These first four verses of Ephesians chapter 6 are a teaching to those of us who are children, and since we have all been children, it’s a message to all of us.
There is both a physical teaching in these words and a spiritual teaching. The same message applies to us as physical children of parents or as parents of children, and as the children of God in Jesus Christ.
Examination of these words is beneficial to help us better understand what God wants for us as His children, and what we as children need to do.
A Message to Children
We see in verses 2 and 3 one of the Ten Commandments with an expansion of those words. In fact this was the fifth commandment God gave to Moses for the people of Israel.
2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:2-3)
This fifth commandment is interesting firstly because of the placement of the commandment within the Ten Commandments.
The first four commandments are about our relationship and worship of God. In brief they are as follows:
- You shall have no other gods before me
- You shall not make or bow down to a graven image (idol worship)
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
- Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
But the fifth commandment is a transitional commandment about the relationship we have with God and the relationship we are to have with our parents. It thus appears that the first priority we have after God is to respect and honour our parents. And the remaining five commandments are about our relationships with other people. For the sake of completeness, these are the rest of the Ten Commandments in a summarised form. If you choose to look them up in greater detail then they can be found in Exodus chapter 20.
- You shall not kill
- You shall not commit adultery
- You shall not steal
- You shall not bear false witness against a neighbour (that means don’t lie to anyone)
- You shall not covet
The fifth commandment is like a pivot point in the Ten Commandments, and as Ephesians 6 verse 2 says, it is the first commandment with a promise. The reason we are to honour and respect our parents is so that “…our days may be long in the land.”
If you think about this from a practical perspective, it makes perfect sense.
No parent wants to see their children suffer. Parents want to protect and nurture, teach and strengthen their children so that they do not suffer. It is generally the hope of parents that their children will listen and learn from the experience of their parents and others.
And it is often when children don’t listen to the advice and warnings of parents who have the wisdom of experience, that the children do suffer grief or pain.
But looking at the pivotal nature of this commandment, we see also that there is a relationship with God contained in these words.
Just as we have children that we hope will listen to us as parents, so too God hopes that we as His children will listen to Him and so too our days may be long in the land, in fact into eternal life. This is the spiritual aspect of the promise contained in this fifth commandment for those who listen to God as our Heavenly Father.
When we honour our spiritual Father, as we do by honouring our earthly parents, then we receive the blessings He will bestow upon us. Just as our physical parents bestow good things on their children when they obey and listen, so too God bestows His blessings and good gifts upon those who listen and obey Him.
But how do we as children of God listen to Him and honour Him?
Quite simply by listening to the words of His Son, Jesus Christ and doing as He instructed us to do. In fact God the Father made this very point during the transfiguration when God the Father spoke directly to the disciples Peter, James and John.
He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5)
To obey the Father and to do the works of the Father we are to believe in Jesus Christ and to listen to Him. As a child of God you and I are called to do these things, and they are not onerous, but they promise eternity when we do listen to and obey the words of Jesus Christ.
This then brings us a fuller meaning to the first verse in Ephesians chapter 6 which says;
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1)
Just as the fifth commandment instructs us to honour our parents, both physical and spiritual, we too must obey our parents, both physical and spiritual. In fact it is especially important that we listen to the words of Jesus and obey His teachings as this will lead us to eternal life.
With our earthly parents I know this is not always the case. There are some people where the relationship with parents is difficult and estranged. Some children have suffered abuse from their parents and some have relationships that are toxic and where separation from a parent is necessary for many reasons.
If you are one of those people then I fully understand that these principles may seem foreign to you.
However, in the Lord, our relationship with our Heavenly Father is never toxic, never demanding, never violent or estranged in any way. Our Heavenly Father wants what is best for His children ALL of the time. 24/7 He is looking out for His children to help them, guide them, comfort them and protect them from the evils and ills of this world.
For those who have a loving relationship with their parents, we obey our parents because we know they have our best interests at heart. They want their children to thrive and to grow and to receive good things in this life.
And it is the same for all of us in our relationship with God. We obey Him and the words of Jesus Christ because of the love They have for us and the love we have for them as children of God. As we grow in Christ we learn to trust God because He can be trusted and we learn to obey through the trust that grows as we walk with Christ.
As children of God all of these things are inseparable from one another. Trust, obedience, love and so on are all different aspects of the same thing. We give and receive these things as children and parents and do likewise whether it is in the relationship we have with God or our parents/children.
The final verse in this section warns the fathers among us no to provoke our children. It says:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
This verse specifically tells fathers not to provoke their children to anger, but to bring our children up in the ways of God.
Provocation to any unhealthy or unhelpful emotions like anger is unproductive. The Bible tells us how anger is a negative to be avoided.
19 Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, 20 for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)
If the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God, and if righteousness does not exist where there is anger, then why would we want to provoke our children to lead them into a place that is far from the righteousness of God? Why would we want to put a stumbling block in the way of our children that would lead them down the paths of destruction?
Instead, those of us who are fathers are encouraged to do the very opposite. We are encouraged to teach our children the ways of God so that they learn and grow and will make they very good decision to seek Christ and learn His ways for that is far, far better than a life of anger apart from God.
And it is the same for us as children of God. God does not provoke His children to anger. God does not lead people into temptation but desires to lead us out of and away from temptation. Temptations will come and we must go through temptations to grow and learn how to fend off temptation. But it is God’s will for us to grow and be strong in the Lord.
God will not provoke His children because provocation can turn a person away from the love of God. For the same reasons, fathers should not provoke their children to anger. Angry children do not listen and may turn away from our parents. Anger unchecked can lead to hatred and all forms of evil that follow. So do not provoke your children to anger just as God does not provoke His children to anger.
You are a child of God and His will and desire for you is that you learn to know Him and be known by Him. There are powerful messages in these few verses for us as children of God, so let us take them to heart and learn the fulness of what our Heavenly Father has offered us in Jesus Christ.
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