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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Christian Family
Text:Ephesians 6:1-4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 8:1,2,3                                                                               

Ps 25:5,6                                                                                                        

Reading – Psalm 78:1-8; Colossians 3:18 - 4:1

Ps 78:1,2,3

Sermon – Ephesians 6:1-4

Ps 127:1,2,3,4

Hy 56:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, building a strong family life is essential for serving God. If the Lord has placed you in a family right now—say you’re a child who lives at home; or you’re a parent, with a handful of kids; you’re a brother or a sister—if you’re part of a family, then you’ve been given a really valuable opportunity to do God’s will.

Think how many hours in an ordinary week are devoted to the activity of family. There’s the interaction at meal times. There are conversations in the living room. There are chores to be done side-by-side, and time spent in the car on the way to school or shopping. You might be relaxing in the same room, or working on homework at the same kitchen table—it’s all family time.

Now, whenever there’s an activity that fills a big part of our day, we need to be sure we’re doing it God’s way. For example, think of our daily work, or our studies at school—in terms of hours-spent, for many of us this will be a vital piece of our life. So are we working or studying for Christ? The same is true for the many moments around family: How do we interact with our kids when we come home from work? What attitude do we take toward the jobs that Mom assigns us? What kind of conversations do we have in the kitchen, in the car, and when we’re bringing the day to a close? Are we building family life on Christ?

God looks at the family as a spiritual unit, a training ground for the faith—some have even called the home “a mini-church.” For just like a church, the family needs to be a community of teaching and learning about God and godliness, a place of devoted care and loving discipline. This gives a calling to parents and children alike, a calling which the Spirit unfolds in our text. And when the many ordinary days of family life are directed by the Lord’s will, we can expect his blessing. I preach God’s Word to you from Ephesians 6:1-4 on this theme,

God sets the right order for the life of a Christian family:

  1. a command and promise for children
  2. a warning and instruction for parents


1) a command and promise for children: Our text is part of a letter that Paul wrote to a particular congregation. And whenever a church received a letter from the apostle, they’d read it together during a worship service. It was kind of like a sermon, for in his letters Paul explained the gospel and applied it to their lives.

So imagine the Ephesians getting together for worship. There were some Jews present, and some Gentiles. There were new believers, and some who’d followed Christ for years already. We know from the previous section that there were some married couples too.

And in the congregation of Ephesus there were also children. Paul assumes that there will be some youth present in church when when this letter was read, because Paul speaks to them directly: “Children, obey your parents” (Eph 6:1). It’s actually remarkable that he addresses them. In his time, children were often ignored by everyone but their parents, until children became adults and took up their place in society. But with his words Paul shows them a deep respect, recognizing that they are covenant children with a high calling from God. They belong, and they’re called to obey!

The word in our text for “children” usually means those who are quite young. But Paul isn’t just thinking of those in kindergarten; he’s describing those who are still under the care of their parents at home, children in the process of learning and growing up. In our congregation, this would be the kids from 0 to 18, and a bit older.

Such children must “obey.” The Spirit has called wives to “submit,” but this word is stronger; it denotes absolute obedience. A child is commanded to be totally directed by his parents. Unless they command what’s contrary to God’s Word, parents must be obeyed.

This is the first good thing for the children among us to think about: how do you obey your parents? When your Mom gives an order, what do you do? When your dad tells you to stop harassing your brother, what do you do? You cheerfully obey. You respectfully listen. Or maybe you delay—you don’t get up at once. Or maybe you have something to say—a complaint, perhaps, an excuse, or perhaps a heavy sigh. But obedience means that we listen, full stop.

Now, this kind of obedience was expected in Roman world, the time in which the Ephesians lived. Unlike Paul’s radical command for husbands to love their wives, this was nothing new—any honourable child was expected to follow his father’s directions exactly.

What sets this instruction apart is how Paul adds a phrase, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” (v 1). That last phrase changes the whole direction of family life; it transforms the motivation for the obedience of children. Such obedience should be given “in the Lord,” done because it is well-pleasing to God.

