How to Obey Your Parents

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:1-3


As you know, we have taken a break from our study of Paul's letter to the Romans, stepping away for four weeks to look at marriage and family. We live in times when the world around us is taking the truths of marriage and family revealed to us on the pages of Scripture and distorting, and perverting and confusing them with Satan's way. That's not just true in the edict that was issued by the Supreme Court, but it's also true in the culture at large, in the entertainment world, and in so many different ways the truth about marriage and family as our God, our Creator, designed it, is under attack.

And so, it's so important for us, then, in this day of true believers to know what the Bible says about how we should live in the context of marriage and family because ultimately that is how, it's one of the ways, the gospel is put on display around us. And so, we're looking at that together. We have already examined the husband's responsibility in marriage. We've examined the wife's responsibility. Today we come to the children.

Several years ago, I had, without question, the worst airplane flight of my life. Seated across the aisle and one row back were a four-year-old boy and his mother. From the time this boy and his mother got on the plane until the time we landed hours later, that little boy terrorized his mother and everyone who was seated nearby. I knew things weren't going to be good when, from the first moment he got into his seat, he began to pound on the window of the plane with his hand. Soon, he was using various toys that his mother had brought to do the same thing. He screamed, he cried, he refused to remain buckled. Dozens of times in this flight, he hit his mother, he kicked his mother, he bit his mother, he threw things into adjacent seats. He even threw things into other rows in the airplane.

He got so bad that the flight attendant had this little boy up, walking the aisle with her, helping her collect trash and that was, by the way, in spite of turbulence, or perhaps in retrospect, it was because of turbulence, I don't know. I don't know what her thinking was, but, the seat belt sign was on and she has this little four-year-old boy up with her because it was the only hope of maintaining some sort of order in this airplane.

Now, I have to admit to you that my first thought was a selfish one, I had work to do and this was not going to be helpful to get that work done. I was thankful for noise-canceling headphones. But my second thought was for this mother, and honestly, my heart went out to her. I wanted to tell her that it didn't have to be this way, that God had a different plan, that God's plan is that children obey and honor their parents, that they submit to the authority God has placed in their lives. That is the message that we come to this morning.

Just to remind you, we started a couple of weeks ago to look at Ephesians 5 and 6. He begins this section, back in chapter 5 verse 21 of the book of Ephesians, with reminding us that one of the consequences of a Spirit-filled life, that is, a life that the Spirit has permeated with the Word of God, is submission to human authority. Wherever the Spirit of God and the Word of God are in charge of a life, there is a willing submission to the human authorities God has placed over us. And then he sets out to give several examples of that.

Today, we come to chapter 6 verses 1 to 3 where Paul gets to the responsibility that children have to submit their wills to the will of their parents. Let's read it together, Ephesians 6: 1 - 3:

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.

Now, I want you to notice first of all that Paul begins by addressing children directly, verse 1, "Children …" He does the same thing, by the way, in Colossians 3. Paul assumed that children would be present in the worship services of the church to which he wrote in his letters and in which they were read. This is a crucial reminder for us isn't it, that our children should attend the corporate worship of the church from the age that they are old enough to understand. Now, obviously that age is different with each child, and it's the parents' decision of each child as to when that will happen. But I think in today's world, we think that has to happen later than past generations have believed it could happen.

I remember when I was four or five years old, I was brought into the church and sat with my mom in the service. My dad was a music director, and in the Southern Baptist church where he led music, he had to sit on the platform, and so he kept me under his careful eye during the entire sermon, and I knew that he was watching, four or five years old. Sheila and I, when our girls got to four or five, they joined us in the corporate worship of the church.

Now, I know some people say, "Well you know, kids miss a lot of what happens in the corporate worship. That may or may not be true, but let me tell you this from experience. I can tell you both personally and with my children, they pick up an awful lot. They learn far more than you think they learn in that context. In addition to that, they learn from the earliest ages, it is imprinted in their consciousness, that they have a responsibility to gather with the people of God to worship their Creator. We need to consistently ensure that our children from a very young age are part of the corporate worship of the church.

