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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Honour your father and mother
Text:LD 39 and Ephesians 6:1-4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 5th Commandment (Obedience)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 7

Psalm 119:22

Psalm 119:23

Hymn 1

Psalm 89:1-3

Scripture reading and text:  Ephesians 6:1-4

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 39

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

Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus,

This afternoon we’re looking at the relationship between parents and children.  Right away our thoughts go to our own experiences of our parents.  Some of us have had the blessing of having godly Christian parents.  Sure, they had their weaknesses and shortcomings, but for the most part, they consistently modelled Christ-likeness for us, they taught us the Bible, and gave a sound witness to the gospel.  We should all rejoice that some of us have had that experience.  As believers, we can rejoice when other brothers and sisters have been blessed by God.  That’s true also when it comes to the gift of godly parents.

But at the same time, we also share one another’s sorrows and burdens.  Those who’ve had godly parents should recognize that not everyone has had that blessing.  Some of us have experienced much hurt and pain from our parents.  Some of us have been disappointed by ungodly parents or disillusioned by hypocritical parents.  Some of us really struggle with honouring our parents, because of the unloving way they acted towards us and others.  Moreover, all this can be true whether the parents in question are alive or dead.  Some have a good relationship with both parents, others with only Mom or Dad, and others have a bad relationship with both parents.  There’s no doubt that for some of us our relationships with our parents can be complicated and difficult.  While we might want to live with the illusion that everyone in the church has godly Christian parents, the reality is quite different and we should acknowledge that from the outset.  We live in a sinful, broken world and sin has vandalized every single relationship, including that between parents and children.

For better or for worse, these relationships shape who we are and how we think about and relate to authority.  The relationship between parents and children is where we first encounter and experience authority in our lives.  It’s the most basic authority relationship amongst human beings.  The child who’s had a broken and dysfunctional relationship with her parents is more likely to struggle with other authority relationships.  Conversely, the child who has grown up with respect for his parents is more likely to be able to relate properly to other forms of authority, including God himself. 

The fifth commandment starts with parents:  “Honour your father and mother.”  We recognize that the reach of this commandment extends beyond the family.  Our catechism speaks about this having to do with “all those in authority” over us.  For example, it applies to life in society, under our rulers.  It also applies to the workplace and to the school classroom.  There are all kinds of spheres of life where we have authorities over us and the fifth commandment speaks to all of them.  But it all begins with parents and children in the home and that’s where we’re going to place our focus this afternoon.  I want to do that through the lens of Ephesians 6:1-4. 

But before we launch into that, we should briefly consider the big question of why.  Why should we want to keep this commandment?  Now if you’ve been a good student of our catechism, your thoughts should go right away to Lord’s Day 32.  We want to show ourselves thankful to God for his benefits and we want to praise him.  We want to have assurance of our faith by its fruits.  By our godly walk of life, we want to win our neighbours for Christ.  These are all good reasons why we should want to listen carefully this afternoon.  But let me just add a few more from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Ephesians 1 speaks of God’s gracious unconditional election.  Eph. 1:4 says God chose us in Christ before creation for a specific purpose:  that we should be holy and blameless before him.  Our election is therefore connected to our holiness, to our sanctification.  In Ephesians 2, Paul starts off by speaking of our condition apart from Christ.  We were dead in sin.  But in his grace God has made us alive together with Christ.  He has given us the gift of faith so that we can take hold of Christ and no longer be children of wrath.  Thus in verse 10, Paul says we’re God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.  We’ve been born again as a new creation in Christ and we have a purpose:  we’re created in Christ Jesus for good works, for obedience to all of God’s law, including the Fifth Commandment.  In Ephesians 4, Paul contrasts the way the Gentiles walk with the way that Christians should walk.  In verse 20, he says Christians have learned Christ and have been taught in him.  That makes a difference for how we live.  Because we’re united to Christ, our old nature has been crucified with him on the cross.  That means we’re no longer under the curse of sin.  We’re free from God’s condemnation and wrath.  But it also means our daily lifestyle will be characterized by a struggle against sin. 

