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Eph 6.1-4 Responsibilities of Children and Fathers

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Responsibilities of Children and  Fathers

Ephesians 6:1-4

The children had been begging for a hamster, and after the usual fervent vows that they alone would care for it, they got one. They named it Danny. As usually happens, two months later when Mom found herself responsible for cleaning and feeding the creature, she located a prospective new home for it. The children took the news of Danny's imminent departure quite well, though one of them remarked, "He's been around here a long time—we’ll miss him."

"Yes," Mom replied, "But he's too much work for one person, and since I'm that one person, I say he goes." Another child offered, "Well, maybe if he wouldn't eat so much and wouldn't be so messy, we could keep him."

But Mom was firm. "It's time to take Danny to his new home now," she insisted. "Go and get his cage." With one voice and in tearful outrage the children shouted, "Danny? We thought you said Daddy!"

Paul Harvey once shared a few thoughts on what makes a father:

“A father is a thing that is forced to endure childbirth without an anesthetic. A father never feels worthy of the worship in a child's eyes. He is never quite the hero his daughter thinks, never quite the man his son believes him to be; and this worries him—sometimes. A father is a thing that gets very angry when the first school grades aren't as good as he think they should be. He scolds his son, tho' he knows it's the teacher's fault. Fathers are what give daughters away to other men who aren't nearly good enough, so they can have grandchildren who are smarter than anybody's.” (Reprinted in the newsletter of First Baptist Church, Bossier City, Louisiana, June 10, 1980.)

But what makes a real Dad? Here’s one that would qualify, in my opinion. Evelyn Rhoades wrote in the May 1990 Reader's Digest that when her granddaughter went to college, the girl's caring father sent along a telephone answering machine. He had pre-recorded the outgoing message:

   "Hello. You have reached the residence of Elizabeth Eaton at California Polytechnic State in San Luis Obispo. This is Liz's father speaking. I am a six-foot-four-inch, 276-pound, violent-tempered gorilla. Please keep this in mind when conducting business with my daughter. If your business is friendly and honorable, leave your name and number and she will return your call."

I’ve shared with you before the legend from India about the creation of man and woman. The legend tells that to create the woman, God took several intangible things, such as the roundness of the moon, the blossoming of flowers, “the softness of a bird’s breast and the hardness of a diamond, the sweetness of honey and the cruelty of a tiger,” along with the singing of a nightingale and the faithfulness of a mother lion. He mixed all those things together to make the woman, and gave her to the man. But there’s another version of how God created the man. It’s in the form of a little poem:

God took the strength of a mountain,          

The majesty of a tree,          

The warmth of a summer sun,          

The calm of a quiet sea,          

The generous soul of nature,          

The comforting arm of night,          

The wisdom of the ages,

The power of the eagles flight,          

The joy of a morning in spring,          

The faith of a mustard seed,          

The patience of eternity,          

The depth of a family need,          

Then God combined these qualities,          

And when there was nothing more to add,          

He knew His masterpiece was complete,          

And so, He called it - DAD!

--Author Unknown

In the closing verses of Ephesians 5, Paul began to deal with the Christian relationships in the home, and the difference Christ should make in a household ruled completely by Him. Today we turn to the opening verses of chapter six to find God’s instructions for the children and the parents. It is important to remember that these words are for Christian children and Christian parents, specifically fathers. These words make no sense whatsoever without the presence of Christ in the home. Paul was writing to Christian people, so the only place you can fully apply what he taught is in the Christian home.

God is always clear about what He wants His people to do and be. We can argue and rationalize about what God says, but the truth will never change. His commandments for us will never change. We are to follow them in faith, just as we first asked Christ to enter our lives by faith.

It is interesting that Paul should begin a section on the Christian home by first speaking to the husband and wife. The relationship between the husband and wife will determine the other relationships in the home. So now the second relationship Paul turns to is that between children and parents. Paul was saying, quite rightly, that even the relationship between children and their parents should fall under the Lordship of Christ.

In Paul’s day, there was a custom among the Romans known as “patria potestas,” which means “the father’s power.” The father had absolute control and power over his wife, his children, and  his entire household. He could sell anyone as a slave, or work them in the fields in chains. He could even order them killed as punishment. When a child was born, it was placed at its father’s feet. If the father picked up the child that meant that he acknowledged the child and wished to keep it. If he turned his back and walked away, the child was to be thrown out or sold at auction. A contemporary of the Apostle Paul by the name of Seneca once described Roman policy with regard to unwanted animals: “We slaughter a fierce ox; we strangle a mad dog; we plunge a knife into a sick cow. Children born weak or deformed we drown.”

So when Christ came into the world, what He taught was completely opposite. He taught that children are just as important in the eyes of God as the adults are, which was a hard thing for the disciples to understand. Jesus gave a new meaning to the important of children, and He gave new meaning to the responsibility a parent has in raising children. Let’s take this brief passage in Ephesians 6 to find just a small sampling of what the Bible teaches.

