended. Now, Paul in Ephesians (6:1-4) explores what it means to have God’s life as the ruling influence in the relationship between parents and children.
No doubt there is a sense in which parents submit to the needs of their children, however, here the submission revolves around the needs and (unequal) roles of each.
First, Paul calls children to obey their parents. Obey is not a command placed on the wife in the husband-wife relationship in the Bible. (Though Sarah is said to have obeyed Abraham in 1 Pet 3, it was not commanded of her). Moreover, in healthy families, there is a clear recognition of who the parents are and who the children are. When parents allow their children to violate this boundary, all kinds of dysfunction follow.
Obedience to parents would have been an expected virtue in the ancient world, however, Paul roots obedience to parents in God’s life. Children are to obey “in the Lord” which might be more freely rendered, “as is consistent for those who belong to the Lord.” Furthermore, obedience to parents reaches back to the Ten Commandments call to honor one’s father and mother and is connected with the promise of a long (prosperous) life on earth. Obedience, then, is an important spiritual discipline in which children are to experience and live out God’s life.
Second, Paul calls on fathers particularly (notice the move from “parents” in v. 1 to “fathers” in v. 4; see also Col 3:20-21) to educate their children. This move is probably not to exclude the mother—which the Ten Commandments clearly included—but to recognize the role that fathers were supposed to play in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Note that the text begins with restraining fathers: “don’t make your children angry.” Children, as well as wives, in the ancient world belonged to the husband and so the category of child abuse was nearly absent. However, this is not the way of Jesus.
Instead, fathers who belong to Jesus treat their children different than the way the world treats children. Even more Paul calls on fathers to make sure their children are disciplined and educated by the Lord.
Note how much this sounds like what Moses taught the nation of Israel:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4–9 NRSV)
Therefore, one of the main questions we should ask as we raise our children: “what kind of people are we making?” How we raise our children will affect them for life, and maybe, even eternity. It may be the turning point to whether or not “they get it.”