So there you have three additional reasons to want to obey God, also when it comes to the fifth commandment:  1) we were graciously chosen by God, so we’d live holy and blameless lives.  2) We were created in Christ Jesus, we were saved through him, for good works.  3)  We have learned Christ and are united to him, therefore we want to put sin to death in our lives and live out of our union with Christ.

That brings us to Ephesians 6 and what the Holy Spirit teaches us there about parents and children.  A command is addressed to the children of the Ephesian church.  This is noteworthy.  The children are included in the church and they too get addressed by the apostle.  Not just here in Ephesians, but the whole Bible teaches us that the children of believers are members of God’s covenant and congregation.  They can and must be addressed as such.  This afternoon I want to do that again.  I want you kids, all of you, to listen up.  This is important for you as God’s children.  You’re members of the church too.  No, you can’t vote when we have elections, and you can’t yet participate in the Lord’s Supper, but all you kids are still members of the church.  You don’t become a member of the church when you do Public Profession of Faith.  You’re a member right now already.  Right now, you’re part of God’s covenant and church, every single one of you.  That means that what I have to say is for all of you too.  So listen carefully to what I’m going to say.

The Bible says to all the children of the church, “Obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  God has given you parents.  He put them in your life.  You didn’t get to choose them; he chose them for you.  When they tell you to do something, your calling is to obey them.  When they tell you to not do something or stop doing something, your calling is to listen.  We’re not to argue or grumble against them, but to follow what they say.  And the Bible says we do this in the Lord.

That makes us think about Jesus.  Jesus is our Saviour.  He has paid for all our sins, including all the times we haven’t obeyed or honoured mom and dad.  You need to believe that, put your trust in Jesus that he paid for all your sins.  But we also have to think about Jesus as a child.  We shouldn’t forget that Jesus was once 8 years old, or 9, or 10.  He didn’t go straight from being a baby to the cross.  There were 33 years of life between Bethlehem and Golgotha.  He was a little boy, he became a pre-teen, and then he became a teenager.  Whatever age you are, he’s been in your shoes.  He was that age.  What does the Bible say about what Jesus was like when he was 9 years old?   The Bible doesn’t say anything directly.  But we do know Jesus was always perfectly obedient to God.  He always kept all the commandments, including the one to obey his parents Joseph and Mary.  Does that mean it was easy for him?  The Bible also teaches us that Jesus struggled with temptations just like we do.  That means that, at times, it would have been difficult for him to listen to Mary or Joseph when they told him to do something.  And yet he did it.  He did it to show us a good example of how we are to live.  We should follow his good example.  But Jesus also did it for us.  He kept the law in our place, so as we believe in Jesus, God looks at us as children who are always obeying their parents.  Isn’t that good to know that God sees us like that?  Now, like Jesus, we too want to obey our parents – this is the right thing to do.  This is the thing that honours and pleases God.

In verse 2 of Ephesians 6, Paul then quotes the Fifth Commandment:  “Honour your father and mother.”  As our Catechism says, that means we’re to show all honour, love, and faithfulness to our parents; we’re to obey the teaching and discipline they give us.  But Paul adds something important to that.  He notes how this commandment comes with a promise.  The promise is that things will go well with you.  When you honour your father and mother the way God commands, there are blessings that go with it.  On the other hand, if you turn away from God’s command and want to do things your own way, if you’re stubborn, there’ll be trouble.  Let me explain how that works.

