This is one Bible passage that talks directly to children and so this sermon will directly address them. Hopefully the adults will listen in and learn something as well.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
You know what “obey your parents” means. When they tell you to do your homework, or to put your dishes away after supper, or to make your bed in the morning, you should do what they say. They should not have to tell you twice. They should not have to threaten to punish you. You should just do it.
What does it mean to obey your parents “in the Lord”? Think of it this way. Right now, when your parents ask you to do something, you might think only about them and how you feel about them. So, when your mother says you need to clean your room or your dad wants you to rake the leaves, you think about whether or not you want to obey them. But what the Bible is saying here is to think about obeying the Lord. When you obey your parents, you are really obeying the Lord.
Do you remember the parable that Jesus gives about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25? He says there are people who will be rewarded for taking care of him when he was sick and in prison. They will reply, “When did we ever help you like that?” And he will tell them that as they helped other people in those conditions, so they were helping him. In the same way, when you treat your parents right by being obedient, you are really serving the Lord.
And when you think in this way, about how God, how the Lord is involved, you will find it actually easier to do what is right. One young person had this to say about the same thing: “I used to argue with my family and at the time I felt it was a nice thing to get anger out…. I started to think about what God would be thinking of all the arguing that I had done.” And that is when he began to change.
So, you are to “obey your parents.” You are to obey them “in the Lord.” And you are to obey them “for this is right.” The Apostle Paul is speaking to you, as children and young people, as he would adults. He talks to you as though he believes you will listen and understand him. He thinks you will do something based on what you know to be right or wrong.
Let’s be honest. Most of the time when you disobey your parents, it is not because you think your mom or your dad wants you to do something bad or wrong, but that you just don’t like what they want. You would rather watch TV than do your homework. You would rather play with your friends than do chores. You would rather stay out late than come home early. You would rather go to parties than stay home. Most decisions to obey your parents are not about what is right or wrong, but rather what you like or don’t like.
The real right and wrong issue that the Apostle Paul is talking about is obeying your parents. Maybe you could get all of your homework done after your TV show. Maybe the party is not so bad as your parents think. You might be right or you might not. But the one thing you can know is right is to obey your parents. That is the point the Bible is making.
Let’s move on to the next verse.
2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),
This is one of the Ten Commandments, isn’t it? Let’s look at that word “honor” because it holds the key to knowing how to relate to your parents even when you disagree with them, and even when they may be wrong and you are right!
Honor is something you give to somebody because of their position in life. Here’s what I mean. The Bible says we are to honor those who have positions of authority in government (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17). That means we are to honor our president, Mr. Bush. In a couple of weeks we will have a new president, Mr. Obama, and we are to honor him. Your parents may like Mr. Bush as a president and not like Mr. Obama, or they may not like Mr. Bush and are glad that Mr. Obama will be president. Regardless, they are still to give either man the honor that is due his office. How do they do that? Well, they are not to make fun of the president, even when they think he is doing something they think is wrong. If they meet him, they should speak respectfully to him, even when they are disagreeing with him. They are to pray for him and his family. And they are to obey the laws that he and the government make.
In the same way you are to honor your parents because they are your parents. Hopefully your parents are great parents, but this is not the reason for the honor. God has given them a position of authority in the home, just like he has given government leaders authority over those who live in their country or city. It is that position of being a parent that you are to honor.
Why is honoring a position important? Think about it. Let’s say we are only going to honor people based on how well we think they deserve it. How do we decide if they deserve it? I know how I decide. If I like the way a person treats me, then I think he deserves honor. If I think he is mean to me, I don’t think he deserves honor. If a person thinks the way I do, I think he deserves honor. If he doesn’t think the way I do, then I don’t want to honor him. You see what’s happening? I make myself the judge of who gets honor or not. I may not be a great judge and be wrong about who should be honored. But even if I am right a lot of times, what I am really doing is putting myself above the very people who are over me. If every day your parents had to live up to what you think they should do, you would be the parent because you would be telling them what to do.