Children, don’t obey simply because your parents have authority, or because they’re stronger than you. Don’t obey, simply to avoid trouble, or get what you want. Obey, because this is what your heavenly Father wants you to do, because it’s what Christ would have done.

The more we live “in the Lord,” the less mechanical our obedience will be. For it’s always possible to do life on cruise-control—just keep doing what we did before. Home life can go that way too, especially when we have our routines and habits. The kids generally obey, because that keeps the peace. Dad or Mom reads and prays after breakfast, because that’s the tradition. But the incentive for having a Christian home must be more than this; its strength and purpose must be found “in the Lord.”

Children, this is why you can obey your Mom’s orders, why you’re willing to help your siblings, even if it seems unfair to you. This should be the reason that you listen when your parents explain something from the Bible. Because it’s what the Lord wants from you. You’re his child, and you want to live his way. When you obey your parents from the heart, it shows you’re being changed by the Spirit.

Paul lays his words for the kids on top of a carefully laid foundation. He did the same when he was talking about the wife’s submission, saying that wives should submit because “the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church” (5:23). Here too, the Spirit gives reasons for children to obey, and He’s got three of them; first, it’s right; second, it’s commanded; and third, it receives God’s blessing.

So the first reason: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (6:1). It’s not just a Christian teaching, but something accepted as proper in every society. Cultures all around the world have regarded the parents’ authority (and the obedience of children) as necessary to a stable society. Everyone knows this will be for the good of the family, and the benefit of the child. It’s self-evident that a child owes a debt of gratitude to their parents for everything they’ve done. Yes, it is right that children obey, it’s “common sense.”

Yet you know what they say: “Common sense isn’t that common anymore.” There’s surely a decline in obedience to parents or to anyone in authority. Paul writes in 2 Timothy about the rise of evil in the last days, that people will be “proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents” (2 Tim 3:2). Today children are told constantly that they’re special and have near-unlimited freedom. Some parents don’t dare to say no; it’s a lot easier to give in.

But it’s right for children to obey, and—a second reason—it’s commanded: “Honour your father and mother” (6:2). This is the fifth commandment, straight-talking instruction for all children. If you love your parents, if you’re grateful to them, and you want to honour them “in the Lord,” then this is the primary way: obey them. Hug them, kiss them, make cards for them—but this comes first: obey them. Love for God means honour for father and mother.

Jesus showed this by the example of his life. Remember Luke 2, where the twelve-year old Jesus is separated from his parents at Jerusalem. After a few days they find him in the temple, where He’s engaging the teachers of the law in a deep discussion, who are all amazed at his understanding. This gives Joseph and Mary a startling glimpse of Jesus’ glory—and there were probably more glimpses like it. But notice the conclusion to that story: “Then He went down with [his parents] and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them” (2:51).

Jesus the Son of God was subject to his parents. He honoured the fifth commandment. He knew that this was right—that God had placed Joseph and Mary in his life in order to instruct him and provide him with a place to grow. It’s a profound example: our King and Saviour was subject to his earthly parents. And He teaches children about the kind of obedience you should give. Christ-like obedience is cheerful. It’s respectful. It’s humble.

Joseph and Mary didn’t get everything right. Your parents won’t get everything right, either. They’re sinful people, just like you. They get tired. They get annoyed. They don’t know everything, not about you, and not about life. But they desire what’s good for you. So be open to their instruction. Be patient with their shortcomings. Be guided by their words and example.

There’s one more reason that children should obey the fifth commandment. Says Paul, “[It] is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth’” (6:2-3). When the Ten Commandments were given, the Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land. So God exhorts them, “If you obey, life will go well for you over in Canaan.” That’s true for all the commandments, that when we live in God’s way, He gives his favour. Yet only the fifth commandment has this promise attached directly to it.

