Why Children Should Obey
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4
Sometime in my past, I believe I was about 14 years of age, I heard this passage of Scripture interpreted in a way that I had never heard before. Sadly, I don’t remember exactly who the first person was that I heard interpret this passage although through the years I have heard many, many others do the same. While I believe the true interpretation of this passage to be greatly different than I have heard through the years this in no way says I do not hold those in regard who would disagree with me. A few semesters ago I had Dr Gary Habermas as one of my instructors in a video course that I was taking for college. Dr Habermas made a comment that has stuck with me over the past few months and in moments like these it has challenged me to ensure that I speak clearly and with love concerning areas in which brothers and sisters in Christ might disagree. Dr Habermas’ statement was that he was of the opinion that some of differences in the body of Christ in areas that he would deem of secondary importance; i.e. not essential to salvation and not directly addressing the deity of Christ, are what make being a child of God a beautiful thing. Wow, when is the last time that I considered someone’s difference of belief a beautiful thing?
Many have interpreted verse one of Ephesians 6 in this way: Children – those unmarried, obey – do whatever they are told or are expected to do, in the Lord for this is right – as if their parents are Jesus Christ Himself. While the issue of the statement concerning children is one that could be discussed it is the phrase “in the Lord” where I will differ with this interpretation.
As I noted before the phrase “in the Lord” is interpreted as if children should obey their parents as if their very parents are God Himself. This presents a myriad of problems and the greatest argument. When a parent can claim that their child should obey them as if they are God this opens the door to an ungodly parental authority in which the parent never questions their feelings or emotions when they demand obedience. As a parent myself I have come to realize that my emotions and feelings can impact the obedience that I expect from my children. When emotions and feelings are unimportant from one side and of utmost importance from the other side of a relationship this relationship has no balance and is bound to fail. Of great concern is the fact that in a relationship where one views their authority as unquestionable that is exactly what happens: the child is never allowed to question the parent in any way. Please understand here I am not talking about the instant obedience that a child absolutely should give a parent when they are directed to do something and I am in no way insinuating that a child has a right to constantly question their parents. What I am pointing out is that as a child grows older there are things that a parent and child could and should discuss and this is impossible if a parent views their relationship as one of complete dominance and control and the child is allowed no input in any situation or circumstance. As a child grows thru their teenage years their should be a transition of time as they move into adulthood and the parent no longer makes every decision but instead begins to involve the child in decision making. This type of relationship and progression is impossible in a relationship where the parent always views themselves as correct. As you can see this type of relationship can be very destructive and has no redeeming value.
The dispute I have with this type of relationship is not whether or not this is the correct type of relationship but whether or not this is what the Bible is instructing in this passage of Ephesians. If you search the phrase “in the Lord” you can see three things that seem very clear. First of all this phrase clearly applies to believers and believers only. The Apostle Paul uses this phrase the most frequently and many times he is addressing a believer: that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints (Rom 16:2a), For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:17a). There are other times when the Apostle is speaking of a believer’s position in salvation: that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:31), Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, (Ephesians 1:15). The third use of this phrase is the one we see used in Ephesians 1 and this is dealing with the work of a believer: Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Our first clue is too whom Paul is speaking. We must not forget that in this verse Paul is giving instruction to children and not to their parents although in its misinterpreted state it is often assumed that this phrase is directed towards parents. Paul is giving direction to saved children that they should obey their parents not in their own power and strength but rather in the power and strength that is provided to every believer through the salvation of Jesus Christ. What a comfort this is for a child to know they are not dependent on their own strength when it comes to obedience! What a joy as a parent to look forward to having a child that obeys them “in the Lord”! Paul further clarifies this statement by making it all encompassing and declaring that children should obey “for this is right”. Therefore a child who is unsaved cannot claim that this does not apply nor can a child with unsaved parent’s claim that the same rule down not apply to them.