What if God had said that only parents who do everything right should get honor? How would we know when each parent is right or not? How would we know how much honor to give? And if a parent is not being good, and we decide no longer to obey or show honor, then what? Will you just live on your own and do whatever you want? You see how hard it gets to figure it all out, if parents and others in authority have to always do everything right before we will obey them or honor them?
So, how do you honor your parents? You honor your parents by being respectful to them. That means you do not talk bad about them to your friends or make fun of them. Instead, you speak well of them to your friends and others. When you are talking to your parents, you speak in a respectful manner, not yelling at them or speaking to them like they were dumb. You give a lot of weight to what they have to say. You pray for your parents and ask God to bless them. You obey them, and when you do, you obey them without sulking or complaining. That is honor.
Let’s go back to our Bible text: (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
To put that simply, it means that God will bless you for honoring your parents. And this is another way of God saying that honoring your parents really means a lot to him. If I say to you, “It would be nice if you would go get me a glass of water,” you wouldn’t think too much about it. But if I say to you, “If you will get me a glass of water, I will give you a hundred dollars,” you would think that I really, really want a glass of water! So it is with God. He really, really wants you to honor your parents.
Jesus showed how important this commandment was to him. One time some religious leaders were complaining that they didn’t think he showed enough respect for their traditions. Jesus responded by choosing this commandment to highlight. He said, “You use your tradition as an excuse to disobey the command to honor your parents. You let people get away with not helping their parents in their old age by saying they can give the money to God instead.” See how important this commandment is? God would rather parents be taken care of before money is put in the offering plate.
Now it is time to talk to the parents. Let’s move to verse 4: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
My first thought is what happened to the mothers! No doubt what he says to fathers is also intended to include mothers, but he must have had a reason for specifically addressing fathers. I can think of two. One is that fathers are head of their households and thus hold ultimate responsibility for the management of their homes. One requirement of an elder is that he must manage his household well (1 Timothy 3:4). Fathers may not let go of that responsibility. They cannot turn over the raising of the children to their wives with a “get back to me if you have any problems” memo. So Paul is going straight to the top person of the home.
But it is the next phrase that leads me to think that Paul had at least something specific to say to fathers: “do not provoke your children to anger.” Mothers certainly are guilty of their own share of provoking, but, since Paul is addressing fathers, let’s consider what he may be thinking.
It is easy enough to make our children angry. Make them do homework instead of let them watch their favorite TV show. Make them do their chores instead of playing their video games. Let their brother or sister sit up front in the car instead of them. Paul is not saying don’t do anything that might make your children angry. If you do “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” you definitely will make them angry because, like you, they are sinners.
But you fathers know what Paul is getting at. It’s the times you speak sharply, not because of your children’s sin, but just because you are irritated. You just want some peace and quiet; you just want a little respect, and so you yell, or you put them down with words like “stupid” or “dumb.” You shut them up before they can explain or even apologize. That’s provoking your children to anger.
Don’t provoke your children. Don’t get into a pattern of dealing with problems simply by making your children shut up. Don’t make your children learn how to “be around with Daddy.” The big mistake many fathers make is that think they have a well-managed home, when what they really have is a family that has learned how to manage daddy. The children obey, not out of honor but out of self-preservation. Meanwhile, anger is building within them.
Fathers, we know what we want in the home. We want respect. We have trouble enough getting it outside the home. At the least, we think we should get it in the home. Isn’t that a commandment, after all? It is a commandment, and your children are held accountable for obeying it. But have you considered why this is a commandment so important to God? Maybe it is because God refers to himself as being Father? Maybe it is because when God chooses the relationship best to express his connection with those whom he has granted salvation it is that of father to a child?
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6).
How does God feel if such a beautiful passage meant to assure believers of his love, becomes one that troubles them because of the associations that “father” stir up. And when Scripture, as in Hebrews 12:3-11, explains God’s discipline by comparing it to the discipline of us fathers, how do we think God feels if our children are repelled by such a thought because of the way we provoked our children?