Imagine a rebellious young man.  He refuses to listen to his mom and dad.  He goes to school and refuses to listen to his teachers.  He might be smart, but he doesn’t do well in school, because he won’t listen and obey the people God has placed over him.  If he graduates, he has a hard time finding a job because he doesn’t have a good education.  Or he has a hard time keeping a job, because he can’t take instructions from a boss.  He doesn’t listen to the laws of the land and when the police catch up to him and confront him, he disrespects them and won’t listen to them either.  So he might end up in court and then in jail.  His whole life could be a mess, just because he didn’t humble himself and learn to listen to mom and dad when he was young.  The Bible says the way of the wicked is hard.  God’s way can be hard too, but it’s hard in a different way.  It’s difficult to follow God’s way because we have sinful hearts.  But the way of the wicked is hard because it has hard consequences in this life and even more after you die.  Young brothers and sisters, obey your parents in the Lord.  It’s the right thing to do, and it’s also the way of life and blessing.  God knows what is for your good and you need to listen to him.

There is one more thing I want to say to the kids.  Actually, this is important for all of us to hear.  You hear it said every time we have a sermon on this commandment.  It needs to be said this time too.  God doesn’t want parents to hurt their children.  Parents cannot use the Fifth Commandments to hurt their kids in any way.  I’m not talking about parents saying “no” to their kids when they ask for something they want.  Your parents aren’t hurting you when they do that.  I’m talking about abuse, where parents use children for their own sinful desires or beat up on their children, letting their anger get out of control. We have to be clear that all abuse is wrong.  If your parents are hurting you, you need to talk to someone else about that, another adult who can help you.  God hates abuse.  So in the church, we hate all forms of abuse too, and we want it to stop.

Now back to Ephesians 6 and Paul goes on to give some instruction to Christian parents.  He focusses especially on fathers.  Now it’s a good idea to pause there and consider why that is. 

The Bible teaches us that the father is to be the leader of the household, also and especially when it comes to spiritual matters.  You dads in the congregation, you have the God-given calling to man up and lead from the front in your families.  That’s not to say that what Paul writes here is irrelevant for Christian mothers.  The moms need to pay attention here too, but the focus is on the fathers and their responsibilities and calling.  The buck stops at dad.  He’s the one ultimately responsible for the welfare of his family.  So, dads, if you want your children to honour you and your wife, you must give evidence that you’re worthy of their honour.  You do that by taking your calling seriously as a Christian man. 

In Ephesians 6:4, Paul works out that in two specific ways.  First of all, fathers are called not to do something.  If we use that concept from earlier in Ephesians, fathers are called to put something to death in their lives as they relate to their children.  Paul literally says, “Fathers, do not make your children angry.”  The ESV translates, “do not provoke your children to anger.”  In other words, don’t do anything that will make your children bitter and filled with rage. 

It’s a good idea to think of some concrete ways we might do that.  What are some possible ways that parents might provoke their children to bitterness and anger?  In his commentary on Ephesians, William Hendriksen offers six ways.  Let me share those with you.  I think it’s helpful.

  1.  By overprotection.  By not giving children room to grow, by pampering them and hovering over them.  Hendriksen doesn’t say this, but today we would speak about helicopter parenting.  Hovering over them and never giving them room to learn from mistakes. 
  2. By favoritism.  Hendriksen mentions the example of Isaac with Jacob and Esau.  Showing favourites in the family is a sure way to make your children angry with you. 
  3. By discouragement.  Example, “Dad, I’m going to study hard and become a doctor.”  Or you could add in any other occupation.  Dad’s reply, “You might as well forget about that.  That will never happen anyway.  You’re useless and you’ll never amount to much.”  Knocking down your kids and their hopes and aspirations will definitely embitter them.
  4. By failing to allow for the fact that a child can have his own ideas and follow his own path (within the guidelines of Scripture), and doesn’t have to be an exact replica of his father to be a success.
  5. By neglect.  Hendriksen gives the example here of David and Absalom.  Was everything Absalom’s fault?  Didn’t David carry part of the blame because he neglected his son?  Fathers need to be there for their children, they need to make time for them.   
  6. By bitter words and outright physical cruelty.  As I mentioned earlier, abuse is another sure-fire way to provoke children to anger and bitterness. 