Now, I know that's challenging. I understand that with small children sometimes it's hard to know how to manage that. So, as you leave this morning I encourage you to ask the ushers, we have copies for everyone, of a little article written by John and Noel Piper on how to assimilate your children into the worship service of the church, very helpful, theologically, biblically, and very practically as well, so I encourage you to pick up one of those. But the point I want you to see with the first word of chapter 6, is that Paul assumed that when this letter was read aloud to the church in Ephesus children would be present. And so he addresses them directly here.

Three verses, so kids, listen up, here's what Paul would say to you if he were here this morning. But even more importantly, Paul was writing under the inspiration of God's Spirit, and so he was really writing what our Lord would say to you if He were here this morning, so listen. He spoke these words to you just as surely as if you were hearing His own voice this morning. But this text isn't just for small children, this text has ramifications for adult children as well as we will see, even if your parents have passed away. And by the time we're done, you will see that there are even implications in this text for every single one of us here this morning. So stay tuned.

Paul begins, as we look at this text together, he begins with the two commands for children. The first command is in verse 1, "Children obey your parents…." Now the children he's addressing here are obviously old enough to understand what Paul is saying, and yet, according to verse 4, they are still being brought up. They're still under the care of their parents, they're still dependents. In fact, look back at 5:31. There Paul explains that when men and women leave the home specifically in this context, to marry, their relationship to their parents radically changes.

But, kids, listen to this, before that happens, as long as you live in your parents' home, as long as you are under their legal authority, as long as you are eating their food, sleeping under their roof, you are responsible to obey. Until practically and legally you reach adulthood, as long as you are dependent, you are to obey your parents.

Now, what does that mean, to obey? Well, the Greek word is made up actually of a compound Greek word, literally it means this, "to hear under." That is, to listen to someone understanding you are under their authority, and therefore you're going to do what they say. It means to do what you're told, to carry out someone's orders. In fact, this exact same word for "obey" is used down in verse 5 of slaves,. Slaves obey your masters. It means to willingly follow the directives of someone who is in authority over you. In verse 1, it's in the present tense, and the idea there is this is to be the constant practice of your life. Day after day, you are to obey.

Now, you need to understand that God doesn't take disobedience lightly. Sometimes we do, don't we? But God never does. If you want to know how serious God is about disobedience to parents, go back to the Old Testament. Go back to when God was King of a nation, and look at the laws God made. He actually made laws about obeying your parents. Listen to some of them. Here's Exodus 21:15, "He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." Hit your parents, die, Exodus 21:15, that's what God said. I'm just saying. I didn't make this up. Exodus 21:17, "He who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death." Deuteronomy 27:16, "'Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother….'"

And then in Deuteronomy 21:18 and following, Moses, explains, laying down the law that God Himself had set in place, that if there is a child who is incorrigibly rebellious, who just is consistently as a long-term pattern rebellious against his parents, won't listen, always disobeying, the parents are to take that child to the leaders of the town and the government officials are to stone that child to death. God doesn't take disobedience lightly, it's obviously extremely important to Him.

So, what is obedience, then? Let me make it clear to you that obedience is not merely doing what your parents say. You can do what they say and be disobedient. What do I mean? Because beneath external conformity there must also be a willing heart. Romans 6:17 says that true obedience comes from the heart, that's the constant message of the Old Testament prophets, God said again and again, "Listen you're not obeying me if you're doing what I say, but you're doing it grudgingly, you're doing it with a whining spirit, you're complaining about it the whole time, that's not obeying me, God says." And it's not obeying our parents, either.

Let me give you a little definition for obedience. This is one that Sheila used with our own kids, it's one that we borrowed from a book I'll recommend to you next week, Ted Tripp's book, Shepherding a Child's Heart. And in that book, using several different texts, he pulls together this definition of obedience: Obedience means doing what your parents tell you to do, one, without delay, in other words, you do it immediately. You see, if you wait to do what your parents tell you until you're ready, then you're not doing what your parents want, you're doing what you want. Secondly, without arguing and excuses, "But I …," "But I want …," "But I shouldn't …," And thirdly, with your whole heart, with your whole heart.