When we honour this command, life goes better. Think about some of the ways that this is true. If you have a Christian home, where children humbly obey and parents faithfully lead, that home is a refuge; it’s a safe and happy place. A Christian home will always have its struggles, but there will also be a lot of joy: the joy of learning together, worshiping together, doing life together. A home can become a centre for growing and maturing in Christ.

Think about how the opposite is true. Consider the tension that fills a home when a child doesn’t show respect to his parents—it’s harsh, unpleasant, and it’s displeasing to God. Or consider the deep sadness that results from a child’s continued disobedience. Almost no child who rebels against his parents is going to enjoy a secure life, but so often he’ll end in ruin. The promise attached to the fifth commandment has so often become a curse.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. God sets out a good order for the life of a Christian family, and He gives it his blessing. For God says that the good government of a family reflects his perfect government—early fathers can faintly reflect the perfect Father. So children, as you learn to be obedient to your parents, you’re learning something else at the same time: you’re learning obedience to your Father in heaven. This is what your parents want for you. They desire that you walk with the Lord, trusting in him and doing his will. So, children: obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. And God will bless it.


2) a warning and instruction for parents: Just like in Paul’s earlier direction for wives and husbands, here too, there is obligation on both sides, children and parents alike. Verse 4 refers to “fathers,” but Paul certainly has both parents in mind. It’s clearly a shared and cooperative task. Indeed, if you think about how many hours every week that a Mom is busy with the children while dad is at work, you realize just how massive an impact mothers have in raising their children. God uses the devoted and nurturing spirit of mothers as essential in shaping the kids.

Even so, don’t miss the point of mentioning only the fathers in verse 4. The Spirit has already spoken about a husband as the head of his wife, and here we can extend that to seeing the father as the ultimate authority in the home. Fathers, the training and admonition of our children is something for which we need to take responsibility. We are busy with work, and church, and other interests, but God gives this assignment: “Fathers, you need to teach. Be present so that you can instruct and train.”

As the Spirit lays out the task of fathers and mothers, it’s notable that He begins with a warning: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath” (v 4). In the Greek, it’s literally a command, “Don’t make them angry.” Don’t frustrate or exasperate.

Why would He begin like this? One reason has to do with the time in which the Ephesians lived. Back in those days, a father had absolute power over his family. Even when a child was first born, it was up to the father whether the family kept him or her; if a baby was deformed, the father could decide to leave the child in the market to be picked up, or out in the fields to die. Later, the father could choose to sell his children as slaves, and it was in his power to inflict severe punishment on them, even whippings and beatings. The power of a Roman father extended over the child’s life, as long as the father lived. If this was the world you grew up in, verse 4 would be a shock, “Fathers, do not provoke your children.”

A spirit of domineering does not belong in a Christian home. But beloved, the tendency to be heavy-handed and overbearing isn’t just cultural, it’s natural—something that fathers (and mothers) have to fight against. It is right, of course, for parents to demand obedience from their children, but in so demanding there’s an immediate danger, that we are unwise in our exercise of authority. This might even be the main danger which parents face in our task, that in our leading and disciplining, we embitter and upset our children.

How does this happen? Like so many of our sinful tendencies, this one begins with something good but degenerates into something bad. We believe in rules and discipline—good; but this can grow into a host of unnecessary regulations and endless correction—bad. As parents seek to guide and shape their children, they can start to believe that making more demands will lead to more good fruit. In the daily interactions with our children, we might slip into a habit of nagging, always finding another thing to criticize and rarely speaking a word of praise. And if we’re harsh with them, if our rules are arbitrary, if we are insensitive to our child’s particular needs and character, we’re going to cause frustration.

We said earlier that children are sometimes mechanical in obeying their parents, unthinking and uncaring. In the same way, Dad and Mom are sometimes mechanical in parenting: always the same rules, the same punishments, the same lectures. This provokes our children and it discourages them.