What I am simply saying to you fathers is to take this admonition seriously. There are consequences for you, for your wives, and for your children, consequences that impact your children the rest of their lives. There are adult children sitting in these pews who are still struggling with how to honor fathers who abused them in whatever form or manner. And there are adult children who will never enter this or any other church sanctuary because of the abusive behavior of their fathers.
Do not provoke your children to anger, but rather “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
That phrase “bring them up” is one Greek word which is used only one other time in the New Testament. Back up eight verses to 5:29: “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” It is that term “nourish.” Fathers are to have that concept in mind. They are to nourish their wives (the point of 5:29), and they are to nourish their children. They are to think in terms of what is best for the welfare of their children; what will help their children to grow into adults who mature in their walk before the Lord.
Do you get that? Our goal as fathers is not to raise children to be successful in the world, and thus we do not work at making them tough and competitive. Our goal is not to raise children to be like us in the sense of following the career paths that we value or to live where we think are good places to live. Rather our goal is to raise them to know Jesus Christ and to follow after him. All along, we are nourishing them so that they might find their real nourishment in Christ.
And so we are to bring them up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Scripture, which is the Word of the Lord, is to be our authority by which we instruct our children. Scripture provides the commands, the laws, the authority for what is right and wrong. And Scripture, if we are discerning in our reading, teaches us how to discipline and instruct our children in such a way that promotes learning and obedience. Indeed, if we are discerning, we will be disciplined and edified for ourselves, which is what our children really need. Above all, they need fathers and mothers who model maturity in their walk before the Lord.
As we wrap up, this is one sermon in which I am aware of how little I have really addressed and how I have only looked on the surface level into the troubles of the home. There are not some of you; there are many of you deeply grieving or angered or anxious over troubles in your home or that still linger from the home you grew up in. There is an intensity in the relations of a home that deeply affects us all and for good reason.
The relations of a family are life-long. There are friendships that I miss, but the loss of a parent or a child or sibling, and I think even more so, the loss of relationship with a parent or child or sibling – that leaves a void, an aching void in our lives. What keeps hanging over us is what could be, what should be.
And then there is the problem of knowing what to do in your situation. Some of you children and young people are now wondering what to do about the sins of your parents – parents who lie, who are filled with anger, who are impatient, who even harm you. What do you do? You have the Lord who sees you. You can pray for your parents and pray for yourselves. Because you have a church, you also have people whom God has called to be your shepherds and the shepherds of your parents. They are your pastors and elders. You can come to us and we will help you. Turn to someone here who you feel safe with and who you know will guide you the right way. Maybe you could be the ones to get your parents to ask for help themselves.
And for all of you, know that it is not too late to do something. Fathers, if you would just get over your pride, you would be amazed at the healing you could bring into your home. The capacity of our children to forgive is perhaps greater than our own. Mothers, if you could get over your hurt feelings for not being appreciated, you could instill great blessing into your home when your family sees in you true contentment in the Lord. Children – both young and adult – if you could look beyond your hurt to the healing that you have in Jesus Christ, and if you could see into the hurts of your parents and your siblings, you would find in yourself great power for forgiveness and bring healing.
Let us all remember Jesus Christ our model. He is the model Shepherd-Father who tenderly cares for his sheep. He is the one who loves us as a mother hen loves her little ones. He is the one not afraid to be called our Brother. He is one who as a son learned obedience through what he suffered. He knows our hurts for he has experienced them all, not from his Father but from all others who should have loved him.
He loves you. He loves you the child in the home, the teenager turning into an adult. He loves you the mother trying to hold your family together; he loves you the father weighted with responsibility for your home. He became like you, “so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help [you] who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18).
There is still a chance to make things right, indeed, more than a chance for any of us when we turn to our true blood-relative, Jesus Christ.
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