It's not okay, it's not real obedience if you do what your parents tell you, but inside as you go to do it, you're angry with them. If, as they can't see your face, you're walking away and your eyes are rolling in your head, it's not obedience. If one of those things is missing, it's not really obedience. If you have not willingly, from the heart, submitted your will to your parents. And, by the way parents, we'll talk about this next week, you should accept nothing less as true obedience.

Now, what exactly are children to obey? Well, in this text, Paul doesn't tell us, but he does in Colossians. Colossians, of course, another one of the prison epistles, written at the same time from the same jail cell, but written to the church in Colosse, and then in Colossians 3:20 he says this, "Children, be obedient to your parents in all things …" In all things, it couldn't be any clearer than that, in all things.

Now, are there any exceptions to that? Surprisingly, yes, there are two exceptions. In Acts 4:19 - 20, and in Acts 5:29, the apostles give us two exceptions to obeying human authorities, including our parents. Kids, you do not have to obey your parents if, 1) they command you to do what God forbids. If it's something in the Scripture that God says don't do, then you don't have to do it even if your parent tells you to do it. You must obey God, Peter says, rather than men. Secondly, you don't have to obey your parents if they tell you not to do something God requires, something God commands. Again, it's what the Scripture says. Those are the only exceptions. You're to obey your parents in everything with only those two exceptions.

Now, let's be really frank here. What are the primary struggles, the primary areas where obedience is a problem for most kids? Well, if you're younger, likely your struggle with obedience comes in simple areas like this: when it's time to come in from playing outside, or when it's time to get ready for bed, or when it's time to turn off the video game or the TV, or when your parents tell you you have to eat something that you don't like.

Are those little things? Well, maybe in one sense they are, but they're not little to God. There are no little issues when it comes to disobedience. In fact, in Romans 1, we looked at it when we were studying through Romans. In that list of sins where God says they are worthy of death, He includes the sin of disobedience to parents. He says He will pour out His wrath on pagans because of their disobedience to parents. It's not a little thing.

For you older kids, the primary temptations to disobedience get a little different. It's often about clothing, including defining what is appropriate and modest. Listen, your parents have the right to define what's modest in your house, make-up, choice of friends, the entertainment you participate in, such as the music that you have on your devices, the movies you watch or go to, video games, internet usage. Another big problem for obedience is when you get a little older: dating, when to date, with whom to date, where you can go, who else will be there, how long you're going to be gone. Your parents have every right to tell you what to do in those areas. In everything, God says. Electronics is another big issue, cell phones, texting, how you use your computer, whether or not you have a computer in your room.

Listen, Christ couldn't be any clearer, children, obey your parents in everything. God doesn't care whether or not you agree with your parents on all of the things they lay out. I explained to my own children, there are two categories of rules in my homes, or guidelines in my home. One of them is "Thus Says the Lord, chapter and verse." If the Bible says it, then we do it.

The second category are just things for the general operation of our home, or the application of those principles to life. And when they grow up that may be different. They may make different decisions than I make. That's okay. God's Word never changes, and you can't ever disregard that, but you may come to different decisions about how that fleshes out in your life and family. Fine, that's your life and family. When you're in my home, eating my food, living under my roof, it's my conscience we're living by, not yours. That's okay, that's as it ought to be.

God doesn't care whether you agree or disagree with everything your parents tell you to do. God doesn't care what your friends' parents allow them to do. He demands that you obey your parents in everything. And the measure of your obedience is not when they tell you to do something you want to do. If I tell my kids, "I want you all to go get in the car because we're going to Krispy Kreme," and they do it, that's not obedience. The real text of obedience is how you respond when your parents tell you to do what you don't want to do. Paul says, "Children obey your parents…."

Now there's a second part of Paul's command to children, and that's verse 2, "HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER …," Honor your father and mother. Paul's of course quoting from the Old Testament. He's quoting from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Bible that Jesus and the apostles used mostly in the New Testament era. And he's quoting from Exodus 20:12, it is the fifth of the Ten Commandments. But what does it mean to honor? The word literally means this, "to count as valuable, to revere, to respect, to ascribe worth." "Obey" deals primarily with what you do, of course it has to come from the heart, but "honor" has to do primarily with your attitude towards your parents, how you think about them, and how you treat them.

