You know, there is often a temptation when we hear a sermon that applies to someone we know, especially when that person happens to be sitting next to us, to nudge them and say, “Hey, he’s talking about you!” There is no bigger temptation for that when it is a sermon for your kids! When you hear from the pulpit, “Kids, listen to your parents,” you want to elbow them and say, “See? I’m not the only person telling you that!” I’m sure that was the case when this letter was originally written. Parents would have said, “See? The Apostle Paul even tells you to listen to me!” But then Paul in one quick verse addresses the father (and the mother by implication) to care for their children well. Just like we saw in our marriage series, God takes care to address both sides of the power structure. One is called to humble submission or obedience while the other is called to use their power to serve. So today, there will be an opportunity for both sides to throw elbows, as it were, into everyone’s ribs, as is usually the case when sinners come before the holy Word of God. The two points that we are going to look at today are, Children, obey your parents and Parents, help your children obey.
Children, obey your parents
Kids, do you hear from your parents this phrase, “You can do that when you are older”? That’s hard to hear, isn’t it? You want to be able to do something fun or important or grown up but you keep being told “You’re too young.” I remember being told that. It felt like because I wasn’t an adult I couldn’t do anything important! But that is not what the Bible says. While yes, you may not be old enough to drive, you are old enough to be important to the work God is doing in the world. How do I know? Because God has given you a job to do. And if you do it, God will bless you as well! How cool is that? So let’s see what it is.
God starts out this chapter by saying, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Let’s start here. God is telling you that you need to listen to what your parents say and do what they tell you to do. That’s pretty easy, isn’t it? Well, it may be easy to understand what you are supposed to do, but it is hard to do, isn’t it? It is difficult when they tell you to stop playing and do your homework, or go to bed, or eat your food, because you would rather do something else. It is hard to do something you don’t want to do. In fact, your mom and dad have to deal with the same thing when God tells them to do something they don’t want to do. We are all, parents and kids, in the same boat together!
So why are we supposed to do this? God tells us, “for this is right.” It is the right thing to do. Why is it the right thing to do? Because God tells us it is. You obeying your parents is a command directly from heaven.The King of the World, The Commander of the Universe, tells you to obey your parents in the Lord, and that is what makes it right. This is especially true if you are a Christian child (Thielman, 397). If you have put your faith in Jesus and are walking after Him, it is especially important to obey your parents because that is what your Savior tells you to do. As an aside, following Jesus is something that you have to decide to do. Just because your parents are Christians does not automatically make you one. So if you are following Jesus, that is a job you have taken on by God’s grace, and it has responsibilities! Jesus has done so much for you and loves you so very much. He would only tell you to do something if it was ultimately good for you to do. So because it is the right thing to do, and because you are hopefully following the same Jesus your parents are, you should obey your parents.
Now, is it enough to just obey your parents but do so with a bad attitude? No it is not. That is why Paul brings up the fifth of the Ten Commandments! It says to “Honor” your father and your mother. You have to be respectful of both your parents. You have to see them as people whom you want to obey, not just have to obey. That’s a big calling, y’all. You have to obey and honor your parents by obeying with a good attitude.
Now, does God just say, “Do it because I said so?” That would be reason enough, but God is so good, He offers you even more! He says that the fifth commandment also comes with a bonus! If you obey, then it is going to go well with you, and you will have a long life. Now, this doesn’t mean that if you obey your parents that you are going to get everything you want. This also doesn’t mean that you will never get sick or have any hard things in your life if you are obedient. It also doesn’t mean that if a kid gets sick or has something hard in their life that they necessarily disobeyed their parents. What it does mean is that if you obey, in general, life is going to be easier. Believe it or not, your parents actually know a lot of stuff. God gave you the parents that He did for a reason! Think about how much more you know about life than your siblings. They are only a couple years younger than you, but you’ve learned so much in those couple of years. Imagine how much more you will know by the time you are your parent’s age! They know a thing or two, because they’ve seen a thing or two, and they can tell you how to make life easier. Proverbs 13:15 says “Good sense wins favor, but the way of the treacherous is their ruin.” In other words, going the way of the sinner is hard. The Hebrew word there describes it like a rut. It is so much harder to live a sinful life. It starts out being easy, but the longer you stay in it, the harder and harder it gets. Your parents know this and want to keep you from it. They want you to be on the path God wants you on. That path, while it can be difficult at times, in general, makes life simpler and has fewer troubles on it of your own making.
Let’s imagine this. Let’s say that you don’t do something that you didn’t want to do. Well, now you are going to get in trouble. Already, life is getting harder because now you are going to have to do the thing you didn’t to do AND get in trouble. But instead of leaving it there, since you don’t want to get in trouble, you lie about it. Now you’ve done two bad things! And now you have to remember the lie you told to cover up the bad thing you did. If your parents can tell you’re lying (and they almost always can), they’ll start to ask questions. Then you have to lie to cover up the lie! Then you need to lie again to cover up THAT lie, and your life gets more and more complicated! Eventually, the truth is going to come out, because God says it will (Numbers 32:23), and then you’ll get in trouble for the bad thing you did plus getting in trouble for the lying and you’ll still have to do the thing you didn’t want to do in the first place. Do you see how much harder that is? Life just goes better when you listen to your parents. God loves to reward good behavior, and you will see that the longer you listen to God and your parents, the better life will go (in general).