As our children get older too, we should be cautioned against provoking them. For as they get older, we might try exercise control in such a way that it’s an insult to our children. We make decrees that don’t recognize how our children have grown or learned. And by keeping him or her tightly under our reins, we’re essentially saying that we don’t trust him, that we have no confidence in her. Or we’re saying that we have no confidence in how we have trained our children in all the years up to this point!

And parenting that exasperates has an ugly result. In Colossians 3, we find a close variation on this command, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (v 21). It’s a terrible thing for a child to have a broken spirit, the discouragement which comes from continued criticism, or lack of love, or unfair rules. Because it’s not about making sure that our children are happy. If they’re discouraged under your authority, if you’ve provoked them to anger, they’ll also find it difficult to accept what you say about God or Christ or Scripture. A frustrated child is not a child who is ready to learn.

The Spirit begins with a warning, but he goes on to more positive instruction: “Bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (v 4). The word for “bring up” means literally “to nourish,” to give bodily sustenance. And what a fitting image for the task of fathers and mothers—we seek to nurture our children, to feed their spirits!

If your home is like ours, there’s almost a constant attention on food. No sooner is one meal done than the kids are asking about the next, or Mom is planning the next. But just as essential is the nourishing of mind and spirit. The goal for parents isn’t just harmonious relationships at home, or the good feelings of the children, the goal is that our children come to love and fear the Lord. Nourish them with the food of the Word!

This takes “training,” says the Spirit. God gives covenant parents the calling to be busy with teaching their children. That sounds general enough, but the last phrase in the verse—a phrase that Paul loves to add in this section—makes it clear what we’re aiming for: “Bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”

We train in the ways of the Lord. That’s not just about going to church, or going to a Christian school, and it’s much more than reading Bible stories at mealtimes. For the ways of the Lord relate to all of life. This must be a systematic and comprehensive education.

As parents, we must teach prayer. We must teach stewardship. We teach what it means to be part of the church. We teach hard work, and forgiveness, and service, and about the wise use of technology. We even teach them about marriage and becoming parents themselves. In a certain sense, we need to teach our children everything we know, and we even try to teach them more than we know—the lessons about Christian living that we should’ve learned ourselves!

We do this teaching both by word and deed. That’s daunting, especially when we consider that children learn both from our positive example, and our negative example. As one author put it, “A man who does not pray is teaching his children not to pray; he who neglects public worship of God is teaching his children to neglect it; he who does not read the Bible is teaching his children not to read it.”

But when we as parents strive to walk with the Lord, then our children see it. They understand what is important to us, they notice what always has our priority—and they learn. And our example can even make up for where our words are lacking. So the classroom of the home should be filled with an atmosphere of love, where the conversations are filled with grace, and God’s will gets taught in relation to all aspects of life.

“Bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” The word for admonition means literally, “a putting into the mind.” The thinking of today is to let children form their own opinions and judgments. But God calls parents to actively put things into the mind of our children: to fill their thoughts with thoughts of God, his existence, his attributes, his laws and promises. Through this teaching, the Word of God is brought into the life of the child.

In so teaching, we’ll need to admonish our children. We’ll need to correct them and teach them to take sin seriously. Our children must know and experience that because sin is serious, it has consequences. Admonition and discipline are hard; it takes regular repetition, it requires  consistency, and it demands that we pray.

Parents, just think about your own struggle against weakness and temptation, your own struggle to overcome sinful parts of your character. Our children have the same struggle, for they are resisting the same sinful nature. It’s going to be hard for them, just as it is for us. But remember how God attaches his beautiful promise to the fifth commandment. If we train them in the ways of the Lord, for our children it will be well. If they come to know Christ, for our children it will be well.

This is what parents should care about, more than anything else. We desire that our children know and serve the Lord. This is more important than their good health, more important than their intelligence or skill, more than their prosperity, more than their social position—it’s even more important than being kept from great trials and misfortunes. More than all this, we ought to care that our children are loyal to Christ and devoted to his Word. Parents, if that’s what you care about, then you have work to do, and you have prayers to offer up.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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