To honor them implies that you love them, that you regard them highly, that you constantly show them respect. How can you demonstrate this honor toward your parents? I wish I had time to take you to each of these texts, but I don't. So, let me just give them to you. You jot them down, you're going to have write in a hurry.

Number 1, you want to honor parents, obey them as long as you're in their home, as long as you're their dependent. Verse 1 makes that clear, "Children obey your parents…." You want to honor them? Then obey them.

Secondly, always show respect in how you speak to them. This includes, by the way, both the words you choose, don't ever choose disrespectful words to your parents, but it also includes the tone with which you say things.

I was the last of ten children, , and in my home, when I responded to my dad, it was, "Yes, sir" or "No, sir." And there was a right tone to say, "Yes, sir," and if I said "Yes, sir," that was o.k., but if I said, "Yes, sir," that was not o.k. and it was not going to go well. Why? Because the tone was disrespect. Show respect in how you speak with your words, your tone, and I could add body language. You know, if you're saying, "Yes, sir" and your eyes are rolling out of your head, that's not respectful. Or you're slumping off with your shoulders dropped like this is the worst thing any parent has ever asked a child to do.

Thirdly, don't curse or speak evil of them. I already read the text from Exodus. Don't ever hit them; don't ever strike them, Exodus 21:15.

Proverbs is filled with the reminder to listen to their counsel. Listen, heed, pay attention. Right now, you may not understand that there is wisdom in what they say, but someday you will, until then, you have to take it on faith, you must obey and listen to and follow their counsel. Don't despise their discipline, Hebrews 12:9, just like you don't despise the Father's discipline, don't despise the discipline of your parents when they discipline you. They care for you, they love you, even if they don't do it in the best of ways. I'm going to talk to them next week about that. Care for them as they age.

Here's another way to honor your parents. Jesus talks about this in Mark 7. We have a responsibility, and He talks to us through the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 5, that as our parents age, we are to care for them. And let me just say, look, I know there have to be made hard decisions made sometimes when parents get older, and they are not always understanding of that. But regardless of that, we must make sure that we continue to show honor and respect to our parents, even through that process. Every child is to obey and honor his parents. Those are the two commands for children.

I want you to notice, secondly in this passage, the proper attitude for children,. proper attitude. There's a little phrase in verse 1 that is foundational to understanding what Paul is saying here. Did you see it? "Children, obey your parents in the Lord…." That is a reference in Ephesians, always in Ephesians when the word Kurios, the Greek word, "Kurios," "Lord," is used, it's always a reference to Jesus Christ. It doesn't modify "parents," that prepositional phrase doesn't mean "parents in the Lord." It's not saying you only have to obey your parents if they're in the Lord, if they're Christians. Instead it modifies the verb "obey." In other words, you are to obey because of the Lord. That tiny prepositional phrase has two huge implications. It means first of all, that you should obey as if your parents were Christ Himself. That raises the standard, doesn't it?

What if Jesus Christ were your parent? How would you respond to Him? That's how you ought to respond to your parents. In fact, that is clearly what Paul means by that little phrase, because later in verse 5, when he's talking to slaves, he actually says that. "… be obedient [notice the end of verse 5] … as to Christ."

Kids, you are to obey your parents, not because your parents are bigger than you are, or older than you are, or wiser than you are. You're not even supposed to obey them as you get older because they have cash and the car keys. You are to obey your parents as part of your discipleship to Jesus Christ. Your relationship to your parents represents, or I should say, presents you with a practical way to carry out your obedience to your Lord. So, let me ask you. do you do what your parents tell you to do? Do you do it without delay, without arguing and excuses, and with your whole heart? If not, not only are you not obeying your parents, but you're not obeying Jesus Christ, the One you claim to be your Lord.

You must obey and honor your parents, not because of their character, not because they don't sin, not because they're not hypocrites, whatever it is that you sort of hold out there. You obey them because of your Lord. God can and will deal with your parents. He's placed other authorities over them, the elders of the church and the government to deal with their sin and their illegal activities, if any of that's going on. But He expects you to obey Him by obeying and honoring them, unless they're asking you to do something contrary to the Scripture.