1. First, the responsibility of the child, 6:1-3

There are actually two words in vv. 1-3 that describe the responsibility of the Christian child toward his or her parents. One word applies to the child who still lives at home, and the other word applies to the grown child, who is out on his own in the world with his own household.

The word for the younger child is “obey.” “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” “Obey” is a simple word; it is a word that we can all understand. It doesn’t need much explanation, but it does need a lot of application. In the New Testament, the word “obey” means to “listen and do.” It means to pay attention to what someone tells you or shows you, so that you may obey their instructions.

Children, that is God’s word for you to live by. I believe this word “obey” is directed to children who are still under the care of their parents. God wants you to obey your parents, plain and simple! God wants you to obey your parents, not because they are your parents, but because you have made a commitment to Jesus Christ, and He knows that being obedient to your parents is only one way to express in your life what you say you believe in your heart.

You see, God knows your relationship to Jesus is only going to be as right as long as your relationship with your parents is right. If you’re mad and fuming at your parents, you won’t have any peace with Jesus. And when you disobey your parents on purpose, your relationship with Jesus will be clouded. You’ll begin to feel that God doesn’t hear your prayers, and you won’t have any peace or guidance in your daily life if you refuse to obey your parents.

When my own daughter Jennifer was very small, I led her in saying her prayers every night. If she had been real good during the day, and she knew it, she would say her prayers just as sweetly as a little girl could say them. But if she had been cranky all day, or began to be upset when bedtime approached, she would say, “I can’t say my prayers. You say it.” I think something deep down inside her told her that when she had been bad and had disobeyed, saying a prayer is not the most appropriate thing to do. Perhaps she realized that God wanted her to obey her father, and if she didn’t, she wasn’t obeying God, either.

You can fuss about it, and fume about it, but your relationship with Jesus will be no better than your relationship with your parents. You are not going to love and obey Jesus any more than you love and obey your parents.

The word for the older child is “honor,” as we see in verse two: “Honor your father and mother.” We recognize that, don’t we? It is taken from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. The original commandment way back in Exodus was addressed mainly to older children, and they are told to show a sense of responsibility for the welfare of their parents who are growing old. And this seems to be how Paul used the word “honor” in Ephesians. The word means “to hold in respect, esteem, or to have high regard for.”

Paul is not saying that the child who has grown up and moved out of his parents’ house to begin a life of his own is to obey his parents in everything. But what he is saying is that even though they do have lives of their own, they are still responsible as children to honor their parents, to hold them in respect, to care for them. While we may no longer be obliged to obey our parents, we are never exempt from honoring them. Ephesians 6:2 is a quotation from the Ten Commandments, but then we are told that this is “the first commandment with a promise.” Then verse three tells us what the promise is: “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

So there are two words that describe the responsibility of the child. The word for the younger child is “obey” and the word for the older child is “honor.” Depending upon where you are at this stage in your life, God says that you are to either obey your parents, or honor your parents. And you are to do it not just because they are your parents, but because Christ is your Lord!

2. Second, the responsibility of the father, 6:4

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The Scriptures do not imply that the mother is left out of this responsibility, but Paul probably put the emphasis here on the father because of the father’s role as head of the family. Take a brief look at the words used in various translations. The KJV reads, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The NLT reads, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”

The Scriptures teach us here that parents have a right to expect their children to obey them and to honor them. But parents also have a responsibility to their children to nurture them, to discipline them, to admonish them. You say, “Well, I do that already.” But do you do it according to what the Scripture teaches?

To nurture and discipline your children requires more than your money, your time and your planning. It will take you, totally involved and totally available to your family and to God. Discipline does not mean that you grab a switch or a belt and start swinging away every time your child does something that makes you mad—that’s child discipline according to the flesh. There are many other things involved in nurturing children God’s way. I believe that being quick to administer punishment while neglecting the other aspects of Godly nurture has caused our families to encounter problems today never seen before.

Perhaps we’ve been quick to punish when we are angry, and not quick enough at other times. Proverbs 23:13-14 reads in the NLT, “Don’t fail to discipline your children. They won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death.” It has been true for far too long that many parents simply don’t care about their children or are too permissive. Dr. Max Rafferty was the State Superintendent of Public Instruction in California many years ago. He once wrote about parenting: “We’ve been soft when we should have been tough. Permissive when we should have cracked down. Generous when we should have been stingy. Noninvolved when we should have been involved up to our ears.” Parents give their children more money than they need for lunch, school supplies, and dating. Rafferty continued, “That’s why so many of them today own expensive college pads, drive expensive little foreign cars, smoke expensive pot and go to expensive hell.”

Those are strong words, but perhaps strong words are just what we need to shake us out of our complacency, and our “don’t care” attitudes. We are pretty strong on obedience until our children reach the teenage years, and then just at the time when they so desperately need clear-cut rules and guidelines, we turn them loose with almost no rules at all, and with almost anything their little hearts desire. That is certainly not God’s way of nurture!

