"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:1-4)Paul has finished given instructions to the husband and wife, now he turns his attention to the children. It is interesting that Paul feels free to talk directly to the children rather than telling parents what they should communicate to their children. This is because, even as children, we have our own relationships with God. Our relationship with God is not filtered by, or intermediated by, our parents, rather we relate directly to God in both our prayers, worship, and obedience. As such, God asks us to choose, as free moral agents, to honor, respect, and obey the parents that God has given us. It was God who created us in the womb and it was God who determined who our parents would be and, as such, He asks us, in an act of obedience to Him, to honor and obey them.
When Paul uses the phrase, "in the Lord", he is not saying that we should only obey our parents if they too are in the Lord, but that our obedience and honor for our parents should flow as a natural result of our relationship with God. It is only when we are in right relationship with God that we can properly understand and respond to His commandments to honor and obey our parents, even if they themselves are not in the Lord. I knew a woman whose parents were harsh and fought against her relationship with Christ, yet she found solace in testimony of apostles who rejoices because, "they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name." (Acts 5:41) It was her relationship with Christ that gave her the grace and strength to love, honor, and obey her parents who were less than charitable to the things of the Kingdom.
We are living in a time when there is an all-out assault on the traditional family of a husband, wife, and children. We are told that families comes in all stripes and flavors and that no one sort of family is to be preferred over another. We are also seeing the in-reach of government into the family in ways that diminish the role and authority of the parents over their families. Young girls, who cannot take an aspirin in school without a parent's notes, can get an abortion without their parents ever having to know. Laws have even made it illegal for public libraries to disclose to parents what kinds of books their children are checking out of a library. Public figures are telling us that it takes a village to raise a child when God designed it to be a family that raises a child. When government and other cultural forces work to erode the bond between parent and child, a structure that God created in His own wisdom and purpose, then our culture begins to unravel and our nation rushes forward in decline. The key to a strong and lasting culture and society is the relationship between parents and children and the strength of the traditional families. So important is this intra-family dynamic that before the final coming of Christ God has promised to, "restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse." (Malachi 4:6)
Honoring our father and mother not only ensures the longevity of our society, but it also promotes our own prosperity in our lives. The Greek term for "obey" means more than simple blind obedience. It has the idea of listening to and heading, not only their commands, but also their teaching and wisdom. This is more than just obeying their rules but also conforming our lives to the lessons and principals we have learned from them. There is wisdom in learning from an older generation. Solomon writes, "Hear, my son, your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching; indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck." (Proverbs 1:8-9) Living long on the Earth is of little consequence if we have not also learned to live well on the Earth. What is the use of living long if we live in failure, brokenness, and trouble. If we listen to and heed, not only our parent's commands, but also their wisdom and teaching, then we will have a life worth living and our end will be prosperous.
Paul warns fathers not to provoke their children to anger. This does not mean that mothers do not do the same, but on balance, fathers are more susceptible to this fault. This particular Greek word means to "anger alongside" and it is an anger that springs up where a relationship should be. When fathers are always fault finding, always demanding, and always setting the bar so high that it is impossible for a child to reach, then the end result is anger between them and their child. I remember a time when one of my children asked me if they could do something and my immediate response was, "No!" but then I paused and asked myself, "Why not?" I realized that my automatic answer to everything was no. I was not taking the time to understand my child and to see if there really was a way they could do what they wanted to do. I was stunned and realized that if I continued in this manor the end result would be trouble and distance in my relationships with my children. That day I decided to think before I responded. Often we don't intend to provoke our children to anger, but we do so because we fail to see the patterns in our life that are destructive and not caring and nurturing towards our children.
Finally, fathers are told to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. This requires that we first embrace the discipline and instruction in our lives. How can we communicate to our children what we have not first appropriated in our own lives? Secondly, it may require us to raise our children differently then we were raised. I've known fathers who sought to raise their children as they were raised only to find rebellion and anger arising in their children; the same anger and rebellion they had to their rather when he raised them that way. We are not called to raise our children as we were raised but to raise them as God would have us raise them. Peter writes of the, "futile way of life inherited from your forefathers." (1 Peter 1:18) Not everything we learned growing up is worth passing on to our children. Our goal should not be to make them like us, but to make them like Christ; to raise them in a way that Christ may be formed within them and that they may be conformed to His image, not ours. This may take a break from what we know and how we were trained, but it is worth it to see the Kingdom of God birthed in them and God's will done in them as it is in Heaven.