Let me give you two more reasons to obey your parents: 1) Because we need you to! Have you ever thought about the fact that we as a church need you kids? We need you to obey God just like the grown ups need to obey God. We are all in this together, you are a part of this church, which is why Paul has written this to you! This isn’t just a New Testament thing, either. Y’all have been important since the start of redemptive history! When God made a promise to Abraham, what did He promise? A child! (Genesis 12:1-3) Over and over again, God commands the grownups in the Old Testament to teach the children about God (Deut. 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; Ps. 78:4). When Jesus came to Earth, He said to let the children come to Him. God has cared about you guys since the literal beginning. We need you to learn about God so that you can pass this on to the next generation. You are going to see and meet people that we won’t be able to, so we need you to know what to say and say it to them. You won’t know those things unless you listen to what your parents have to teach you.
Finally, 2) Jesus obeyed His parents! (Luke 2:51). If Jesus listened to His parents when He was literally better than them, then so do you. You can be like Jesus was when He was your age (because He was your age, once!) by listening and honoring your parents.
Parents, help your children obey.
Now, kids, it is time for you to elbow your parents! It is time for them to listen up closely! Paul has words directed at the father of the family, but this would apply to the mother as well. The reason why Paul doesn’t address both parents is probably because the father bears the responsibility for the family (Theilman, 395). Paul says to them to not provoke their children to anger but to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
What does it mean to “provoke your children to anger”? Well, this can be done in a lot of different ways. It can be through words spoken from a harsh heart, for instance. Yes, our children need to know in clear terms what they have done wrong, and they need to be given warnings about what that behavior can lead them towards in equally clear terms. But, at least in my own parenting, words of correction can easily become harsh, provoking words when my child’s obedience is more about my own sake, my own convenience, than God’s. In other words, if I correct my children because I am embarrassed by their behavior, I am more likely to be harsh with them because I want immediate results. I want to stop being embarrassed, so I’ll deal with it quickly and speak harshly which might change the behavior in the moment, but it is not shaping their hearts for the future.
If I make parenting about me, then I am parenting out of selfishness. If I make parenting an arena where I can display my teaching prowess, my goodness, and my godliness, my competencies, I make parenting selfish and reduce my children to objects and props in my life. Do you know anything good that comes from selfishness? Paul Tripp has a great book on Parenting (simply titled “Parenting”) and here is a little bit from that book: Listen to this line from Tripp: “I am afraid that parenting confusion and dysfunction often begin with parents having an ownership view of parenting. It is seldom expressed and often unconscious, but it operates on this perspective of parenting: ‘These children belong to me, so I can parent them in the way I see fit’ (13, emphasis in original). What Tripp is warning us away from is parenting goals and techniques that come from our own brain and for our own purposes.
You are actually raising God’s kids, and He has a way of parenting them that does not include sinful harshness. Does it include firm, consistent discipline? Absolutely, yes! That’s what follows in the next line of the verse! We are told to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. They must be taught what the Lord says and taught it all the time (Deut. 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; Ps. 78:4). That means you have to know it first. And that teaching must be reinforced through loving discipline when they inevitably disobey it. No kid comes into this world perfect. They all need discipline. We did! We still do!
Godly parenting is done in a context of loving care. That is what is communicated in the word translated “bring up.” As one scholar points out, the word used here is the same word that was used for husband to tenderly care for their wives. He went on to say that in the Jewish mind at that time, bringing up children involved more than just meeting basic nutritional and bodily needs but included affection (Thielman, 401). I heard from a teacher in a seminary class one time, a question that they would ask their students: Do you know that your parents love you? Almost everyone in the class would raise their hands. The follow-up question was more insightful, “Do you know that your parents like you?” Many fewer hands went up, and some of the students would be moved to tears because they couldn’t answer with confidence that their parents liked them. It is easy to believe that we have done all we need to for our children by teaching them the right stuff and making sure that they obey you. Parenting is not less than that, but it is so much more. Do your kids know that you not only love them but like them? Yes, there are definitely times where kids, just like adults, make it hard to be likable, and it is exactly those times where you as a parent need to reach out in prayer and ask God for love and affection for them. It helps to be reminded in those moments that this is often how we treat God. Yes, it is hard to make kids consistently obey. Some of you have been at it for twenty years! How long has God been at it with you? Twice that much time? Three times that much time? To borrow again from Tripp, parenting just brings out of us what was always down there, and if we blame our children for that, then we won’t see our need, we won’t run to Jesus, so we will get stuck in the same pattern over and over of getting angry, blaming the kids, settling down, and repeating the whole process again (40-41).
God has been very, very good to you, mom and dad. God has been very good to you, son and daughter. God has sovereignly chosen to put you all together. You need the kids you have and you need the parents you have because that is what God has put together. Yes, we wish that we could be better parents, and slowly and surely Jesus is growing you to be. The same is true for you, children. Jesus is working on you. Parents, you are meant to be instruments towards that end for your children. Tripp puts it this way: “God has met you so that you would be ready to introduce his glory and grace to your children. Every day is filled with opportunities to point to God…” (32). This is what the Old Testament is getting at when it tells you to teach your children as you sit down, rise up, and go about the day. If the goodness, grace, and providence of God has captured your heart and eyes, then it will come out naturally. Amazed people point to that which moves them.
As we close, let me remind you that this process is not possible without Jesus. Unless you have put your trust in Jesus and are being changed by Him, this process will be impossible. You can make a child obey, but you can’t change his heart. You can discipline a child, but only God can change him. Pray at least as much as you discipline. Trust in Jesus that you are not parenting alone. And if your children have grown up and not under your direct jurisdiction anymore, know that they haven’t escaped Jesus’. Jesus can and is continuing to work on them. Grab hold of that hope, for as long as they still draw breath, there is hope.