If I would add one item to Hendriksen’s list, it would be hypocrisy.  It’s one thing if parents recognize their inconsistencies and speak humbly about them with their children.  It’s one thing if parents know they don’t always set a good example and they tell their kids and tell them too that they want to fight that and grow in being more consistently godly.  But the kind of hypocrite that enrages children is the type that pretends to be godly in a certain context, but in a different context lives completely different.  Talk and walk don’t add up, and what’s worse, there’s absolutely no recognition there’s a problem.  There’s no evidence of a struggle or fight with this inconsistency.  This is thought to be normal and okay.  This is one of the most profoundly damaging ways to provoke your children to anger.  Like all the other ways I’ve mentioned (and those that I haven’t) this needs to be put to death by Christian fathers -- and mothers too.

Living out of our new nature in Christ means following the positive instruction of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:4.  Instead of frustrating and angering our children, we are to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  We are to bring them up.  What that means is nourishment and tender-hearted care.  Fathers are to have a heart for their kids, to genuinely care about them and their well-being now and for eternity.  That heart of love is going to express itself in the various ways that you act towards them.  Dads (and moms too):  when you pray each day, do you pray for each of your kids and for their individual needs?  Do you pray for the Lord to give them the gift of his Holy Spirit?  Do you pray for their health and what goes on with them at school?  That’s only where it starts.  Bringing up your children means first of all bringing them up in prayer before the Lord every day.                                                                  

But it also gets worked out as you interact with them on a daily basis.  Paul speaks about the discipline of the Lord.  Fathers are responsible for making sure there’s discipline in their homes.  There are rules and there are consequences for breaking rules.  In a Christian home, the rules are shaped first of all by the Word of God.  But of course, every Christian home will come up with many of its own rules too.  That’s okay, even necessary.  For instance, there’s nothing in the Bible about what time kids should go to bed.  Parents have the right to determine that and kids have the calling to listen to what the parents decide.  And when kids don’t listen, the parents have the responsibility to determine the consequences.  Discipline will include consequences for disobedience.  Parents need to use wisdom in how they go about that.  Loved ones, sometimes the best and most instructive consequence can be to not give a child what he or she deserves for disobedience.  This can be a good way to teach a child about grace and mercy.  Our heavenly Father doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, do our children always need to receive what they deserve?  Our heavenly Father doesn’t always right away give us chastisement when we sin, do our children always need that?  Then we need to explain that to our children.  “You’re not getting what you deserve today and through that I want you to learn an important lesson about God.  He doesn’t give us what we deserve.  He is patient with us through Jesus Christ.  This is called grace.  Today you’re getting grace.”  The most important thing is that we are actively involved in their discipline, shepherding their hearts in a Christ-ward direction.  Through our discipline, our children have to understand that they’re great sinners in need of God’s grace in Christ.  They’re in need of the Holy Spirit who can transform their hearts and lives.  This is what means to bring up our children in the discipline of the Lord.

And then there’s also the instruction of the Lord.  When our children are baptized, we make promises before the Lord to instruct our children in the doctrine of the Old and New Testament summarized in the confessions and taught here in our church.  That’s a weighty commitment to make and we all, both fathers and mothers, need to take that commitment seriously.  There are various ways in which our children are given that instruction.

There are often informal opportunities for us to teach our children about the Lord and his Word.  Opportunities arise to teach them about how to think about themselves, about situations they face at school, the entertainment that’s out there.  We get opportunities all the time to teach them about these things from a godly, Christian perspective.  We have to take these more informal teaching opportunities and capitalize on them. 