But there's another implication of that little phrase "in the Lord." Not only should you obey them as if they were Christ, but also as if your parents are God's representatives, because they are, that's what that idea is. You know, Christians have historically divided the Ten Commandments into two tables. You know the Ten Commandments were written on two tablets of stone, two tables. The first four summarized our duty to God, and the last six our duty to man.

Jewish scholars have also always divided the Ten Commandments into two tables, but they have divided it into two tables of five each. Why is that significant? Because it puts the fifth commandment about parents in the first table. It connects honoring our parents, not with our duty to man, but with our duty to God because He has established human authority as His representatives on earth. Your parents are God's officially authorized representatives in your home and in your life.

When our kids were younger we tried to get this across to them on a number of occasions. (When they were really young and needed a sitter, Sheila and I would go out for a date, or we would have to do something in ministry. And since there's no family in the area, we would hire a sitter, a teenager or college student to come help us watch the kids. And before we left, it was always my happy duty to give "The Speech." You fathers know about "The Speech." Now, part of "The Speech" included those things that parents tell their kids that they have to tell them because they're parents, but usually to no avail. Things like, 'O.k. while we're gone, be kind to each other, and take a bath and use soap, and don't forget to let the dog out, and clean up after yourselves.'

obey should be disobey

obey should be disobey

Kids, that's exactly how it is with you and your parents. God has put you in your parents' home. He has given them authority over you, and He will make sure they answer to Him about how they've handled that authority. They will answer to Him, but you are to obey because they are God's representatives in your home. To disobey and dishonor them, is to dishonor and disobey the One they represent. The way you treat your parents, let me put this bluntly, the way you treat your parents, God sees as the way you are treating Him. The first step in learning to obey God's authority is learning to obey and honor the parents that He's placed in your home.

So, we've examined the two commands for children, the proper attitude for children. Paul's final point has to do with the motivations for children. In this passage, Paul gives several motivations for obeying and honoring our parents. We've already seen one of those, because of your relationship to Christ, verse 1: "… obey your parents in the Lord…."

A second motivation is at the end of verse 1, "… for this is right." Now, because he mentions the command of God separately, the commentators have seen and I tend to agree, that this is natural law. He's just saying this is right to do. Obedience to parents has been universally understood and taught in all times and in all places by all peoples because it's essential for a stable society. As we'll learn when we get to Romans 2:14, it's part of the substance of the law that God has written on every human heart. It's just part of natural law, it's right.

In verse 2, he gives a third motivation, because it's God's command. Notice he uses the word "commandment." God demands that this be done. But in verse 3, he explains that we also ought to keep this because of God's promise. Look at the end of verse 2, he quotes the fifth commandment and says it's the first commandment with a promise. That is, it's the first of all of those chapters of commands in Exodus that came with a promise attached. What's the promise? Verse 3, "… so that it may be well with you…." In other words, so that you may spiritually prosper, you may experience God's blessing. And, "… that you may live long on the earth." "Live long" is two Greek words that have been transferred into English, "makrochronios." "Makrochronios," a large time lived on this earth.

Now in the Old Testament context, this promise was to the Israelites that they would live long in the land of Canaan which God was giving to them. But, notice here as Paul quotes the fifth commandment, he omits the last phrase that's in Exodus 20, "'… the land which the LORD your God gives you.'" So, under inspiration, Paul lifts this promise out of its Israelite context, a promise of long life in the land of Canaan, and he makes it universally applicable. It's a promise of long life to us if we honor our parents. By the way, the pronouns here are singular. Paul is applying this promise to individuals.

Now, don't misunderstand what he's saying. This is not an ironclad guarantee, there are godly people who die young, there are wicked people who are terribly disobedient to their parents who live to old age. But this is a truism, this is generally true. As Charles Hodge writes, "This is a revelation of a general purpose of God, the usual course of His providence."

William Hendricksen puts it this way, "Obedience or disobedience to parents is not the only factor that determines a person's span of life, but it is an important factor. Disobedience to godly parents indicates an undisciplined life; that leads to vice and dissipation. This, in turn, all other things being equal, shortens life."

