Ephesians 6:1-4 – Parents and children


Ephesians 6:1-4.




As we come to this passage on the relationship between parents and children I need to make the point that our own family has not arrived – I do not have all the answers. We face the same problems and difficulties in our family as any other and like many of you are working at it and we make mistakes.


The relationships within our families are the most important human relationships we can have. When families fail society begins to fail – Where there are weak families there will be a weak church.


I don’t think that it is without significance that Paul places these three illustrations of husbands/wives, parents/children and masters/servants in the order that he does. The relationship between husband and wife is the foundation on which to build the relationship between parents and children. The relationship between Mum and Dad has a profound effect on the children either for good or ill.


It is equally true that when people have problems at home it affects their ability to work. When children have problems at home it affects their performance at school.


Good relationships in the home are foundational to having a stable society.


In this passage before us Paul addresses children and parents and he does so under the banner of submitting to one another. There is a mutual submission that is expected of all Christian people – this submission to each other is not because the other is superior BUT it is out of reverence for Christ.


Ephesians 5:21

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (NIV)


There is to be a mutual submission of parents and children – submitting to someone is recognising each others’ God-given position. It is also putting the other person first. Does this mean that children and parents have equal say in the home? This will be answered as we go through this passage.






I want you to notice something very significant in this passage. Paul is writing to the Church in Ephesus and in this letter he addresses children – I have often heard it said that Childern are the church of the future. NO! NO! Any child or teenager who is a Christian and has a personal faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour is part of the Church NOW – and not tomorrow only!


In the Roman world unwanted babies were abandoned and ill or disabled babies were killed – children were often abused. Children were often seen as a nuisance.

The Bible is clear that children are a gift from God – Jesus treated them with love and consideration.


Mark 10:14 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (NIV)


Matthew 18:5

5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. (NIV)


The Bible is clear in holding up the rights of children so that they receive the care and diginity that all humans should have.

There are those however, who would endeavour to push the rights of children beyonds the bounds of commonsense and indeed of scripture.

There is constant pressure from certain quarters to challenge parental authority, physical punishment [smacking], — there are some who want childern to have the right to sue their parents if, for example, they are told to attend church — they want children to be paid a minimum wage for doing household chores, and even to be allowed to choose their own families.


1.1 Obey because this reflects obedience to Christ.


Ephesians 6:1

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (NIV)


Parents have authority over children not because they are superior human beings or are more valuable as people BUT because this is God’s plan for families. As children grow they often become better at some things than their parents.


ILLUS.: All my children can play the piano – I can’t. In some areas their knowledge is superior to mine – they have learnt things at school that I don’t know.


However children are to obey their parents! This was something that God impressed upon Israel in the OT.


Leviticus 19:1-3

1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.

3 ” ‘Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God. (NIV)


We tend to think of a holy person as a monk wearing a halo – with or without his mobile phone!! But in Leviticus the first thing that God mentions after “be holy” is respect for one’s parents.


Why should children obey their parents? Because psychological case studies of 5000 families show that such children are more successful and well-adjusted. Or because human behaviourists tell us that this leads to a more stable society? These may be good reason but it is not the reason the Bible gives.


1.2. Obey because it is right.


Ephesians 6:1

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (NIV)


We live in a society which, for the most part, acts on its feelings. Many people make decisions based on the pleasure it will bring now and neglect to think of the long term consequences. Many people – including teenagers – get involved in sexual relationships because it brings pleasure for the moment. It is unpopular to speak of right and wrong! the philosophy of many is “If is feels good do it!”


BUT the Bible tells children to obey their parents, — not because it will make you feel good – although it probably will, esp. in the long-term. – not because it is always easy [sometimes it is very difficult esp. when you are denied something you really want] — BUT because it is RIGHT!


What Paul has in mind is not simply a relunctant, grudging obedience – remember that this is under the banner of being filled with the spirit [5:18] and a Spirit filled person is one who longs to please God and is happy doing so. It is willing obedience –

It will mean doing those things that Mum and Dad have asked you to do and ALSO doing those things they haven’t asked you to do but which know will please them.


1.3. Obey because it honours your parents and God.


Ephesians 6:2 2 “Honour your father and mother” — which is the first commandment with a promise — 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (NIV)


Here Paul is quoting the 5th of the 10 commandments — it is not the first commandment with a promise; the 2nd commandment has a promise also — there are a number of possible answers to the problem, none of which change the meaning of this passage one bit so we will not spend anytime on it.


Children must not just obey mechanically – behind the obedience must be honour – honour of mother and father –


Listen, you young people, if you are going to obey your parents IN THE LORD then it is not just by acts but also in attitude.


ILLUS.: Little boy told to sit down 3x – did so relunctantly muttering under his breath “I may be sitting down on the outside but I am standing up on the inside.”


What is this long-life that is promised??


In the original command in Exodus 20 it was “…in the land that God will give you” – Here “ … on the earth ..” because in NT times the people of God was widened from the nation of Israel to include all the people of the earth.