What is God’s way? First of all, we are to nurture our children with love. It is possible for a father to deal with his child in the wrong way repeatedly, so that the child becomes an angry rebel. That word “provoke” or “exasperate” means to stir up anger that will result in lasting bitterness and resentment. The clearest indication of love for a child is loving and faithful discipline. One psychiatrist told a group of people in a church about a seven-year-old girl whom he had treated as an outpatient. The girl made a statement that struck the psychiatrist as being astonishingly perceptive. Her words were “My mommy doesn’t love me. She never spanks me.”

That matches what the Scripture says in Proverbs 13:24—“If you refuse to discipline your son, it proves you don’t love him; for if you love him, you will be prompt to punish him” (TLB).The Scripture methods of discipline always and always includes love.

But then, we are to discipline our children also with encouragement. We’ve all seen the little piece written by Dorothy Nolte years ago entitled, “Children Learn What They Live.” If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn…with hostility, he learns to fight…with ridicule, he learns to be shy…pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself. If a child lives with encouragement he learns to be confident…with praise, he learns to be appreciative…with recognition, he learns that it is good to have a goal…with sharing, he learns about generosity, and so on. If you are mature as a Christian adult, and if you nurture and discipline your children with encouragement, rather than brow-beating them and calling them abusive names, then your children are going to have developed in them the more positive aspects of Christian character.

Much of this depends on the things we say when we talk to them. Fathers especially need to be positive and encouraging in the words they use with their children. They should say things such as “I knew you could do it,” or “Great job!” or “You gave it your best, and I’m proud of you,” or “I couldn’t have done it better myself.” Even when our children grow up and leave home, they are still looking for and needing positive words of encouragement from their fathers.

Dad, if you didn’t receive much of this when you were growing up, it may be a little difficult for you to do this with your kids. But if the cycle is to be broken, it is up to you to break it. Don’t you want your grandchildren to be encouraged and nurtured in the Lord? Then you’ve got to set the example—now—with your children, however old they are. I frequently tell Jennifer that I couldn’t have picked a better son-in-law than Patrick if I had been in charge of it myself, and that she’s doing a great job as a mom. Nearly every time I see Jonathan I tell him how proud I am of him. And every time I talk to either of my kids they hear me tell them “I love you.” I do love them very much and I am very proud of them, but I also recognize that as their father I have so much power and influence with them, and that I can use that power to bless them or to frustrate them. Besides, blessing them is so much more fun!

But it is extremely “exasperating” to a child to be belittled and put down when he’s done something quite natural for a child to do. There are several ways you and I as fathers might exasperate or frustrate our children. We can smother them and prevent them from stretching out to try new things. We can show favoritism between our children, or by saying things such as “Your big brother never does anything stupid like that!” We can frustrate them by setting unrealistic expectations for them, or by doing the opposite—telling them that they could never achieve thus and so. We can exasperate our children by making them feel as if they are intruding on our time, or by handing out love and kisses when they are behaving well, and withholding affection when they’ve been bad.

It is also very plain that we are nurture and discipline our children with example. Your children are not very likely to obey you if they see a lack of discipline in your own life. For instance, my father’s mother liked to tell the story of how she quit smoking. She always taught her children to discipline themselves, to not allow themselves to become lazy about anything, or any area of life. But then one day she realized that she could not teach them self-discipline as long as she could not discipline herself in the matter of cigarette smoking. So she quit.

That makes sense, but there are many parents who have not caught on yet to the fact that their children are watching what they do, and are hearing what they say. Children are more apt to follow a parent’s example than a parent’s advice, and too often, all the child gets is advice with no example. We are setting a bad example for our children when we allow them to sit for three hours at a movie, but don’t dare make them sit through two hours of Sunday School and Worship. We are setting a bad example for our children when we give them a quarter to drop in the offering plate, but give them whatever they need to go to the movies. We are setting a bad example for them when we make sure that they do their homework, but we couldn’t care less whether they read their Bibles.

Children need and desire loving nurture and discipline from their parents. Children are made very insecure by parents who give half-directions or no directions at all. Children soon lose respect for their parents when they are allowed to do anything, go anywhere, have anything.

And parents, God will hold us accountable for what happens in our children’s lives. I don’t mean the child who has been taught the difference between what is right and wrong and rebels anyway. I mean the child whose parents have let him have free rein, with no discipline, no example, no encouragement, no love. Becoming accountable means that we say “NO!” to our children about certain things. You must decide what standards you are going to enforce in your home. If you remain true to those standards, you must expect that the difference between your way of life and the world’s will become more pronounced as time goes on.

Perhaps today you would like to publicly recommit your life as a child or as a parent as you strive to live by what the Word of God says. I invite you to come forward to make sure that your first steps in this new stage of your life are made before God and others in His family.

May 11, 1980, AM—First Baptist Church, Tutwiler, Mississippi

May 8, 1983, AM—Friendship Baptist Church, McComb, Mississippi

May 11, 1986, AM—Clarksdale Baptist Church, Clarksdale, Mississippi

May 16, 1999, AM--Bethlehem Baptist Church, Benton, Mississippi


June 15, 2008, AM--Bethlehem Baptist Church, Benton, Mississippi

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