And frankly, even if a wicked man lives a long life, the first half of verse 3 will not be true of him. It will not go spiritually well with him. Kids, Paul couldn't be any clearer: God demands that you obey and honor your parents.

But this passage has two important lessons for all us here this morning. It's not just to kids; and I want you to see this before we're done, two important lessons for all of us. Number one, it teaches us how to respond to God because earlier in Ephesians, Paul has taught us that back in chapter 1 verse 5, that God has adopted us as His children. In chapter 2 verse 19 we are part of God's family. In fact, look back at chapter 5 verse 1, "Therefore be imitators of God, as [His] beloved children…."

If you're a Christian, you are a child of God, He is your Father. So, Ephesians 6:1 - 3 reminds us all who are Christians of our responsibility to our new Father. We are to obey and honor our new Father in the same way that our children are to obey and honor us. Is that how you think about God as your Father? How serious are you about obeying Him? How serious are you about respecting and honoring Him and the things that He has honored?

But there's a second lesson in this text for all of us, and that is it reminds us all about our need for the gospel. You see, most people think of themselves as pretty good, maybe you think of yourself as pretty good. This paragraph demolishes that idea, because here we're told that one of the most basic things God requires of every human being on this planet is that they obey and honor their parents. And yet, not one person here has perfectly obeyed and honored his or her parents as this passage describes. We have often failed to keep this most basic command of God, and every time we have treated our parents with disrespect or dishonor or disobeyed them, it has deserved God's eternal wrath.

We needed someone to bear the guilt of our disobedience and our lack of respect for our parents. We needed someone to perfectly obey and to honor His parents so that His perfect obedience could be credited to us, and that's exactly what Jesus did. During the years of His childhood and youth, He never disobeyed or dishonored His parents. Luke 2:51, "… He continued in subjection to them."

That is remarkable. I mean, think about it. He actually was a child who was smarter than His parents. He was more spiritual than His parents. At the age of 12 He was more biblically knowledgeable than His parents, and yet He submitted and obeyed them and respected them. He never ignored their counsel. He never tuned out their input. He never displayed a bad attitude. He never a spoke a disrespectful word. He never harbored a disrespectful thought. He never did what His parents told Him to do but with a sour, complaining, whining spirit. He never joked about His parents to His friends. He never ridiculed them. He never complained about them. He never made fun of their weaknesses or faults. And even during His greatest suffering, at the moment of the cross, He still loved His parents, His mother, who survived, and He cared for her in that moment. He was the perfect Son, the perfect child.

You see, we not only needed Jesus to pay the price for our dishonor, our disrespect, our disobedience for our parents, but we also desperately needed His perfect respect, His perfect obedience to be credited to us, and that's exactly what happens in the gospel. If you have repented and believed in Christ, then God took your dishonor and disrespect and disobedience, and He credited it to Jesus Christ, and for those six hours on the cross God treated Jesus as if He had lived your disrespect. And then He took Jesus' 33 years of perfect care and honor and respect of His parents, and He credited that to you, and now He treats you as if you had lived that life. That's the gospel.

Kids, that's why you need Jesus. Teenagers, that's why you need a Savior. Everybody here this morning, on the basis of this one sin, disobedience and disrespect for parents, each one of us is guilty enough according to Paul in Romans 1:30 and 32 to be guilty and worthy of eternal hell. Just this one sin. Jesus and the gospel are our only hope, and what a hope they are!

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we confess to you that we are sinful and that apart from Your grace there's nothing good in us. Thank You for the reminder even from this passage of our need of the gospel, and Father thank you for this ordinance that shows us a picture of the gospel.

I pray that You would prepare our hearts. Lord, forgive us for our sins, forgive us for our disrespect and disobedience and dishonoring of our parents in so many different ways. But not just there, Father, forgive us as well for each of the sins we've committed.

Lord, we open every corner of our souls to You, we freely, each of us individually, confess to You our sins. The ways we know we have dishonored and disobeyed You, because Father we don't want to take of the Lord's Table in a way that dishonors His sacrifice for sin. And so we pray that you would cleanse us and allow us to take of this in a way that honors what He did.

We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.