Does this pasage mean that if you obey your parents you will live to be 102 years old?? NO! We need to see this collectively and not individually!! When a society follows the principles of God’s word it becomes a stable and healthy society — a strong society is inconcievable without a strong family life where children honour their parents. We see it in our own country – it starts with contempt for parental authority and spreads to contempts for all authoritty – teachers, police, government …..




WHAT IF you are a Christians and your parents are not? If they forbid you follow you Christian faith what are you to do?? As a general rule obedience to parents should be the norm and disobedience the exception.


  • If parents forbid you to attend church or youth group – I would say obey them. If on the other hand they forbid you to follow Jesus and worship him in your heart this you could not obey because Jesus clearly says you must love him and obey him before everyone, even your parents.


  • What if my parents are wrong? Parents are not always right! Try discussing it with them — not shouting, or whinging — and esp. not in front of other adults. Children often try to embarrass their parents in front of friends hoping that they will get their own way. Sometimes you think your parents are wrong but they are not because they see a bigger picture and have more experience of life. BUT if they are wrong you are still to obey as long as it doesn’t compromise your faith in Jesus!


  • What if [or rather WHEN] I disobey … One of the hardest things to do is say SORRY but when you do I know few parents who are not willing to forgive and help and love their children in any way they can. Most parents love their children even when they are being disobedient.


Try to understand your parents’ position – as you grow and change they are also learning – they have never had a teenager before – and if you have an older brother/sister – you are different!                 As you are changing from childhood to adulthood your parents are changing from young couples to middle-age and that is not always easy – suddenly your body won’t allow you to do what you used to do – your children are bigger than you etc…


If you as a teenager you have commited your life to the Christ then you must learn to obey your parents with gladness ‘for this pleases Lord’ [Col.3:20] Remember the loving submission that Jesus gave to his parents when he was a boy.




Ephesians 6:4

4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (NIV)


Fathers is a generic term as is brothers – it is entirely legitimate for it to refer to both parents.



Paul instructs children to obey their parents and this presupposes parental authority BUT when we come to v.4 Paul does not instruct parents to excercise their parental authority as we might expect. The ideal he holds up for fathers to aspire to is gentle, self-controlled guides and carers.


The fathers of Paul’s day were absolute tyrants – the had complete authority over all that they owned and that included their wives and children. According to Roman law a father had life and death power over everyone in his household – slvaes, wife and chidren. A new born baby was placed at its father’s feet to determine its fate – if he picked it up it was allowed to stay if he walked away it was desposed of.


ILLUS.: A 1st C letter from a man called Hilarion to his wife, Alis, reads, “Heartiest greetings. Note that we are still now in Alexandria. Do not worry if when all others return I remain in Alexandria. I beg and beseech you to take care of the little child, and as soon as we receive wages I will send them to you. If – good luck to you – you have another child, if it is a boy, let it live, if it is a girl, expose it!” [MacArthur p.316]


Sounds terrible but the main reason why children are in foster homes today is not divorce, financial destitution or the death of the parents BUT simply that the parents are disinterested.


Harvard University commissioned a study to determine whether 5-6 year olds would become delinquent – they discovered that the 4 primary factors to prevent delinquency are:-    *The parent’s[esp. fathers]firm, fair and consistent discipline.

*The parent’s [esp. mothers] supervision and companionship                               during the day

*The parents demonstrated affection for each other and the                         children

*the family sending time together in activities where ALL                            participated.           {MacArthur p.316}


2.1. Negatively: Parents don’t provoke or exasparate your children.


There are many ways in which parents can and do not only exasparate but also harm their children. We are not here talking about slip ups and genuine mistakes that we all make – and which we need to be aware of — but we are looking and ongoing patterns of behaviour and treatment of children.