But as parents, especially as fathers, there should also be more formal instruction.  I’m thinking here of family devotions, or family worship.  Here too, fathers need to take the lead.  There’s something wrong in a Christian family if the mother is always taking the lead in family worship.  We could see it being reasonable if the father couldn’t speak or read for some reason or if he was away on a trip somewhere.  Those would be exceptional circumstances.  But normally, fathers have the responsibility to be reading the Bible and explaining it to their kids.  Fathers have the first and primary responsibility to teach Christian doctrine to their kids.  Here in our church, we have an important position.  In some places, it’s known as the youth pastor.  Every single dad in this church is a youth pastor, a children’s pastor.  Your high calling is to instruct your child in the doctrine of salvation, just like you promised to do at their baptism.

Let me just address one concern here.  There are a lot of dads who work long hours.  They might not be home for supper.  And supper is traditionally where family devotions takes place.  What do you do?  Let’s carefully consider our priorities.  The spiritual instruction of our children has to be a priority for all the dads of our church.  If something is really important to you, you’re going to make it work.  If you’re convinced of the ultimate value of something, you’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.  So the question is:  is this a priority for you?  Where there is a will, there is always a way.  Brothers, if you’re not doing regular daily family worship with your kids, you have to get the will and find the way.  Your family’s spiritual welfare depends on you taking this seriously. 

Finally, bringing up our children in the instruction of the Lord also says something to us about Christian education in general.  The instruction of the Lord is meant to encompass all of life.  Everything in our lives is to be directed towards the Creator, Redeemer, and Renewer.  That includes how and why we do science, math, French, history, and every other subject that one might study in school.  God’s Word admonishes, instructs, and warns us to take him into account in everything.  We are to acknowledge him in all our ways and then he will make our paths straight.  Christian parents have the calling to bring up their children in the instruction of the Lord, and certainly that’s going to encompass all of life lived before his face.  Therefore, providing our children with a Christian education must be non-negotiable.  It’s not something we can compromise on.

Brothers and sisters, we want our children to honour their fathers and mothers.  We will give them someone worthy of honour if we follow the Lord’s instruction in his Word.  It’ll be a blessing for our families if Christian mothers and fathers are conscientious about their calling and take it seriously.  And you young brothers and sisters, you kids, if you have parents who are really trying to serve the Lord and raise you in his ways, give thanks to God for that and honour your parents for that.  And what if you have parents who are falling short and disappointing you?  Even then, you’re called to honour them, to love them, to pray for them.  As our catechism says, your calling is still to be patient with their weaknesses and shortcomings.  By doing that, you live out of Christ your Saviour.

Loved ones, relationships between parents and children can be delightful, they can be frustrating, and they can fall in many places in between.  Whatever has happened in the past, our calling for the present is plainly given us in God’s Word.  When it comes to any commandment, it can be a struggle to put our old nature to death and live out of our new nature.  It’s no less true here with the fifth commandment.  For that reason, brothers and sisters let’s also continue to pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit so that we want to and actually can fulfill our calling both as children and parents.  AMEN.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your good and perfect law.  Thank you for our good and perfect law-keeper, Jesus Christ.  Thank you for his work in paying for all our sins against your law, including the fifth commandment.  Father, we love you for the salvation we have in Christ and we affirm that because of it we want to live for you today and every day.  This afternoon, we think about the fifth commandment.  Please help the children in our congregation to love, honour, and respect their moms and dads, even when it’s hard to do that.  Help them to be humble and patient with the weaknesses and shortcomings of their parents.  We pray for the parents too.  We ask that you would help them to raise their children with the discipline and instruction that you give us in your Word.  This afternoon, we pray especially for the dads among us.  Please help all of them to take their responsibilities seriously.  Help them to be spiritual leaders in their homes who care about their wives and children.  We pray, Father, for your blessing upon all the families of our congregation.  We pray that there would be peace and harmony and in every home a desire to live for your glory, following your Word.  We also pray for the Christian education of our children.  We thank you for our Christian schools and we pray that you would bless the teachers and the students.  We pray that our schools would have the full support of our church communities.  We ask your grace so that the means would be there for our children to continue to be taught every subject from a Christian perspective that honours you.           

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

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