John MacArthur list 8 which are very helpful [the list could be endless]:-


  1. Well meaning over-protection – smothered, never trusted to do things on their own — children need guidance and certain restrictions but they are individuals in their own right and need to learn to make decisions on their own in keeping with their age and maturity. [not allowing 5 years old alone on the street is sensible – holding your 14 years old’s hand when crossing the street is not cool]
  1. Favouritism – is a common cause of resentment in families. Don’t compare your children to each other esp. in the presence of the children. this can be devastating to a child who is less talented or favoured. ILLUS.: My Grandmother – Pidge – 11 grandchildren “Who is the favour? “I don’t have one and if I did I would never tell anyone!”
  • Pushing acheivement beyond reasonable bounds – we all want our children to do well BUT never relive your life through your child – we have all seen it – ILLUS.: A club our children were in – a parent would tell the child “If you win this race tonight I’ll buy you this or that …”   Many a child resents his/her parents because s/he has been pushed to hard. Children are not things to be push and stretched BUT to be cared for, loved and encouraged to do the best they can – Because the Bible tells us to always give our best.
  1. Children are provked by discouragement – a child who is always criticised, put-down and never encouraged and complimented for good work of behaviour will ended up having no reason to even try. We all need encouragement and approval for the things we do well – as children also need the same.
  1. Parents who fail to sacrifice for their children and make them feel unwanted. If children are told or given the inpression that they are unwanted or an intrusion the parents lives tey will become resentful. ILLUS.: “If you hadn’t been born I could have finished my study – Look what I’ve lost out on because of you!” However children also need to learn the their parents need space too – you are not helping your children if you always put them before your spouse – tgat will teach them to be selfish.
  • Failing to allowing children to grow up at the normal pace – don’t criticise them for being childish when they are behaving normally and harmlessly. On the other hand don’t baby them and prevent them from maturing.
  • Don’t use love as a tool of reward of punishment. Don’t give love when a child is good and withdraw it when it is bad. [Does not mean that you should not get angry when they are bad – but don’t let your anger get out of control – they need to see you angry so they can learn how to handle anger themselves] Children need unconditional love.                                               : A friend who went off the rails – against the advice of his parents – came home and was accepted “I appreciated my parents accepting me without sayingI told you so’
  • Physical and verbal abuse – battered child are a growing tragedy of our society – verbal abuse can be just as harmful as physical abuse. It is amazing what we will say to our children but would never dream of saying to anyone else. “You are so stupid!” “Why don’t you grow-up and stop being pathetic.”


For the record I do believe in physical punsihment – [spanking] esp. for smaller children.


Remember that parental authority is not unlimited – it is under God – although children are to obey their parents in the Lord, parents need to remember that children have a life and personality of their own and as such are to be respected and not manipulated, or exploted for the benefit of the parents.


Sir Fred Catherwood “ The dominant father of the Victorian novels who used his own authority for his own ends is no more entitled to claim Christian authority than the rebellious son. One is abusing authority, the other is flouting it. Both are wrong.”


2.2 Positively: Parents discipline and teach their children.


The reponsibility of bringing up children belongs to the parents and they should never shurk that privilege and pass it over to school or to Church.


Most of what children learn about how to live life they will learn in the home – primarily by watching their parents.


Parents are to teach their children discipline – positively by verbal instruction and by example – if parents are lazy they can’t expect their children to be diligent.


The word discipline here is the same one used in Heb.12 of earthly fathers and our heavenly Father —


Hebrews 12:5-11

5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (NIV)


What of physical discipline

Proverbs 22:15 15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him. (NIV)

Proverbs 23:13-14 13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. 14 Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death. (NIV)

Proverbs 29:15 15 The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother. (NIV)



– it should be a last resort not a first

– it should never be excessive [fit the offense — all punishment]

– never because you are embarrassed or put out BUT always for the                            good of the child

– with an instrument that could not possibly inflict permanent                                      damage {a wooden spoon not a baseball bat}

– avoid doing it in public or in front of their friends or yours

– never if you are out of control – don’t lash out

– always express love and affection after the punishment

– then forget about it – don’t resurrect the incedent


“The opposite of wrong discipline is not the absence of disciple but right discipline – The opposite of no discipline is not cruelty, it is balanced discipline, it is controlled discipline.” [ M. Lloyd-Jones]


What do I respond to those who say that smacking should be banned because it leads to abuse. Should we ban sex because some people commit sexual abuse??


Note the words after discipline and instruction – of the Lord – We are not raising our children for ourselves – they are gifts from God and we should be raising them for him – our goal as Christian parents is not primarily to have clever, successful, gifted children {all good things} but our main goal should be to lead them to Christ so that ultimately our children will submit to and obey not us BUT the Lord Jesus Christ.


Right back in the OT when Israel was beginning it life as the people of God he gave these instructions.


Deuteronomy 6:4-9

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates. (NIV)


In other words their faith was to be an integral part of every aspect of their lives.



Neither children nor parents are perfect – but the principles that apply in the family of God apply as much , if not more so, in the nuclear family —

  • Love one another [John 13:34-35]
  • Accept one another [Romans12:16]
  • Serve one another [Galatians 5:13]
  • Bear one another’s burdens [Galatians 6:2]
  • Pray for one another [James 5:16]
  • Encourage one another [1 Thessalonians 4:18]


God help us to be the best children and best parents that we can possibly be!!




Ephesians 6:1 – 4.



       ¦ obey because this reflects obedience to Christ

       ¦ obey because it is right to do so

       ¦ obey because it honours parents and God

               but primary obedience should be to God



       ¦ Negatively: don’t exasperate your children

       For example  over-protection

                           ‚ favouritism

                           ƒ achievement obsession

                           „ constant criticism

                           … blaming

                           † hindering/pushing pace of maturity

                           ‡ manipulative love

                           ˆ abuse – verbal or physical

       – Parental authority is limited and delegated


       ¦ Positively:                                                    

              Discipline                                   ½

                     training and correction       ½   of

                     freedoms and boundaries   ½   the

              Teaching                                    ½   Lord

                     attitudes and skills                     ½

                     by word and example          ½



*Love – accept – serve – encourage – pray for – ONE ANOTHER*


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